November 21, 2016

Five Penn GSE students develop peace curriculum for UNESCO

A curriculum guide developed for UNESCO by five Penn GSE students during a class last spring is now available to teachers in sub-Saharan Africa.

Kathleen Kardos, Tyler Hook, Athena Lao, Erin Wall, and Sharanya Vasudevan – all now alums of the International Educational Development Program – teamed up in Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher’s Curriculum and Pedagogy in International Context class to create a peace curriculum for UNESCO’s International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa (IICBA). UNESCO was so impressed, it published the curriculum this fall, an immense honor for student work, Ghaffar-Kucher said. 

 “I think the fact that UNESCO published the curriculum on their website shows the quality of the work that was produced in the class,” she said.

Before Ghaffar-Kucher begins her course, she asks a range of entities, including many non-governmental organizations (NGOs), for project ideas that her students can take on. Once students find a project that aligns with their interests, they collaborate with consultants from the requesting organizations. 

Ghaffar-Kucher acts as her students’ mentor and offers them guidance throughout their project’s development and completion. Tyler Hook said he and his fellow group members chose the UNESCO-IICBA project because they shared an interest in peace education and human rights. 

Initially, UNESCO wanted the group to create a curriculum that covered K-12 instruction, but Hook, who graduated from Penn GSE in August and began an Educational Policy doctoral program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall, said they decided to focus their curriculum around upper primary, as it “allows for some more complex topics and discussions.”

“We aimed it at upper primary teachers because we knew that if IICBA liked what we did, they could move forward to spiral it down for lower primary or spiral it up for secondary,” added Kathleen Kardos, who graduated this past summer and now works remotely from the United States for UNESCO-IICBA as an education consultant. “We knew that with our time constraints we couldn’t address all education levels. The decision to focus on upper primary was a collaborative decision between us and IICBA.”

The peace curriculum has eight units that comprise three lessons each, which can be taught as standalone lessons or as an entire course.

“The lessons can…be easily implemented into pre-existing courses,” Hook said. “For example, there are peace education lessons that can be done in English, social studies/history, science, and health classes.”

Kardos explained that the community-based guide is meant to help teachers provide students with the peaceful skills, attitudes, and practices needed to respond productively to conflict.

The guide is centered on the four important skills of peace education: Problem-solving, Empathy, Effective Communication, and Respect (PEER). Unlike some curriculum guides used in the region in the past, Hook said PEERs for Peace! has an added emphasis on global citizenship and environmental sustainability. 

After preliminary work on the peace curriculum in Ghaffar-Kucher’s class, Hook and Kardos (as part of their IEDP program requirements) had the opportunity to intern with UNESCO-IICBA this past summer in Ethiopia, where they worked to refine the PEERs for Peace! curriculum.

In their internship experiences, Hook and Kardos have attended various meetings with the African Union and other organizations. They have also helped with, and organized, conferences. Kardos said the primary highlight of her internship was the TeachHer Master Teacher Training workshop, which she and Hook organized and facilitated in partnership with several other international NGOs and development organizations.

“The objective of the workshop was to teach teachers from six African nations how to better engage their female students in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts/Design, and Mathematics (STEAM) subjects,” she said.

UNESCO-IICBA is the only UNESCO research institute in Africa, and is headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s sprawling capital city and the country’s major hub of development. According to Hook, the institute has about 21 full-time staff, whose members represented at least nine different nationalities, a fact that “provided for a compelling, dynamic, and fun working environment.”

All IEDP students participate in the International Internship Program, which is designed as a summer internship program (between 10-12 weeks). Interns are placed in fieldsites worldwide, where there are productive work opportunities, and where intern skills are matched to position openings.

The unique IEDP has produced a richly diverse alumni network, with alums working for major international organizations, such as the World Bank, OECD, and UNICEF, as well as research institutes and non-profit groups, like the Brookings Institution, the Clinton Global Initiative, and the Institute of International Education.