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Highlighted session - Expanding educational frameworks for peacebuilding: evidence from Colombia 2016-2018

Wed, April 17, 1:30 to 3:00pm, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Bay (Level 1), Seacliff B

Group Submission Type: Highlighted Paper Session


The current state of affairs in Colombia blurs the line between war and peace. Simultaneous to the signature and the implementation of the Peace Accords between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia witnessed the escalation of warfare between the national army, the left-wing guerrilla National Liberation Army (ELN), paramilitary-mafia networks and FARC dissident groups. In 2018 alone, 124 human rights activists and community leaders have been assassinated across the country for defending issues related to victims’ rights, land ownership, environmental protection, among others (El Tiempo, 2018). Teachers have also received a growing number of threats and have been victims of violence and intimidation (El Colombiano, 2018; Semana, 2018). The country is oscillating between the continuation of war-minded policies and the transition to peace. This takes form, for example, in the defunding of the peace process (including a suite of transitional justice measures), the dismantling of government institutions devoted to defend victims’ rights, and the return of drug policies inspired by the war on drugs,.

The workings of the education sector echo some of these turbulent circumstances. Even though the Peace Accords presented education as (1) a social development strategy for rural areas, (2) a means to guarantee the reintegration for ex-combatants and (3) an opportunity for the reconciliation of the parties affected by the armed conflict, they did not include a cohesive educational peacebuilding strategy. This gap goes in hand with the mushrooming of isolated educational strategies oriented towards peace. For instance, the Ministry of Education designed peace education learning materials (Cátedra de paz), yet did not include a program to train teachers and implement it in schools. It also created a new citizenship training program (Plan de formación ciudadana), which avoids the use of the term ‘peace’ to bypass polarization and guarantee sustainability. Historical memory is just one of many purposes included in peace and citizenship education mandates and has generally depended on efforts from the National Center for Historical Memory (CNMH) and other civil society actors. A new truth commission has adopted pedagogy as a key pillar but struggles to gain legitimacy given the political environment. While drug policy reform is seen as a crucial aspect of peace, school policies concentrate on measures to tackle micro-trafficking and drug consumption, establishing little connections with peacebuilding goals. The lack of a cohesive strategy for educational peacebuilding limits the country’s potential for achieving social transformation and sustainable peace.

To gain insight into the role of education in Colombian peacebuilding, this panel draws from the overlapping fields of Education in Emergencies, Transitional Justice, and Peace and Human Rights Education. We will explore the complex relationship between education, conflict and peacebuilding. To do so, we tackle the following questions: What are the possibilities for educational peacebuilding in Colombia's current political landscape? And what are the conceptual contributions and limitations of 'education and peacebuilding' as a guiding framework through which to read Colombia’s current situation?

We answer these questions through four empirical studies. Based on semi-structured interviews with a wide range of actors, the first contribution explores the production and appropriation of peacebuilding-oriented educational policy. Through the study of a school located on the Colombian-Venezuelan border, an area heavily affected by war, it shows how flawed policies have the potential to be appropriated when they respond to local needs and interests. The second paper draws from data collected through focus group with students in urban schools in the Colombian Pacific; it explores how discourses related to citizenship and peaceful coexistence education foster individual and de-politicized understandings of violence that curtail youth engagement in historically-informed collective conflict transformation. The third paper discusses the understudied relationship between drug policy and educational peacebuilding. It explores the landscape of educational drug policy initiatives addressing this crucial factor for violence in Colombia, illustrating its ambivalent, often contradictory, and largely ineffective character, as well as its articulation with other educational peacebuilding initiatives in the country. The last contribution addresses the significant role that historical memory plays as a pedagogical effort for peacebuilding in Colombia. Based on interviews and questionnaires with teachers, it explores their efforts to incorporate historical memory while participating in a teacher’s network for memory and peace sponsored by the National Centre for Historical Memory (CNMH). The study of these teachers’ practices illustrate the particularities of historical memory as peace education, and the possible motivations behind teachers’ involvement in peacebuilding despite difficult conditions of insecurity, low remuneration, and rather vague curricular peace mandates.

Peace and security are key components of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations. This panel will explore the potential and limitations of current frameworks for peacebuilding through education via a specific country case, Colombia. It invites further reflection on how educational systems intersect and coexist with a wide range of actors and institutions such as transitional justice, drug policy or rural development, traditionally analyzed as separate.


El Tiempo. (2018). El mapa de la vergüenza. Este año han sido asesinados más de 120 líderes sociales en Colombia. Available here.

El Colombiano (2018). Docencia, una profesión amenazada en Colombia. Available here.

Semana (2018). Asesinato de un rector en Putumayo: la cruda realidad de educador bajo amenazas. Available here.

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