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Teachers Forum
December, 2003

Creative Approach to Peace-Building: The Case of Aceh
An Interview with
Dr. Asna Husin
Asna Husin


Growing up in peace is a right that most Acehnese children have not enjoyed in the last 14 years. The Government of Indonesia and the separatist group, Free Aceh Movement or GAM, had been fighting for loyalty and allegiance of the Acehnese people for nearly three decades in this resource-rich western most province of Indonesia. The conflict in Aceh is an increasingly brutal war with both sides violating humanitarian law with impunity. The conflict affects all regencies of Aceh province, except one island regency, Sabang. The effect of the conflict among the civilian population, especially children, is tremendous. The civilian population is often caught in the crossfire. Many children have lost parents who have been killed by one of the parties to the conflict. Female children are at risk of sexual violence by both parties. Many families were displaced, their homes, schools and mosques burned and their incomes lost. The high level of violence that children are exposed to often led to traumatic stress, violent predisposition, or feelings of hopelessness.

More recently in May 2003, the Government launched a military offensive against GAM and imposed martial law in the whole province. A total of 589 schools were burnt to the ground over a period of 3 months, including 3 senior high schools implementing the UNICEF-assisted Peace Education Programme. Education of about 103,000 children in Aceh became the biggest casualty of this recent intensified conflict. To cope with the emergency situation, existing schools operate on double shifts, while other schools hold classes in government buildings and tents, as the Government rushes to rebuild schools.

Dr. Asna Husin, who holds a Ph.D. in Religion from Columbia University and a M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University, talks about efforts to build peace in Aceh through a school-based, child friendly, initiative. She is the Programme Director of the UNICEF and Non-Violence International supported Peace Education Programme.

What is the Peace Education Programme about?

Dr. Asna Husin's answer: The Peace Education Programme, known by its Indonesian acronym PPD or Program Pendidikan Damai, was founded in the Province of Aceh in October 2000 as a response to two decades of conflict and blood-shed that tore communities apart and disrupted their day-to-day lives and activities. The Programme conveys ethical values and moral principles drawn heavily from Islamic religious sources and ideals, as well as Acehnese traditional wisdom. We delved deep into vast religious and cultural oceans to embrace Islam in its true face and show that peace is an inherent part of this faith; and to reach an understanding of the Acehnese tradition rich with norms and practices that empower communities. The Programme thus mediates peace education based on an Islamic perspective and Acehnese tradition.

Aimed at educating high school pupils and Acehnese young adults about their rights and responsibilities as members of families and communities, it provides the youth with knowledge and skills that enable them to respond to conflict and violence creatively, and trains them through numerous learning activities to be peaceful members of society. The focus of our teaching is not only on cognitive aspects but more significantly on the affective and psychometric dimensions.

Related Links on UNICEF

At a glance: Indonesia
The big picture

Evaluation Report Program Pendidikan Damai (Peace Education Program)
Executive summary

Humanitarian aid needed for children in Aceh
UNICEF News Note, Update 30 May 2003:

Through the Eyes of the Children
Art and writing from the children of East Timor

Accelerating Progress in Girls' Education
This document outlines a strategy for accelerating progress on Girls' Education in order to meet the goal of gender equality in primary and secondary education by 2005. This is the first credibility challenge of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Education for All (EFA) goals.

Barriers to Girls' Education, Strategies and Interventions
Explore such areas for analysis as direct and indirect costs, then view the possible findings / causes, broad strategies and possible interventions.

The Barriers to Education from a Gender Perspective
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5 key Dimensions of Quality Education
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The Girl Child
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Q. What is its coverage?

A: Peace education is currently being implemented in 13 out of the 20 districts of Aceh, stretching from the Provincial Capital of Banda Aceh south to Central and East Aceh districts, reaching West Aceh in the west coast of Sumatra, and spanning the Benggala Strait to the Island of Sabang. The Programme is supported by 211 teachers, and is presently being taught in 100 high schools or nearly one fourth of the total high schools in Aceh, targeting more than 35, 000 students and approximately six cultures and ethnicities. In terms of gender break-down, one-third of the teachers are women and at least half of our pupils are females.

Q. How does this programme link up with the Child Friendly School Initiative being promoted by UNICEF?

A: In terms of theory we are promoting global concepts of peace and rights through an Islamic approach, making the Programme accessible and sensitive to local culture and religious values. As such it embodies both locality and universality. Therefore, the initiative is valued highly by educational authorities and community leaders, who provide the most needed support. Methodologically, our Manual teaches difficult concepts and important norms by employing "learning by doing" and "playing for learning" approaches, combining discussions with role-playing, comprehension through games, and drills with performances. It is both educational and fun for teachers and students alike.

These techniques have strengthened the potential of the students to learn as well as their ability to discipline themselves, recognizing that the youth are subjects in the teaching-learning process. Furthermore, it contributes to promoting the school-place as a friendly zone for both children and adults. The fact that our Manual, Peace Education Curriculum, embodies these concepts presented in an extremely attractive outlook is another important contribution to the Child Friendly School Initiative.

Q. In what ways does it contribute to improving the quality of education in Aceh?

Kerja kelompok (Group Work Exercise)

A: Our peace education activities have contributed tremendously to improving the quality of education in Aceh. It encourages our young adults to live according to moral values and local tradition, thus reducing conflicts in schools and families. In turn, this helps create a peaceful environment for learning. In addition, the peace education teaching model has been implemented by our teachers when teaching other subjects, and is now being considered by Aceh’s Provincial Committee on Education for adoption as a model for training in other religious classes and social science subjects throughout the Province.

Q. What actions have been taken to support teachers’ capacity for promoting peace through education?

A: A number of refresher trainings and workshops have been conducted to improve the capacity of our teachers in promoting peace through education, and to assist them in socializing the Programme. The provision of some additional teaching resources was critical to this process. Likewise, the evaluation and reviews done during the implementation of the Manual were critical in the process of empowering teachers.

Q. What more should be done?

A: Among other things we hope to provide several advanced trainings and workshops in order to enhance the teachers’ capacity. Teaching instruments and supporting teaching materials should also be part of our continuing efforts. More resources and peace education manuals in the language that is accessible to the teachers are critical. Similarly, the betterment of a teaching environment through advocacy workshops with school principals shall remove a great deal of stress and burden from their shoulders, thus allowing facilitators to concentrate fully on teaching and training.

Q. What problems do teachers face in trying to implement the programme?

A: Even though there was a real concern among teachers and staff that facilitators would encounter a serious problem in teaching peace education at the beginning of the Programme, this potential obstacle did not materialize. Thanks to our efforts and our clear stance for neutrality, our teachers have not been intimidated or questioned for teaching the Manual. This does not imply that teaching peace education is full of roses without any thorns. There are many security concerns, for Aceh was, and still is, a war zone. The teachers have to be continually careful, wise and aware of their surroundings. The size of classes and school facilities often limit the teaching-learning efforts, for teachers and students do not have enough space to do exercises easily. The fact that peace education is still a pilot subject poses another problem, for not all schools have designated a fixed schedule for it. Consequently, some teachers have to either teach the subject deploying the teaching hour of other subjects or to wait for the absence of another teacher.

Such minor issues indicate that our peace education teachers have not really faced any serious or wide-spread problems and those which have been mentioned are the concerns of both male and female facilitators. Each teacher and school has responded to those obstacles rather differently, depending on the intensity of the issues and the agreement between teachers and principals. Over all, such problems have not impeded the implementation of peace education in those schools.

Q. What are some of the most common problems that affect the equal participation of children (girls and boys) in Aceh? What are you doing to overcome some of these problems? Belajar di Mushalla (Studying in a Small Prayer House)

A: The issue of equal participation of girls and boys in the teaching-learning process is unique in our context. On the one hand, our girls are extremely active and often dominate the class. Therefore, rather than being mindful of the rights of girls, teachers have to be concerned with boys’ rights and responsibilities. This is due to one specific reason that a large majority of the brightest students in Aceh are female. However, the real issue of girls’ rights is being tested when it comes to ideas and thoughts. The questions such as, ‘who should be the future governor of Aceh,’ ‘who would make a good scientist,’ or ‘what gender should be the first child — male or female?’ may create some controversy. Even on these sensitive issues the difference between boys and girls is not as sharp as one may think. The two groups seem to respond to the questions logically. However, the real inequality was actually encountered during the teachers’ trainings. Here, we saw that male facilitators were more aggressive than females. We overcame this by emphasizing equal opportunity, encouraging reluctant teachers to speak out and giving more chances to quiet ones. This effort worked well, and at the end of a weekly training, all our teachers were more active and aware of their role.

Q. How is this programme helping to change the lives of young people?

A: The Peace Education Programme has positively affected the lives of our students. For example, take the issue of tension between Javanese and Acehnese students in one of our schools in East Aceh. Unlike other schools, this particular school has an almost equal number of Acehnese and Javanese pupils. The tension derived from a wider societal issue promoted by some that the Acehnese crisis was a conflict between the Javanese and Acehnese. This perception seeped into this school and affected the relations between students. At the beginning the forty students in the peace education class were divided into two groups, one sat opposite to the other without any communications or glances toward the other side. Peace education changed this unhealthy environment gradually. By means of cooperation and analyzing problems, the teaching-learning process helped students examine this specific concern intelligently and slowly overcome their differences. By the end of the three-month teaching-learning period, they began to intermingle and work together, thus creating a new positive experience for both pupils and teachers.

Q. In your work, what do you find most rewarding?

A: Over all, my work at the Peace Education Programme has been most satisfying in all accounts. I will single out two examples. It was most rewarding when I looked into the eyes of students who approached me indicating how much peace education had changed their lives. I recall a statement of a pupil: "Peace education has recreated in me hope and purpose in life even if my family has been scattered by this crisis". Secondly, I felt overwhelmed when our educational experts and religious leaders suggested that peace education was an excellent initiative and one of our leading ulama (Islamic scholar) exclaimed that "we should embrace it."

Simulasi materi buku program pendidikan damai (Simulation Exercise Based on the Peace Education Curriculum)

Q. What do you find most challenging?

A: Among the challenges that frustrated me is when I was unable to deliver our promises to teachers and students. Once we promised our teachers that the teaching Manual would arrive in their schools before the semester began. However, a number of constraints such as the slowness in the printing process, security problems, and a communication break-down, obstructed us from delivering the books on time. This was very discouraging because it made the teaching-learning process difficult for both teachers and students.

Q. What have been the major achievements of this programme?

A: The major achievement of PPD is the fact that almost every individual who has studied our Manual and reviewed its implementation agrees that peace education is an excellent programme. They all support our advocacy to mainstream the programme further, and to make it part of the general curriculum in the Aceh school system. Related to this achievement is that our PPD, with the support from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), has been entrusted by the ‘Council of Ulama’ (an umbrella organization for the Acehnese Muslim scholars) to develop a sister programme known as ‘Peace Education Curriculum: The Perspective of the Ulama of Aceh.’ This deeper level Manual will be ready in March 2004, and shall be applied throughout Aceh’s private Islamic boarding schools (dayahs). It is also anticipated to be an additional resource book for high school teachers.

Q. And for you personally as an educator, what do you count as your greatest achievement?

A: From my personal experience as educator and mobilizer, the greatest achievement has been related to the fulfilment of our belief that hard work motivated by sincerity (ikhlas), commitment and professionalism will eventually be fruitful. This is the only way to build real peace in a violence-torn society. On a deeper level, I begin to reflect that an initiative of this kind, no matter how good the intention is, requires a much longer time to conceptualize and necessitates a variety of efforts to crystallize, thereby testing our patience, integrity and seriousness.

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Last revised December 1, 2003
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