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Definitions: Learning Objectives

By the end of the section, the participant should be able to meet the following learning objectives: 

  • Understand different definitions of peace education 
  • Understand the breadth and scope of peace education 


As you read this section, keep the following questions in mind: 

  • What peace education definition applies best to my context?
  • Why do we need peace education?  



Introduction: What is Peace Education?

Peace education as a concept and a field is difficult to accurately and comprehensively define. It encompasses so many different sub-topics, theories, and thinkers that a unifying definition has proved elusive. Consequently, as peace education has developed, evolving definitions have continued to emerge, and even today there are many different definitions of the concept. No one definition can be called correct, as there exists no overarching authority of peace education, but rather the definition one chooses to adopt is a matter of personal preference. However, it is important to be aware of the various definitions and their implications for classroom practice before deciding which best fits one's own perception and practice of peace education. The following definitions are not a comprehensive collection, as any individual is free to define peace education in whichever terms ring true to them. This section attempts to present examples of the key types of definitions in order to help teachers formulate their own informed view on peace education.


As explained by Abebe, Gbesso, & Nyawalo (2006):

"Peace education is a unifying and comprehensive concept that seeks to promote a holistic view of education. However, its relevance is inextricably part of and is highly dependent on contextual specificity. UNESCO literature states that Peace Education is more effective and meaningful when adopted according to the social and cultural context and the needs of a country. It should be enriched by its cultural and spiritual values together with the universal human values. It should also be globally relevant. Given such a framework, it is hard to find a universally accepted definition. As such, Peace Education is characterized by its many definitions" (p. 14). 


Definitions of peace education


     John Dewey

One of the key thinkers of the field, John Dewey, defined peace education as a curriculum "which will make it more difficult for the flames of hatred and suspicion to sweep over this country in the future, which indeed will make this impossible, because when children’s minds are in the formative period we shall have fixed in them through the medium of the schools, feelings of respect and friendliness for the other nations and peoples of the world" (Dewey, 1923, p. 516). Dewey's emphasis, developed in the midst of two World Wars, was on a world patriotism and peaceful internationalism that would eliminate the horrific wars of his time, and his definition reflects that globalist theory. 


     United Nations

The United Nations, even in its earliest years, voiced similar support for peace education as a catalyst for international respect and human rights, as described in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace" (United Nations General Assembly, 1948, p. 6).


     Skill development and action

Numerous more recent definitions focus on peace education as the development of skills that empower students to tackle real-world issues and thus actively create peace in the world. 


"Peace education in UNICEF refers to the process of promoting the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values needed to bring about behaviour changes that will enable children, youth and adults to prevent conflict and violence, both overt and structural; to resolve conflict peacefully; and to create the conditions conducive to peace, whether at an intrapersonal, interpersonal, intergroup, national or international level" (Fountain, 1999, p. 1).


"Peace Education is process of developing knowledge, skills, attitudes, behaviors and values that enable learners to:

• identify and understand sources of local and global issues and acquire positive and appropriate sensitivities to these problems

• resolve conflicts and to attain justice in a non-violent way

• live by universal standards of human rights and equity by appreciating cultural diversity, respect for the earth and for each other" (Abebe, T.T., Gbesso, A., & Nyawalo, P.A., 2006, p. 14). 


     Education about peace and for peace

Other definitions emphasize the difference between learning about peace and learning for peace, thus incorporating both background knowledge and practical skills. 


"Peace Education means to learn about and to learn for peace. Learning about peace means obtaining knowledge and understanding of what contributes to peace, what damages it, what leads to war, what does 'peace' mean on each level anyway, what is my role in it, and how are the different levels connected? Learning for peace means learning the skills, attitudes and values that one needs in order to contribute to peace and help maintain it. For example, this means learning to deal with conflicts without the recourse to violence, learning to think creatively, learning to apply the methods of active non-violence or learning to deal with cultural differences in a constructive way" (Space for Peace, 2010).


"Peace education can be defined as: the transmission of knowledge about requirements of, the obstacles to, and possibilities for achieving and maintaining peace; training in skills for interpreting the knowledge; and the development of reflective and participatory capacities for applying the knowledge to overcome problems and achieve possibilities" (Reardon, 2000, p. 399).



Definitions can also differ in the level and scope of their focus- some concentrate on the impacts of peace education on individuals, while others emphasize its impact on the world as a whole.


“Peace education is holistic. It embraces the physical, emotional, intellectual, and social growth of children within a framework deeply rooted in traditional human values. It is based on philosophy that teaches love, compassion, trust, fairness, co-operation and reverence for the human family and all life on our beautiful planet” - Fran Schmidt and Alice Friedman (1988) (as cited in Abebe, T.T., Gbesso, A., & Nyawalo, P.A., 2006, p. 14). 


“Peace education is an attempt to respond to problems of conflict and violence on scales ranging from the global and national to the local and personal. It is about exploring ways of creating more just and sustainable futures” - R. D. Laing (I978) (as cited in Abebe, T.T., Gbesso, A., & Nyawalo, P.A., 2006, p. 14). 


The definitions above provide a general sampling of those available and utilized in the field of peace education today. As a final note, below is UNICEF's detailed outline of the many factors that peace education must take into account and incorporate.

"Schooling and other educational experiences that reflect UNICEF's approach to peace education should:

• Function as 'zones of peace', where children are safe from conflict in the community;
• Uphold children’s basic rights as enumerated in the CRC (Convention on the Rights of the Child);
• Develop a climate, within the school or other learning environment, that models peaceful and rights-respectful behavior in the relationships between all members of the school community: teachers, administrators, other staff, parents and children;
• Demonstrate the principles of equality and non-discrimination in administrative policies and practices;
• Draw on the knowledge of peace-building that already exists in the community, including means of dealing with conflict that are effective, non-violent, and rooted in the local culture;
• Handle conflicts--whether between children or between children and adults--in a non-violent manner that respects the rights and dignity of all involved;
• Integrate an understanding of peace, human rights, social justice and global issues throughout the curriculum whenever possible;
• Provide a forum for the explicit discussion of values of peace and social justice;
• Use teaching and learning methods that promote participation, cooperation, problem-solving and respect for differences;
• Allow opportunities for children to put peace-making into practice, both in the educational setting and in the wider community;
• Provide opportunities for continuous reflection and professional development of all educators in relation to issues of peace, justice and rights" (Fountain, 1999, p. 5-6).



Peace education is a holistic, interdisciplinary field that seeks to promote knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes for peace. In Section 5, we will look at the scope of peace education, which encompasses the various disciplines that are included within the broad umbrella of peace education. While there is no single definition for peace education, this compilation shows the variety of ways that peace education can be defined.


Questions for Comprehension and Reflection 

  • What are the similarities and differences between the definitions? What are the strengths and weaknesses? 
  • Why is it beneficial to have many definitions for peace education? What might be the drawbacks to not having one single agreed-upon definition? 
  • Based on this introduction, what benefits can you imagine peace education bringing to your classroom? school? community? 
  • Task: If you have access to the internet or books on peace education, seek other definitions that are not featured in this section. 
  • Task: based on these definitions, develop your own definition of peace education based on what resonates with you. 



Abebe, T.T., Gbesso, A., & Nyawalo, P.A. (2006). Peace Education in Africa. Addis Ababa: University for Peace. Retrieved

     from http://www.africa.upeace.org/documents/reports/Peace%20Education,%20FInalReport.pdf 


Dewey, J. (1923). The Schools as a Means of Developing a Social Consciousness and Social Ideals in Children. Journal of Social Forces I.


Fountain, S. (1999). Peace Education in UNICEF. New York: UNICEF. Retrieved from www.unicef.org/girlseducation/files/PeaceEducation.pdf


Reardon, B. (2000). Peace Education: A Review and a Projection. In B. Moon, M. Ben-Peretz & S. Brown (Eds.), Routledge International Companion to

     Education (397-425). London: Taylor & Francis. 


Space for Peace. (2010). Peace Education: A Working Definition. Retrieved from http://www.spaceforpeace.net/pe.phtml


United Nations General Assembly. (1948). Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved

      from http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/043/88/IMG/NR004388.pdf?OpenElement

Comments (4)

Nick Kasparek said

at 10:02 am on May 14, 2010

I thought it might be useful just to start collecting these.

Meghan Flaherty said

at 1:57 am on Jul 7, 2010

hi all, i'm starting to try and make this section cohesive/organized, so if you have any more definitions please post them!

Julia Smith said

at 7:40 pm on Jul 26, 2010

I really like the objectives section that you added to this.
Is this something that has been discussed for all sections of this curriculum? I think it could be an important addition
What do others think?


Stephanie Knox said

at 7:52 pm on Jul 26, 2010

Hi Julia!
Great - thanks for the feedback. I am working on adding something like this to all sections, though feel free to add something to any section if you feel inspired to do it. I'll be adding objectives and guiding questions to the beginning of all sections, and reflective/comprehension questions at the end of each sections. Feel free to add anywhere you'd like!

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