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Beyond Protection: Cultivating Peace Through Quality Education In Nigeria





The theme of the 2024 International Day of Education, Learning for Lasting Peace, resonated with the entire world. While the nature of attacks may be peculiar, no country’s education sector has been spared an attack on education in the last decade, either as a result of the pandemic, gun violence, insurgency, health epidemics, natural hazards, climate change, or civil unrest.

The day, which has been observed every 24th January since 2019, acknowledges the role of education in bringing global peace and sustainable development.

In Nigeria, insecurity, conflict, and violence continue to disrupt the peace and in so doing, the learning of children. Further, militarized efforts to neutralize conflict and maintain “peace,” such as enforcing curfews, installing checkpoints, and the closure of schools to “protect” education, are temporary solutions that have proven ineffective in the long run. It is time to adopt a different approach to fostering lasting peace in society through quality education.

The common proverb “Children are sponges” refers to children’s propensity to mimic the behaviours they see in the world around them. It is imperative, therefore, to teach children the values and skills to withstand the pressure of a society where violence and conflict prevail. The persistence of conflict and its disruption of education have lasting effects on the development of children, but quality education provides an opportunity to counteract the societal effects of violence on the development of children.

The Nigerian education sector cannot be criticised for lacking any initiative in providing solutions that protect the education of children from attack or restoring peaceful environments for learning to take place. In fact, in 2018, under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria became one of the first 40 countries to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration (SSD), an intergovernmental commitment to secure schools, learners, and teachers from any forms of attack.

By 2021, Nigeria had made strides in its implementation and operationalisation of the SSD with the development of tools and the creation of policies that support the common goal of this initiative: securing schools and increasing the resiliency of the education sector to withstand attacks. Viewing the progress made by the country, Nigeria hosted the 4th International Conference on Safe Schools Declaration in 2021, called the Abuja Conference, where the Safe Schools Declaration Minimum Standards for Basic and Secondary Schools, the Facilitators’ Training Manual, and the National Policy for Safe, Secure, and Violence-Free Schools were presented as Nigeria’s operationalisation documents to secure schools.

Indeed, this trifecta of tools equips us for a national action on securing schools from attack. However, the resiliency of the education sector to withstand attacks goes beyond implementing frameworks that identify early warning signs and alert security to perceived threats. There is a need to complement these reactive measures with proactive measures targeted at preventing the occurrence of conflict and violence. Violence within the Safe Schools approach includes corporal punishment, gender-based violence, bullying, physical and psychological abuse, threatened use of force, and negligent treatment. These exist both in the community and within the premises of the school. Preventing conflict and promoting learning for lasting peace require both community engagement and a review of the curriculum.

We must acknowledge that a conflict-ridden society is a reflection of our education sector. Therefore, if conflict prevails, then the educational sector is the brewing pot. Quality education in the context of propagating lasting peace is a teaching and learning experience that equips children with the skills to uphold the values of peace, learn to resolve conflict without engaging in violent acts, and have a mindset that does not justify any form of violence. This requires a restructuring of the Nigerian curriculum and capacity development for teachers to be able to implement the curriculum effectively. Indeed, without adding regulatory frameworks to how the curriculum is implemented, Nigeria risks the possibility of children being indoctrinated with information that promotes the agenda and ideology of the teachers or the community. Through quality education, Nigeria can raise children who are ambassadors of peace and reflect a better society.

Additionally, we ought to consider how society creates an enabling environment for violence to thrive. In 2020, during joint research to develop the Safe Schools Declaration (SSD) Minimum Standards for Basic and Secondary Schools, researchers learned that maize farms were a cause for learner absenteeism. Some children expressed that the maize farms lining the roads they ply to school were hotspots where perpetrators of crime, bullies, and abusers lurked.

Rather than addressing the issue, vulnerable children resigned to disengaging from school during the crop season to protect themselves from violence. For other children, their school attendance was threatened in the event of bullies releasing dogs on them while they walked to or from school. This is how other children and peers are disrupting peace, which has its own effect on the learning and education of others. Without adequate community engagement, even children who are well equipped with the values of peace may never be protected from violence outside of the safe confines of schools.

It is time to invest in more holistic approaches that employ solutions that prevent the continuity of conflict within the community and within the school. Securing the future of society and children for lasting peace would involve structuring peace, unity, and nation-building into the school curriculum and the way of life of children. If we do not bring conversations about conflict and the history of Nigeria into the regulatory process of quality education, we risk raising a generation of children that are armed with the inbuilt biases of the society that raised them. Quality education is a unique opportunity for Nigeria to instil values in the children that they can imitate for lasting peace.

Blessing Tarfa writes from Abuja.

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