The "School of Peace" is an add-on curriculum

A brainchild of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Hermogenes C. Esperon Jr., "School of Peace" is an add-on curriculum endorsed by the Department of Education (DepEd) for elementary pupils in conflict-areas in southern Philippines, teaching them the importance of peace in class.

Abdul, a grade five pupil at Liangan East Elementary School, is one of the thousands who have benefited from the new curriculum.

For one, the cross and the crescent symbolize two diverse religion and culture, but for young Abdul, a Muslim, they mean "oneness" and the capacity to co-exist harmoniously.

Abdul shares with other students his artwork about peace.

He says peace is about respect for each other, whether one embraces the Christian or Muslim faith.

Abdul believes in unity in diversity to attain a genuine and lasting peace in the country, especially in Mindanao.

In fact, his drawing shows a chain linking a cross (a symbol of Christianity) and a crescent (Islam's symbol) connecting the globe as one people.

Princess, a Christian girl from a nearby school, echoed Abdul's meaning of peace.

A grade six student at the Bacolod Central Elementary School, Princess has emphasized the importance of "seeing more our similarities rather than our differences."

These are words of wisdom uttered by some kids during the focus group discussions (FGDs) conducted here recently.

This activity is aimed at assessing the outcome of peace education trainings given to school principals and teachers who in turn impart the same to their students.

In an area not far from the center of the recent armed hostilities, these schoolchildren are taught the value of justice, tolerance and respect for people's diverse beliefs to live and achieve a lasting peace in this troubled region.

It shows that education is the key to transform the mindsets and attitudes of the populace amidst raging conflicts. The values and skills of peace-building are stressed.

Godilla V. Lao, principal of Bacolod Central Elementary School, shared among her teachers the Peace Education Teaching Exemplars (PETE) by integrating peace in the lesson plans in different subjects in elementary and high school.

After attending the Peace Education training conducted by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), DepEd and Unicef in 2006, she echoed of what she learned to school principals and co- teachers in her district.

One of them was Josephine Viscaya, principal of Liangan East Elementary School.

To reinforce the integration of the value of peace, Ms. Lao transformed her classes into 'school of peace.' It goes beyond academics in molding children the essence of having peace in their community.

This new paradigm involves all stakeholders in the community working together, conveying the message the importance of peace.

The schoolchildren are being made aware that what they learned in class must be consistently applied outside the school campus.

In Liangan East and Bacolod Central, Ms. Lao established a peace park and a peace garden in school.

When Viscaya was transferred to Liangan East last June, she established a peace hub to provide an environment that allows children to nourish what they were taught about peace.

For this creative endeavor, Liangan East has become a model 'school of peace', sharing its experiences to visiting principals and teachers from other schools.

Using PETE and other resource materials, teachers were able to integrate peace values, principles and skills to different subjects. The program also inspired teachers to make their own lesson plans that incorporate peace-related concepts.

A mathematics teacher creatively used the raging true-to-life conflict into problem solving questions in math. After doing their arithmetic, kids pondered on the conflict and gave their suggestions on how to resolve them.

On the other hand, a music teacher promoted unity in diversity through action songs she taught her students. She infused into the songs the idea that no matter what ethnic groups we come from, we are all Filipinos.

For instance, the Arabic Language and Islamic Values Education (ALIVE) program the teachers use in dramatization allows students to conceptualize on the essence of unity and other acts of kindness.

ALIVE caters to Muslim kids but welcomes other pupils from other faiths – teaching Islamic language and universal values.

Peace Education Champion

DepEd X Regional Director Estrella-Abid Babano, a peace advocate, has been instrumental in continuously capacitating her teachers and school administrators on the value of peace.

She has been spearheading other peace education activities and designated peace education coordinator per division to ensure the mainstreaming of peace education in the schools' curricula and school events.

Waging Peace

The values and skills on peace-building being taught to the youngsters allow them to contribute in the creation of a culture of peace, and prepare them for a better future.

In fact these school children are optimistic about their future. Their drawings reflect hope of a family filled with love and a community where people of diverse cultures and faiths embrace each other's differences.

When asked why peace should be taught in class, Renalyn, a grade six student, expressed her full support to this peace-building program.

"Kailangang matuto at masanay kaming gumawa nang mabuti para sa aming paglaki dala namin ang mabuting ugali (We have to learn how to do good things so that when we grow up we bring with us our good values)," she said.

Indeed, the future holds a promise of peace not only in Mindanao but the entire Philippines. (PNA)

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