The form and demand for Peace Education have changed during different decades depending on the events in Finland and abroad, global political power relations, and the needs of the international community. RKI has, during its almost 40 years of existence, strived for responding to the demand in various ways.
RKI’s work started in 1981 with the name Yrjö Kallisen rauhanopiston kannatusyhdistys ry (Yrjö Kallainen’s peace institute’s/academy’s/college’s support association). In the 1980s there was a demand for actors like the Institute since recommendation of including peace education into the syllabus was added to the constitution in 1985, and 1986 was declared International Year of Peace by the United Nations.
RKI responded to the demand by giving lectures in schools and education institutes, publishing texts and sharing knowledge to schools, training adult educators, as well as inviting people to visit the Institute. Besides this, the Institute had development cooperation projects in Namibia and South Africa. The early influences of RKI included Minister Tarja Halonen and the first receiver of UNESCO Prize for Peace Education (1981) Helena Kekkonen, who has influenced fundamentally the form and development of peace education in Finland.
In the 1990s peace work expanded along with the globalization discourse. Environmental refugees and conflicts caused by the phenomenon, women’s rights, and sexual health in developing countries became central topics. The Institute organized seminars and lectures and produced material for the educators about these themes.
At times, RKI operated solely by voluntary efforts, because of the cuts in the funding justified by the recession. In the end of the decade, RKI implemented a broad tolerance-themed education program and formed an overarching expert and trainer network around the themes of peace education.
The 2000s were marked by terrorism, the war against it, and the new division of political power, which all have highlighted the demand for and importance of peace education. In 2006, human rights education, equality, democracy, protection of biodiversity, and acceptance of multiculturalism were added to the syllabus for basic education. This increased the demand for concrete know-how and new teaching methods, to which RKI had responded by producing a handbook on human rights and peace education, as well as by creating Peace School in cooperation with the Peace Union of Finland. Until the year 2008, the Institute funded two development cooperation projects in Somalia and one in Nigeria.
In the 2010s Maailmankoulu (Global School) was established as one of the organization’s main activities. It works as a bridge between schools and NGOs working with global education. It was first created by an organization called Kasvattajat Rauhan Puolesta (Educators for Peace) in Oulu. RKI has administered its functions since 2010 and its services have expanded in many other parts of Finland.
In addition, RKI has produced teaching materials, workshops and in-service training for educators, participated in commenting syllabi and supported textbook writers. New syllabi (POPS 2014) include extensively themes of peace education and the functional, cross-cutting, and student-oriented learning that RKI has promoted.
The former Board’s Chairwomen and Chairmen include many of Finland’s front line politicians or academics such as the former President of Finland Tarja Halonen. Other Chairwomen/men are Göran von Bornsdorff, Helena Kekkonen, Vappu Taipale, Satu Hassi, Reijo E. Heinonen, Thomas Wallgren, Aarni Tuominen, and Antti Rajala.
Helena Kekkonen (1926–2014), secretary general of the Peace Education Institute during the years 1986–1990, has had great influence on the birth and development of peace education in Finland.
Helena was a Master and Licentiate of Science (Technology), who got interested and committed to ideas and principles of Brazilian Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed already in the 60s. She took Freire’s ideas into practice while working as a teacher at the Sörnäinen Prison and worked through her life to improve the situation of the most vulnerable.
In 1974 Kekkonen became the secretary general of the Vapaan sivistystyön yhteisjärjestö VSY (Finnish Adult Education Association). In 1986 she transferred to the Peace Education Institute becoming the secretary general, focusing on peace education and development cooperation.
Kekkonen worked in international and Finnish NGOs and as a coordinator for development cooperation, wrote publications and took part in events, she gave speeches in schools and organizations about peace, internationality, and ethical education. Kekkonen emphasized the importance of educating the children and youth about international solidarity. Many of today’s educators and peace movement actors have gotten the spark of interest to peace education and global citizenship from meeting Helena at schools, universities or workplaces.