Learning and development via network participation : a case study of a peace educator network.
The recent increase in the number of reported incidents of political, domestic and criminal violence in the media, attests to the escalating violence in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), one of the nine provinces in South Africa. This situation highlights the desperate and urgent need for some sort of peace educational intervention which exposes people to alternative ways and methods of dealing with conflict, in socially acceptable, non-violent ways in an attempt to curb this cycle of violence. The training and development of peace educators is now more critical than ever. However, a review of relevant literature reveals that the field of peace education and peace educator development in the KZN and the broader South African context is marginal and seriously under-researched. This study focuses on the learning and development of peace educators, with a specific interest in how their participation in a network contributes to their learning and development as peace educators. This study is framed by Lave and Wenger's theory of Communities of Practice. It involves different data collection methods, namely document analysis, observation of network activities and in-depth interviews with six facilitators from the Alternatives to Violence Project-KwaZulu-Natal (AVP-KZN). The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) network, which is the unit of analysis for this study, emerged as a space which facilitated opportunities for collaborative social learning where facilitators were able to share information, best practices, experiences, resources as well as the AVP's "organisational culture‟. This research explores the underlying motivations for participation in the AVP-KZN network, experiences encountered through participation in the network and the role of the network in terms of the learning and development of peace educators. In this study, the AVP-KZN network emerges as a rich site for the learning and development of both novice and experienced facilitators and a major contributor to acquisition of effective facilitation skills and techniques. The informal learning in the network appears to have concentrated on the pedagogy (facilitation styles, planning, flexibility, teamwork), self-development and identity development of the peace educator. The findings reveal the network as being a conducive environment for informal, social, experiential and transformative learning which involves the acquisition of increased knowledge and skills, changed practices, opportunities to observe, to be observed, plan, implement, review and write reports. The extent to which the peace educators were actively involved in their learning through their increased participation in a variety of network activities, was also evident in this study. Six distinct components of learning emerged from the analysis of the data: 1) learning from diversity; 2) learning through changes in community; 3) learning through changes in meaning; 4) learning through practice; 5) developing an identity as a peace educator; and 6) learning through the development of self. It is hoped that this study will contribute to the existing knowledge of peace education with a focus on the learning and development of peace educators in a community of practice.