"How can you teach peace as a separate subject in school?" inquires Sangeeta Krishan, 40. "Is peace something finite, like math? Can you 'teach' it at all? Can you say to students, 'Come, let us learn peace for one period' and then would learning end when the class ends?"
In 2006, as the principal of Banyan Tree School, Delhi, Krishan found herself mulling over such questions after the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) issued a document on the need for peace education in schools.
Out of her conviction that peace could not be 'taught' but ingrained, arose a unique practice in education that Krishan successfully implemented at Banyan Tree School for an academic year. Today, as an independent and full-time education consultant, Krishan counsels prominent schools in India and abroad on incorporating peace education into the existing school curricula.
Why is peace education important? "In the present context, every school has its own political and religious agenda. Parents have their own insecurities and academically speaking, the competition is immense. Caught between such conflicting situations, a student may be utterly confused regarding basic values." Peace education firmly grounds a child and enables him/her to independently and justly resolve the many conflicts of modern life.
"Peace is essentially being in harmony with yourself, everyone and everything around you," explains Krishan. It is a habit of the mind, to be first imbibed and then reflected through every action - not merely preached as a concept. Unlike in the case of more finite subjects such as science or history, the learning process is destroyed if there is confusion. For instance, if the child is taught at school to tell the truth but comes home to parents who do not hesitate to tell lies.
With these concepts in mind, Krishan first set about the process of incorporating peace education into the curriculum of her school. "Initially, I received some basic material from Australia, based on which I organized a workshop - The Habits of the Mind - for teachers of my school. The workshop worked around 16 'habits' or core values, such as love, compassion, empathy, truth, and honesty." A week before the workshop, Krishan made cutouts of all the 16 'habits' and put them up all over the school. The cutouts simply had the word denoting the specific value in large letters, with a sentence of two about the emotion running beneath.
"Neither teachers nor students were instructed to read the cutouts. Yet, within two days, they started taking an interest and asking questions," says Krishan.
During the workshop, Krishan set forth her basic concept: the values of peace as a way of life have to be incorporated into existing syllabi. "I asked my teachers how they would like to handle the 16 basic habits through their curricula," explains Krishan. The varied and innovative responses that came up surprised Krishan. "The workshop was a lesson in how much can be achieved with freedom... I suppose the basic thing about peace is that you cannot impose anything on anyone at all - not even your own concept of peace," she concludes.
A week of discussions later, the teachers began to implement the values of their choice. The results were encouraging. A math teacher of class five used the concepts of straight and curved lines to play out the value of cooperation. How can one hope to take everyone along if one insists on one direction? After all, one would have to bend, explained the teacher to the class.
On another occasion, when Krishan was teaching economics and the village economy to students of class nine, the concept of tolerance emerged from a discussion. "I had not mentioned caste but the students brought it up. It led to a discussion on social and economic disparity and before we knew it, we were having another lively discussion on equality," recalls the educationist.
Krishan cautions that non-verbal signals, too, go a long way in inculcating or destroying the peace education process. "Children are keen observers and can make out if a teacher has had an argument at home or if two teachers do not get along. On the other hand, a teacher is a human being and can't be play-acting all the time. It is important to relate to students on human terms."
Thus, she counseled her teachers on how to balance their need for personal space along with the need to impart the right message to students. "Counseling teachers on simple skills like patience, listening, respect for differences and so on went a long way in improving inter-personal relations among the school staff and the general atmosphere in school."
Krishan believes that teacher-parent coordination is essential for effective peace coordination. Such an interaction would resolve any conflict the student may face as a result of the different value systems at home and school.
With a view to further developing her concept of peace-education, Krishan resigned from her job at the end of the academic session of 2006-07. Today, as a full-time peace education counsellor, she independently counsels prestigious schools with a national presence, such as Banyan Tree, Springdales and GP Goenka. Initial workshops have also been held at seven schools in Doha, Muskat and Bahrain.
Interestingly, her techniques are simple and highly individual. "I do not believe that you can make a blueprint of peace education and impose it on schools. Instead, I ask every school, every principal and every teacher to come up with his or her techniques, and keep evolving. I share my own experiences, of course, but everyone is free to take what they find relevant and leave out the rest."