As Gandhi said, if we are to reach peace we have to begin by educating children. This is to say that educating children for peace is one of the key components of a sustainable peacebuilding process. In a country like Rwanda, where children represent 48% of the population, devising initiatives that reach children is absolutely necessary if we want to successfully work for sustainable and lasting reconciliation and peace, especially in the post-genocide context.
There is a growing number of initiatives that are investing in equipping young people with knowledge and skills to: collaboratively resolve and transform conflicts; transcend prejudices, suspicions and divisions; celebrate differences; challenge old mentalities and work for a united and reconciled Rwandan society. Among such initiatives are the Rwanda Peace Education Programme lead by the Aegis Trust and Youth Clubs for Peace initiative conducted by Christian Action for Reconciliation and Social Action (CARSA).
The Rwanda Peace Education Programme (RPEP) promotes social cohesion, positive values – including pluralism and personal responsibility – empathy, critical thinking and action to build a more peaceful society. The programme brings together experienced partners in the field of peace education. This programme is developed and implemented by a Consortium of four organizations. It is an integrated programme of activities which engages many, from decision makers to school children and young people across the whole country.
One of the focus of this three year programme consists of organizing education outreach activities, with a mobile exhibition using a storytelling methodology from people of all ages who tell of how the genocide affected them as well as stories of reconciliation since 1994. It also involves training teachers in how to deliver peace education, school workshops, youth activities, community and school debates, dialogue clubs and arts and drama workshops. In the framework of community outreach activities, the programme also engages district leaders and decision makers in the community.
Among many achievements of the RPEP on peace education process in Rwanda, the programme has significantly made direct influence on the process of designing and developing the new school curriculum. In her speech during a forum of stakeholders in peace education Dr Joyce Musabe, the deputy director of Rwanda Education Board, pointed out that the new education curriculum currently under review will integrate peace education content as a cross-cutting course into all other subjects in pre-primary, primary and secondary school. The recent competence-based curriculum introduced in the Rwandan school system suggests a number of cross-cutting subjects which include peace and values education.
In the curriculum, Peace and values education (PVE) is defined as education that promotes social cohesion, positive values including pluralism and personal responsibility, empathy, critical thinking and action in order to build a more peaceful society. It is understood as the process of acquiring values and knowledge and developing attitudes, skills and behavior to live in harmony with oneself, with others and with the natural environment.
Peace education cannot be successful if it is only conducted through the formal educational setting: non-formal and informal settings also should be used to reach out young people and their communities. Different NGOs are developing non-formal education to impact children and youth and raise them as peacebuilders. CARSA is one of these organizations that are making efforts to promote peace education communitywide.
The organization has developed values education materials for children and recently initiated Youth Clubs for Peace projects in Muhanga and Kamonyi districts. The initiative has an approach that takes three steps: an introductory conference; the establishment of a peace club and trainings; and organising school community outreach activities. The introductory conference covers topics such as ethnic prejudice, reconciliation, and the role of youth in building sustainable peace in Rwanda. From the conferences, a Peace Club is established within each school, and members of the CARSA team lead two day training sessions for Peace Club members in each school. For CARSA, the Peace Clubs can serve as a foundation to prepare the ground for learners and teachers to receive long term Peace Education in their respective school. These clubs and activities give learners a practical platform to exchange ideas concerning peace and unity and then to spread these ideas to the greater community.
The commitment of the Rwandan education system to integrate peace and values education and other pro-peace related subjects in the school curriculum is very commendable. Though there are many challenges and difficulties of integrating peace education in other subjects, educators in Rwanda seem to be aware of the amount of skills and time it requires in order to achieve the intended objectives and are confident enough to unreservedly engage themselves in the implementation of the curriculum. This confidence comes from the fact that the education policy in Rwanda has room for peace education activities
However, to achieve the objectives, the education sector stakeholders have to develop effective partnerships and practical strategies to promote peace education in school communities and surrounding environments. The development of such a curriculum is a giant step in advancing peace education in Rwanda. But, there is still a lot of work to do, especially in creating conducive and nonviolent school environment, in order to make sure that children are effectively educated for peace.
Here it is important to note that effective peace education has at least three components to be always considered: the content; the teaching-learning methods; and the environment where peace education is taking place. Peace education that doesn’t take into account the three components leaves much to improve. The peace education initiatives applauded in this articles need to assess themselves and make sure that these interlinked elements are effectively developed and oriented towards the purpose of peace education in Rwanda.