Training young people to be Peacemakers 

UNESCO have just updated their 1974 recommendation on Education for Peace, Human Rights and Sustainable Development, positioning education as a key driver for peace and international understanding.   

A good example of building a more peaceful and sustainable world from the grassroots up approach took place in the Temple of Peace and Health in Cardiff on 23rd – 25th January, 2024.  19 teachers from 11 schools across South Wales (10 primaries and 1 secondary) participated in a three-day training course, enabling them to implement successful Peer Mediation schemes (conflict resolution for young people, by young people) in their contexts.  This training was the result of collaboration between the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA) and Quakers in Britain and made possible by funding from a legacy fund held by Quakers in South Wales.   

This was just the start or a year-long project that aims to create a sustainable model for peacebuilding.  Following the training staff are now committed to train a whole year group in empathic and conflict-resolution skills, then to select a group of peer mediators who will in turn be trained and regularly supported to carry out their role.  Another part of the schools’ commitment is to train all their staff, including lunch time supervisors, so that there’s an understanding of and respect for the peer mediators’ role in supporting fellow pupils to resolve conflict.  A second ‘cohort’ of schools will be trained in the summer in order to expand the network, and a conference held in January 2025, where staff and pupils will come together to share positive outcomes and good practice – hopefully in the presence of interested politicians! 

Content and Methodology of the Training: 

The training took participants through the activities they will deliver with their pupils in an interactive and participatory way.  On Day One we concentrated on developing the skills young people need to express themselves and respond to others non-violently, including how to express their feelings and needs, how to distinguish between blaming and non-blaming language, how to listen effectively and how to de-escalate conflict.  Days Two and Three took participants through the peer mediation process and related skills and issues such as the importance and limits of confidentiality, impartiality and the use of open and closed questions.  There was also time to discuss what pupils can and can’t mediate, when they may just need to listen, and practicalities such as when and where the mediation sessions will take place and what support the mediators will need.  

Importantly the training was delivered in a way that aimed to model the content.  It took place in a circle and was peppered with games and fun activities as well as role play, pair- and group-work and time for individual reflection. This was particularly appreciated by participants.  Asked what they most appreciated about the training, one participant mentioned: ‘Providing the training through activities so that it was clear what lessons / training could look like within my school.  I very much enjoyed the approach and how informative the training was.’ Another participant appreciated ‘having time to role play scenarios and … to discuss at length.’  And of course everyone loved the free resources!   

The Wider Context: 

We are fortunate in Wales that this kind of training fits well with the curriculum.  We also made a conscious effort during the training to flag up how peer mediation fits into the broader context of peace and peace education by offering optional lunch-time activities. On the first day we offered a brief tour of the Temple of Peace and Health, on day two they were given information about the WCIA’s Peace Schools Scheme2, whilst on the last day they heard more about peace education in general, including a range of resources that are available to schools.   

Underlying Principles: 

Underlying the provision of courses such as this is a wider vision of the knowledge, skills and behaviours young people need if we are to build a peaceful and sustainable future for humanity.  Perhaps most importantly of all, young people need to develop the confidence and skills to problem-solve themselves, instead of expecting some authority figure to sort things out for them.   

It feels as though we are at the beginning of an exciting journey and we look forward to being able to share positive outcomes in a year’s time.  Hopefully initiatives such as this go some way to developing the vital principles and learning outcomes – such as empathy, critical thinking, intercultural understanding and environmental stewardship – emphasised in UNESCO’s revised Recommendation.

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