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Podcast: Peacebuilding through Early Childhood Education

A boy in Iraq’s Domiz camp for Syrian refugees looks at a nearby school, though he does not attend it. The early years of childhood lay the foundation for future health, as well as cognitive, social and emotional development.

This post originally appeared on UNICEF's Back on Track site on 19 November 2013.

By Rudina Vojvoda

NEW YORK, United States of America, 19 November 2013 – Evidence shows that the early years of life are strong predictors for individual health and development, as well as cognitive and social-emotional development.

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In this podcast, we spoke with three experts who believe that integrating peace education into early childhood education has a positive long-term effect on peace. Kyle D. Pruett is a Professor of Child Psychiatry at Yale University, Michael Evans is the Founder and Executive Director of Full Court Peace – an organization that brings together young people in at-risk communities through basketball – and Siobhan Fitzpatrick is Chief Executive of Early Years, an organization based in Northern Ireland that promotes high-quality child care.

Appetite for peace
Mr. Pruett’s belief in peacebuilding education in early childhood is deeply rooted in evidence coming from years of experience with programmes designed to meet young children’s basic needs. “We notice as early as 6 months that children are sleeping a little better, eating a little better, their pre-language starts to develop and they seem connected in a trusting way with people around them,” he said. “Those are traits that eventually turn into an appetite for peace.”

Sharing findings from her work in Northern Ireland, Ms. Fitzpatrick pointed out that conflicts have a long-term aftermath that can persist through generations in families who have suffered trauma. It is, therefore, imperative to develop programmes that deal with not only the immediate impact of conflict, but also the long-term effects.

“We really build programmes around quality indicators first, but we are also specifically helping children deal with issues that divide them,” she said. “The first thing that we do with very young children – as young as 2 – is support them to develop strong emotional well-being and resilience.”

Mr. Evans drew on his experience in Latin America through his work with Full Court Peace. “I have been working in Cuba and Mexico with kids who were 9 years old and are now 13 to 14, and it seems their attendance in community-based activities becomes more consistent after having gone through deep-rooted, long-term initial programmes. So, I think that they start to see their role as mentors when they become young teenagers,” he said.

A mind-set to change
Discussing challenges related to engaging peacebuilding and security experts in conversations about the role of early childhood development, Mr. Kyle said that one roadblock is the lack of understanding of the importance of brain development in early years. “We keep making this mistake over and over again, that young children are not observing what’s going on around them, and we now know that experience is really the final architect of the brain, not DNA,” he said.

But how do we change this mind-set? According to Ms. Fitzpatrick, by concretely showing the transformative power of high-quality early childhood interventions that lead to peaceful families, peaceful communities and peaceful societies.

Mr. Evans added that information-sharing and partnerships are crucial. “In this line of work, no one owns any ideas,” he said. “This phone call, in itself, is sharing of evidence, and the more we share based on our failures and experiences, the better we become at what we are doing.”

More about peacebuilding education and early childhood development



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