Peace education in schools takes place when pupils are encouraged to solve problems peacefully and develop positive and respectful relationships with others. Through a range of approaches pupils can be helped to develop the skills, attitudes and values which underpin healthy relations with other members of the school community, thus improving the learning environment and equipping students with a range of valuable life skills.
Friends of Hlekweni, is supporting a growing network of 24 primary and secondary schools (with ten more to be inducted in 2021) who have set up Peace Clubs and are training pupils to be ambassadors for peace in their schools and communities. Teachers, themselves, are offered training in the Alternatives to Violence (AVP) programme (q.v.), which is provided by AVP Zimbabwe, a Bulawayo-based organisation founded and supported by Quakers and run with other local experts in non-violent communication, mostly post-graduates trained in Peace Studies at the Durban University of Technology, led by Quaker Jeff Harris. Peace Club teachers use a social media site to communicate with each other, sharing issues and successes.
Schools have embraced the presence of Peace Clubs. The average size of a Peace Club is around 30 – 40 and, in primary schools, they are drawn from grades 4 – 6. They meet regularly after school and engage in activities which increase pupils’ personal and social skills, including the ability to engage in peer mediation. Schools are reporting reductions in bullying as a result of these initiatives. In addition, several peace clubs are involving pupils in community activities.
This training in non-violent communication is all the more important in a country which still faces the threat of public outbreaks of violence, especially around election times, and in a school system which has formally banned corporal punishment, leaving teachers to find other, peaceful, rights-based ways to maintain discipline.
Friends of Hlekweni is striving to support the development of peaceful schools in Zimbabwe and hopes that the current network can be expanded and better supported and that the current anecdotal evidence of the benefits this work for both teachers, students and schools can be supplemented by good quality research-based data.
In 2020, Friends of Hlekweni supported the development of a manual on peace-building in school written by local teachers and peace workers. In the initial years, there has been reliance on an American text called ‘Creating the Peaceable School’ by Bodine, Crawford and Schrumpf. It is hoped that the local manual will energise the spread of Peace Clubs across Zimbabwe and may even prove useful in other Southern African contexts.
Friends of Hlekweni are very grateful to Quaker Peace and Social Witness of Britain Yearly Meeting for grants in 2019 and 2020 to support the expansion of the secondary schools network.