Figuring out what 'educating for peace' means started for me at UWC Atlantic College and continued after I graduated whilst I tried to figure out how to put my 'peace education' into practice in the real world. That led me to teaching at UWCSEA (and still trying to figure out what peace education really means). I’m a little closer to finding out after using my Masters Thesis to research what it could mean in a Language Arts classroom. I’m looking forward to sharing what I found out.
Anisha: Hello, welcome. Thank you so much for joining me today., virtually . So you're here for what I hope will be a fairly informal but also hopefully informative sharing session about what I learned whilst researching peace education. And what I'm presenting today is essentially a short summary of the most important takeaways I had going through this process whilst researching what peace education could look like in a language arts classroom for my master's thesis.
So I was very lucky to be able to research, design and implement an intervention that I was able to implement in my classroom. So it took a lot of theoretical learning and writing and the academic ideas and really put them into context for me to see how students engage with them, how they work, get their reflections. So this is a roundup of those important parts, and it quite significantly changed the way that I view classroom teaching and assessment.
And so what I hope I can provide today is a perspective that is perhaps alternative or a different view to how we traditionally think about mainstream education. And hopefully that will spark a bit of a discussion So I'll introduce myself a little. So my name is Anisha Wilmink. I am a UWCSEA English teacher, and I am an IB Language Literature curriculum leader here But my UWC journey began when I was a national committee scholar at UWC Atlantic College in 2007 to 2009.
So I have been the recipient of a peace education. I specifically applied to UWC to be the recipient of peace education. And it was such a formative part of my life that it led me back here to being a teacher. But when I think about what those formative aspects of my education were in relation to peace, I think more about what these three photos represent.
So they were all during my time at Atlantic College. So I think about the service projects that I engaged in the outdoor education that I did is as an outdoor pursuits leader with young, local young people in the community. I think about the other scholars and 90 different nationalities represented across 300 students. I think about the protests.
I think about the late night politics discussions. In short, when I think about peace education, I don't think about the IB. I loved the IB and I learned a lot and I'm really thankful I did it. But I don't associate it with having had a peace education. So then when I fulfilled the dream and came back to UWC as a teacher and I spent most of my time in the classroom I felt like it was perhaps a wasted opportunity if 70% of what our students do in school is only about the academics and only that precious time outside of the classroom is explicitly focused on developing the moral, ethical and social aspects of the young people that we that we look after. So that led me to ask the question, how can I explicitly teach peace in my classroom?
So obviously, the first thing I have to ask is, what is it what is educating for peace? And then in order to understand that, what do I mean by peace? So my working definition or the theoretical framework that I applied was Johan Galtung's (1996).
And this is a, I suppose, a summary of what I understood and peace to be. So in order to understand peace as an absence of violence, we have to understand what violence is. And so Galtung maintains that violence or manifestations of conflict can be defined as anything that obstructs someone from reaching their potential. So it doesn't just have to be physical manifestations of violence.
It means that if anyone is stopped from achieving what they should be able to achieve, any sort of inequality, whether perpetuated by a person or a group of people or government for any reason, whether that be age, gender, race, situation, poverty, location, anything that stops them, that in itself is violence against those who are hindered by the human need educationally, socially or legal So violence or peace is not just the absence of violence.
Peace is equal opportunity for everyone.
So what does that mean for what peace education is? It means that peace education is not just about war or about violence. It is about teaching knowledge and the implications of that knowledge, understanding how the knowledge that students are taking from our classrooms can impact the world around them. And that is so that students can realise that impact on and in communities understand what physical and intellectual impact knowledge can have.
So that they can form understandings and opinions about where systems of inequality might occur, but also decide how they might be involved in perpetuating what's happening Every piece of knowledge that they get in a classroom has some sort of Real-World context. And unless we talk about how that works or what the consequences or the implications of that real world context are, then how can we expect students to be using their knowledge to actively build peace. So therefore, education for peace cannot be about competition and individual results alone.
Essentially, it's about what they do with the knowledge and not just about the knowledge ourselves. Now, this goes against the traditional way of looking at education, where we measure outcomes based on retention of knowledge, not necessarily about the outcomes. Creativity and creation is a driver of so much of what happens actually in our primary school, but it gets squeezed in favour of measuring understandings often as we become more reliant on exams or rubrics to measure outcomes.
So the difficult thing for me is I see as an English teacher, I see the pressure that students are under when they're asked to construct their own arguments, to have critical thoughts, to have evaluative thoughts, because they may feel unsafe, because failure, experimentation, investigation, research, these are things that are rarely privileged in the exams based system. But students need to be or need to understand themselves as constructors of knowledge if they're actually able to understand how they're going to have an impact on the world around has to be an active relationship. It cannot be passive.
So if that's the way we're looking at education, if we're trying to equip students with understanding, they can construct knowledge and the knowledge that they're learning from experts around them or their peers who actually have an impact on the world. How do we design curricula to make sure that that's happening? How do we design curricula to educate the peace?
So what I want to show you are the principles that I took away from my literature review. So this is the synthesis and the understandings I took away from reading all about the experts out there and what their arguments were. I'm just going to run through them. And hopefully that can kind of spark a little bit of an understanding.
Or you can compare that to the education you had or your child is receiving or that you're delivering in the classroom. So obviously we're thinking about what do we teach? And so peace education across curricula should be designed to foster students with a moral compass and a sense of responsibility to contribute to a society that avoids or addresses instances of violence.
That seems fairly straightforward. Peace. Education cannot only be focused on those experiencing the violence. It must try to teach all students how their own societies inadvertently or purposefully may perpetuate inequalities. And that actually comes from not only examining privilege, but empowering people to use their voices and understand where perhaps inequalities might be perpetuated against them.
How we've been teaching. But we're also trying to position students as makers of knowledge. So students should be positioned as making knowledge so that they can critique and adapt modes of thought and knowledge production outside the classroom as well as inside the classroom. They have to be active in shaping the world if we are going to ask them to go out and actively build peace But it has to mean something to them.
So knowledge should have an obvious relevance to the lives and current context of the students being taught - it has to be authentic. You can't ask someone to care about something that they don't care about. It has to be important for them to go out and actively make a change. But there also has to be time for them to stop and think what it all means to them.
So all curricula should include space for reflection on the value and the use of the knowledge being taught We can't just do an exam and move on. Okay, now, you know, this is how much you know, we can measure, how much you know what you understand or what you still need to get better at. But also, why do you want that knowledge?
What are you going to do with that knowledge? Why is that knowledge important to you is just as important a question as what do you know. This comes into also, then measuring the success. It can't all just be about how much you know, there have to be other modes of success. So education should prioritise group successes as well as individual success.
Students should have the chance to understand their own strengths and weaknesses when working alone and when working in teams. They should avoid the competition and the conception that those who do better at school deserve more. The next couple of slides are more about what happens in a language arts classroom. And I'll talk a little bit about what I understood from how you take those broader principles and deliver them with the subject knowledge.
So for me, teaching should include content, should include text that expose students to the narratives of the other and narratives of conflict, and should encourage constructive controversy and studying these texts in order to allow students to critique that knowledge. Content should also create opportunities for students to reflect on how their own conceptions and ideas have changed in discussion with their peers and with the texts and ideally explore the construction of text to understand the thought process and use of language in communication.
Language is a way in which we access knowledge the way in which our understanding is shaped by thoughts of shapes. So that deconstructing of knowledge in a language arts classroom is really, really important. How things are shaped.
So in all of that, I've come back to the classic question of how do we measure that? It all sounds very nice in theory, but how do we measure that learning? How do schools check for success? How do parents and students and teachers know what is happening in that classroom, and how are they making sure that they are getting the outcomes they need? And so the answer is we don't assess everything. We can assess the learning, but we do not have to measure it necessarily against a restrictive gauge.
I find this quotation sums it up perfectly: The emphasis on performance and measurable outcomes leads to a denial of the relevance of anything that cannot immediately be turned into quantifiable data. [Shapiro, 2010] And this is something that globally we really struggle with. We need to be able to measure things and turn them into things that are quantifiable for us to be able to say this is success.
But working with that more qualitative data is something that I think teachers should get used to when we're measuring learning. We work with qualitative data all the time when looking at students well-being. So I think we can translate our skills into understanding their learning as well. So essentially assessments should be split into two and we can measure individual specific, measurable outcomes.
For example, reading skills, writing skills. We understand those against benchmarks, we to measure those, but we should also privilege nonspecific and non measurable outcomes. We should allow space for students and teachers to stop and think about what have you learned about yourself? What have you learned about the world around you? And what have you learned about the potential impact of the knowledge that you now have?
So I'll show you some examples of some reflection.
Reflection can be done in many ways or actually can be done in discussion. Reflection can be done in writing, videos. There are any number of ways that we can make reflection authentic. And what I find interesting about reflection is you don't know what the outcome will be. So this student, when asked to reflect on the group process and what they learned, talked about what they learned about themselves in a group.
They talked about handling stress and pressure. They talked about leadership skills, time management, and looking at the bigger picture when they should be looking at something in detail. They really learn a lot about themselves and how they worked with other people to achieve success. Or Student B talked much more about what they learned from the textbook they studied.
What have I learned? They said, if you act impulsively or against your will, your actions will bring misfortune. Or competition. can be good, but extremely bad if taken to extremes. Their lessons that they learned was from looking at the people inside the text and the difficulty for teachers is to step back and say, you have ownership over what you learned, what you understood, and what you take away from that.
That's up to you. And I can't decide that for you. I can when I'm looking at skills based outcomes, reading and writing. But if I'm talking about understandings about yourself in the world, that has to be a little bit more flexible. So if we're moving that to the text, yes, I need them to know what happens in the text.
I need to put it in context. If you're thinking about science, yes you need to know the construction, you need to know the basics of what happens. But also, what did you learn about yourself or the world whilst you were learning all of that? That's the question that we need to stop and ask, or allow our students to ask themselves.
So I had a lot of discussions with a lot of different teachers, whilst doing my research, and I loved this response from one of my fellow teachers who said that I think sometimes in education we try to assess so many things on a clear, identifiable rubric. We use, for example, personality traits, conscientiousness, hard work, collaboration, communication. You'll be familiar with many of those from our own ATLs. And we pretend that because we have them written down, that we actually have a way to assess them.
I think what they meant was just because we have a word and we have some descriptors, doesn't mean that we're able to understand in many different ways that those things can be shown in those things can come about. So we're making it quite strict. And so they said, I don't know how accessible peace education is, and I also don't know if I care. I think that that was really powerful for me because it not only encapsulates the slightly radical view that we have to take when we look at education, not everything can be controlled by us, but also that we might have to experiment, we might have to test, we might have to be okay with education looking slightly different than what it looks like now.
Teaching for peace, therefore includes a radical power shift. If we're to empower students to disrupt dominant ways of thinking that they maybe find damaging or they think is unhelpful, they want to see the change in the world, then we cannot position ourselves as the holders of knowledge and students as the retainers of knowledge.
Students must have the power to construct new knowledge. If they are going to go out and actively build and change the world, they are going to inherit and they have to have this power in the classroom. They have to have that now. So when I did the intervention, lots of things were different for the students. They had a lot of creative control, there was as much time spent on creation as there was on delivery.
So we studied Macbeth, we spent three to four weeks going through the play, which is incredibly short for most people. But then they spent three weeks just on creating a creative portfolio, and then they spent another three weeks using drama to explore the text. We spend much more time on them exploring and using the text and constructing knowledge than we did on actually delivery of content where I'm the expert. And so obviously it's interesting to think what they thought. So how do they feel about it? Well, first off then, the question before I started the intervention, what do you think education for peace and a sustainable future should look like in an English class? And this graphic shows the ways in which they think teaching should be taught and what the outcomes were And what's interesting is that intercultural understanding and open mindedness I mentioned far more times than critical thinking and Problem-Solving, discussion in debates which is much more about the sharing of ideas featured far more than group work, which is about the construction of ideas.
So when talking to the students about this, they seem to see themselves much more as passive actors entities with potential rather than entities with power. Which goes back to what I was saying earlier about teaching or peace requiring that radical power shift. So my intervention was entirely based on group work - not only do students spend much more time constructing, they also had to do it entirely in teams. There was nothing that about individual measurement. We did that elsewhere in the course and therefore students could not compete for grades. They had to work together. They had to confront the understanding that their successes and failures would be dependent on others and many students and teachers and parents find this unfair. It means that the most capable students risk the outcomes being reduced and the least capable or least willing seem to benefit unfairly.
But actually, I would argue that this mirrors our global reality almost perfectly. In order to survive, to survive mass pandemics and the global climate crisis, actually, we have to be prepared to work for the many even if some of the many are unwilling or unable to contribute. And what we find ourselves in Singapore, we find ourselves in this environment, is actually largely we are the holders of quite a lot of power globally.
And so potentially we actually have to ask our students to be prepared to do that work, and prepared to do that work and take on a larger amount of that work as they also have a larger amount of power, and potentially privilege. So how do they feel about the group work? Well, it turns out they loved it. And I asked them, to what extent did you feel working in a group helped you learn?
The responses were much more polarised than I actually thought. 60% of them said that they felt it to a great extent. Another ten slightly less. And then very few were on that middle or lower end. And then I asked them, how comfortable are you being assessed as a group? And again, you can see that it's slightly lower.
They can understand that being in a group. helped them learn. But there is that discomfort, but there's more comfort than discomfort, which is something I very much was not expecting. What I understood when talking to the students and getting more bit rich data in in the surveys was that whilst there was an understanding that things were unfair and they were very vocal about that, sometimes some had to do more work.
Sometimes some felt like they were carrying an unfair load, or maybe that they were also weren't able to contribute as much as others. What they got out of it personally in terms of their learning was worth the slight discomfort. They got so much more from working as a group and working together from having their ideas developed or confirmed by others, learning how others did things.
They got so much more out of that process than the potential discomfort brought. And so ultimately it was something that was worth it for them.
So I just want to read this quotation that one of the students gave when I asked them what did you take away from this learning and what did you find valuable And they said, I'm sure there were valuable learning moments that were discovered in this unit. But honestly, I don't think there is anything that I learned that either affects my life or changed my understanding of something. The best learning I probably got was working with the group and not learning the material itself.
Collaboration skills are very important, especially in the corporate world where I may work one day. It was tough for me to work in a group that I didn't choose for various reasons and how to cope with it was probably the best learning I got, which is applicable to the real world outside of school. And I loved this because it exemplifies to me the power of peace education.
So the student could be characterised as one that perhaps doesn't value the softer skills that come with an English education. They express a desire explicitly to work in the notoriously competitive corporate world. Yet, despite their view that they didn't learn anything in relation to peace, I as a teacher can assess in the reflection that they did. They learned how to work together with other people and they learned the value of collaboration.
Do I need to point that out to them? No, I don't think so. It's their knowledge and it's their learning, and they should have ownership over what that means to them. They can use that understanding how they wish. That is part of empowering students. But at least I can see what impact I'm having on the people in my classroom.
So what were my biggest takeaways from this whole intervention? When teaching for peace, students should become aware that the skills taught in the language arts can be used in any way they see fit to try to build the world that they want to see. Whether students are considering morality, ethics and humanity or learning literacy skills - it is fundamental to their learning that they feel in control and they see value in the learning that goes past the classroom or the exam hall. I also believe that students must be empowered to work for and with each other, and not only for themselves.
Teachers and schools must do this in the face of overwhelming global pressure to prioritise individual outcomes. And I think this will be the biggest challenge that we face. That's everything for me. I just want to say thank you for coming. If there are any questions, please do stay for the informal networking Q&A just after this, or you can find me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you very much for joining me today.