Child-Friendly Schooling for Peacebuilding

This study critically examines child-friendly school theory and practice from a peacebuilding perspective. It begins by exploring the child rights substructure of child-friendly education before going on to examine the key principles and primary features of the child-friendly school – childcentredness, inclusiveness, democratic participation and protection – and what they mean in terms of child-friendly practice in the classroom, school and community. New focuses in child-friendly education are touched upon, in particular, linkages with concepts of quality education, the spread of child-friendly schooling from the primary school to preschool and the secondary school levels, and the realization that change across the education system as a whole needs to be addressed in order to achieve quality child-friendly education.

Attention then turns to fundamental concepts and key ideas in peacebuilding education. The idea of conflict sensitivity is introduced and key features of conflict-sensitive education elaborated. With its ‘do no harm’ precept, conflict sensitivity is viewed as laying down a minimum or precursory standard for the clear orientation towards post-conflict cultural, social, political and economic transformation that characterizes peacebuilding. Education for peacebuilding mirrors its generic field in endeavouring to restructure learning and learning contexts so as to readjust and rebalance power relationships in post-conflict contexts by addressing the drivers that have caused and/or exacerbated conflict and division. It calls, among other things, for learning that responds to basic emotional needs, that develops life skills, that enables learners to become ‘active bystanders’ and ‘constructive patriots’ with the moral courage to stand and speak out against harmful group opinion. New focuses and emphases for UNICEF are then considered, notably, the bringing together of peacebuilding, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction under the umbrella concept of resilience building.

Using a socioecological model of change derived from ecological systems theory, a theory of change for peacebuilding education is then offered postulating that sustainable social transformation calls for multilayered, interlinked change whereby, for instance, micro-systemic change in the classroom and school is reinforced and embedded through structural and cultural change at the macro-systemic level while being affirmed by action at the intermediate (including community) meso-systemic level. This change theory is frequently returned to as the study unfolds.

The study then turns to looking at characteristic child-friendly school elements through a peacebuilding lens, with the frequent use of case study examples. In so doing it identifies elements that are ‘peacebuilding resonant’, i.e., already making a contribution to peacebuilding; ‘peacebuilding latent’, i.e., have unrealized peacebuilding potential; and constitute ‘peacebuilding gaps’, i.e., areas left undeveloped by, but nonetheless organically connected to, the child-friendly school concept that, if implemented, would also fulfill an important peacebuilding function. The importance placed in child-friendly school thinking on school environment and ethos is first examined and the argument made that child participation in shaping the school environment and ethos can readily be translated in post-conflict contexts into child engagement to realize peacebuilding goals.

There follows a section on child-friendly curriculum, teaching and learning. The case is made that child-friendly curriculum proposals lack elaboration but that they provide fertile ground within which the more thoroughly developed curriculum proposals of peacebuilding education can be established. Child-friendly life skills education offers, perhaps, the most fertile soil of all. While child-friendly curricula are rich in citizenship education potential, the concepts of citizenship that peacebuilding learning of transformative intent embraces are not evident. Again, while child-friendly education makes the abstract case for child-negotiated curricula, it draws back from serious child involvement in determining where the curriculum in detail focuses and thus misses out on the potential for practising democracy. Child-centred pedagogies, a keystone of the child-friendly school, are found to be limited in their diversity, particular attention being given to both the childfriendly and peacebuilding potential that is being missed by the failure to place sufficient store within child-friendly education on cooperative learning, socio-emotional learning, learning for critical media literacy, and future-oriented learning.

Under the key child-friendly school principle of democratic participation, the potential within childfriendly frameworks for student involvement in school and community in peacebuilding initiatives is explored. Potential forms and areas of child and youth participation are laid out. It is concluded that the representative school governance emphasis of child-friendly education allied to its tendency to otherwise restrict student participation to engagement with tasks designated by adults falls short of realizing a culture of participatory democracy within which peacebuilding initiatives might prosper. Possibilities for student participatory engagement of transformative potential within school and out in the community in conflict-affected contexts are then discussed, including child participation in peace-promoting media production and broadcasting. The text then turns to the idea of the school as the community hub or entry point for peacebuilding and the possibilities this opens up for student and community participation. In a similar way, the child-friendly school’s emphasis on self-assessment and school improvement and on school-level monitoring and evaluation are seen as carrying potential for peacebuilding which students could and should be encouraged to take advantage of.

The study then turns to the potential within system-wide child-friendly education for peacebuilding, with sections on the professional development of teachers and others, the use of situation analyses, multi-sector and multi-level partnership approaches, national policy development, national child-friendly school teams, and national-level monitoring and evaluation. The conflictsensitivity and peacebuilding risks and vulnerabilities that might follow from child-friendly schooling in and of itself but also from infusing child-friendly practice with additional features and dimensions in the pursuit of conflict resolution and resultant social transformation are then enumerated.

The main text ends with recommendations for making child-friendly schooling more peacebuilding resonant. Appendices offer further case studies of the synoptic variety and a listing of standards and indicators for child- friendly schooling for peacebuilding.

Read the full report, cfs-and-peacebuilding.

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