By Francis Jim B. Tuscano, TeachSDGs Ambassador, Edtech Specialist, Philippines
The world has been in a quest for peace for so long. People of every color have given much effort. We have engaged in long and meaningful discourses, planned, and executed national and local actions to attain what humanity has been longing for.
In some nations, these efforts were successful, proving that peace is a strong and essential driving force towards progress and development. As time passes by, some peaceful countries suddenly find themselves at the frontline, as these nations guard and fight to maintain and eliminate threats to their nation’s peaceful existence. For some, peace has been very elusive. The struggle has caused divisions in their society, destruction of infrastructures and resources, denial of people’s basic rights, and worst of all, disrespect to and loss of human lives.
Role of Education in the Quest for Peace
The United Nations was fundamentally formed to maintain peace in our planet. Throughout the years, the UN has continued to prioritize the quest for a peaceful coexistence in this shared world. In 2015, the UN outlined peace as an area of critical importance in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To be more specific, the UN member nations target to attain, by 2030, peaceful, just, and inclusive societies, free from fear and violence. This goal acknowledges peace as a basic and essential element for progress and development to happen in every human society. SDG 16 focuses on this global quest for peace.
In this quest for peace, education plays an essential role. Whether through formal or informal learning or education, peace is taught as a universal value that must be integrated into the curriculum and to the learning process. Right now, this is something that all education systems in every nation should seriously consider.
In the school where I currently teach, Xavier School in the Philippines, peace education takes various forms. In the younger years, students first begin to learn about the importance respecting others, the skill to manage and resolve conflicts, and the goodness of showing kindness to every person one meets, whether the person is your friend or a stranger, young or old. We acknowledge that these are essential and fundamental values and virtues that help create a peaceful classroom, school, home, or neighborhood.
As the the students mature and move into higher levels, they are introduced to and made aware of the major conflicts that involve the bigger societies, nations, or groups throughout history. Disciplines such as the Social Sciences are often the designated subject areas that would push academic discussions and reflections on threats to and issues about peace and justice. Students in the higher grade levels engage in discourse, research, problem-solving, and advocacies that would contribute to the attainment of a peaceful and just nation. Together with other disciplines such as the Religious and Values Education and the Guidance Departments, students gain skills to become promoters of peace or as we say, “peacemakers.”
Using Visual Arts to Promote Peace Awareness and Action
Visual arts, which covers traditional fine arts such as drawing, painting, and sculpture among others, is known to promote and develop creativity among learners. Through the skills taught in visual arts, learners can create products that reflect the reality that they are living in, the aspirations they are genuinely working for, and the ideas and emotions that occupy their reflections.
Young learners who are attending visual arts classes also experience a different kind of fun and form of self-expression. When students are asked which they would prefer among the different academic disciplines, Arts would be a favorite answer, since it does not asked for a very rigid way of learning as experienced in the more concept and skilled-based subjects. It is in arts that they learn about creativity and experience freedom of self-expression.
Taking advantage of this, my team and I developed an arts activity that would engage young learners into a discussion about peace and justice. This project was very timely since the Philippines, where my students and I reside, has been in a long quest for a lasting experience of peace, especially in the war-torn parts of Mindanao Island in the southern area of the country.
Hands for Peace Project
The arts activity was called the “Hand for Peace Project.” The project had two-fold objectives - first, to make the students in Grades 2 to 4 aware of SDG 16 and of the need for peace in Mindanao, especially in the war-torn Marawi City and second, to ask the students to become promoters of peace in the different communities that they belong to, such as in school, neighborhoods, or even simply, in their families. The project made use of station or base system to execute the various activities.
Base 1: Awareness and Empathy Station
For the first station, the main objective was to introduce the young learners to the extreme condition of the war-torn city of Marawi in Mindanao. The city has been an area of conflict since May 2017 when a local rebel and ISIS sympathizer group, called the Maute, took control of the city. Up to the writing of this article, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, as well as the national police group, continues to engage the rebel group in a deadly battle for the city. Local residents have been evacuated. Those caught in the middle of the siege were also relocated. However, the exchange of fires has led to the unthinkable destruction of infrastructure and the disruption of the citizen’s daily lives, commerce, and education.
The participating students were carefully led to reflect on the importance of peace and the effects of the absence of peace in a locality. An empathy exercise helped to engage the students in this station. To aid in this station, visual prompts, such as images of and videos about Marawi before and after the siege, were used.
Base 2: Promise and Call for Action Station
The second station challenged the students to become promoters of peace. In this station, the project banked on the symbolical meaning and relevance of the human hand. As promoters of peace, the young students were encouraged to use their hands as instruments of peace rather than using them as tools for destruction or division. This was very effective because it was a concrete way of telling them that the actions that they do with their bodies can either have good or bad effect on other people.
To engage the students, they were given simple peace cards which asked them to identify a community where they want to promote peace. Afterwards, the students were asked to think of a specific action that they can really do to promote peace in their chosen community. Some of the students chose to become better brothers to their siblings, while some promised to use kind words and do kind actions to their classmates or to any student they encounter in school. Some students focused on the critical issue in Malawi and promised to ask their parents to take part in helping the evacuees of Marawi. Whatever their answers were, the young students proved that they can also become promoters of peace, even if their promises and actions may seem too simplistic for adults.
Base 3: Mark of a Promoter of Peace Station
The station was the most anticipated part! Using differently colored washable hand paint, the young students made and left a concrete mark of their promise in the “peace wall.” Of course, this part was the most enjoyable part of the peace project. The students were given the chance to choose their favorite color for their hand mark. As they left their colorful hand marks on the wall, the students were asked to always remember their promises.
Continuing the Quest for Peace
Reality has shown us the truth. To have a peaceful world, we must acknowledge that everyone should contribute and work for it. This starts with helping our students, especially, the young of the importance of peace in every level of human society.
Hence, if we want to make peace education relevant, let us consider how we can meaningfully engage the students. As educators, we can take advantage of the various tools and media that captures the students’ interest in learning. Using their interests, peace education becomes more engaging and effective, just like this simple and fun arts activity which helped young learners to show empathy to those affected by conflict and to take actions to become peacemakers.
United Nations. Sustainable Development Goals. Retrieved from https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs
ABS CBN News (2017). TIMELINE: Maute attack in Marawi City. Retrieved from http://news.abs-cbn.com/news/05/25/17/timeline-maute-attack-in-marawi-city
As an education technology specialist, consultant, and trainer, Jim is passionate about designing transformative learning experiences in the classroom that enable learners to become active, reflective, and collaborative creators of knowledge. In 2017, Jim became the first teacher to represent the Philippines as a finalist to the Global Teacher Prize, considered as the Nobel Prize for Teachers, due to his work on elevating the standards of education in the Philippines through a meaningful use of technology in learning, emphasis on values educations to young learners, and providing better access to professional development trainings to the public school system in his home province of Abra in the Cordillera Administrative Region.
He is an Accredited Professional Development Consultant, Apple Distinguished Educator, Google Certified Trainer, and Book Creator and SeeSaw apps ambassador. He is currently the chairperson for the Grade School Christian Life Education department and the Head Education Technology Coach of Xavier School.
As a global teacher blogger, he continues to share his ideas on technology integration in his website: “Edtech, Go!” at www.francisjimtuscano.com and via his Twitter PLN @jimtuscano.