Experts Examine Innovative Approaches at Two-day Virtual Forum
Thirty-one panelists and observers from 69 countries explored the convergence of peacebuilding and education and the challenges presented by the global pandemic during a two-day virtual forum, “Forging a New Frontier in Peacebuilding and Education,” on March 24-25, 2021. Organized and hosted by the Global Peace Foundation and Co-operation Ireland, six unique panels addressed the impact of the pandemic on peacebuilding and teaching approaches, and the structural and demographic challenges of remote and hybrid learning.
“Some may think that peacebuilding and education are unrelated disciplines,” said Global Peace Foundation International President James Flynn in welcoming remarks. “But when we recognize the broad scope of peacebuilding, as well as the central role of education in raising future responsible citizens we can see clearly that the two are interconnected.”
Addressing the forum from Belfast, Co-operation Ireland CEO Peter Sheridan reflected on the challenges of ending conflict and sustaining peace in a post-conflict environment. “The last few years have shown how even a successful peace process can be derailed,” Sheridan said, “so I want to stress that the building of relationship is of vital importance, and how strong relationships and trust can come to the rescue when periods of turbulence occur. Given the current climate of the pandemic, trust in relationships is the ‘vaccine’ of peace work.”
Mr. Sheridan presented a brief overview of the 30-year sectarian conflict between Protestant unionist loyalists that wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK and Catholic nationalist republicans that wanted Northern Ireland to become part of the Republic of Ireland. The “Troubles,” as the conflict is known, cost the lives of more than three thousand people and left deep psychological scars. Despite the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, Sheridan said, “Northern Ireland remains a divided society with simmering tensions with ongoing violence.”
While local and regional conflicts can have many root causes, both Sheridan and Flynn stressed the importance of dialogue, relationship building, and trust-building. They identified four distinct phases in this process, including:
- Peacekeeping, a process of separating antagonists through agencies such as UN peacekeepers
- Peacemaking, or diplomatic efforts to resolve differences
- Peacebuilding, such as post-conflict efforts by government and civil society stakeholders to resolve root causes and bring lasting reconciliation
- Peacesharing, a process to impart lessons from the experiences of resolving conflict in different political and social contexts
“Trust is the glue that holds relationships, societies, and economies together,” Sheridan said, “while violence results in the breakdown of trust.”
Peacebuilding and Education
The forum engaged more than a thousand registered participants, with experts, policymakers, and peace advocates on diverse panels emphasizing the needs of youth in a rapidly evolving twenty-first-century environment.
Educational instruction and peacebuilding efforts have undergone transformational changes because of the global pandemic, panelists said during two sessions on Day 1 of the forum. Noting that the pandemic has caused the whole globe to rewrite its education systems, one panelist urged the adoption of an “experimental culture in our teaching practices,” which can be the leading driver in breeding innovations that will shape the future of how education is being delivered.
Geneva-based ITU (a UN agency) Program Officer Samantha O’Riordan noted that more than half the global population does not have access to the internet despite 3G coverage of some 97 percent of the world. Educators shared best practices in reaching learners through other media, including television and lesson packets delivered to difficult to reach communities, while “reimagining schools as learning hubs” to engage youth, educators, and communities.
Youth and Risks of Extremism
Speakers also stressed the importance of engaging youth from different backgrounds to build connections and peace. Panelists from Nigeria and international bodies from West Africa and the United Kingdom addressed the ongoing violence in Nigeria and youth-based strategies to mitigate conflict.
“Youth are at the heart of the violence, whether as victims, perpetrators, or protectors,” said a UK-based West Africa Project Manager, Daniel Tucker. “But too often they are excluded from the solutions of that violence in a highly patriarchal society. We look to deepen resilience, so they don’t have the tendency to fall into violence and we look to opportunities to engage youth to drive positive social change.”
Others agreed that Nigeria is a complex and multi-layered society, with many causes of conflict that remain unaddressed by the state. Religion is a “trigger” and is used to divide and inflame violence, panelists said.
During another session, education experts and IT professionals discussed how digital technologies and the recent explosion of connectivity present risks of extremism, cyberbullying, threats to security, and privacy violations, especially for youth and educators.
Dr. Maryam Lawal, a young professional at the World Bank’s Digital Development Global Practice in Washington D.C, advised educators how to maximize the benefits of the digital environment for children, yet understand the risk landscape.
Forum participants from the United States, Belgium, Kenya, and the Philippines explored opportunities and best practices for youth civic engagement and participation to advance political and social objectives during another session.
Education for Character
A common theme during the forum was the development of interpersonal competencies—instilling hope and the capacity for forgiveness, fostering the innate ability of children to relate naturally with other people, and choosing attitudes founded on open-mindedness and respect—soft skills that need to be cultivated as part of twenty-first-century education.
GPF Vice President for Education Dr. Tony Devine said future-ready skills “need to be guided by shared values to solve the pressing problems of our time. Correspondingly, teachers and school leaders will need to re-imagine their roles by having the future arc of their students at heart in creating engaging, innovative, personalized and collaborative school cultures.”
Throughout the two-day program, experts shed light on the needs, challenges, and goals involved in the difficult process of transitioning the educational ecosystem into a digital landscape that will answer future needs.
Through cooperation, equitable deployment of resources, and an ethos of innovation, teachers, administrators, education experts, students, and parents will be able to move into this new frontier and create a fostering environment to ensure that students have the skills and competencies to be successful in all aspects of their lives.
Based on evaluation data from the forum, participants gained a deeper understanding of key concepts and best practices, with over 90 percent of participants agreeing that they gained valuable information and insights and learned of important resources best practices.
The forum announced the convening of the bi-annual Global Peace Convention on August 9-15, 2021. The signature convention will feature regional Peacebuilding and Transforming Education Virtual Summits in a variety of time zones, as well as highlighting the growing popular movement for peaceful Korean reunification.