Durban, South Africa — For nearly a year now, Pranesh Jugganath has been reflecting on what he can do to address the violence and anger stemming from economic hardship, high youth unemployment and ongoing social injustice in communities around from Avoca Secondary School, where he works as an assistant principal.
Located in Durban, Avoca Secondary School serves students from surrounding townships where people struggle with lack of access to basic educational resources, healthcare and adequate housing. High levels of violence in some of these communities also create self-esteem issues among his students, Jugganath said.
As a founding member of the South African Peace Education Network (SAPEN), Jugganath said one solution is to implement a program in the Durban schools curriculum called peace education, a practice that dates back many years. It is a concept used to help individuals recognize and use skills and behaviors to manage conflict in a positive way. A long-term goal of peace education programs is the non-violent resolution of issues such as social injustice.
“Schools are the best place to equip young minds with skills, knowledge and attitudes,” Jugganath said. “It is the best platform to train our future leaders.”
Linda Johnston, Ph.D., President of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA), said his foundation provides grants to researchers or groups whose research projects focus on peace and peace education.
“It takes a community to really instill peace education in the lives of young people,” Johnston said. “Peace education should be integrated into all facets of a curriculum, instead of a single classroom.”
This is exactly what Jugganath intends to do. Jugganath said he uses the concept of peace education developed by The Prem Rawat Foundationa Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization, to guide its own ideas for integrating peace education into schools, including Avoca Secondary.
“It’s about living in harmony with yourself and nature,” said Jugganath, who presents himself as an ambassador for peace. “If I can quote Prem Rawat, he says ‘peace begins with yourself first, before preaching to someone else.’ If you’re not at peace with yourself, don’t use it as a checkbox.
Last August, Jugganath and some community members created a formal proposal to share with the South African Department of Education, which he hopes to deliver in August. His plan is to ensure that students are prepared to lead their communities towards a better future in hopes of improving their lives.
Jugganath said the first step is to get students to think positively.
“It’s right at the beginning when we talk about what peace education is,” Jugganath said.
Other elements of the Jugganath plan include a peace pledge for each student to make, self-esteem surveys with therapeutic programs in response to students with low self-esteem, school assemblies to discussions, friendly debates on social justice issues, and lots of positive reinforcement for students.
Jugganath said that as economic hardship, social injustice and violence become more pervasive within communities and the daily lives of students, young people become more dissatisfied with themselves and their communities, which which makes its peace education program plan all the more necessary.
“Human rights, social justice and cohesion, these are things we need to promote in schools for peace to prevail,” Jugganath said. “Social injustices will lead to conflict. If we are not consistent, we will not be at peace with each other.
Jugganath said schools should also teach their students to resolve conflicts through mediation and dialogue to avoid misunderstandings.
“When you level them up, they understand what the other person is saying and you clear up that misunderstanding,” Jugganath said. “But you need that skill now to mediate between the two. Otherwise, they kick him out of school and a simple misunderstanding becomes, number one, your violent response.
Jugganath said teachers already spend their time mediating disputes in classrooms and for peace education to work, instructors need to engage more in conflict resolution.
Asanda Mchunu, a 11th grade student from Avoca, said trusting teachers was key to being able to help.
“It’s important for us to have a relationship with our teachers because some of our teachers always remind us that if we have a problem, we have to talk to them. We should not escape,” Mchunu said.
Charmaine Raghunandan, an educator for 20 years at Avoca, said her approach is to understand the situation of her students and their families and, if possible, to help them so they know she cares.
“I try to show them that there is hope and there is a better life for you,” Raghunandan said. “But you have to work on it.”
Malibongwe Gasa, an educator who teaches the isiZulu language at Avoca, said current teachers need to move away from the way teachers used to discipline students during his time at school. Gasa said that instead of using corporal punishment or corporal punishment, educators should sit and reason with their students for a safe and peaceful environment.
“People in their communities, they don’t treat them like children. They treat them like [someone who] takes drugs or is violent,” Gasa said. “So when they come here, as educators, now we have to comfort them, we have to understand where they come from and give them a safe space.”
Jugganath said he hopes his plan, which is a process, not an event, will help students find peace within themselves.
“You need to reinforce peace education every day,” Jugganath said. “You can’t say I did peace education in January. You have to be there because it’s the demon that’s sitting on your shoulder, the minute you relax, that demon is going to take over, so your peace education has to be ongoing.