Peace train coming

15th April 2005 at 01:00
A new project is under way to link the many worthwhile projects that encourage young people to speak out, not hit out, says Chris Ballance

What can the Scottish Parliament, with no remit for foreign affairs, do to promote peace? In a devolved Scotland, we can in fact have a significant impact in this area - and education is the key. It is crucial we equip children with the skills to prevent disputes and resolve conflict without resorting to violence, whether it be in the home, the workplace, or on the international stage.

Last year, the Greens led a debate in the Parliament on peace education.

The event highlighted the many worthwhile projects in Scottish schools which aim to bring an end to bullying, cultivate children's negotiating skill, and raise awareness of the short and long-term impacts of violence and aggression.

At the heart of peace education is a respect for oneself, the community, other cultures and the environment. It is potentially a huge sphere of activity, and clearly resonates with education for citizenship - enabling young people to develop capability for thoughtful and responsible participation in society and developing strategies for dealing with conflict.

I will shortly start working with students at Bradford University's department of peace studies and Arthur Romano, a Rotary Scholar from the United States, on a project which could be a world first and aims to take this good work further. I hope TES Scotland readers can help me.

The project will create a resource database detailing all the work that has and is taking place within the broad category of peace education. The Scottish Executive will, I hope, then use this to promote best practice and make it easier for teachers to access the resources and expertise necessary to bring it into their classroom.

I would like anyone who is helping to create a "culture of peace" in Scotland to send us details of their work. "Culture of peace" is the Unesco phrase, and it includes mediation, conflict resolution, anti-bullying initiatives - anything that gives children the tools they need to speak out rather than hit out.

Indications from the Executive, and from Euan Robson, Deputy Education Minister, are that there is a genuine desire to help promote and support the kind of work that is considered peace education. There is a lot going on across Scotland - but much of the best of it is small, localised and concentrated in the most articulate and innovative schools. The Edinburgh Peace and Justice Education Centre's "overcoming violence" project, for example, was piloted in schools in Alva, Dundee, Newbattle, Edinburgh and elsewhere. Feedback was extremely encouraging.

Who2blame at Newbattle High stood out for the way it connected personal, social and global dimensions of peace and co-operation. Young people linked issues of violence and aggression within their community to the wider global community, and acquired various skills from film-making to negotiation and mediation. The result has been greater awareness of issues surrounding violence.

My ultimate aim is to help spread this kind of best practice to all schools so teachers across Scotland can access the resources they need. The project work starts this month, and we hope to finish the report in September.

The work will be as wide-ranging as possible. This needn't be just about schools - education takes place in many forums. There is important work going on in the community, and in other areas such as unions.

I recently chaired a debate on peace education with 25 children from different Middle Eastern faith backgrounds. They astutely pointed out that peace education - if it is to happen at all - must reach the community as well, because children reflect what they see around them. So I am also keen to hear from those who are working to build peace in the community, and in home settings. The problem of sectarianism is just one area that could benefit from this report.

If you think your work might fit into the remit of this inquiry, I would love to hear from you.

Chris Ballance is the Green Party MSP for South Scotland. He can be contacted at the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh EH99 1SP, or at www.chrisballance.msp.org

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