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Last Updated: 02/16/2007
Understanding Peace Education: An Indian Perspective
Shreya Jani

"Without an integrated understanding of life, our individual and collective problems will only deepen and extend. The purpose of education is not to produce mere scholars, technicians and job hunters, but integrated men and women who are free of fear; for only between such human beings can there be enduring peace." 

~ J. Krishnamurti


There is a high level of violence in the world today, both physical and structural. We thus need tools and techniques to respond to this phenomenon. With increasing levels of violence and conflict there is also an increasing sense of trying to find peaceful ways to transform these conflicts from violent clashes to energies for social change. “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.”(UNESCO n.d.). Thus for us to take that step, to move from a violence-habituated system to a peaceable society we need to understand the nature of social conflicts and the tools available for transformation. Education is one of the most powerful tools that we have to make this shift towards peace.


“Social conflict is a phenomenon of human creation, located in relationships.”1 That is people are actively involved in creating situations and interactions that they experience as conflict. These interactions are rooted in people’s history, experiences, perception, interpretations, and expressions of their “realities”. This intern is deeply linked to people’s “common sense” or understanding and accumulated experiences, which allow them to react or respond to a conflict. Social conflict therefore is a “socially constructed cultural event”.2 It emerges through an interactive process based on a search for and creation of shared meaning. Shared knowledge and a group’s ability to name the world and their reality are pivotal to its manifestation. In short, conflict leads to transforming and renaming of the world and its realities and thus not only is it evitable, but a necessary force for a dynamic society. If conflict leads to evolution of thought and action and is a positive, inevitable force in the world, then what is needed is not the mere reduction or conclusion of conflicts but innovative mechanisms and interactions to transform conflicts into positive forces of social change, which education systems can help build.

As pointed out by Liesbeth Vroemen and John Galtang, peace, like war and justice, is a human creation. It is a process structure; that is, something dynamic which needs to be constantly addressed, thus a goal and a journey in itself. It is deeply connected to the notion of social justice, interconnectedness and realization of the full potential of (any/all) human beings. Peace thus is not an ultimate aim or goal but a continuum that is moving from more violence habituated systems towards lesser violence habituated systems, change being the only constant in it. Peace then is a process rather than an ultimate goal. It is also a structure which has movement in it, thus peace is a process structure.3 There can be peace in maintaining the status quo, which is unjust, but that is not lasting peace. Thus when we speak of peace in and through education, we are talking specifically about “just peace”.  Therefore, according to Johan Galtung, “peace is the absence of physical and structural violence”.

The epistemological root of the word education is from the Latin word “educare” which means to draw or lead out. Thus education seeks to lead out the knowledge within each individual. Peace education more so emphasizes the need to draw out the instinct to live peacefully which resides in each individual as a response to the world they live in.


These responses have been summed up beautifully by V. Cawagas and T. Swee-Hin (1991) into six categories:


  • Dismantling a culture of war
  • Living with justice and compassion
  • Promoting human rights and responsibility
  • Living in harmony with the earth
  • Building a culture of respect reconciliation and solidarity
  • Cultivating inner peace

To sum it up, “Peace education is the process of promoting knowledge, skills, attitudes and values needed to bring about behavior changes that will enable children, youth and adults to prevent conflict and violence, both overt and structural; to resolve conflict peacefully; and to create the conditions conducive to peace, whether at an intrapersonal, interpersonal, inter-group, national or international level.” (UNICEF). Peace education is therefore both a philosophy and skill that prepares people, young and old, to negotiate on behalf of themselves and the world in a peaceful manner. It seeks to transform conflict using non-violent tools and bases itself in the values of compassion, interconnectedness, justice and harmony.


Peace education seeks to “create a culture of peace”. To understand the goal of peace education we need to understand the meaning of culture of peace. According to Groff and Smoker (2003), there are six dimensions to the culture of peace:


Absence of war – This implies that conflicts between and within states that are wars and civil wars must end for peace to prevail. Thus, it argues that killing has to stop for people to get more out of life and is a necessary prerequisite to create a peaceful society.


Balance of power – Peace is a dynamic and delict balance of power. It is a “balance involving political, social, cultural and technological factors, and that war occurred when this balance broke down” (Quincy Wright 1941).


Negative peace and positive peace – Drawing from Galtung’s understanding of peace as both absence of physical violence (negative peace) and structural violence (positive peace).  This aspect insists the culture of peace to be one promoting both negative and positive peace.


Feminist peace – Pushing the limits of positive and negative peace, Brock-Utne includes violence against an individual as an important aspect of culture of peace. Thus “the new definition of peace then included not only the abolition of macro level organized violence, such as war, but also doing away with micro-level unorganized violence, such as rape in war or in the home” (Groff & Smoker).


Holistic Gaia peace – Highlights the need for peace not only between human beings, but peace with the environment as well. This shifts the focus of peace from a merely anthropocentric concept to include all species in the world and peace with nature.  “Peace with the environment is seen as central for this type of holistic peace theory, where human beings are seen as one of many species inhabiting the earth, and the fate of the planet is seen as the most important goal” (Groff & Smoker).


Holistic inner and outer peace – This has been the latest addition to the concept of culture of peace as there has been much trepidation to add this sometimes controversial aspect to the field of peace studies. Though secularist may find it problematic, it is also recognised that peace without this aspect cannot exists. Many thinkers also believe that the world is the reflection of a person’s inner being. Accordingly, this aspect is of great importance for building a culture of peace. “Spiritually based peace theory stresses the centrality of inner peace, believing that all aspects of outer peace, from the individual to the environmental levels, must be based on inner peace” (Groff & Smoker).


There remain many dichotomies still unresolved in this field but no one can deny that peace education is one of the most important tools that we have today to transform society. As it emphasises the holistic dimension of living on earth, it compels each one of us to engage with everyday life to bring peace on earth. It faces its own unique challenges as well. Such that “by its very nature, education is not self-financing. Education that challenges the status quo and the power structures that support only one model of economic development will always find funding hard to come by” (L. Cronkhite). The lack of funding being just the tip of the iceberg, as the field tries to accommodate and negotiate diversities of perspectives and realities trying to strike the delicate balance to build peace. It is a dynamic field which can fine-tune itself with praxis. As M.K Gandhi once said, “there is no way to peace, peace is the way.”


Sceptics may question the tools and technique of peace education as an effective way forward to rebuild this war torn, conflict ridden and “terrorised” planet but one has to look around and we will find enough successful efforts in this direction. Pedagogy for peace intends to create attitudes; skills and knowledge amongst students, which help them, move form a violent habituated system to a more peaceful system. In the case of India it intents to break biases, question intolerance and othering, challenge the colonial legacy and create a new vocabulary suited to its experiences knowledge and needs. Pedagogy for peace can prove to be the synergy required to bring together various efforts both of governmental and non-governmental actors to bring about effective social change. Here we will examine 5 principals which are part and parcel of peace education framework and how they are being implemented in South Asia.



The Five Principals of Peace Education in India:

1) Conscientisation and critical pedagogy: freedom from the colonial legacy and banking system of education. According to Freire, oppressed (excluded) people need to develop critical consciousness in order to challenge the ideas of dominant groups who are their oppressors. They need to be able to critically assess the kinds of ideas, contexts and relationships which are usually ‘taken for granted’ or accepted as inevitable, in order to question the root causes of their oppression (Freire 1970). Through the process of conscientisation, or developing critical consciousness, excluded groups can learn to identify, interpret, criticize and finally transform the world about them. Crucial to this process is the notion of praxis by which Freire means being able to make the connection between experience, understanding and social action to bring about social change. It is a process which people must do for themselves because liberation or emancipation cannot be handed down from above. It must come from the bottom up. An example of work done in this direction can be seen in a movement called Jana Sanskriti or cultural movement in West Bengal India. It uses theatre of the oppressed in which the oppressed are not mute, passive observers expected to accept whatever solution is offered to them. The culture in our society is one of centralization and monologue where a few constitute a powerful force and the majority has no choice but to follow instructions blindly, even willingly. Jana Sanskriti wishes to break the culture of monologue. The success of Jan Sanskriti and its methods used offers a rich knowledge base for future educators looking for innovative and meaningful tool for their classroom. Jan Sanskriti is just one of the many groups working towards Conscientisation and Critical pedagogy.


2) Systems thinking: freedom from fragmentation and reactiveness in our education system increasingly has made us dependent on the scientific method or analytical thinking. Edward T Clark Jr. in his article, “The Design Solution: Systems Thinking”, puts forth “four methodological characteristics implicit in the scientific method: a) It is reductionistic and atomistic; b) it is rational, pragmatic and empirical; c) it assumes objectivity; and d) it assumes an either/or logic”. These assumptions lead to fragmentation, competition and reactiveness in our education system. Moreover it creates a mind, which is disinviting to paradoxes and duality in beings. The world is reduced to an inert, non-living being to be acted upon. Not denying the importance of the scientific method, one has to question its relevance and move towards a systems approach if we wish to create an education system, which is more capable of transforming conflict.

It is important to see analytical thinking and systems thinking as complementary rather than as a contradictory or an oppositional way of thinking.

Systems thinking also comes with its assumption:


  • It incorporates logic
  • It assumes a living universe
  • It values ecological thinking
  • It recognises that we live in a participatory universe
  • It is at the same time both local and global
  • It honours the long-range view

The works of NGOs like Society For Integrated Development of the Himalayas (SIDH) in partnership with the Sarva Shiksha Abhyan in Uttarancha, India and Urmul Trust in Rajasthan, India are powerful models for implementing the above. Encouraging non-formal centres of education and making education curriculum deeply linked to local knowledge not only increases student participation but also makes for a more responsive and community based learning process.


3) Compassion, cooperation and co-existence: Challenging competition as a tool to motivate learners. These values also challenge biases, suspicion of the “other” and man’s constant conquest over nature drawing deeply from the Buddhist principle of Universal Responsibility and the Gandhian principle of Sanmati.  For too long, the fear of “communal” politics has led to an apprehension of using the existing cultural knowledge in this region which lends themselves to peace and social change.  The rich wisdom of spiritual thinkers from the Buddha to Iqbal have been scarcely reflected upon or brought to light for the young to engage with. SPIC MACAY Gurkul Scholarship is a good example of how one can innovatively bridge this gap, exposing and engaging students to these ideas, looking beyond the current accepted system of education, and exploring ideas that are generally rejected by the dominant sensibilities. The three principles mentioned above find a deep resonance in the synchronic traditions and cultural wisdom of this region and should find a voice in the curriculum and teaching methods of this region.


4) Curriculum, context and dialogical learning: questions power, politics and pedagogy. What we teach is as important as how we teach. The content or the subject matter then becomes the lens from which you approach and view the given situation. Thus both the content and the method have to work hand in hand. Curriculum for pedagogy for peace has to be context sensitive and based on dialogical method of teaching which makes it dynamic and constantly being defined and redefined in the light of context. Curriculum has to free itself from prejudices at the same time not be apolitical and removed from reality. The Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme (HSTP) and Eklavya in Madhya Pradesh India is perhaps a good example of engaging curriculum free of prejudices. HSTP has attempted to base science education on the principles of “learning by discovery”, “learning through activity” and “learning from the environment” in contrast to the prevailing textbook centred ‘learning by rote’ method.


5) Contemplation and self-knowledge – questioning an education system that insists humans are nothing more than mere ‘human capital”: This aspect is normally missing or at best given lip service to at schools. Education as viewed by Gandhi has to have all three components, that which is for the mind, the body and the spirit. Therefore in his Nai Talim model for education, he has tried to break the hierarchy of knowledge, which puts mind above body and spirit. Self-knowledge is the fulcrum or anchor, which helps us build relationships in the world. Most educators and teachers in this region have emphasised its importance in the creative process and learning. It is the basis of action, which is based in thought and reflection rather than reaction. Thus from Krishnamurti to Aurobindo and Tagore, all have emphasised its importance, especially during the formative years of a child’s learning process. However, this aspect is normally restricted to what is known as “holistic school”. The Krishanmurti Foundation India and the “new progressive schools” in the metros are examples of this model. The lack of encouragement to this aspect cannot be justified on the basis of lack of finances or infrastructure to do it. It is merely matter of priorities of the education system, which is geared towards building human capital. This needs to be challenged, for only a people anchored in themselves are capable of creating something new rather than just human being programmed to solve problems.


Boulding, E. (2000). Cultures of peace. The hidden side of history. New York: Syracuse University Press. pp. 89-106.


Groff, Linda & Smoker, Paul (1996). Creating global/local cultures of peace. In UNESCO (Ed.) From a culture of violence to a culture of peace. pp. 103-127. Paris: UNESCO.


Potter, W. C. (2001). A new agenda for disarmament and non-proliferation education. Disarmament Forum. 3, 1-8. Available online at


Cronkhite, L.  (2000). Development education: Making connections North and South.  In Goldstein, Tara & Selby, David (eds)  Weaving Connections: Educating for peace, social and environmental justice. (pp. 146-167).  Toronto:  Sumach. 


UNESCO (2004). UNESCO-mainstreaming the culture of peace. Paris: Culture of Peace Co-ordinator, Bureau of Strategic Planning. pp. 1-9.


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1This understanding subscribes to the social constructionist view as developed by Peter L Berger and Thomas Luckmann in their book Social Construction of Reality (1966). 2John Paul Lederach: Preparing for Peace: Chapter One 3Procss structueres are natural phenomena that are dynamic, adaptive and changing, and yet at the same time sustain a functional and recognizable form and structure. For peace as process structure refer to the writings of Lederach and Maiesse at
Shreya Jani is a MA student in the Peace Education programme at the University for Peace, Costa Rica.