Peace Education in Colombia: A Social Constructionist Perspective

Irene Giovanni Aguilar

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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    The signature of the Peace Agreement in Colombia poses great challenges for the post-conflict policies. One of them concerns the role of the education, especially peace education since it is critical to help future to transform social practices that sustain a culture of violence.
    Thus, this dissertation proposes a framework for developing peace education programs in contexts of non-formal education, from a constructionist orientation. The idea of developing peace education programs in contexts of non-formal adult education, emerges from fact that peace education in Colombia has been considered for conventional levels of education (public and private schools, college and universities), since they are commonly assumed as the only institutions that can formally achieve the mission of peace education as it has the authority, the means and the conditions to carry out this task. Although this is true, in a country like Colombia with a diversity of populations, territories, traditions and contexts, as well as the impossibility of many people to access the traditional educational system due to the armed conflict, it´s important to broaden the traditional notion of peace education and include actors that are different in age, life histories and cultural horizons.
    The orientation of this work was constructionism since it emphasizes the importance of a curriculum that comes out of the concrete experience and interests of people in communities, where the objective of peace education has to, in a contextualized way, respond to the relational needs of the population with which we intend to work. This way of conceiving peace education has many implications. The first one is that the focus is no longer on the content or on the curricula, itself, but on the relational process of learning. This implies that the content and process of peace education are mutually determined by the whole community and unfolds as they interact with each other; they are not determined by a linear pre-structured curriculum that determines how the classes should be. Likewise, the expertise of the teacher resides in the generation of a space for collaborative and dialogic conversations more than in the development or transmission of content.
    Another consequence is that the main concern is on how we build relations in the classroom and how we are accountable to each other. In this sense, relational learning is considered as the core and the keystone of peace education. I should point out that, when I refer to relational learning, I mean a way of conceiving education such that all those involved create and contribute in the construction of a safe and collaborative learning environment.
    According to the above, the general objective of this research was to develop a proposal of education for peace from a constructionist stance in non-formal contexts of education in Colombia. The specific Objectives were: 1) Describe the pedagogical practices used in the experiences that were developed. 2) Identify the most meaningful practices for the participants. 3) Establish the most relevant learnings of the students and identify differences and similarities between the experiences carried out. 4) To formulate criteria for the construction of programs of education for peace from a constructionist perspective, in non-formal contexts of education.
    This process was carried out in two different contexts, in a training center of the National Police of Colombia and in the ACR. The ACR is an institution attached to the Presidency of the Republic that is in charge of the process of reintegration. This process covers all Colombians who have been active agents of armed groups such as, FARC-EP, M 19, ELN, EPL or AUC. In this transit from illegality to legality, the ACR seeks to guarantee mechanisms and programs that provide protection from the government and that ensure a return to legality and the social and economic reincorporation of people.
    The methodology of this work was a systematization of experiences, which is a modality of knowledge production that emerges from popular education, which is part of Latin American critical thinking and critical research. In qualitative research, systematization is understood as a process of recovery and appropriation of a particular educational practice. This methodology offers theoretical-practical components that allow individuals to understand and explain contexts, sense, logics and problem aspects that the experience presents.
    The analysis of information was performed by using a categorical analysis and organization of the experiences from qualitative data. The analysis designed taking into account three categories that were: 1. Significant learnings; 2. Aspects to be improved; and 3. Best practices.
    They were defined as follows:
    1.Significant learnings: Refers to different orders of learning (personal, theoretical, contextual) that participants identified as meaningful about the pedagogical experience.
    2.Aspects to be improved: Refers to those aspects of the pedagogical experience that can be improved in future scenarios.
    3.Best practices: This refers to the information obtained from different inputs where students could give an account of the practices used that were more important for them during the process.
    From the analysis of the systematization, I design a framework for developing peace education programs from a constructionist orientation. This framework consists of three phases: The first involves the construction of a relational context, this means, the interactive activities and processes between students and teacher that foster the coordination of multiple local realities and that foster a collaborative environment for learning. The second phase focuses in the development of a dialogical space in the form of seminar-workshops, which seeks to build a collaborative process with students, to address theoretical contents that operate in parallel with practical activities. This dialogical design seeks that those who participate ask themselves about their life histories, how they lived the Colombian armed conflict, how they want to transform in their daily lives the cycles of violence and finally, how they want to contribute to the construction of a culture of peace. This methodology adopts a modality of practical and reflective work that encourages activities, were students could generate and explore multiple descriptions and perspectives of the armed conflict, and where they could place their convictions into question, listen to alternative framings and co-create new understandings. The third phase is design to reflect on the learning achieved during the process and to think about the emerging possibilities that can be created and amplified, in the development of the construction of a vision for the future that transforms a culture of violence.
    One of the greatest learnings and challenges of this work (both mine as a researcher and of my students) was the incorporation of the notion of multiple perspectives in the pedagogic space. This idea encouraged us to think that there isn't a uniform world but a multiform one in which multiple meanings converge and demand a dialogical position. Therefore, the most important focus of this work was centered on how to generate pedagogical spaces that allowed us to listen to each other, negotiate meanings, reflect and discuss without imposing a reality as absolute.
    Another lesson learned along this dissertation is to understand context reading as one of the skills of peace educators. This ability of context reading lies in connecting with the group, with the students and the actions taken, perceiving how these actions are received and what effects the intervention have on them. From the experience of this work, I also understood that to conceive peace education in a constructionist perspective, implies the reflection of the ways in which a multiplicity of traditions, conceptions of violence, armed conflict, and peace, coexist in the classroom. In this sense, the existence of diverse social groups, ages, political backgrounds, professions, involves at the same time a diversity of moral conceptions, of ways of being located in the world, of solving questions. In turn, this posture requires from us to be open to dialogue and conversation with the other. This situates us, as practitioners, within a relational ethic where attentiveness to the process of relating is centered, rather than adherence to some abstract, decontextualized set of principles. Dialogue, as an ethic of relationally sensitive practice, respects the diversity of locally situated beliefs and values. To this extent today I comprehend that peace, as a social construction, is a daily process that is contextually anchored and relationally performed. Today, more than ever, I know that as educators, we must assume a performative, open, dialogical and collaborative attitude. We have to listen more and talk more because only in this way we will be able to perform coordinated action. Thus peace education, as a form of coordinating actions, should invite us to achieve conversations in which we experience an openness that allows us to recognize ourselves without fear, with empathy and deep listening.
    I also found that peace education can be directed in three senses: First, in giving priority to the relation, since relationships come before knowledge, contents and information. Only from the relational space it is possible to enhance the resources of students so as to expand the narrative borders of the conflict description, not only from the deficit but also from the always-possible alternatives of consolidating new learning. Secondly in the sense of changing the one-way communication in education where the voice of the teacher is privileged and the student's voice is undermined. To do so, allowing students to participate in decisions that are made inside the classroom is crucial. Third, in the sense of changing the inclination of Knowing, so common in the history of education, and open the way to the notion of co-constructing alternative spaces of formal and non-formal education. In this regard to generate pedagogical innovations we must be curious and connected to what is happening in the classroom as much as being very sensitive to the feedback of the students.
    Challenges in peace education
    In the elaboration of this work I found different aspects that more than difficulties I consider them as challenges for the people who work in this field. The first one refers to the dialogue that as educators we must embrace with different institutions (whether public, private or governmental), which leads us to ask ourselves, what demands are present in the institutional discourses? and, how do we understand the needs and interests of participants and institutions to which they belong. The second challenge refers to the limits of the educational or pedagogical space and the psychosocial one. In doing this work one of the difficulties with which I found myself was how in contexts of sociopolitical violence there are some topics and moments that touch delicate experiences of people. This lead us the following questions: What is the role of the teacher in peace education: people expect to be heard and valued and that they can "vent"; but, is it enough? what objectives should be addressed by a teacher working from a constructionist perspective: to carry out therapeutic activities or to discern the political role that he/she has? what are the limits? We still need to make evident, in the practice, such complexity in peace education and the emotional areas that are addressed and that many times become difficult to manage, where the teacher must have the ability to emotionally content the students. The third challenge refers to the micro political aspects of peace education. In connection with the previous reflection, becomes relevant for teachers to be aware of the political role of the activities, dialogues and reflections that we develop in the classroom. This micro political aspect is an attempt to legitimize the idea that from peace education, the challenge of promoting changes in the realities of people must be assumed. In this sense, actions are micro political if politics is understood as the updating of power, while it is an opportunity to define new realities and to promote critical reflexivity. Thus, this dissertation allows me to propose my own conception about the meaning of peace education in the context of non-formal education. It is built from actions that alter dominant micro political practices, that is to say, moving from imposition to receptive listening, from master classes to contact with people and learning by doing, from keeping for ourselves what we think to sharing with others and building a way of being in the social aspect, from living in destructive criticism to recognizing what others have to give. All of this leads to the emergence of alternative actions tending to generate a culture of peace.
    This understanding of peace education should invite teachers to reflect critically on how the contextual forces that are present -gender relationships, poverty situations, confrontation between political actors, socio-political violence and the belief system of the participants- shape the choices they make along the development of the program/course/class. That is to say that, peace education must be seen as an unfolding journey and not as a detailed, planned event.

    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Tilburg University
    • Blommaert, Jan, Promotor
    • McNamee, S., Promotor, External person
    • Kroon, Sjaak, Member PhD commission
    • van Loon, Rens, Member PhD commission
    • Day, J.M., Member PhD commission, External person
    Thesis sponsors
    Award date4 Jul 2018
    Place of PublicationS.I.
    Print ISBNs9789461673664
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


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