Peaceful Childhoods – Peaceful Schools

According to UNICEF, peace education is “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.”[1] Peaceful places of education should focus on the values of cooperation, assertion, responsibility, respect, empathy, communication, and self-control. They can do this through incorporating these principles into lesson material, teaching styles, peer mediation, and training for students and faculty alike. Although conflict is inevitable, violence is a learned reaction to disputes; peace can also be learned. Consider the emphasis placed on competition rather than cooperation in most school settings as an example of how peace is often not the focus of education systems. Violence impacts children’s ability to go to and from school, learn and stay in school.[2] By creating a culture of peace, the behavioural incidents of violence among students decrease, allowing more energy and focus to be on student learning rather than behavioural problems and a culture in which all students feel safe and welcome.[3]


Violence intersects with education in a multitude of ways. Children may experience conflict at home, which in turn affects their ability to perform academically, focus, make friends, or stay enrolled in school. At school children may encounter violence in the form of stereotypes, physical aggression, (cyber) bullying, assault, corporal punishment, or gender inequality. Schools reflect the social attitudes and hierarchies within a community, and therefore often serve to marginalize the children which are already vulnerable, whether due to political, ethnic, religious or other reasons.[4]



In different cultures, certain traits or characteristics may make children more vulnerable to bullying. These include gender, sexual orientation, body size, attractiveness, disability, race, religion and poverty. Schools have a responsibility to create a culture where all children are valued and to investigate and address situations of bullying and cyberbullying.

Female students may be subject to sexual harassment or even abuse by teachers or their peers. The acceptance of stereotypes of male aggression and male sexual assertiveness against ‘timid’ girls can make female students feel harassed and intimidated in school settings, impacting their safety and ability to learn.[5] Girls may be at greater risk for sexually transmitted infections and stigmatization, and often are blamed for the sexual harassment they have experienced.

Although bullying is often viewed as accepted and normal part of school culture, bullying has many harmful impacts on both the victims and perpetrators. Bullies are more likely to display delinquent, violent, or anti-social behaviour.[6] Being bullied increases the risk of self-harm, the internalization of problems, the risk of various mental health disorders and somatic problems, and trouble making friends into adult hood.[7] It should be noted that children who are bullies may also be victims of bullying themselves; there is not always a binary between bullies and victims. Children with disabilities or who are part of minority groups (whether racial or faith) may experience bullying in the form of psychological violence, including feelings of being unworthy. Bullying can be anonymously reported by any student in Canada through, an organization which will send a report to any Canadian school to inform them of the bullying so that it can be investigated and stopped. Other forms of group-based violence in schools can include gang violence and rivalry.

In more recent years cyberbullying, which is the use of electronic means such as a cellphone, Facebook or social media, blogs, email, YouTube, or any other form of internet or electronic communication to upset or harm a person, has become a greater problem.[8], [9] Cyberbullying can include having one’s private information or conversations posted online or shared without permission, and having people spread rumours, make threats, or post embarrassing content for others to see. Due to the high prevalence of Internet use and electronic communication among students, this form of bullying can impact children at all times, not only when they are in school. 92% of American teens use the Internet daily, approximately 75% have access to a smartphone, and 71% of teens use Facebook.[10] Cyberbullying is the primary type of low-level violence occurring in schools, and occurs to over 50% of Canadian students.[11] Due to the cyberbullying-related suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons in Nova Scotia, the Cyber-safety Act was passed which created a CyberSCAN team to whom victims can report cyberbullying complaints, allows for restrictions to be imposed on bullies, and allows victims to sue offenders.[12] Other Canadian provinces have regulations which require schools to take action on bullying and cyberbullying, and in December 2014, federal bill C-13 was passed which increases police ability to investigate cyber offences and prohibits certain forms of cyberbullying.[13]

Schools, educators, and students all exist within cultural and social spheres in which certain attitudes are common. It would be naïve to think that certain stereotypes or biases do not follow people into the school and impact the way relationships are formed and information is taught or perceived. It is important to recognize social norms of discrimination, violence, or oppression towards certain groups, some of whom may be present inside the classroom. Educators are faced with the difficult task of trying to teach students to challenge harmful cultural attitudes and societal norms within the classroom and broader community. This exercise is made more difficult as certain societies may be resistant to changes or view free-thinking students as disruptive or disrespectful towards culture. Teachers need to get to know students who are most affected by violence and oppression in order to overcome their own biases and help other students in the class do likewise.[14] Relationships are important ways of breaking down social barriers and hierarchies; in regions of high tension such as Israel and Palestine, it is important for Israeli teachers to get to know the Palestinian students within their schools in order to overcome ignorance, which can breed miscommunication, fear, and racism. Unfortunately there are no publicly funded initiatives to teach children to co-exist in this context, though various privately sponsored programs are designed to bring Israeli and Palestinian students together.[15]

Poor academic performance, high absenteeism, unstructured free time, weak social ties, poor parent relationships and poor discipline all contribute to children either using violence or having violence used against them in educational situations. These factors can be mitigated by strong family bonds and peer support, having goals and high self-esteem, and having good relationships with adults who support pro-social attitudes and provide guidance and protection.[16]


Principles for a rights-based, child-friendly school include making the school proactively inclusive, academically relevant, gender sensitive, healthy and protective, and engaged with families and the community. Consider that peace is not just homogeneity or the absence of conflict, but mutual understanding of differences.[17] There are entire schools and organizations dedicated to promoting peaceful education, including Peaceful Schools International, an organization with over 350 member schools across the world which are dedicated to creating cultures of peace.[18] Teaching methods focus on participation and respect for differences, and students are encouraged to solve problems creatively, such as by using peer mediation. Professional development is provided to staff, along with curriculum and activity options which help teach children how to foster peace and express themselves in non-violent ways. Other examples of schools dedicated to peace include the University for Peace and United World Colleges. These schools foster peace through the arenas of multiculturalism, gender, sustainability, environment, diversity, human rights, disarmament, inner peace and peacebuilding. Pedagogy based on Paulo Freire’s work involving teachers as learners and education from the bottom up is important in these settings. Creating intercultural-families and bonds across differences are vital to creating atmospheres of peace, and therefore these institutions encourage friendship building between students of different backgrounds. Part of a holistic peace education consists of encouraging self-awareness and introspection about one’s own assumptions, discriminatory attitudes and motivations.[19]

In every classroom, teachers can start by having the students involved in setting classroom rules and consequences, rather than maintaining traditional hierarchical structures. Teachers can designate a special spot, such as a table or chair, where students can go to remove themselves from a situation in order to be able to focus on thinking of a solution to a conflict and regain emotional self-control. Weaving themes of peace constantly through a curriculum helps reinforce ideas of non-violence and integrate them into all subject matter, rather than making peace an isolated topic. Create as many opportunities as possible for children to express their fears, hopes, and desires in open ended writing, as being able to express themselves lessens children’s need to display or exercise power in violent ways. Often children who are generally the instigators of violence will reveal trauma in their life that make their propensity towards violence more understandable. [20]

When trying to build cultures of peace within educational contexts, it is important not to just focus on students, but to try to address the assumptions and attitudes of educators and policy makers. Start by working with the school board, Department of Education, and teachers on alternatives to corporal punishment.[21] In some societies and cultures, corporal punishment and violent discipline is seen as the only effective form of discipline for educators, making teachers feel that in order to be a good teacher, they must use physical violence against their students. Corporal punishment is defined as physical punishment designed to inflict pain as retribution, and includes spanking and paddling of minors.[22] 126 States, including Canada, have made corporal punishment illegal in schools and all States have been charged with the task of eliminating corporal punishment. Corporal punishment as a form of discipline can lead to poor mental health, and can impinge on children’s ability to empathize with others. Training teachers in alternative forms of classroom discipline and control helps assure them that there are alternates to physical violence and undermines the stereotype that to be an educator you must use physical punishment. Teachers have expressed relief at learning this, as they do not enjoy using violence against their students. When encouraging educators towards a culture of peace, it is important to share experiences of other educators in similar cultural contexts and nations, as it affirms the potential and applicability for peaceful education within their own social context. Have teachers think about their own experiences and moments in their lives when they learned something; they will realize that it was never because they were beaten, but rather because they experienced a positive learning environment. It is also helpful to have them consider why students exhibit the offending behaviours for which they are usually beaten or physically punished. When educators understand why students display a certain behaviour, such as tardiness for reasons including having to do housework in the mornings before school, they will be able to come up with better solutions such as talking to the parents or arranging transportation, rather than hitting a child.

Peace education is also important in more than just formal educational settings. Often children who have experienced the most turmoil and trauma in their lives are unable to attend formal, structured education, whether due to displacement because of war or conflict, or due to extreme poverty. Informal, conflict-sensitive peace education is important even in informal settings for helping children to become peace makers.



The following is a list of websites and organization which are strongly supportive of peaceful education, and provide practical suggestions regarding curriculum and activities to assist educators in creating peaceful schools:

Curriculum and Activity Ideas:


Anti-Bullying Resources:



Below are some tangible steps towards creating a peaceful school:

  • Having child rights groups composed of children so that they can hold adults accountable.
  • Programs for males to address how their ‘innocent’ teasing makes girls feel unsafe.
  • To use proactive discipline, which is focused on prevention, policies, enforcement mechanisms, and legal frameworks rather than just reactive zero tolerance blanket statements with harsh punishments such as expulsion, as these are ineffective for the long term. These sort of reactions only transfer the problem behaviour elsewhere.1
  • Ensure that teachers have training on non-violent teaching and discipline rather than just knowledge of the content.
  • Provide safe physical spaces for students, including gender-segregated areas for play or relaxing.
  • Encourage bystander intervention among students
  • Train students in peers support and mediation, which builds accountability and their communication skills. By teaching students peer mediation, they learn to solve problems themselves, how to listen actively, and how to consider situations and conflicts from other people’s points of view.
  1. Fountain, S. (1999). Peace Education in UNICEF. Retrieved from
  2. Pinheiro, P. (2006). World Report on Violence Against Children. Geneva, Switzerland: United Nations Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children. Chapter 4. Retrieved from
  3. Van Gurp, Carolyn. (10 July 2015). Personal communication.
  4. Pinheiro, P. (2006). Chpt 4.
  5. Pinheiro, P. (2006). Chpt 4.
  6. Wolke, D. & Lereya, S.T. (2015). “Long-term Effects of Bullying.” Arch Dis Child 100:879–885. doi:10.1136/archdischild-2014-306667
  7. Wolke & Lereya (2015).
  8. Pinheiro, P. (2006). Chpt 4.
  9. Wolke & Lereya (2015).
  10. Lenhart, A. (2015). Teen, Social Media and Technology Overview 2015., Pew Research Center. Retrieved from
  11. (2015). Cyber Bullying Statistics in Canada. Retrieved from
  12. CyberSCAN. (n.d.). Nova Scotia Cyber Safety. Retrieved from
  13. (2015). Cyberbullying Laws in Canada. Retrieved from
  14. Peled El-Hanan, Nurit. (3 September 2015). Personal Communication.
  15. Peled El-Hanan. (2015).
  16. Pinheiro, P. (2006). Chpt 4. pp.131-132.
  17. Gillis, R. & Miller, M. Creating a Culture of Peace. Retrieved from
  18. Peaceful Schools International. (2015). About Us. Retrieved from
  19. Vaughan, Catalina. (13 July 2015). Personal communication.
  20. Van Gurp, C. (2015).
  21. Van Gurp, C. (2015).
  22. Pinheiro, P. (2006). Chpt 2.