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American Psychological Association

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Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology

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DOI: 10.1037/pac0000519


Young people’s critical role in building peaceful societies has been increasingly recognized in research and policy over the last several decades. This attention has coincided with the development and wider application of peace education in transitional and conflict settings. Within the field, however, there has been less attention to young people’s own perspectives, understandings of their roles, and responses to peace education. This study contributes to this literature and the field of peace education by employing psychological theories on development and meaning making in investigating how adolescents respond to peace education in Colombia. In 2015, the Colombian government mandated the inclusion of peace education across all levels of schooling. The law reflected increased attention to young people’s potential development and role as peacebuilders. Nevertheless, there has been minimal evaluation of how the law has been received by young Colombians or has influenced their understandings of and orientations toward peace. The methodology in this study involved presenting adolescents with an excerpt from the Colombian government’s proposed curriculum and asking them to respond. To do this, interviews were conducted with 205 adolescents between 15 and 18 years old across 36 schools in various areas of Colombia. Participants were presented with the 1-page framework intended for 10th-grade instruction in the Colombian Ministry of Education’s document of tasks and recommendations for peace education. Thematic analysis of the interview data was used to identify key patterns in participants’ responses. Analyses revealed three primary themes: youth needed to be prepared for engagement in society, informing served as a foundation for participation in peacebuilding, and peace education needed to bridge the divide between the classroom and social contexts outside of it by promoting concrete action. These themes link together to provide insight into how these adolescents made meaning of peace education, including in relation to their possible roles in a societal project of peace. These adolescents’ responses demonstrated that they were attentive to the disconnects between their experiences and understandings and the ways that they were being taught about peace and their own possible roles in it. Such awareness has implications for peace education within Colombia and more broadly as an endeavor to promote prosocial engagement in youth. Overall, the findings highlight that peace education may effectively correspond with young people’s development and psychological processing when it is praxis oriented, attentive to their local contexts, and able to be integrated with their identities and envisioned trajectories. In line with the themes in participants’ responses, critical peace education may effectively engage and motivate adolescents by providing a broader contextualization with attentiveness to their local contexts and a focus on strategies for application.


Accepted version. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, Vol. 27, No. 2 (2021): 146-159. DOI. © 2021 American Psychological Association. Used with permission.

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