Tolerance and Peace Education: An interview with Dr. Carolyne Ashton


Peace and tolerance education curriculum materials have been used widely in Armenia based on a variety of initiatives. There have been three major initiatives in Armenia designed to produce peace or tolerance education. These include the Life Skills program (UNICEF, 2008), Tolerance Teacher’s Manual (UNDP, 2010), and Women for Development (WFD, 2002) Peace Education Curriculum in the Gyumri School District.  With the exception of the UNDP manual, these materials have been integrated into the national curriculum.  UNICEF’s curriculum has been integrated into select subjects and grade levels. Women For Development, an NGO based in Gyumri prepared and then implemented a Peace education and conflict resolution curriculum in schools of Gyumri, Armenia since 2002.  The goal of the WFD curriculum is to inspire a culture of peace and conflict resolution amongst teachers and students.  Over time, the curriculum has expanded into neighboring regions.

The latest addition to peace education in Armenia is the UNDP Tolerance Teachers Manual, a pilot program in 2008.  The UNDP and Dutch Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding focusing on a tolerance education curricula. According to UNDP (2010), this project was developed by a team of national experts and reviewed by an international expert on peace education. This initiative produced a teacher’s manual for grades 5-9 which has not yet been mandated by the MoES but is set to be distributed upon publication in the coming months. The UNDP manual was designed to serve as a continuation of the Save the Children of Armenia teacher manuals for primary grades to continue the teaching of tolerance into grades 5-9.The UNDP Tolerance Teacher’s Manual is designed for an elective course– not incorporated in the national curriculum.

None of these above-mentioned materials, however, directly address the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  The absence of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict from these materials raises a couple of questions about the relevance and effectiveness of peace education.  First of all, if peace education does not discuss or refer to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, how does education support children’s understanding of the conflict?  More specifically, will children in Armenia continue the twenty-year path of hate, misunderstanding, and silence?

In my recent interview with Dr. Carolyne Ashton – one of the collaborators on the UNDP Teacher’s Manual – I raised some of these questions on incorporating such manuals into curriculum. According to Dr. Ashton,

The manual brings together a variety of activities and lessons that expose youth to the knowledge, skills and attitudes that can help them to act as facilitators of peaceful behaviour in school, family and community.  Teaching from the manual also opens up teachers to more interactive methods, which make teaching more exciting for them and make it easier for students to grasp the concepts being presented.  It has been my experience in Armenia, and elsewhere, that not only does the content of such a manual change the lives of students, but also of teachers and administrators who gain the same knowledge, skills and attitudes. As you have noted, the manual does not directly address the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.  Nor does it use real-life examples from the past and current conflict between Armenia and Turkey.  In my opinion, this is a weakness in the manual.  However, a creative teacher will understand how to use the lessons in the manual to engage students in discussion of these very sensitive, yet, very important subjects.”

By expanding the lessons to directly engage students about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict would help students understand their role in the peace process.  These skills are critical at a time where Armenia needs to master the skill of negotiating in order to help restore peace and stability in the region.  Moreover, this process of implemented peace education could actually be coordinated with Azerbaijani teachers in an effort to support more cross-border contact and put the students skills to practice.  For example, students can become pen-pals and exchange letters to learn about their neighbours.  Teachers can also discuss their concerns and experiences within the classroom, which can strengthen the learning process for all.

Another important issue in implementing peace education is the government’s support.  Dr. Ashton explains, “The MoES must make implementation and dissemination of these manuals a priority in the education system.  It has been my experience, in several countries, that curricula and manuals like this often languish once developed because ministries do not put the force of policy behind these projects after the original donor withdraws.  There is a movement in Armenia towards providing such programs, but programs like this require a champion(s) who is willing to push for implementation and for measuring the success of implementation.  This is one of the reasons the program in Gyumri has been so successful.  Peace and conflict resolution education are pivotal to changing the direction of our world from a culture of war to a culture of peace, and we must consider young people the key.”

The skills offered in the three curriculum resources mentioned above are tools that can help students develop critical thinking necessary to inspire peace and awareness of topics ranging from learning about oneself, stereotypes, and ways to avoid conflicts that correlate with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  While acknowledging that it is too early to anticipate how successful this initiative is going to be, Dr. Ashton believes that, “the development of the manual is a significant step in supporting a growing interest in peace education that I have followed in Armenia since 2001.  It will be one more facilitator of building a culture of peace when added to the work started by UNICEF in 1999 and to the work of Gohar Markosyan in Gyumri over the past 10 years.”

Although the manual does not address the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, it is nevertheless an important step that has been taken to help transform an education system affected by the war.  Ultimately, the hope is that incorporating peace education into the curriculum becomes common practice not only in Armenia but in the region as well.

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