Somalia, South Sudan and Northern Uganda have been embroiled in conflicts for a number of decades. These are legacy conflicts with roots in long-standing mistrust, and acts of violence between different ethnic groups and political factions. Such conflict can lead to a cycle of violence in classrooms, communities and families, including violence against women and children. Addressing the underlying causes is a monumental challenge and there is no easy or simple solution, but if there is going to be recovery, peace and prosperity in these regions, people need a space to come together and discuss the problems and challenges they face.
Education can play an important role in this process. Education not only leads to the possibility of better income and better health for people, but it can also be a tool for building inclusive and accepting communities and more peaceful and democratic nations. Schools can be places to strengthen resilience and foster tolerance and understanding.
We advocate for peacebuilding, tolerance and democracy in many of our programmes. In both formal and non-formal education, for children, adults and young people, we develop materials and train teachers to address social issues within the school environment. This includes making sure that the values of understanding, tolerance and peace are incorporated into the curriculum itself. We work to give young people and minority groups a chance to participate in the development of a curriculum that includes differing points of view, and brings their issues to light.
We encourage teachers to use schools and classrooms to foster discussions in a respectful and positive manner and let students address the legacy of violence and conflict they are living with. Teacher and education management training focuses on making schools safe places for all. Our classes in literacy and adult learning are designed to allow people to talk about different social and community issues. In schools, we support young people to create peacebuilding teams and to take the lead on making education ‘peace focused’.
Peacebuilding is a central pillar of all our work in conflict areas. In South Sudan, we are currently training over 225 teachers working in primary schools, secondary schools, alternative learning programme centres, and technical and vocational training centres to use schools and classrooms for peacebuilding. We use our alternative education classes to bring returnees, people living with disabilities and local communities together to discuss issues affecting South Sudan. We help people read the new constitution which enshrines human rights that are central to a peaceful society. Through these classes we are currently reaching more than 12,000 students and more than 1,280 community members.
Peacebuilding is also an important focus in the development of the Somalia curriculum framework and forms a central part of the prescribed topics and skills materials in this region.
Quality education creates opportunities for discussion and dialogue in classrooms and schools. This then opens opportunities to confront challenges and conflict in and between communities.