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Blog post Part of special issue: A global goal but local challenges: Perspectives on education in the Global South

Teaching Peru’s recent history of conflict in secondary schools: Exploring perspectives ‘at the margins’ and ‘from below’

Paola Sarmiento, PhD student at University of Bristol

For two decades between 1980 and 2000, Peru experienced a significant internal conflict, primarily involving the government and the ‘Shining Path’ terrorist group. This tragic period resulted in about 69,000 deaths, with 75 per cent being indigenous people and the country’s poorest citizens (see the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission). Teaching these aspects of Peru’s recent history to secondary students is challenging. In the absence of an education policy guiding the teaching of this topic in schools, most state educators employ oversimplified teaching methods and, more worryingly, some choose to omit the topic from classrooms entirely. This reality is discouraging since the education sector must play a crucial role in ensuring that future generations acknowledge and critically understand our violent past to prevent the repetition of the harm inflicted.

In my doctoral research, I explore how Peruvian educators teach the country’s recent conflict in secondary schools. Driven by the desire to find pedagogical approaches that go beyond omission and oversimplification, I seek to understand educational perspectives growing ‘at the margins’ or ‘from below’ the education system; perspectives which are often overlooked or go unnoticed by Peruvian education decision-makers. In this blog post, I consider two issues: first, what I mean by ‘at the margins’ or ‘from below’ when teaching about a country’s difficult past, with examples from Latin America; and second, inspired by Sriprakash and colleagues (2021), I articulate reasons for advocating these perspectives in Peru to foster a more just dialogue on addressing our historical wrongdoings through education.

At the margins or from below perspectives critique pedagogic decisions that are exclusively formulated ‘from above – that is, by people who hold power to make top-down decisions, such as politicians. In contrast, this perspective seeks to draw attention to the practices of local or grassroots individuals, communities and organisations holding education responsibilities and re-shaping education policies (McEvoy & McGregor, 2008). If we consider conflict-affected contexts in Latin America, we find that interesting ideas to teach about violent history are inevitably growing in ‘fissures or cracks’, where small hopes dwell and sprout.

Colombia and Guatemala provide compelling examples of knowledge from the margins or from below. In these two countries, activist-teachers use pedagogical tools and practices that actively engage student communities and transcend the school spaces (Bermeo et al., 2023; Rubin, 2016; Vodniza & Freund, 2017). These activist-teachers are not the only ones carrying out educational efforts. Local self-organised social collectives and alliances including community leaders, civil societies, scholars and artists also work to introduce students to the past conflicts experienced in these countries by using public settings as learning spaces (Riaño-Alcalá, 2004; Romero-Amaya, 2019). Despite the diversity of formal and non-formal educators’ pedagogic approaches, they share common features. These education efforts arise from ordinary people, who have been deeply affected by violent conflicts in their communities. They use art forms such as role playing, photography, gathering memory artefacts and painting murals as learning tools to process their experiences and understand the complexities of their communities’ pasts. They often draw on local historical knowledge of the conflict excluded from official educational curricula; they use it as a starting point to engage in wider discussions of national history of conflict.

‘In Colombia and Guatemala, activist-teachers use pedagogical tools and practices that actively engage student communities and transcend the school spaces.’

Why, then, is the exploration of pedagogical perspectives at the margins or from below vital in Peru? The most straightforward answer is that these perspectives can reinvigorate education and discussions on conflict, offering innovative and complementary teaching ideas that are based on more legitimate pedagogic experiences. The examination of these perspectives is particularly relevant in the Peruvian context, where, in the past two decades, the discussions in academia and policymaking have been centred on documenting the omission of this topic in secondary classrooms, rather than envisioning ways to teach it. Thus, if we explore at the margins or from below perspectives in Peru, we can transition from the worn-out question of ‘What is happening in the teaching of Peru’s recent conflict?’ to ‘What could teaching about Peru’s conflict look like?’. I advocate for including these perspectives into academic and policymaking conversations, as it could be reparative for both the educators who hold them and Peruvian society at large (Sriprakash et al., 2021). Bringing attention to these perspectives and creating spaces for critically listening to local and commonly overlooked knowledge is a just act of recognition, thereby laying the foundation for a more democratic dialogue on addressing historical wrongs through education.


Bermeo, J. D., Paulson, J., & Charria, A. (2023). Schools as sites of memory: The musealization of the armed conflict by students and teachers in Colombia. In C. Cross, & J. D. Giblin (Eds.), Critical approaches to heritage for development. Routledge.

McEvoy, K., & McGregor, L. (Eds.). (2008). Transitional justice from below: Grassroots activism and the struggle for change. Hart Publishing. 

Riaño-Alcalá, P. (2004). Encounters with memory and mourning: Public art as collective pedagogy of reconciliation. In F. Ibáñez-Carrasco, & E. Meiners (Eds.), Public acts: Disruptive readings on making curriculum public. Routledge.

Romero-Amaya, D. (2019). Empty schools and Silencios: Pedagogical openings for memory-making in Colombia. Journal of Peace Education, 16(1), 104–125.

Rubin, B. (2016). We come to form ourselves bit by bit: Educating for citizenship in post-conflict Guatemala. American Educational Research Journal, 53(3). 

Sriprakash, A., Nally, D., Myers, K., & Ramos-Pinto, P. (2021). Learning with the past: Racism, education and reparative futures. Paper commissioned for the UNESCO Futures of Education report.

Vodniza, G., & Freund, A. (2017). Oral history pedagogy in situations of conflict: Experiences from Colombia, 1996–2014. In K. Llewellyn, & N. Ng-A-Fook (Eds.), Oral history and education (pp. 317–335). Palgrave Macmillan.