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Interview
Last Updated: 03/01/2006
Chatting about Peace
Vicky Rossi

An interview conducted by Vicky Rossi with Ms Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Rector of the University for Peace, and Prof. Abelardo Brenes who is Head of the Peace Education Programme, University for Peace. The interview originally appeared on the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research website, and was conducted via e-mail.


Vicky Rossi: Regarding the attainment of "peace", the UPEACE Charter states that "(…) the best tool for achieving this supreme good for humankind, namely education, has not been used". Could you further expand on this statement?

Julia Marton-Lefèvre: State sponsored education systems pursue "education goals", the knowledge, skills and values that are to be transmitted through the schools to prepare students to support, live in consistency with and, where appropriate, work toward the social purposes that guide and inform mainstream curriculum. In most cases such educational goals are primarily knowledge or content based and the curriculum is designed accordingly in a transfer model. In most countries these goals have been on social purposes for promoting nationalism, militarism, productivism, and consumerism.

Peace education openly acknowledges its purpose as education to facilitate the achievement of peace and a related set of social values, largely through learning to recognize, confront and practice alternatives to the multiple forms of violence. In that this purpose is not the generally accepted primary purpose of most educational systems, peace education calls for an examination of existing purposes and assumptions and welcomes the addressing of the same challenges to its own purposes and assumptions.

UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, in a speech made at the Advisory Meeting of the Academic Program of the University for Peace, 23 March 2001, stated that: "Achieving decent, just and peaceful relations among diverse human groups is an enterprise that must be constantly renewed - and education for peace is a fundamental part of that enterprise. Yet the world's record on education for peace has been weak indeed… That is why, in the next generation, we have a mission to stimulate large numbers of students on every continent to reflect seriously on human conflict, its causes and its consequences, and ways to prevent its deadly outcome…" Inspired by this message, UPEACE has interpreted that it can help meet this challenge by:

1) Addressing the critical shortage of skilled people in conflict prevention and management, particularly in developing countries; and

2) Developing education for peace directed to people in all walks of life and in all regions of the world, from primary school upwards, to transform values and attitudes, to reduce prejudices, and to address critical environmental issues.

Vicky Rossi: Would you agree that "peace" is not merely the absence of war and if so what would your definition of peace be?

Julia Marton-Lefèvre: Definitely, 'peace' is much more than the absence of war. The definition of 'peace' given by the Earth Charter is a good starting point: "…peace is the wholeness created by right relationships with oneself, other persons, other cultures, other life, Earth, and the larger whole of which all are a part."

This person-centred definition recognizes that peace is an end in itself and entails living with integrity, security, balance, and harmony - with self, others, and nature to achieve self-realization. A person-centred definition is a useful reference point from a pedagogical point of view and also reflects the human rights framework it is built upon. From the point of view of our relationships, this definition assumes that each person lives within multiple dimensions of interrelationship and that we share a common responsibility to live in peace in all of them.

Vicky Rossi: What are some of the main characteristics of an educational system and curriculum based on the concept of education for peace?

Prof. Abelardo Brenes: Using the concept of "holism", peace education makes clear the integration and interdependence of all components of a given system. It observes both the direct and indirect relationships between forms of violence at all levels as well as the values, practices, and necessary conditions needed to overcome them. It calls for a systematic integration of content and process, employing specific pedagogies particularly relevant to the focus of the inquiry problématique at the conceptual core of a peace education course.

Peace education is overt about its intentions to educate for the formation of "values" consistent with peace and the norms that uphold it. Peace education identifies that social problems, at all levels, local through global, are as much a matter of ethics as they are of structures and that sustainable change must be rooted in commitment to social values. Course goals and objectives should be values explicit, demonstrating how the specific values concerned in each substantive area relate to more general value goals.

Posing content in the form of a problématique, seen as a set of interrelated problems deriving from a situation that violates a core peace value, promotes broader and more complex learning. Inquiry opens the curriculum to revealing multiple perspectives or problems and to assessing a range of alternative solutions.

Peace education seeks to develop alternative modes of thought through developing capacities of "conceptual thinking". It also uses conceptual frameworks to deliver content in a holistic perspective, emphasizing interrelationships in as organic a way as possible.

Peace education is "learner-centred". A peace education pedagogy demonstrates a reciprocity of learning that is built upon the assumption that both student and teacher are learners. Learner-centred pedagogy fosters an awareness of this reciprocity of learning, how it facilitates the building of collective knowledge, acknowledges the experiences of all learners involved in the process, and increases the likelihood that the values the programme seeks to develop will be adopted and internalized by the learner. Methods of learner-centred pedagogy that are emphasized in UPEACE programmes include, amongst other possible approaches, futures visioning, critical pedagogy or critical inquiry, creativity, and cooperative learning.

Peace education seeks to nurture peace related "virtues and capacities" constitutive to the broader transformative purposes and normative values of peace education. Virtues and capacities are seen as individual qualities within each person, a basis of the ability to learn and to behave consistently with the values that inform peace education as a potential lifelong mission. Peace education is especially concerned with those virtues and capacities that inform peace action.

Peace education attempts to cultivate learnings that "transform" worldviews and inspire learners to actively pursue the transformation of the present culture of violence through considerations of alternatives. Peace education strives to demonstrate the futility of violence through the cultivation of peace related values, virtues, knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours.

Vicky Rossi: In the UPEACE Charter, it states that peace is unlikely "as long as the human mind has not been imbued with the notion of peace from an early age". What concrete steps are being taken by UPEACE and UNESCO to ensure that peace-orientated education becomes more widely available in primary and secondary schools as well as in institutions of higher education?

Julia Marton-Lefèvre: Peace education explores multi-disciplinary and developmental approaches to address violence in all its varied forms. Approaches to peace education are both contextual and situation dependent. The UPEACE Peace Education Programme utilizes and endeavours to demonstrate multiple developmental approaches suited to the level of maturity and cultural circumstances of the learner, as well as social and cultural modes of learning in identifying social, cultural, and individually relevant approaches of peace education. A variety of methodological practices can be used, with special care being given not to overemphasize Western practices. This coincides with current UPEACE policy, which calls for all of its academic programmes and courses to have a multi-cultural perspective and for gender to be mainstreamed.

The strategy adopted by the Council of UPEACE is aimed at gradually meeting the world wide need for education for peace on a significant scale, by "educating the educators" through Master's degree and degree credit courses and also by developing course materials and methodologies, testing these by exposure to students at its headquarters campus, and then disseminating the materials in collaboration with universities throughout the world. A key element in implementing the strategy is the establishment of partnerships and jointly sharing knowledge for peace through multiple channels of communication and use of state of the art communications technologies.

We cooperate with UNESCO, particularly through the U.N. mandated interdependent educational action frameworks which UNESCO coordinates. Jointly they constitute a holistic approach to education and are very relevant to peace. These are:

• The International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010)

• Education for All (2000-2015)

• The Decade for Literacy (2003-2012)

• The Decade for Sustainable Development Education (2005-2014)

All of these Decades share much in common in their goals and aspirations and one can only hope that they work together in close synergy. We at the University for Peace feel very strongly that this synergy is just what is required by educational institutions addressing complex problems.

Vicky Rossi: In your opinion, is there a "will" in our modern day societies to make the necessary reforms to the educational system to ensure that peace-orientated curricula become the norm and not the exception?

Prof. Abelardo Brenes: This is a very challenging issue, which we will be addressing in the 2006 International Institute on Peace Education (IIPE), which is being co-organized by the University for Peace and the Peace Education Center of Teachers College, Columbia University (New York). We will be exploring the theme "Toward a Planetary Ethic: Shared and Individual Responsibility," recognizing that the international community has reached key areas of consensus regarding the challenges we are facing, the shared ethical frameworks of values, norms and principles for meeting them, and the contributions that education should fulfil. In doing so, the IIPE will critically examine various interdependent UN based educational initiatives and normative frameworks that provide a global basis for a holistic approach to peace education: the Millennium Development Goals, the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World, Education for All, the Decade for Literacy, and the Decade for Sustainable Development Education.

The theme is inspired by the principle of universal responsibility, stated in the 'Preamble' of The Earth Charter (a declaration of fundamental principles for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society), which is of fundamental importance in meeting the critical challenges of the 21st century. This principle provides a necessary complement to the Universal Declaration of Human Right's recognition of each person as worthy of equal respect and dignity and with accompanying "duties" to the international community.

The sub theme, "Shared and Individual Responsibility", refers to one of the most significant challenges entailed in giving practical meaning to the principal of universal responsibility in a world of asymmetric real freedoms and power, hence differentials in capacities to respond in meeting planetary challenges. This notion is reflected in the principle of 'differentiated responsibility' stated in complementary principle 2b of the Earth Charter: "Affirm that with increased freedom, knowledge, and power comes increased responsibility to promote the common good".

The IIPE will draw on the experiences and insights of diverse peace educators from all world regions helping us learn from each other's experiences and innovative educational approaches and strategies in addressing such key questions as: are the U.N. educational initiatives based on ethical principles actually shared by citizens? How can we educate within the related action programs recognizing possible tensions that may exist in balancing principles of cultural diversity and integrity, personal autonomy, national sovereignty, and universal norms? What pedagogies are required to foster a consciousness of universal responsibility?

Vicky Rossi: Is this concept of education for peace a Western construct or are there movements to promote education for peace in, say, African, Asian and Middle Eastern nations also?

Julia Marton-Lefèvre: We assume that living in peace is a basic need and universal aspiration of all peoples, although the paths for building sustainable peace are varied. Accordingly, UPEACE has been undertaking action to promote sustainable economic and social development; promotion of respect for all human rights; equality between women and men; fostering of democratic participation; advancement of understanding, tolerance and solidarity; and promotion of international peace and security in an integrated manner. These actions are founded on the solid academic base of its academic programmes and are further promoted through its regional and national programmes.

UPEACE is the only UN institution in Latin America with a global mandate. In line with its mission from the General Assembly and the decisions of its Council, it has prepared and initiated programmes in regions and major countries so as to extend UPEACE activities into Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Central Asia, Latin America, India and Brazil.

In addition, UPEACE's Institute for Media, Peace and Security is now being established in Geneva with Canadian and Swiss support. In addition, the UPEACE linked World Center for Research and Training in Conflict Resolution in Bogotá is now initiating its programme with the full engagement of the Colombian Government. Finally, the UPEACE-affiliated World Centre for Documentation and Information for Peace (CMIP), in Montevideo, continues to be very active in the Latin American region.

A substantial programme to strengthen education for peace in Africa has been developed through in-depth missions to ten countries to consult with a wide spectrum of academics, civil society leaders, researchers, officials, and the military. As a result, a unique body of knowledge has been accumulated on research and teaching activities in progress across the continent and on the practical needs and the obstacles to strengthening capacities in the field of education, training and research for peace. A solid network of motivated partner institutions in Africa has been established.

This process has led to the design of a major, five-year programme of support to African universities and other formal and non-formal educational institutions to build up their capacities to teach and research the vital issues of conflict prevention, peace building, environmental security, reconciliation and human rights on which peace and social and economic progress depend. The Africa programme is under way with the support of Canada, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.

Many projects have been implemented by the Africa Regional Programme. Three highly successful curriculum development workshops have been held, two in 2003 and one in 2004 to develop Africa-specific teaching materials in the field of peace and conflict studies. In 2003, a peace education and human rights curriculum development workshop for the military and armed forces in Sierra Leone was held, and an international workshop on "Environmental Degradation and Conflict in Darfur" was held in Sudan. Another achievement of the Africa program is the development of a distance-education training course on the role of the media in the Rwanda genocide. Additional, promised financial support is awaited to accelerate the further implementation of the programme so as to meet strong expectations and serious needs in Africa.

UPEACE has also launched a programme focused on education for peace in Central Asia. Based on experience of a successful pilot year, a three-year programme has been designed. However, donor support for activities in the region appears to be diminishing. Subject to the availability of funds, the programme in its next phase will include a teaching programme on peace and conflict studies, as well as a further meeting of the regional forum on Education for Conflict Resolution in Central Asia, and the extension of teaching to the local level which has successfully been initiated in partnership with UNDPA in Tajikistan.

A Regional Programme is also being developed for Asia and the Pacific. In a first phase, a wide network of key universities has been brought into being in the form of an Inter-University Consortium: the Asia-Pacific University Network for Conflict Prevention and Peace Building (APCP). A major conference was held in China in June 2002 to consolidate the consortium. A planning process began in 2004, with CIDA support, to build on this first phase by designing a programme to focus more directly on the needs of a number of selected countries in the field of education for peace. In February 2005, UPEACE collaborated with two universities in India to co-host a highly successful curriculum development workshop for Peace and Conflict Studies, bringing together more than 20 universities from Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka.

UPEACE has also elaborated a programme for Latin America which will have its principal focus on practical measures to improve human security in the continent. It will emphasize three main issues: human security, security sector reform and the generation of employment, particularly for youth. And it will mobilize three instruments: strengthening education and training for peace in the region; stimulating research to identify the underlying causes of instability and violence as a basis for teaching and policy; and consolidating the data base and indicators required for effective policies on issues related to violence and the preservation of stability and peace.

A major programme has been designed in Brazil which will focus on urban and rural violence, with the support of the Presidency of Brazil and the collaboration of a large number of agencies and institutions

A specific programme on education for peace has also been developed through consultations with key universities in India. It is likely that the recent change of government will make it possible to accelerate this programme which has been held back by a number of uncertainties in recent months.

Vicky Rossi: Would you agree that religious dialogue and understanding is as important as education "to help lessen obstacles and threats to world peace and progress"? Do any of the UPEACE courses - MA or short courses - deal with this important topic?

Julia Marton-Lefèvre: Yes, I definitely agree that religious dialogue and understanding is a very important topic for peace building and we address this issue in several of our M.A. programmes as well as short courses, both at the UPEACE campus in Costa Rica and in our regional centers. For example, the Department of International Law and Human Rights teaches a course on Human Rights, Gender, and Religion addressing these issues primarily through the optic of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which purports to provide a body of international human rights provisions on the non-discriminatory treatment of women. Through CEDAW, we examine questions about how religion complicates interpretation and application of CEDAW. We also study ways to interpret CEDAW particularly in light of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects persons' freedom of religious belief. The course also addresses the intersection of gender, religion, and human rights by looking at practical case studies, exploring the hijab, shari'a courts, and honor killings.

Vicky Rossi: Is UPEACE recognised by all the Member States of the United Nations? Does UPEACE receive funding from UN Member States?

Julia Marton-Lefèvre: UPEACE was set up by a UN General Assembly Resolution in 1980. This does not require all Member States to recognize UPEACE per se, nor does it require Member States to fund the University. Funding comes from various donors, including government departments from UN Member States.

Vicky Rossi: For clarification purposes, could you explain the relationship between the United Nations University (UNU), which has its headquarters in Tokyo, and UPEACE, which is headquartered in Costa Rica?

Julia Marton-Lefèvre: UNU is primarily a research organization while UPEACE is a teaching, degree-giving organization. The relations between the two organizations are excellent and the Rector of the UNU is a member of UPEACE's Council.

Vicky Rossi: Are there any plans for UPEACE to offer postgraduate courses in Europe in the future?

Julia Marton-Lefèvre: There are no immediate plans for this, but we are discussing possible partnership arrangements with several European Universities.

Vicky Rossi holds a Master's degree in Peace and Conflict Studies and is studying for her PhD at Bradford University.


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