Home » Peace Education in Guatemala » Guatemala Mandates Peace Education in its Schools, but Does it Work?

Guatemala Mandates Peace Education in its Schools, but Does it Work?

Photo by Jeison Higuita on Unsplash

Eric Law

As my colleague Daisy Betancourt Ramos and I noted in a blog post last month, part of the peace accords that brought an end to Guatemala’s thirty-six year civil war enshrines peace education as a core part of the country’s educational system.  The promotion of peace education aligns with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, Target 7, and the intended outcomes of peace education are broadly aligned with SDG 16“Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”

In our earlier post, we discussed several studies which highlighted various ways formal and informal educational programs in Guatemala incorporate peace education into their curricula.  The country’s progressive educational policies and intentions deserve praise, but also beg the question:  Are they working?  Is it enough that the country is no longer at war, and that its homicide rates (still among the world’s highest) have trended downward?  The peace accord’s educational reform agreement use phrases like “strengthen national unity through respect for cultural diversity,” “strategy of equity,” “democratic coexistence, including respect for human rights,” and “culture of peace”—all patently difficult to define—before getting to the key directive to “Design and implement a national civic education programme for democracy and peace, promoting the protection of human rights, the renewal of political culture and the peaceful resolution of conflicts,” (para. 22.[f]).  But even if Guatemalans arrive at a general consensus about what these mean, and decide those are sufficient indicators of overall success for the country’s peace education programs, as development and/or peacebuilding professionals we should want to establish attribution, and explore avenues of possible improvement.

The small handful of peer-reviewed studies on Guatemalan peace education programs cited in our last post (Bellino, 2015; Bellino, 2016; Gass, Gough, Armas, & Dolcino, 2016; Rubin, 2016) were structured as case studies, and relied mostly on key informant interviews and self-reported responses about knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors.  In fact, we have not found any longitudinal studies on Guatemala’s peace education programs.  This is not unique to the country though.  Globally, we have found that there is very little published research evaluating peace education programs’ long-term effectiveness.  Two rare examples are the studies conducted by Malhotra and Liyanage (2005) and Rosen and Salomon (2011).  Malhotra and Liyanage evaluated the effects of a four-day peace workshop in Sri Lanka one year on (finding that participants showed greater empathy than did non-participants, in the context of protracted ethnic conflict).  Rosen and Salomon examined a year-long peace education program in an Israeli high school, followed by an additional two-month-delayed posttest (finding that the program effectively influenced participants’ malleable “peripheral beliefs,” but not the core beliefs associated with the collective narratives of their Jewish and Palestinian identity groups).

To be clear, the two longitudinal evaluations above were not randomized control trials (RCTs).  RCTs, while generally considered the gold standard in terms of evaluations, were originally conceived with laboratory-based medical research in mind, and present numerous ethical, methodological, and practical problems which make them highly contentious in development and social science circles (Wolff, 2000).  What’s more, if we are primarily concerned with internal validity—for example, whether Guatemalan peace education works and can be improved in Guatemala, without regard to external validity—we should question the point and expense of conducting an RCT.  But even when it comes to alternative methods, empirical, systematic evaluations of peace education programs face extensive challenges (e.g. social desirability bias, self-selected participation, dangerous research environments) which make them exceedingly rare (Fitzduff & Jean, 2011; Harber & Sakade, 2009; Johnson & Johnson, 2010; Nevo & Brem, 2005; Salomon, 2006).

So what specific evaluation questions do we want to answer about Guatemalan peace education, and if we can’t or shouldn’t conduct RCTs, are there any practical, ethical, and methodologically sound alternatives?

To the first question, we could refer to the SDGs, but as noted above, Guatemala was nearly twenty years ahead of the United Nations in statutory peace education, so why not use its own standards?  Where more specificity is needed in defining the standards, Guatemalans should be the ones who get the final say.  In any case, we would certainly want to look beyond knowledge and attitudes (although these are important) to include behaviors (e.g. Did participants choose non-violent approaches where they might previously have chosen violence?).  Chigas, Church, and Corlazzoli (2014) suggest a long list of questions that impact evaluations of peacebuilding interventions (including peace education programs) can answer (e.g. impacts on conflict drivers, better options under particular circumstances, mechanisms of action, sustainability of outcomes).  Happily, they also address the second question (on alternatives) by providing well-organized guidance on how, when, and why to use many quasi-experimental and alternative evaluation methods in conflict zones and conflict-prone zones (e.g. fragile and post-conflict), such as Guatemala.

Clearly, there is interest from inside and outside Guatemala in its peace education.  Clearly as well, there are a great many tools available to help determine its effectiveness.  Whether one refers Guatemalan law or the UN’s SDGs, there is political and legal rationale for carrying out impact evaluations on these programs, in order to gain insights on possible improvements and lessons that may be applied in Guatemala and around the world.  As usual, the main questions seem to be funding and time.


Bellino, M. J. (2015). The risks we are willing to take: Youth civic development in “postwar” Guatemala. Harvard Educational Review, 8(4), 537-561.

Bellino, M. J. (2016).  So that we do not fall again: History education and citizenship in “postwar” Guatemala,” Comparative Education Review, 60(1), 58-79.

Chigas, D., Church, M., & Corlazzoli, V. (2014). Evaluating Impacts of Peacebuilding Interventions: Approaches and methods, challenges and considerations (Practice Product). Department for International Development. Retrieved from https://www.saferworld.org.uk/downloads/evaluating-impacts-of-peacebuilding-interventions.pdf

Fitzduff, M., & Jean, I. (2011). Peace education: State of the field and lessons Learned from USIP grantmaking (Peaceworks No. 74). Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved from https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/PW74.pdf

Gass, M., Gough, S., Armas, A., & Dolcino, C. (2016). Play for Peace as a violence prevention model: Achieving voluntad y convivencia. Journal of Experiential Education, 39(4), 412–426. https://doi.org/10.1177/1053825916674978

Harber, C., & Sakade, N. (2009). Schooling for violence and peace: How does peace education differ from ‘normal’ schooling? Journal of Peace Education, 6(2), 171–187. https://doi.org/10.1080/17400200903086599

Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (2010). Peace education in the classroom: Creating effective peace education programs. In G. Salomon & E. Cairns (Eds.), Handbook on peace education (pp. 223–240). New York,  NY,  US: Psychology Press.

Malhotra, D., & Liyanage, S. (2005). Long-term effects of peace workshops in protracted conflicts. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 49(6), 908–924. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022002705281153

Nevo, B., & Brem, I. (2005). Peace education programs and the evaluation of their effectiveness. In G. Salomon & B. Nevo (Eds.), Peace education: The concept, principles, and practices around the world (ebook, pp. 271–282). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ebook-nps/detail.action?docID=227509#

Rosen, Y., & Salomon, G. (2011). Durability of peace education effects in the shadow of conflict. Social Psychology of Education, 14(1), 135–147. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11218-010-9134-y

Rubin, B. C. (2016). We come to form ourselves bit by bit: Educating for citizenship in post-conflict Guatemala. American Educational Research Journal, 53(3), 639–672. https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831216646871

Salomon, G. (2006). Does peace education really make a difference? Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 12(1), 37–48. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327949pac1201_3

Wolff, N. (2000). Using randomized controlled trials to evaluate socially complex services: problems, challenges and recommendations. The Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics, 3(2), 97–109. https://doi.org/10.1002/1099-176X(200006)3:2<97::AID-MHP77>3.0.CO;2-S

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