Building peace in Nigeria: Conflict sensitive education curriculum to the rescue

Following the cold war era, a peace dividend was supposedly to be achieved from the reduction in super-power tensions and arm race.

 Thus far, heartrending symptoms of culture of war still flourish; yielding untold hardship, pain, suffering, and deaths on the vulnerable. Countries like Bosnia, Liberia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, and Nigeria are but some gloomy reminders of the willingness and ease with which nations and especially groups within nations resort to armed violence to settle conflicts and disputes (Toh, 1997 and Aderibigbe, 2010). Violent conflicts, including terrorism globally from all indications have unacceptably continued to test the strength, skill, ability, capability and capacity of the security agents, peace workers and several other stakeholders (Mohammed, 2017).

Though limited in scope, statistics have shown that Africa is a continent where peace has been severely threatened over the years.

The continent according to Mohamed Bhai (2003) is in crisis in all forms: economic, social, environmental, political, and religious; and there is hardly any sub-region that is not suffering from the aftermath of social instability, economic crisis, war, or conflict. In Nigeria, living in peace even with neighbours has become a thing of the past due to the hurly-burly caused by globalization, terrorism, farmer/herder, ethnic, religious disharmony and caste system. The deteriorating political and security situation in the country, especially the internal conflict drivers have resulted in a large-scale movement of populations which have direct impact on local populations, the social cohesion within communities, and their ability to live together peacefully.

The wave of threats to national peace and stability in Nigeria since 2011 has in particular taken an alarming dimension to the extent that people who were rarely frightened have had to abandon their places of work and business in the name of bomb scares.

Boko Haram assaults have fatally affected Nigeria’s education system. Nowhere is this more evident than in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states (Mohammed, 2017), where parents have pulled their children out of mainstream schools. The insurgent opposes Western education and wants schools shut down.

 Nigeria as at today has the worst record, with more than 13.2 million children out of school (UNICEF, 2015 and UBEC, 2018). The spate of kidnapping and other forms of criminal activities including festering ethno-religious and identity-based conflicts in various parts of Nigeria therefore makes it very necessary for stakeholders to give adequate attention to building a culture of peace.

Meanwhile, the United Nations ‘recognizing the end of the Cold War and a new world order that saw a proliferation of civil strife, militarism, religious war, and global terrorism’ in consequence sought to establish the notion that Galtung and others had for so long argued that ‘‘peace is more than the absence of war.’’ The tragic circumstances have consequently increased societal awareness of the need to understand and to prevent the conditions leading to violence (Amamio, 2004). Given that violence and war are products of culture, through a modification of basic cultural mindsets mankind can work towards creating a culture of peace.

A culture of peace by and large rejects violence in all its forms, including war and culture of war; and cannot be imposed from outside because it is in most occasions a unique responsibility from within that grows out of the beliefs and actions of the people themselves. It replaces domination and exploitation by the strong over the weak with fairness through respect for rights of everyone both economically and politically (Aderibigbe). It is developed differently in each country and region, depending upon its history, culture and traditions (Gumut, Fish, Abdi, Ludin, Smith, Williams and Williams, 2000). We must therefore strive to build a culture which consists of values, attitudes and behaviors that reject violence, one that attempts to prevent conflict through conflict sensitive education curriculum.

Education and conflict however have a bi-directional and complex relationship – when it is used positively, education can help to promote peace, provide safe environments, and bridge the gap between humanitarian assistance and sustainable development (Barakat, et. al., 2008; Barakat & Urdal, 2009); but if not used responsibly and monitored properly, education can be exclusionary, oppressive, a site of corruption, or serve as propaganda for extremism (Miller-Grandvaux, 2009). Establishing a strategy to promote peace through education thus can be accomplished through incorporation of the universal values of peace, non-violence, tolerance and respect for human rights into all education curricula and methods. 

Nevertheless, conflict sensitive curriculum includes topics related to peace and is not biased towards any group. Topics related to peace may include: critical thinking, human rights, citizenship education, non-violence, conflict prevention and resolution (Sigsgaard, 2012: 35-36). And to avoid biases, the curriculum should meet the learning needs of different groups, such as that of ex-child soldiers, older children, and speakers of other languages.

These learning needs may include life-skills, job-related skills, and language skills that are relevant to the labour market and the economy. An unbiased curriculum also represents equally the experiences of boys/girls and men/women, and preferably challenges any existing gender stereotypes. In conflict-affected contexts, reform of curricula, texts, and materials is often necessary to meet the principles mentioned above. Conflict sensitive curricula reform requires a process that is gradual, participatory, and informed by the conflict analysis (Education Above All, 2012: 294-297.)

In other words, education of bad quality can be highly divisive, particularly if decisions about curriculum content, textbooks or language of instruction exclude or allow vilification of some social groups, and if education reinforces messages that violence is an acceptable solution to personal, social or political problems. Hence, education materials stained with biased or discriminatory content can aggravate tensions between different groups, whether on religious or ethnic grounds.

Schools should therefore work towards educating students on the benefits of literacy and numeracy, teaching skills and knowledge needed to fulfill self-development, in addition to teaching participation in society and how to collectively improve quality of life (Amamio).

And again, as former UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor (1999) described the United Nations initiatives for a culture of peace – marks a new stage – “instead of focusing exclusively on rebuilding societies after they have been torn apart by violence, the emphasis is placed on preventing violence by fostering a culture where conflicts are transformed into cooperation before they can degenerate into war and destruction.” The key to the prevention of violence is therefore education for nonviolence.

This requires the mobilization of education in its broadest sense, education throughout life and involving the mass media as much as traditional educational institutions.

Equipped with the understanding that education is the greatest tool for change, Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno state is said to be building about 40 mega schools with boarding facilities, mostly for children orphaned by the insurgency.

Building the schools is hundred per cent a wise decision, it is however important that the schools are provided with conflict sensitive education curriculum to achieve positive change, optimum peace and progress in the state.

 The Boko Haram predicament has as it were brutally impacted the state leaving 52,000 orphans and 54,911 widows (The Sun News Paper).

There is nevertheless a number of literatures in Nigeria today concerning education and conflict, and the findings of some of the literatures reviewed has shown that the national policy of education armed with its designed need to attain national integration to start with appears to be unsuccessful. This is because, the awful standard, the pitiful foundations and the vast worthlessness acquired from the colonial period in Nigeria was said to have continued to deal great retarding blows on the educational endeavor; and that a new curriculum which was formulated to address the problems did not achieve any result.

The content and practice of education today are both totally and clearly neither here nor there. Alas, the focus of recent curriculum revision in Nigeria have been on developing and encouraging science and technology based studies with little or no thought given to using formal education as vehicle for building national unity and better understanding among the various heterogeneous groups in the education system (Kalagbor and Agabi, 2013).   

It is however clear from the foregoing, that there is a problem of lack and/or inadequate content and administration of conflict sensitive education curriculum in Nigerian schools. This is reflected in the incessant violent conflict and challenges towards achieving national integration in Nigeria.

 Today the country is in the grip of various destructive forces that are deteriorating the unity among its citizens such as kidnapping, ethno-religious crises and Boko Haram insurgents’ activities. Specifically, on one hand there is a challenge of designing and implementing proactive yet effective curricula that recognize myriad of challenges the country faces, including the need for promoting integration and unity among their people.

There is also on the other hand, a concern that curricula design in Nigeria no matter how altruistic the motive ends up clogged with poor implementation mechanism (Mohammed, 2017).

Adebe, et al (2006) however considers the following areas as relevant for inclusion in a curriculum for conflict transformation, management and peace education: human rights education; education for nonviolent conflict transformation; education for social justice; multicultural education; education for sustainable development; governance and leadership education; personal and inner peace education as well as gender education. These topics are quite comprehensive and make up much of the curriculum content suggested in various literatures on peace education.

Outside the areas stated above, the United Nations (UN) identifies the following as relevant for any curriculum content for peace education: poverty, HIV/AIDS, globalization, culture and the role of the UN.

Besides, a United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, 2005) paper posits that the following values should be addressed in conflict resolution and peace education: building peace in the community; thinking critically and non-violently; respecting human dignity; discovering inner peace; thinking positively; caring for the planet; resolving conflict; being true to oneself; learning to live together and being compassionate and causing no harm.

What is also important is the proper methodology for handling conflict transformation, management and peace education curriculum in the classroom. In their analysis of the Zimbabwe Curriculum Policy of 2002, Chirimuuta and Chirimuuta (2012) observed that there was need for vibrant methodology. Abebe, Gbesso and Nyawalo (2006) observed that traditional passive lecture methodologies used in classrooms are in contradiction with the requirements of learner-centered (participatory, interactive and cooperative learning) approaches for peace education. Fountain (1999) however admits that learner friendly methods promote values and behaviours conducive to peace.

She points out that participatory approaches build up cohesion, reduce bias and leads to the development of problem-solving skills among students. Amatruda (2006) also notes that action techniques and psychodrama were quite effective in improving interactions among elementary pupils.

Fountain (1999) outlines too the following as some of the participatory methodologies used by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in peace education programmes: cooperative group work; peer teaching; small group discussions; decision-making and consensus building exercises; negotiation; role play and simulations.

The Austrian Centre for Citizenship in Education in Schools (2012) also see designing songs and collage art work as relevant for conflict transformation and conflict management. Such methods provide students with experiential learning necessary for utilization in practical situations. Be that as it may, Kang (2006) contends that methodology needs to be creative in order to develop a culture of peace among learners and in the process ensuring that children develop into adults with appropriate capacity to resolve conflict at all levels.

The contemporary trend in many countries is however to ‘modernize’ the curriculum so that it is defined in terms of ‘learning outcomes’ and not solely in terms of the content identified in the syllabus for each academic subject (learning outcomes refer to skills, attitudes and values as well as factual knowledge).

This trend is fuelled partly by recognition that the expansion of knowledge can no longer be contained by already overcrowded syllabuses and partly by the changing nature of employment and the need for transferable skills. However, curricula based on learning outcomes also offer considerable potential for the development of skills that may be helpful in averting or preventing conflict (Smith and Vaux, 2003).

The overall objective of this piece in conclusion was basically to locate the need for conflict sensitive education curriculum, and the desire for the stakeholders in the field to identify how education may make positive contribution to peace-building.

Since the original curriculum acquired from the colonial period in Nigeria from the foregoing was said to have persistently hindered the educational endeavor; and that a new curriculum which was formulated to address the problems did not achieve any result.

In order to ensure that education curricula promotes peace and long-term development, educational reforms ought to identify the role curriculum may have played in aggravating the conflict.

Textbooks that use biased histories and hateful language may have inflamed tensions, particular attention to the curriculum’s approach to identity issues (including religion, culture, and language) and subject areas such as history, geography, and literature should as such be given adequate consideration.

 Encourage the most inclusive language of instruction as possible in order not to exacerbate conflicts and differences nor alienate any social groups.

And finally, there is the need for schools to be provided with teachers with requisite qualifications.

Dr Muhammad writes from ICPR,  Abuja.

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