This is a post which has been brewing for some time now and I have taken the opportunity to publish it on this day of September to celebrate the International Day of Peace.

Image source: Morguefile.com no attribution required

In my local ELT scene, Greece, many of the ‘givens’ we used to take for granted are no longer true. We used to assume that our learners have the same mother tongue, educational background and religion, similar knowledge bases, social and cultural background, and similar learning habits and difficulties.

These givens have changed drastically in the last 10-15 years. Most mainstream schools and foreign language classrooms are now multicultural, in some areas more so than others. In most cases, educators report that their pupils or students work well together and there are no issues of racism or persecution towards other ethnic groups, but there have been recent instances which have shocked our nation and reports of many more cases of violence that never made the headlines.

So, to the question ‘Is educating for peace really a concern of the foreign language instructor?’  I would reply with a very emphatic ‘Yes!’.

I. Peace Education goals

According to UNESCO, a peace oriented education…

“…..should attempt to reduce the willingness to use violence in individuals and to reveal and remove the infrastructures which cause violence in human relations at all levels of society and amongst nations.”

“ Human rights and an education which has peace as its goal are not a luxury but are at the roots of the mission of an educational institution..”

‘Peace Linguistics’ is a term which appeared in the 90’s for the promotion of peace and human rights at international level and stressed the value of linguistic multilingualism at national and international level.

Within this framework, there is a need to create language attitudes which respect the dignity of individual speakers and speech communities (D.Crystal, 1999).

II.    What does educating for peace involve?

A multitude of interesting articles on the subject can be found easily by searching the world wide web and interested teachers will even find ready made lesson plans on topic areas promoting peace education – more material, it must be said, is available for school teachers rather than for foreign language teachers, but some of the material available for mainstream education can be easily adapted for use in the EFL class.

Educating for Peace requires improvement or development of the following:

  • Becoming a good communicator – improving communication skills
  • Developing the ability to resolve conflicts
  • Improving understanding and developing empathy for others
  • Developing the ability to view issues from a multiple perspective
  • Developing critical thinking

There is also a need for knowing things. Learners who know very little about the world and others will need help with:

  • Improvement of general knowledge
  • Knowledge of the target language community
  • Knowledge of their own country and their own culture
  • Knowledge of cultures other than their own

Finally, educating for peace requires more self-confidence and improvement of self-image in our learners.

The points mentioned above do not go against the principles of any good language programme which, in fact, they themselves include:

  • The development of good communication skills through linguistic means (Grammar, Vocabulary, Pronunciation)
  • Learning about successful interpersonal communication codes   (Discourse Analysis – Pragmatics – Sociolinguistics)

This can be done through many of the well-known and tested in the EFL Classroom communicative activities BUT with a special emphasis on

  • Including more problem solving tasks requiring the development of negotiation skills
  • Better/more careful structuring of the communication process

III. Characteristics of Activities

Activities promoting peace education will have some or all of the following characteristics

A.  Include conflict resolution

Conflict Resolution (in problem solving and negotiation activities) is a skill taught in many disciplines – to business people, to peacemakers, to politicians, to diplomats – and the teaching of it usually follows the steps outlined below:

  1. Definition of the problem to be resolved
  2. Information gathering phase
  3. Processing and understanding information
  4. Discussion and examination of a variety of solutions
  5. Conciliation and negotiation
  6. Negotiations and compromises
  7. Application of solution finally selected
  8. Further work on smoothing out differences to apply solution in a successful way

To those of you who are well-versed in teaching communication skills, especially to business classes, the procedure above may sound almost like your standard lesson plan for case study work and problem solving tasks. It reads very much like a lesson based on Task Based Learning, hence, you would probably have no problem adopting this outlook in your general English lessons as well.

B.  Involve team building/group bonding

Activities fulfilling this criterion will be very similar to activities we use to promote group cohesion, team building and bonding in our classrooms. Such activities will:

  • have subjective rather than objective angles and perspectives
  • stress the common ground rather than the differences
  • avoid stereotypes

Classroom Dynamics by Jill Hadfield, is an excellent source of such activities and contains a wealth of ready made activities most of which can be adapted and used for many different types of lessons.

C.    Promote empathy & a multiple perspective

It is usually true that the less we know about other people the more unlikely it will be that we will feel empathy for them, that we will be able to see things with their eyes, that we will be able to develop some kind of sympathy for their problems and difficulties. For activities to promote peace and collaboration, we should try to find activities which encourage our learners to:

  • Understand ‘others’ and ‘otherness’
  • Understand ourselves through understanding others
  • Acquire an ability to be critical towards ourselves
  • Acquire the ability to view issues and problems from many different angles

Including texts and stories which promote this kind of understanding is a great idea.

Follow up discussions in which the learners are asked to take on different roles and discuss topics from inside a different identity are useful in developing of seeing issues from perspectives other than their own.

D.  Stimulate critical thinking and discussion

No one would deny that critical thinking enhances learning. In addition to this, teachers ought to also encourage and promote the critical cultural awareness which is absolutely essential in a multicultural world from the earliest stages of language learning

  • By including topics of cultural interest in our materials
  • By promoting a critical but constructive attitude

Activities which promote critical thinking would have evaluation as a built in element.  Six useful activities can be found here.

IV. How much can we persist?

It is not only multiculturalism, xenophobia, refugees or immigrants that cause conflict. Tolerance and peace cannot simply be taught through school textbooks but require the creation  of specific attitudes.

Peace does not simply involve the absence of war but includes the concept of peaceful collaboration amongst individuals and groups of different ethnic backgrounds as well as from the same ethnic background.

So it seems that peace education does not just involve the teacher who teaches in multicultural classes. There are micro-cultures even within the same ethnic group who would benefit by learning to collaborate more effectively and by avoiding conflict and violence.

Can English Language Teachers rise to these challenges? I believe they can, and I know many who already have done something about it. Our job, after all, is to teach effective communication skills, and defining our educational objectives in conjunction with peace education objectives is not as difficult as for teachers of other disciplines.

Please Remember

~ Peace does not just mean the absence of war~

~ Teach peace by teaching good collaboration ~

~ Celebrate today every day! ~

What do you think? Do you agree that ELT teachers should be involved in this goal?

What activities have you tried already? Please share in the comments.

Related Articles & Books

Websites

  • Peace Education Ning by Classroom 2.0
  • The Dream Mosaic a project in which children from all over the world draw their dreams and upload them to a website. The images uploaded by the children of different nationalities might serve as a great springboard for activities which would fulfill some or all the criteria outline above

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