The Role of Innovation in Education for Sustainable Peace

  • Borislava Manojlovic


The overarching goal of this chapter is to examine the role of innovation in education for sustainable peace. In order to elaborate on innovation, the chapter looks at the Montessori method of education, which places an emphasis on promoting the humanistic values of free inquiry, trust-building, and an awareness of oneself, others, and the environment. Afterwards, the chapter proceeds to discuss art, study-abroad programs, and virtual and/or online platforms as innovative strategies for promoting sustainable peace.


Education based on scientific and humanistic thought has been fundamental for changing attitudes towards society, technology, environment, and politics throughout history. This is due to the emphasis it places on innovation and open, data-driven inquiry, which have been instrumental in fostering social progress. This book posits that societies can become more peaceful if the traditional education programs, textbooks, and curricula are implemented in conjunction with other learning initiatives that genuinely engage all members of community. The argument is that innovation should be an integral part of the educational framework for sustainable peace. Innovation is one of the key tools for the creation of the baseline shared values of trust, recognition, and respect. These essential values can in turn lead to uninhibited, collaborative knowledge creation, and learning about and with the Other (Enemy). Engaging communities in innovative learning processes, both inside and outside of classrooms, encourages the free exchange of opinions, building relationships, and the promotion of peace and humanism.

Resilient communities have been able to preserve their resilience to conflict through innovation and creativity. Innovative and artistic educational approaches such as intercommunal painting workshops, experiential learning exercises, reflective practices, photography, poetry, improvisational theater, dance, and music both influence people’s experience of conflict and reveal new and unique ways of addressing the challenges presented by that conflict. Art encourages people to gain fresh perspective on conflict: to confront pain and loss and transform them through movement, creative expression, and embodied experience. Artistic approaches seek to increase awareness of nonverbal communication, generate fresh perspectives, and enact behavioral change in the midst of conflict, chaos, uncertainty, and rapid change. Art enables the creation of “sacred spaces” that disrupt the patterns of domination, common social roles, and communication patterns within communities.

Alongside artistic approaches, technology also has a role to play in the promotion of sustainable peace. Advances in information and communication technologies have dramatically increased the ability of learners to securely access and share information over the web and gain access to specialized and even restricted information. The emergence of new technology is essential when it comes to the creation of physical and virtual libraries, which store information relevant to disparate issues of specific conflicts as a part of an effort to indigenize and institutionalize knowledge resources and enable communication. Virtual repositories of knowledge enable communities to access oral histories, data, articles, and case studies that can provide useful insights into the conflict and peace processes. Online tools and various applications have increasingly been used to analyze and organize vast amounts of information generated in peace processes.

The overarching goal of this chapter is to examine the role of innovation in education for sustainable peace. In order to elaborate on innovation, the chapter looks at the Montessori method of education, which places an emphasis on promoting the humanistic values of free inquiry, trust-building, and an awareness of oneself, others, and the environment. Afterwards, the chapter will proceed to discuss art, study-abroad programs, and virtual and/or online platforms as innovative strategies for promoting sustainable peace.

Innovation, Safe Place, and Shared Values

When humans are engaged in conflict, they are constrained in both action and thought. In order to overcome the narrow-mindedness that emerges within the context of conflicts, the key goal of education should be to stimulate innovation, creativity, and curiosity. It should encourage and empower the conflicting parties to remain curious about each other’s perspectives as a means of deepening an understanding of the conflict itself. It is through this process that insights can be generated, solutions can be suggested, and conflicts can ultimately be addressed in a manner that satisfies the needs of the concerned parties. Changing the rules of engagement and providing a space for free and safe inquiry can pave the way for peace to emerge.

The creation of spaces at the community level that enable innovation, free inquiry, and curiosity does not necessarily mean discarding traditional approaches and values. It actually builds on them by engaging in a dialogue between the past and present that is not intimidating, dismissive, and hegemonic, but rather open to verification and curiosity. In order to deepen the concept of innovation and enable the emergence of trust and recognition as common values, we go back to the discussion of the Montessori Method and its implications for education for sustainable peace. Montessori famously said that what we teach does not matter, it is rather how we teach:

The task of teaching becomes easy, since we do not need to choose what we shall teach, but should place all before him for the satisfaction of his mental appetite. He must have absolute freedom of choice, and then he requires nothing but repeated experiences which will become increasingly marked by interest and serious attention, during his acquisition of some desired knowledge. (Montessori 2015, p. 5)

Being attentive to teaching methods when it comes to difficult topics such as conflict is as important as establishing a safe space where learners can come up with their own conclusions through free inquiry, trust-building, and collaboration. Trust is a precondition for positive sum thinking and the belief that compromise can be reached, and all sides can gain.

Apart from teaching methods, education for sustainable peace should focus on children’s emergence as autonomous spiritual beings, as beings capable of innovation and critical thinking, qualities which can make them agents for peace and progress. According to Montessori, children need to learn and understand the roots of conflicts, which are often located in the traditional forms of education (Bogen 2017). She calls those traditional forms control-model education: “The child who has never learned to act alone, to direct his own actions, to govern his own will, grows into an adult who is easily led and must always lean upon others” (Montessori 1943, p. 23). Montessori suggests that blind obedience leads to everything that is wrong and evil in our society. It enables ignorance and uninformed responses allowing demagogues to seduce people to follow them blindly without questioning their words and actions.

Montessori’s emphasis on freedom and her belief in human goodness as preconditions for peace made her a radical. What is most radical about Montessori’s method is her open challenge to control, imposed rules, and preconceived frameworks. Education becomes a dangerous concept, because it seeks the truth in contrast to obedience, and seeks freedom as a means to challenge power and the status quo. Although it is critical and radical, such a concept of education is profoundly humanistic and it can be an extremely powerful tool in enabling progress toward a more peaceful world.

The humanistic tradition in education has its origins in the work of the Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico (1668–1744) who urged his followers to “know themselves” (Bertland 2017). Humanistic education was then adopted by thinkers such as Paulo Freire, John Dewey, and Alfred North Whitehead, who put human dignity and freedom at its core. This approach to education was further developed and expanded upon by humanistic psychologists, including Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. It is important to note that Maslow’s theory of needs was a source of inspiration for John Burton, one of the fathers of the conflict-resolution field, who applied Maslow’s categorization of needs to analyzing the roots of conflict. The humanistic approach is centered around the individual, and the aim of education, for humanists, is to learn how to know and respect oneself, others, and the environment. According to the humanistic approach to education, the teacher takes on the role of a facilitator who enables the emergence of empathy and trust. Furthermore, the humanistic teacher cares about students by engaging their reasoning, social capacities, and artistic and practical skills as well as feelings, all of which are important for the development of children’s self-esteem and self-actualization.

Montessori’s approach to education demonstrates that when education becomes creative and innovative, it can contribute to societal progress from the culture of conflict to the culture of peace through questioning the status quo, adhering to truth, and transferring humanistic values to the new generation. Figuring out the best approach and strategy to enable the emergence of trust, self-esteem, and other humanistic values, as well as responsible citizens, becomes a key question in the quest for sustainable peace. Let us examine some existing creative initiatives, such as art-based projects, study-abroad programs, and virtual and/or online programs and platforms, which could potentially accelerate the movement of conflict-ridden societies towards sustainable peace.

Art as an Educational Strategy

Art is a powerful method of promoting peace and collaborative learning. Through the use of symbolism, storytelling, film, role-playing, acting, dancing, and painting, art has the potential to send a strong message of peace.

Art is an education tool that addresses sociopolitical issues through symbols and metaphors which speak to our collective consciousness. The work of art does not control a social situation in an instrumental and strategic way in order to achieve a specific end. Rather, art can be seen as communicative action, a type of social action geared towards communication and understanding between individuals and which can have a lasting effect on the spheres of politics and culture as a true emancipatory force (Habermas 1985). Furthermore, art can be used to promote democratic and humanistic values in societies shattered by conflict by disrupting and reconfiguring roles, places, and patterns of communications within a community (McDonnell 2014). When art does this in a way that disrupts and displaces a distribution based on a “natural” logic of inequality, it shares a common logic and purpose with democracy, and when taken up by politics, art can contribute to democracy being enacted (ibid., 51).

Given that individuals in conflict are constrained by their thoughts and actions, which can lead to a breakdown in communication, the role of emotions should be taken into account in education for peace. Advancing peace in deeply divided societies cannot be achieved through rational processes alone (Cohen 2005). The arts and expressive culture have the unique capability to invite us into aesthetic experiences that link our cognitive, sensory, and emotional faculties together, opening us up to envisioning new possibilities for the future in post-conflict periods precisely when there is a strong desire for affiliation and the survival of the group in unconscious realms of the human mind. The arts can re-humanize the Self and the Other; facilitate the listening to and telling of stories, and the creation of more nuanced narratives and understanding of identity; help mourn losses; strengthen empathy for the suffering of others; help acknowledge and address injustice; support the process of overcoming bitterness; and help envision a better future of social reconstruction (ibid.).

Art can evoke strong emotions and is often utilized to demonstrate antiwar sentiments. From Picasso’s Guernica to documentaries such as ANPO: Art X War, the message sent to society is that of human suffering and a cry against war and violence in general. In ANPO: Art X War, artists expressed public outrage against the passing of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan (in Japanese anpo joyaku, or simply ANPO), which allowed US military bases to remain on Japanese soil, resulting in massive protests. Within this context, protest received a symbolic and universal value through the work of painters, photographers, and filmmakers. Oppression and occupation was thus counteracted by symbolic nonviolent action that shouted just as loudly as the protestors in the streets. Its gravitas was based on its universality and ability to transcend time, preserving the strength of its antiwar message.

Theater has also proven to be a useful tool in the promotion of collaborative learning as it has been one of the few spaces for discussion, dissent, the criticism of public policies, and promotion of empathy with victims. For instance, Palihapitiya (2011) talks about the culture of silence in Sri Lanka at the height of Sinhalese-Tamil conflict and how speaking against the government could have led to sanctions and imprisonment. At that time, antigovernment performances in theaters attracted large audiences every night. Yet, the performers were not attacked. At the National Art Gallery in Colombo, a drama called Ravanesan played out a legend of the Rama–Ravana war. According to legend, Ravana was a king of Sri Lanka who kidnapped Queen Sitha from India. Rama, a powerful deity in Hinduism, came with his armies in search of Ravana to rescue Sitha. Ravanesan highlights the struggles of ordinary men and women trapped in the brutality of war. It reflected the current situation, in which both Tamil and Sinhalese people were trapped in an ongoing conflict, by exposing the futility of violence and showing the stories and traditions of both sides in a respectful way. There was a sense of freedom and empowerment in the theater, which contributed to the emergence of trust-building at the communal level.

Theater has also been a unique setting in that it has allowed communities to reflect, mourn, and empathize with the “Other.” When the war started in Yugoslavia in 1991, the members of the DAH Theatre in Belgrade became very cognizant of the power of theater as a space for reflection, mourning, and empathy. The theater group decided to halt their work on the performance Gifts of Our Ancestors to begin and concentrate their efforts on a new piece named This Babylonian Confusion which was an antiwar performance (Dah Teatar 2017). They decided to juxtapose the destruction around them with creativity in order to draw the public’s attention to the futility and senselessness of war. Their future work would be focused on difficult themes of victimhood, missing persons, justice, and the pain of loss in times of war. These themes provided an educational platform in a society whose social fabric was deeply shattered by conflict.

Sarajevo has been known for its efforts to promote multiethnic coexistence within the context of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). In Sarajevo alone, more than 800 theatrical-musical and religious performances were held as communitarian culminations of shared values (ibid.). Countless performances in orphanages, art exhibitions on war and rebuilding, and international participation were amongst the attempts to bridge the divides in Bosnian society. One of the most notable examples of how the arts have been used as a means of promoting collaborative learning and integration is evident in the work of Father Ivo Markovic, a Bosnian friar, who founded Pontanima, an interreligious choir based in Sarajevo. The choir and its founder received the Search for Common Ground Reconciliation Through the Arts Award in 2004 and the Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Award in 1998 (United States Institute of Peace 2017). The choir represents BiH’s diverse and multicultural background and not only contributes to the country’s cultural life but also to bringing people together. I had an opportunity to attend the choir’s rehearsal session and listen to their amazing performance of songs. It was a unique experience not only because the choir performed songs representing the different ethnicities of BiH, but also because the members of the choir belonged to all those ethnicities and were unified in their performance of the songs. The choir and their music enabled the creation of “a sacred space” where open and uninhibited discussion could ensue.

The arts have had a strong track record in addressing key issues like victimhood, pain, politics, and the hierarchical paradigms which reinforce prejudice and stereotyping. The arts encourage reflexive processes and critical engagement with plurality and difference. Diverse learners are enabled to reflect on their own and others’ experiences in an inclusive and cohesive manner. Promoting awareness of universal interdependence is key to fostering wider understanding amongst young people whose everyday experiences may be of a parochial and monocultural nature, enabling them to critically examine their own values and attitudes, and value diversity. Artistic approaches in education can be an important tool in fostering social cohesion, respect, trust, openness and stability. Art can provide a wide canvas that can be used to convey a universal message and help learners to develop the values of social justice, cosmopolitanism, interconnectivity, and development.

Sacred Spaces and Healing

Sacred spaces, restorative circles, or circles of trust where communities can come together and talk about difficult problems are present in many conflict areas, ranging from the indigenous communities of Canada and the rural areas of Mexico to the inner cities of the United States. They are there not only to restore the community’s unity and stability, but also to build the community’s capacity to prevent future conflicts. Religious figures, village leaders, doctors, and housewives have led creative and powerful projects that helped prevent and heal violence through the creation of circles of trust. In the Middle East, for example, young people do this work through Seeds of Peace and other community programs. Parents Circle—Families Forum (PCFF) provides a sacred space for families in Israel and Palestine to come together to mourn the loss of their children, listen with open hearts, and forge bonds that help set a foundation for personal as well as ethnic reconciliation (“The Parents Circle Families Forum—Home” 2017). By bringing both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict together in a sacred space, collaborative learning and the promotion of the humanistic values allow the parties to understand the “Other” on a personal level. The sacred space enables them to overcome the boundaries that were set by the conflict and build the trust that is necessary to address the roots of that conflict and move towards a sustainable peace.

The use of restorative and integrative circles as a method of promoting sustainable peace through collaborative learning techniques is not just limited to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but also in the post-conflict setting of Northern Ireland. Despite the cessation of hostilities in 1998 in Northern Ireland, bitter resentment between its Catholic and Protestant communities remained (Aufrechter 2013). In the midst of this negative peace context, various centers of learning throughout Northern Ireland were tasked with not only integrating people of the two backgrounds, but also with recognizing each group’s narrative while simultaneously fostering trust and dialogue between them. The case study in Northern Ireland that we examine is labeled “School 1” and it is interesting because of its unique approach to integrative education through the use of a “secret (not sacred) place.”

We are drawing from a study by Queen’s University’s Claire McGlynn on integrative education projects in Northern Ireland (McGlynn 2008). As depicted in McGlynn’s study, School 1 is a small primary school with an integrative education approach, for its Catholic and Protestant pupils. The School’s program has focused on interactive and integrative education projects that fostered an awareness and recognition of others’ culture, religion, and empathy, while celebrating the historical differences of the people of Northern Ireland.

The approach used in School 1 is “the secret space,” which is perhaps the Irish equivalent of the more commonly known “safe space.” The objective of the “secret space,” which acknowledged the main difference in School 1 to be rooted in religious background, was to encourage children from all faiths to bring an item of personal significance to a central table in the classroom and place it there for all to see. Many of the pupils brought items that signified their religious background. Some students brought rosary beads while others brought Bibles. Similar to the role that teachers play in promoting shared values and trust-building under the Montessori approach to education, the teacher later led a discussion on how each of the items meant something special to each of the pupils, and how all of the students and their religious backgrounds belonged in Northern Ireland. Understanding each other’s perspectives and developing empathy for others was key to fostering a sense of shared uniqueness and trust among the students.

Establishing trust can be a tricky task when people with historical grievances interact with one another. To that end, School 1 incorporated a creative and innovative activity called “circle time,” whereby all students physically formed a circle of trust, and nothing spoken in the circle was to be discussed outside of the circle. Students were encouraged to open up to their classmates about their feelings and discuss thoughts or worries, or even trivial things that were on their minds. The objective of the activity was centered around establishing trust and empathy between the students as well as the teacher, and uniting with one another under the concept that they were all each other’s secret keeper. Overall, McGlynn’s study on integrative education in Northern Ireland, as portrayed by School 1, demonstrates the effectiveness of integrative learning in the promotion of sustainable peace. In this case, the formation of the circle of trust was representative of the communal need for reconciliation that needed to take place beyond this particular classroom in Northern Ireland.

Although deemed a success, the unity projects in School 1 may or may not wield as seamless an outcome in other societies where the cultural or religious traditions are more divergent, or perhaps more complex in nature; where, for example, one religious or ethnic group is a minority to a much higher degree. Furthermore, in areas where interstate war is active between members of groups, integrative education must be completely flexible. In these latter examples, trust of members of another group may range from low to non-existent, and thus, the secret space initiatives may contribute to more conflict or feelings of alienation. It is important for policy-makers in the field of education to set boundaries regarding which and to what extent parties from outside of the community, zone of conflict, or ethnoreligious spheres of the conflict groups dictate or advise on integrative educational approaches lest they proscribe policy or activities that hinder, confuse, or otherwise do not work. In researching ways to overcome contention through education, Tomlinson and Benefield identify potential concerns with these gaps, stating that “in some cases, war’s impact on these countries’ education system has been so extensive … that approaching some of these (Efa) targets seems nearly impossible” (Tomlinson and Benefield 2005). Clarity in defining objectives, and the relevance of practice within the scope of the specific conflict, are key to lasting integrative educational initiatives.

As societies work towards post-conflict reconstruction, the responses of the innovative and creative individuals allow orientation towards peacebuilding and the initiation of a sociopolitical change to take place. Change comes to fruition in the coming-together of diverse individuals and groups seeking transition towards coexistence and cooperation. Joint ventures through creative approaches can alleviate tensions so that all parties to the conflict can explore and appreciate cultural exceptionality on broader, harmonic, and more humanitarian scales. Some may think that School 1 in Northern Ireland was a success because the conflict in Northern Ireland was not as bloody or violent as those that occurred in the former Yugoslavia for example. However, it should be noted that regardless of the level of intensity, postwar situations can greatly benefit from educational integration at the primary-school level. The integrated approach reinforced by the innovative use of circles showed promise because the children were not yet adolescents, and thus had not begun to form rigid identifiers or internalize differences, fear, or prejudice that occur during and after adolescence. In other words, integrative, creative, and artistic approaches to education are valuable at the primary-school level because at this point in life students are still in the process of formulating their worldviews. Integrative approaches must work to remain relevant to the culture and divergent groups, and they must resist outside influence, or rigid integrative checklists when these are not contextually appropriate. Creation of sacred spaces such as circles promotes collaboration and integration of diverse communities by emphasizing shared humanistic values and free inquiry between one another.

Study-Abroad Programs

Study-abroad programs play an important role in the promotion of peace as they enhance students’ global learning and development, as well as the development of cultural empathy and increased understanding of the world issues and relations (Stebleton et al. 2013). Traveling to a conflict or post-conflict area can be extremely meaningful for students of international relations and conflict studies. Students experience emotional and intellectual challenge as a result of direct cultural encounters, and guided reflection upon their experiences encourages engagement with their peers, educators, and selves (Engle and Engle 2004). Study-abroad programs are creative and innovative as they constantly adapt to different experiences, views, and changing contexts. After facing the complexities of the conflict experienced by people who live on the ground, the students are able to reflect critically on it. Given the cultural exchanges that such programs bring about, linkages and partnerships with local universities in fragile societies should be thoroughly developed and thought through, so they are mutually beneficial and can contribute to the development of capacities and human capital in local contexts. Study-abroad programs should not just be seen as programs that are specifically designed for privileged students in the West, who will hopefully use the knowledge they acquire from their experiences in their future or current jobs. Educational experience can be an innovative endeavor through which travelers and hosts can work hand in hand and develop new initiatives together. For example, MEJDI tours have turned travel into a multinarrative experience to promote alternative and complex view of Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 1 The model brings together divergent local communities to provide travelers with different religious, political, and cultural perspectives, with the goal of promoting intercultural understanding, social transformation, and positive engagement with local communities.

The role of study-abroad programs in the promotion of peace and collaborative learning is especially important because there is a wide gap between scholarly theories and the work practitioners engage in. The coursework in peace and conflict tend to be too theoretical and often disconnected from what is happening on the ground. There is a need to address this disconnect because one of the main goals of educating for sustainable peace is to provoke personal transformations, reflection, and empathy in everyone involved. Researchers, scholars, and practitioners in the field of peace and conflict studies cannot distance themselves from the topics they cover, but they need to constantly keep in touch with the local communities from which they can learn, before they attempt to analyze, understand, and address the issues (Avruch and Black 1993; Lederach 1995, 1997). Experiential programs are necessary for a discipline such as international relations, as experience constantly feeds into practice and theory. Learning in the field is indispensable in that it can almost be considered an intervention. While study-abroad programs serve as important practice for students interested in working in international affairs, the questions that arise pertain to the programs’ effect on the local communities, and how those communities benefit from them.

As an educator, I have led several study abroad programs to the Balkans and the Basque Country, Spain. There are a few observations that I would like to discuss based on my own personal experiences. The first observation is related to the interaction between students coming from the “visiting” culture (primarily the West) and the local “host” culture. One of the requirements of the study-abroad programs that I lead is that students write a journal about their everyday experiences, learning, and insights. The students’ journals were not only entertaining to read but they also provided insights into the transformations, shifts in views, and “aha” moments that occurred when they were confronted with an experience that contradicted their previous beliefs. These occasions of cognitive dissonance (Lee et al. 2012) sometimes lead to changes in the worldviews of students from the “visiting” culture, which ultimately results in transformative learning. On the other hand, the local interlocutors in societies that have experienced conflict in the past find that telling their often emotional stories about conflict and their role in peacebuilding is very rewarding because they can relate their experience to students who are very active and open listeners. This may lead to some sort of catharsis, but more often the local interlocutors see the interaction as an appreciation and recognition of their work and their experiences.

One of the study-abroad trips that I led in the Balkans was a 10-day program in Bosnia with graduate students, which was dedicated to studying the role of history and memory after mass atrocities. The program focused on the impact of the war in Bosnia and different interventions in its aftermath. It included lectures and debriefing sessions with the instructor, meetings with various NGO officials and conflict experts, field trips to memorials, and some sightseeing. Students visited three ethnic communities to learn about the different narratives of the war that exist in Bosnia and met with people from organizations such as Youth Initiative for Human Rights, the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE), and the Nansen Dialog Center amongst others. Through all of these experiences students had the opportunity to meet with actors working for peace and human rights at various levels and in multiple sectors of society.

Although the structured lectures and discussions with local stakeholders played an important role in the promotion of collaborative learning and deepening of the experience, the students’ unstructured interactions and conversations outside of the classroom proved to be just as valuable and insightful. Many powerful experiences occurred informally and during free time in the evenings. Interesting conversations did not happen only in classrooms or the organizations visited, but in informal spaces where people spoke more openly and freely expressed their own views rather than those of their organizations.

Free time enabled students to explore and learn on their own. The conversations that students had with local people in informal settings allowed them to understand people’s attitudes in a deeper, more nuanced, way. Reflections, through daily journaling and debriefings, were strongly encouraged throughout the time spent abroad and also upon return, when students had some time to settle and rest. Reflection is an important ingredient of experiential learning, as it helps connect people’s personal experiences with the theoretical knowledge that they possess allowing them to understand their role as future peacebuilders (Dewey 1933; Kolb 1984; Brown et al. 2014). The world we live in is becoming more dynamic and complex as we speak, and navigating multiple issues and identities through reflection in diverse cultural contexts is becoming increasingly relevant.

Study-abroad programs are beneficial because participants often create connections with local organizations and return to the “host” country for internships, job opportunities, and research projects, continuing their collaboration via their organizations. As was demonstrated through my own study-abroad program experiences, the added value of such programs are the interactions, and potential for future collaborations, with local people in the conflict context. Given the benefits that participants in study-abroad programs gain, more work should be done to ensure that such benefits are mutual. In other words, attention should be given to potential advantages of such programs, not only for participants, but also for the local community. Study-abroad programs need to be flexible and adaptive to be successful and to overcome challenges. Within the context of such programs, educators are innovators and facilitators of reflective practices in the changing situations which are essential for learning to take place. Feedback from the local interlocutors as well as course participants is extremely important for the experience to be truly meaningful and transformative.

Through a continued analysis and assessment of field-based courses in post-conflict zones, educators can improve the design of their offerings by focusing not only on the participants, but on all stakeholders. It is important to mention that interactions with local interlocutors enable intercultural learning, while community involvement experiences offer realistic and in-depth exposure to the daily life of people in the local community. Apart from facilitating professional and personal growth, these courses impact the participants’ self-confidence, promote greater adaptability in conflict contexts, and generate the acquisition of new and different teaching methods, ideas, and philosophies among students and educators alike.

Overall, this section has demonstrated how study-abroad programs facilitate innovation and collaborative learning, which allow for the processes of free inquiry and an exchange of values between the visiting and host societies. Study abroad programs enable an understanding of a wide variety of perspectives on conflict and conflict-resolution practices. They can also be seen as an opportunity to expand upon and engage in existing peacebuilding practices and initiatives.

Games, Technology, and Digital Storytelling

Technology and virtual space are becoming indispensable in educating for peace, as they can empower a large number of people to engage in different peacebuilding practices at their own pace and time. They provide numerous tools and platforms that collect a wide variety of information and enable communication with others in ways that promote sustainable relationships. Furthermore, technological tools, communication, gaming, and networking can affect behaviors that pertain to patterns of violence and peace through deliberative and collaborative processes. Lastly, technology is a tool with which communities can build new innovative participatory processes, foster deeper collaboration and trust, and assume ownership in promoting peace.

Because relationships are at the very core of peacemaking, learning how to develop collaborative and supportive relationships enables people to practice peacemaking more effectively. Games are an ideal tool that can be used to develop trust and relationships because their cooperative features model the behavior of participants towards acquiring the skills of problem-solving, communication, empathy, and collaboration in an interactive, fun, and engaging way.

Many computer and board games address the social and civic issues that are at the root of conflicts today. Organizations such as Games for Peace and Games for Change have put together a whole virtual community that creates and shares online games as a new approach to bridging the gap between people living in conflict zones (Games for Peace 2017; Games for Change 2017). Through games, youth are educated on the existing stereotypes and value of collaboration across different and adversarial communities. Values of trust, collaborative learning, and creativity are supported among youth in the Middle East, Africa, and other places stricken by conflict, via the shared affirmative experience of game-playing.

Gaming initiatives have proven to be effective in promoting trust and collaborative processes. PeaceApp is a global initiative promoting game applications and peace initiatives as venues for intercultural dialogue (UNAOC 2017). It organizes PeaceApp competitions for games built as platforms for cultural dialogue and conflict management. Another initiative, the Toolbox for Education and Social Action (TESA) works with organizations and groups to create inspiring projects that support building democratic education and collective processes through games (TESA 2017). Rise Up, one of their cooperative board games, is about building people power and taking on oppressive systems to create change.

Organizations such as Seeds for Peace and Peace Games have also played a role in promoting games as a way of moving towards sustainable peace. They came together to build the knowledge, skills, and relationships among young people to contribute to peaceful transformations in their communities (The Olive Branch Teacher’s Guide 2008). Peace Games not only organized festivals and workshops that brought together children from different schools and communities to create and play games with each other, but they also made sure to form long-term partnerships with local schools, teachers, and students. They helped them co-create the curriculum, staff and volunteer workshops, support and materials, family newsletters, and events that introduced the change towards collaboration in the divided communities.

Apart from games, online courses have been used as a means to promote sustainable relationships that can move societies gradually towards positive peace. Online courses are offered by different educational institutions and are accessible to users around the world if they have the Internet and can afford it. Some of the biggest platforms offering online courses are the United States Institute for Peace (USIP), Global Campus (“USIP Global Campus” 2017) and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). UNITAR offers courses that run throughout the year and are free of charge and open to the public (UNITAR 2014). The Khan Academy, another institution well known for its online courses, has produced over 2600 videos on different K-12 subjects, making it a fantastic virtual space where children are given easy and accessible tools to learn by themselves (Khan Academy 2017).

The online courses provided by institutions such as the USIP Global Campus, UNITAR, and Khan Academy are aimed towards students who are interested in acquiring the knowledge and skills necessary to prevent and transform violent conflict. Although online courses are often free or cheaper than regular courses they are still inaccessible to the people who may need them the most; those who live in conflict and post-conflict areas that lack the infrastructure.

In order to provide access to education in areas with no Internet and a lack of infrastructure, different nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are using some innovative and hands-on strategies. An NGO called Room to Read builds libraries in the rural areas of Nepal, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, and Zambia, using locally hired labor. By doing this Room to Read promotes access to knowledge while empowering local workers. Room to Read also supports literacy and education by training teachers in both the Tamil and Sinhala languages in one of the most impoverished areas of Sri Lanka, the Uva Province’s Badulla District. Training teachers in both languages is an effective tool with which to develop trust and to foster collaborative and deliberative processes and sustainable relationships between the different members of the Badulla District. The New Futures Organization based in Cambodia runs an orphanage which cares for over 50 children and young people, and is developing a network of free schools in remote villages. This prevents children from being deprived of the opportunity to engage in collaborative and deliberative learning processes. One Laptop per Child is an organization which has built a basic type of laptop for children who could not otherwise afford them. The XO Laptop is a low-cost, low-power, cheap computer designed for constant connectivity (One Laptop per Child 2017). All of these NGOs have touched the lives of many marginalized children by means of technology and infrastructural initiatives promoting literacy.

In addition to games, online courses, and NGO-led initiatives that focus on communities lacking in Internet and technological infrastructure, digital stories are powerful and innovative tools for building conflict-resilient communities. Their condensed format is conducive to sharing the story with others and allows for them to be easily uploaded to the Internet, opening up numerous possibilities for file-sharing, repeated viewings, and audience distribution. Digital storytelling is a method of using storytelling, group work, and modern technology to facilitate the creation of two- to three-minute multimedia video clips that convey personal or community stories (Lal et al. 2015, p. 54). The impactful experiences that are sometimes evoked in people when viewing the digital stories of others can possibly be attributed to the integration of different art forms into one product. Combining multimedia adds layers of depth and increases the potential for an emotional and sensorial experience for the audience. By adhering to the limited duration of the story, the storyteller is required to get to the heart of the matter in an efficient and quick manner and it is in this way that the format is effective in capturing life’s defining moments or turning points (Lambert 2013). It is important to remember that although multimedia (for example, photos and music) are important contributors to the impact of the digital story, they serve mainly as tools for the storyteller (ibid.).

Digital stories deal with relevant topics in a concise manner, so that wider audiences, and especially youth, can learn about the perspectives of different actors within a very short time period. Digital stories are powerful vehicles through which to create and share knowledge. The power of the digital story remains in the content of the story and/or conflict being conveyed and how it is expressed, and there is less preoccupation with the actual visuals, lighting, background, and sound effects. Examples of topics that have been expressed in digital stories include, “hope, place, community, equity, education, housing, social justice, help-seeking, identity, experience of health and human services, important people in an individual’s life, violence, poverty, and isolation” (ibid., 56).

Technological and digital forums provide platforms enabling the collaborative and deliberative learning processes that are conducive to establishing trust and shared humanistic values. Games, online courses, and digital stories are increasingly used as a mechanism to promote peace in conflict and post-conflict settings. The benefit of a technological and digital-based approach to peace is its efficiency, because it allows people of diverse backgrounds to develop peacebuilding skills at their own pace. Although there is the issue of people lacking access to the Internet or to the technological infrastructure, NGOs have taken a hands-on approach to overcoming these challenges by developing their own initiatives to promote literacy and provide people with access to technology. Overall, both educators and practitioners should build on the initiatives that have already incorporated technology into their peacebuilding activities.


This chapter sets out with the overarching goal of examining the role of innovation in education for sustainable peace. The resulting discussion and analysis centers around the Montessori method of education; this method elevates the importance of humanistic values, which can emerge within safe spaces that allow for free inquiry and interaction. Changes in the conflict system can be introduced through creative approaches that foster the values of humility, trust, and empathy, and help participants to view their own identity as being as equally valued and relevant as that of any other group or individual. Such humanistic values can gain traction and be fostered relationally, as we saw in our earlier discussions on initiatives that utilize art, study-abroad and experiential programs, technological and digital platforms.

Education can play a positive role in post-conflict contexts only if innovation and trust inside and outside of classrooms are allowed. Trust becomes an important value for equal treatment and joint exploration of different historical narratives of conflict. It is through the very process of free and open inquiry that students will learn about trust, tolerance, respect, civic values, and freedom of choice.

Such processes require extensive dedication and work as the people on the ground are still facing tensions and acute divisions. Ideas of diversity and multiculturalism are difficult to promote in divided communities and post-conflict settings due to the fact that linguistic, ethnic and religious differences have been used to separate groups for a long time. Changing these exclusive and discriminatory behaviors cannot be induced by a single government regulation or by policies from above. What is needed is creativity and vision at the communal level.

Introducing change into a post-conflict society is a long-term process, and it takes a while to see the effect of education in communities. Everyone wants rapid change and quick results, but education takes time. The implementation of knowledge and adapting to the effect of that implementation are long-term commitments but they are aimed at systemic deep-rooted change, which is worth waiting for. As people’s understanding that change is possible and attainable increases, they will be more equipped to improve themselves and their community.



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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Borislava Manojlovic
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Diplomacy and International RelationsSeton Hall UniversitySouth OrangeUSA

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