Most countries in the world have established a national curriculum framework whose content reflects the country’s unique values, traditions, and world view. The idea of an international curriculum seems like something of an oxymoron. How can a curriculum—particularly one dealing with such topic areas as history, ethics, and conflict—be relevant and adaptable to countries from every continent, given the differences in culture, politics, and education systems?
That was the challenge the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and EDC faced in developing Exploring Humanitarian Law (EHL)—a curriculum designed to help young people between the ages of 13 and 18 explore conceptions of “what’s fair” during armed conflicts. The program is currently being implemented in 66 countries and the ICRC expects another 25 countries to begin implementing EHL by the end of next year. Reports from several countries indicate that EHL is proving to be very effective and adaptable.
Peruvian educators report that the program is helping to heal “very deep wounds” caused by a history of “barbaric violence;” in Serbia and Montenegro, an educator teacher reports that EHL has been well-received, even as it opens up “traumatic questions” and “taboo topics;” in Yemen, educators have worked
Goals of EHL
EHL seeks to prepare young people to:
- Understand the need to respect life and human dignity, especially in times of violence and armed conflict
- Be aware of the protections in armed conflict that are established in humanitarian law
- Counter indifference and feelings of helplessness with regard to situations of violence
- Read local and international current events from a humanitarian point of view
- Engage actively in community initiatives that promote solidarity and prevent or defuse violence.
to stress the “absence of contradictions” between humanitarian norms and Islamic Shari’a traditions.
Already available in 15 languages, by the end of 2003, the curriculum will be fully translated into 23 languages. What accounts for EHL’s success? EDC’s project director for EHL, Marilyn Felt, believes that both the focus on Humanitarian Law as well as the pedagogy account for how well its been received. “We have examples since the beginning of history that humanity has often sought to protect people in war,” says Felt. “Since the values taught in EHL are values that have roots in world cultures throughout history, the values strike a resonant chord with young people and their teachers everywhere.” Felt has also found that educators in many countries are searching for assistance in training teachers in strategies that encourage students to develop a moral voice and think through problems for themselves. “It turns out that many countries are eager to introduce this new pedagogy and to give their teachers experience with it, even in countries where teachers traditionally lecture and are expected to have all the answers.”
Here are reports from various countries that have been using EHL:
“Peru has experienced barbaric violence, with far-reaching consequences for civil society,” says Karl Mattli, former head of the ICRC delegation to Peru. “The wounds are very deep…. [Exploring Humanitarian Law] will help to heal the wounds and prevent such things from happening again. We must prepare our young people for an imperfect world.” The Peruvian Education Ministry agreed and has begun to implement EHL into their secondary education systems. Walter Peñaloza, head of Peru’s Education Ministry’s advisory service explains, “Peruvian education should be an additional means of building up that which was destroyed, of undoing the disasters of the war,” he says. “The Peruvian Ministry of Education wants to act and to serve in this field.”
After a training workshop introducing 36 experts from the Yemeni Ministry of Education to EHL, the majority of participants agreed on the importance of including EHL in schools. “This branch of law is greatly important and displays a significant role in minimizing the effects of armed conflicts,” said a report on EHL in the Middle East about Yemen. “Given the cautious nature of the Yemeni society, which is scrupulous about the foreign impact, lest it should contradict with social values and the traditions deriving from the Islamic Shari’a,” explains the report. “It was imperative to underline the absence of contradictions between Shari’a and IHL.” Participants, apparently, were persuaded.
After pilot testing EHL in ten schools, the Ministry of Education’s Curriculum Development Center reported that “Teachers were surprised at the level of maturity and knowledge demonstrated by students” and that “This program requires students to exchange ideas on a neutral subject and this helps promote integration among various races in Malaysia.” The report did stipulate, however, that EHL demands teachers who are mature and experienced.
Belarus, Moldavia and Ukraine
An ICRC officer in Kiev reports that “EHL implementation in the region has the character of a ‘ripple-effect,’ i.e. the regions initiate its introduction voluntarily. The news about the new course spread very quickly; and ‘immediate visible changes in the behavior of students’ after the first EHL lessons-explorations raise high motivation for new teachers to join.” Materials have been translated into Russian and Ukranian. By the order of the Ministry of Education, 16 schools of Moldavia started EHL experimentation in October 2003. Belarus and Ukraine have chosen pilot regions and presently continue to extend the number of schools to 205 in Belarus and 150 in Ukraine.
Teachers have expressed gratitude for the training. As one participant in the first training put it, EHL is “a perfect complement to what we are trying to do: improve self-esteem and respect for human dignity and teach people how to resolve conflicts peacefully, through dialogue rather than violence: there is a great deal of resentment in Guatemala, a social war, a psychological war behind everything, and we must work hard to overcome this situation.”
Some countries have experienced difficulties training teachers because the learning methods ask teachers to interact with students in ways that can be very different from what they are used to. In Ethiopia, which has assertively sought to include EHL in three regional states and trained 516 teachers as of June 2003, a report by Samuel Tassew, EHL Programme Officer, explains that Ethiopian teachers at first feel “alien” to the EHL pedagogy. “The statement ‘teachers are placed on equal footing with students i.e. teachers are also learners in view of EHL world,’ … seemed to have not easily been accepted by many of them whose long standing teaching culture gave them a superior position in the teaching learning process… Working group, dilemma analysis, role play skills were never known to any trainee at any stage of the learning process.” Tassew subsequently reported that through the training, teachers were able to adapt and understand the different pedagogy. He wrote, “[Teachers] were able to accustom to it in the course of training, and it was indeed very astonishing when we were able to witness their swift comprehension thereof.”
Felt believes that this role for teachers is a crucial reason that EHL is so effective with students. “Teachers who are trained learn that their role is not to know all of the answers but to help the children discover questions and answers for themselves. In this way, they are more likely to remember the lessons.” Felt explains. “There are questions to which no one has the answers. Youth are invited to help develop those answers.”
The pedagogies of EHL provide opportunities for students to identify a dilemma and learn how to analyze it from all points of view. In addition the lessons urge students to be resourceful and to find new alternatives for negotiating obstacles and meeting needs. Students learn first and foremost that one has choices and that these choices can have far-reaching consequences. “Our goal is for this program is to have lasting impact,” says Felt. “We hope that EHL addresses both the head and the heart—the heart to enter and to matter and the head for understanding its meanings and applications. The learning must be internalized.”
The curriculum’s adaptability comes from a combination of elements that remain consistent from country to country, such as specific exercises and concepts, with a framework that leaves plenty of room for each country to develop and adopt as necessary for their specific circumstances. For instance, in Serbia and Montenegro, education experts are enthusiastic about the curriculum but noted the care with which the country would need to train teachers. “In the society like ours, which has gone through a series of armed conflicts,” says Professor Dragan Popadic, an educator who has trained a number of teachers in EHL, “this programme necessarily opens a number of traumatic questions, some of which have remained taboos. This fact puts both teachers and students into a delicate position and that is why this dimension will merit particular attention in the training of teachers, notable in the determining to what extent and in what way to deal with the past decade’s events in this country and the region.”
Serbia and Montenegro has since completed its own translation and adaptation of the modules, officially accredited the curriculum of EHL, and completed a first round of training sessions for 40 teachers. Twenty schools are currently taking part in the pilot project in Serbia. A team of experts from the pedagogical institute MOST is tasked with the training and pedagogical requirements for EHL. In Bosnia and Herzegovina a translation has been completed and EHL was piloted in 40 classrooms within four schools of the Brcko district.
An ICRC officer in Kiev, Ludmila Shinkarenko, who has helped to provide teacher training for EHL and its implementation with over 8,000 students, describes the program’s adaptability this way: “EHL is a big river on which lots of boats float. Its waters are IHL (international humanitarian law) and its banks direct the IHL exploration for the youth aged 13-18. The learners and teachers will go various routes… But all of them will still be in the clear-way of the EHL river.” The officer offers a teacher’s view of the teaching experience: “I am happy that I have become a creator, I was simply a teacher-performer at my school.”
ICRC and EDC have just completed two new publications to help countries evaluate the effectiveness of the program and advise new countries on how to implement it. While we have numbers and testimonials from educators, EDC is eager for more comprehensive evaluations to begin in order to see how widely EHL has brought about the development of a humanitarian perspective in youth.
Originally published on October 31, 2003