More Voices: Learning about Peace from Gazan Students

Like Colombia, the promise of peace through formal education has faced challenges when confronting the complex and often violent reality of conflict.  One notable example is education’s role in support of the Oslo Accords, with the Palestinian Authority’s peace curriculum intended to ‘foster mutual understanding and tolerance’ and ‘contribute to the peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.’[1]  The ensuing peace curriculum developed with American oversight was supported by $3 billion in educational assistance, working out to $2,160 in educational aid per pupil – up to 24 times the average expended to students in conflict zones.  This meant that Palestinian youth in the post-Oslo era were by far the most heavily subsidized schoolchildren within ‘fragile states.’[2] 

Classrooms in Gaza, like many contested communities, feature local lessons that often clash with peace narratives in school.

Engagement with Palestinian students raised on the ‘peace curriculum,’ however, emphasized how such considerable investment not only failed to promote peace but instead actively undermined it.  Students repeatedly implored stakeholders including the United States to ‘stop lying’ to them through formal education, while support for violence amongst post-Oslo youth has subsequently doubled.  The sensitized peace curriculum may have appeared sensible to Stateside policymakers, yet to students growing up amidst ongoing conflict in Gaza such idealized narratives remain both irrelevant and often deeply insulting.

Such lessons should already have been learned as $78 billion in educational aid to fragile states over the last 25 years has done little to address the 46 intermediate armed conflicts ongoing around the globe. [3] Yet as policymakers retain unproven confidence in formal education’s ability to mitigate violence it is all the more important to listen closely to the voices in places like Gaza. There is much the students there can teach those willing to listen.

[1] Article XX11 (Oslo Accords II 1995).

[2] Per capita aid for students in conflict zones averages $16 annually, while in Palestine between 2000 – 2014 it’s $191 (OECD 2019).

[3] In 2018 there were 46 intermediate armed conflicts (Pettersson et al. 2019; Gleditsch et al. 2002).  Of the $191.7 billion in aid disbursed to the developing world between 1995 and 2017, $77.6 billion was disbursed for educational overseas development assistance (ODA) to ‘fragile countries’ (OECD 2019