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Peaceable schools are about resolving conflicts without using violence (podcast)

Sandra Užule - Fons

Education for peace is a programme for the systematic and long-term development of socio-emotional competencies and the spirit of democratic citizenship. The peaceful school programme was established in 1999 in Utrecht in the Netherlands. Based on Janusz Korczak’s educational philosophy, the programme is constantly being improved and currently operates in about one out of every six primary schools in the Netherlands. Today we are joined by Dennis de Vries, director of the Peaceful Education foundation from Utrecht to learn more about peaceful schools and their programmes.

The Peaceable School has become a programme that strives to turn school and class into a democratic community in which everyone feels responsible and involved, with the resolution of conflicts as its starting point. This programme teaches students, teachers and parents skills for resolving conflicts, other than by physical or verbal violence.

The implementation period of the peaceable schools’ programme lasts 2 years. Dennis explains: “During this period there are a lot of training sessions with teachers, visits to the classroom, a lot of coaching for the teachers, because our vision is that everything starts with the teacher. Another thing is that students have weekly peaceable school lessons and within these lessons we teach them citizenship skills. The next thing is that we really try to build on the school as a democratic practice place, for example, there are classroom committees, we have mediators, children who can solve conflicts in a peaceable way, so children have a big role in their school”. 

Dennis emphasizes: “Conflict resolution is a big part of a peaceable school, but I would add that it’s also a big part of a democratic society. I think one of the pillars of a democratic society is the ability to solve conflicts in a peaceful way”. He explains how he understands democratic society: “We believe that democratic society is not a given thing, it’s constantly evolving, and we also think that children are already democratic citizens, we have to take them seriously, within their own context, for example, their school, neighbourhood, their sport club, the streets where they play”. 

In the Netherlands, the peaceable programme starts in primary school, when the child is four years old. There is also a programme for preschool, starting when the child is two and a half years old. The whole programme ends when the student is eighteen years old. Some children are selected to become peer mediators. “It’s also very effective, Dennis says, because children like to listen to each other. It’s even better than when the teacher can solve the problem, I think they can do better with themselves and find the solution for themselves”. Peer mediators have separate training. The earliest age at which you could become a peer mediator is ten years old. Dennis says that also the whole community are involved in peer mediation. “We see the schools as communities. In our vision, you have to use community also if there is a conflict. Tomorrow we will see each other again. When we have two groups, two different schools, we make them interact with each other. We organize meetings with parents, if it’s necessary, or with the children. We try to use mediation as a way to solve problems. We have to do it together”. 

Apart from conflict resolution or mediation, peaceful schools teach how to cope with diversity in society, how to make children, teachers, and parents responsible not only for their own behaviour, but also for their school, class, or neighbourhood. There are special Peaceable Neighbourhood programmes in big cities like Amsterdam, Utrecht, Hague. “Children are not only educated at schools, but also in the neighbourhood, within their families, or with youth workers. I think it’s necessary also to have more peaceable neighbourhoods in the Netherlands, and this programme is growing”, Dennis says. “We also see the neighbourhood as a school, I mean as a democratic practice place, where we try to speak the same, peaceable language. We also try to transfer the skills we teach the children at school to their neighbourhoods. For example, if you teach children how to solve conflicts in a peaceable way at school, you can also transfer this knowledge to their neighbourhoods if there is a conflict there”.

Dennis gives an example of what kind of socio-emotional competencies education for peace can develop: “It gives students a voice, and enables them to form their own opinions. If you have an opinion, it shows you how to find some arguments to make your opinion a bit better, and also how to listen to the opinion of someone who disagrees with you. It also allows the students to express all kinds of different feelings”.

Peaceful schools are established in communities affected by high levels of violence, but the programme is also suitable for regular schools situated in non-conflict areas. There are some peaceable schools in Poland, called Schools of Dialogue, as well as in Japan and Belgium, but the vast majority of them, 1200 in total, are located in the Netherlands.

Let’s listen to our podcast:

Peaceable schools in the Netherlands (Episode 3)

About the author
Sandra Užule - Fons
Holds Ph.D. in history, journalist, documentary filmmaker. Researcher and author of scientific and other publications about the Baltic States and media. Her professional career started in Warsaw in Polish Public Radio working for more than 10 years as an editor in Polish Radio External Service. She cooperates with media outlets in the implementation of media projects in Central Europe and Post-soviet countries. Currently, she is working on an alternative school project.
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