The importance of learning and education is quite obvious. It involves so much more than merely transmitting knowledge to another generation. Education reflects and reproduces the values, identity and behaviour of the society it is part of, the standardised body of knowledge that is supposed to be shared by all members of that society and the means by which this knowledge is conveyed. Educational institutions are microcosms, which reflect the social cohesion, social interaction and structure of the people they serve. Students can be supported in their personal development, trained to find employment and taught to become members of their society.
Education in the Western Balkans
For many years now, most schools in the Western Balkans have been strictly segregated along ethnic identities. History is taught from a single, ethnocentric perspective. Teachers are often poorly prepared for working with ethnically mixed groups and in some cases, contribute to spreading ethnic stereotypes themselves. An authoritarian teaching style prevails and students are rarely encouraged to participate in school decisions. Violence continues to be seen as a means of solving problems in large parts of society, and thus also in schools.
Peace Education’s Contributions
Education can play a central role in the prevention and transformation of violent conflict if alternative dispute resolution techniques are taught, experienced and practised through extra-curricular activities and within formal lessons. This is what forumZFD calls “peace education”.
It inspires critical reflection (which helps to overcome prejudices), improves learners’ ability to deal with conflicts and the violent past and fosters mutual understanding. Workshops and seminars provide safe spaces for meeting “the other side”, contribute to trust-building and reduce inter-ethnic tensions. Teachers learn to reflect on their own behaviour and to convey the positive aspects of a pluralistic society in everyday school life. They are supported in challenging the widespread authoritarian structures in schools and in promoting democratic processes in schools. At the same time, pupils are given more opportunities to participate in decision-making processes within the school and the education sector.
forumZFD’s Peace Education Programme
To date, there have been few coherent concepts on what defines “peace education”. Its content is not ready-made, but rather is adapted to a specific context. This may include civic education, human rights education, gender mainstreaming as well as diversity management. By working closely with partner organisations and in close consultation with the relevant education ministries, forumZFD develops tailored activities and programs that address the needs in a specific context. This includes institutionalizing mechanisms for constructive conflict transformation, developing a standardised training curriculum and conducting school mediation training for trainers, school directors, teachers and students. Through its activities, forumZFD aims to:
counteract the strong and widespread ethnic segregation in the public and private spheres;
foster a culture of trust and tolerance;
increase the ability to deal with conflicts;
promote critical thinking and student participation in decision-making processes;
challenge the strong traditions of obedience to authority;
support local civil society organisations in the formation of alliances for political dialogue and reforms in the education sector.