The Upwards Spiral: Using Participatory Action Research to define, evaluate and take action in regards to education for a culture of peace in Nicaragua

Kertyzia, Heather Jordan (2014). 'The Upwards Spiral: Using Participatory Action Research to define, evaluate and take action in regards to education for a culture of peace in Nicaragua' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

             This proposal for a full academic paper is based on the preliminary critical reflective piece that I presented last year in the Young Scholar meets Senior Scholar session in Managua.  Having now completed the research and taken into account the comments I received from HDCA scholars in 2013, I would like to present my completed research on how Participatory Action Research (PAR) methodology can be used as an effective strategy for working cross-culturally to define, evaluate and create future action plans in education for a culture of peace.  


            This project engaged with teachers in a Secondary School in Northern Nicaragua (SSNN) that was identified by local leaders as having particular problems in relation to violence, poverty and vulnerability.  The youth in this school are drawn from marginalized neighbourhoods that suffer high rates of drug and alcohol abuse (amongst both adults and youth), hunger, domestic physical and sexual violence and gang affiliation.  The goal of this research was to work with teachers to define and evaluate their peace education practice and to take action for improvement in the hopes that it may influence levels of violence in the school. 


            The PAR methodology was chosen based on a combination of Critical Theory and Post-Development theory.  The main points drawn from critical theory are: knowledge is constructed and contextual and can be manipulated to serve a dominant group, and the goal of research is praxis – reflection and action – upon the world in order to transform it for emancipation and social justice. With post-development theory I move away from the idea of development as a linear or economic concept and towards human development. I recognize that development work can become a new form of colonialism; therefore indigenous knowledge must be valued and local actors allowed to define their own development goals; as a result I am using participatory action methodology. I recognize that as a white, middle class, Canadian woman my research in Latin America is imbued in a series of interconnected power relations that are constantly in flux depending on whom I am engaging with.   For that reason my research process engaged in cycles of listening, analysing and feeding back to the staff at the SSNN. 


            The cyclical process meant that although the research was consistent with the principles of the PAR methodology I had established, the methods used for implementation and their timing varied from the original design.  The PAR methodology used had four distinct but blending stages: building trust, reconnaissance, developing the action plan and taking action.  The original methodology called for three methods to be engaged over these four stages: informal coffee chats, focus groups and workshops.  Although all three methods were used, they were not engaged in the order or timeframe that had originally been planned.  The flexibility built in to the PAR methodology was integral to the success of the research; being able to cycle through a process that allows for change created a space for the teachers' needs and thoughts to be put at the forefront of the research.  Teachers reacted positively to this prioritization and it was instrumental in building trust with the SSNN community.   Through this cyclical PAR process we were able to complete all four stages of the methodology. 


            The practice of education for a culture of peace is in the beginning stages of development in Nicaragua. Through the PAR methodology teachers were able to define their conception of education for a culture of peace and evaluate their own practice (or lack there of).  We then co-constructed a plan of action that was implemented in the school.  These preliminary activities were well received by the vast majority and teachers are enthusiastic about continuing the process, as they recognize that this is a long-term project.  If the project continues, we will continue to use the cyclical PAR methodology as it has proven to be an effective strategy for evaluating and taking further action in regards to education for a culture of peace. 

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