Peace education: A key driver of change in Africa

Today marks the celebration of the International Day of Peace.

A teacher and her students in class. Ecole Patti, Makalondi, Tilaberri Region, Niger. April 2017. Photo credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

This post is the 9th in a blog series published in 2020 in the context of a collaboration between the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

September 21st marks the International Day of Peace. Established in 1981 by the United Nations, this day is devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.

It also showcases some of the initiatives that countries have put in place to end conflict (e.g. peace caravans, tree planting for peace, music concerts, sensitization on emerging forms of violence, etc.).

This year’s theme is “Shaping Peace Together.” As we reflect on this theme, it is important to state from the onset that peace is a collaborative effort. No community or individual can achieve it alone. This draws attention to the importance of collaborative action in ending conflict and promoting peace throughout the world.

This year is also the AU theme of ‘Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development’. Let’s remember that silencing the guns means quality education!

Impact of conflicts on education

When war erupts, education is the most adversely affected sector. Violent conflict continues to pose social-economic challenges to the African continent – destroying infrastructure, impacting teachers, swelling number of students out of school and impacting the most vulnerable.

As of June 2019, 9,272 schools were closed or had become non-operational and almost 2 million children had been robbed of an education due to violence and insecurity in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.

report published by UNICEF in August 2019 further stated that since 2017, there had been a surge in deliberate attacks against students, teachers and schools in West and Central Africa, leading to a tripling in school closures in the last year, which pushed more than 1.9 million children out of school. And all this was before the school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is now further exacerbating an already complex emergency situation.

Therefore, the capacity of the education sector to promote peace and harmonious coexistence cannot be underestimated. Indeed, one direct result of children not getting an education is that they are more vulnerable to recruitment into violent extremism, child labor and sexual exploitation, early marriages, disease, and ultimately poverty.

Shaping peace in Africa through education and citizenry

The African Union vision talks of “a peaceful and prosperous Africa, integrated, led by its own citizens and occupying the place it deserves in the global community and in the knowledge economy.”

Quality education is crucial to achieving this vision, and entails fostering attitudes that promote mutual understanding, tolerance and respect, which in turn makes societies less susceptible to violent conflicts.

Education also provides a sense of normalcy and routine for children and adults after the trauma of violent conflicts. Investing in peace through education is therefore strategic as it promotes resilience and mitigates violent conflicts as well as violent extremism – the case of Europe is a classic example.

Peace and security are critical ingredients in the social and economic development of any nation. Violent conflicts hamper economic development and reinforce inequalities, grievances and desperation, trapping countries in a vicious cycle of violence.

Quality education can give children and youth hope and opportunities and heal divisions and traumas of war. A school can and should be a place of peace.

To this end, African countries have no alternative but to anchor peace education in their education sector policies and plans, and mainstream peace education at all levels to ensure that knowledge, skills, values and attitudes for peaceful coexistence can be learned and practiced.

Ministries of education also need to adopt conflict-sensitive approaches in their policies as well as emergency preparedness and response strategies that incorporate conflict reduction and protection of education from attack. Of even greater importance is the need for ministries of education to establish and strengthen their emergency coordination structures at both national and regional level to seal any gaps that may be in existence.

ADEA’s work on fostering peace education in Africa

The Inter-Country Quality Node on Peace Education (ICQN-PE) is one of ADEA's mechanisms for peer learning and knowledge exchange among African countries, to promote dialogue for education and leadership.

Since its establishment in Kenya in 2009, the ICQN-PE has brought together countries facing conflict-related challenges for collaborative actions and use education systems as agencies and forces for conflict prevention, peacebuilding and nation building.

For example, a study on the Protection of Education against Military Attack during Armed Conflict validated in August 2019 in which the ICQN-PE took part, indicated that as a result of implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration, official armed forces, among other actors, have made great efforts towards ensuring that they do not occupy schools for their activities, and they have reduced the use of children as soldiers.

The teacher attrition rate has decreased in conflict-affected areas after disaster and risk reduction training and initiatives have been put in place. Peace clubs have also helped in decreasing indiscipline in schools and most countries now have a policy on schools as zones of peace.

To help strengthen regional coordination, in February 2020, the ICQN in collaboration with ADEA and Save the Children, brought together 11 countries in post-conflict, currently in conflict or hosting refugees to build the capacity of the coordinators of the African Union CESA Cluster on Peace Education.

ADEA, through its ICQN-PE and strategic partners, organize policy dialogue forums and call on all key actors (governments, parties to conflict, religious leaders, etc.) to stop attacks and/or threats against schools and their personnel in Africa and invest in quality education – which will make their country socioeconomically prosperous.

Lastly, what is vital today also, in light of this catastrophic COVID-19 pandemic, is to develop bold policies aligned with continental and global frameworks that can really advance African actions on education in emergencies and protracted crisis.

Today more than ever before, it is key to invest in education if we want to prepare the future of tomorrow.