What is Peer group
'Peer group. Technically a peer group
is any collectivity in which the members share some
common characteristics, such as age or ethnicity.
It most commonly refers to age groups in general,
but more specifically to adolescent groups where members
are closely bound together by youth culture. Adolescent
peer groups tend to have: (1) a high degree of social
solidarity, (2) hierarchical organisation, (3) a code
which rejects, or contrasts with, adult values and
experience. From an adult perspective, peer groups
are often deviant because delinquency is supported
by the rewards of group membership.' (A peer is a
member of a peer group.)
'Peer group education is a method of information
transference or role modeling where a particular type
of behaviour is promoted or information transferred.
The peer educators closely match the target group
in some manner; whether it is by age, sexuality, gender,
Within this publication
we have focused on work with young people between
the ages of 14 and 20 years, although for many peer
group education and peer led programmes of young people
taking part ages, do vary enormous.
Young people as educators
Young people are often portrayed
in a negative light, as trouble makers, as instigators
and aggressors, the causes of many social problems.
By giving young people opportunities to create their
own programmes of education and information, qualities
like commitment, loyalty and idealism can be engendered.
Peer group education programmes enable
young people to deal with problems that affect them.
The process can be partly social, establishing forums
for young people to explore new frontiers, helping
to solve problems and let people in power gain an
understanding of the point of view of young people.
Peer group pressure is traditionally
seen as a negative pressure on young people, where
young people 'learn their bad habits like drug taking
To use such dynamics in a positive
manner is the challenge of peer education.
'A peer who understands a teen's fierce
need for independence and maturity, and can temper
those needs with responsibility and thoughtfulness
is in a crucial position to correct misinformation
and shape group values without losing credibility
among youth, adolescents can be extremely influential
in shaping the behaviour and values of their friends,
particularly in risk taking situations.'
(Centre for Population Options,
For many young people it is their
peer group that influences values and behaviours.
Peer led methods have been around for many centuries
in many different forms, from the writing of Aristotle
to the eighteenth century monitorial systems which
were popular in Europe. Many have noted the benefits
of working with children and young people in an educational
setting, whether formally or informally, helping
them to help themselves.
We know that social or peer groups
play an important part in the socialisation of the
young. During adolescence peer groups can play an
increasingly influential role in a young persons life.
Certainly the average child spends a larger portion
of time with peers than with his or her parents particularly
during adolescence. J. Root in an Educational Research
article entitled "The Importance of Peer Groups",
claimed that because peer groups matter to children
they also matter to their education. He argues for
the recognition of peer groups as an integral part
of learning strategies. It is because of this empathy
and similar life experiences peer educators have a
distinct advantage over their professional counterparts
in informing and educating.
Within DOmino we explore the many
issues raised within peer group education; about control
of the young people involved in peer group programmes;
their relationships to adults as teachers, trainers
or coaches; the partnerships developed between youth
and community workers as leaders or coaches, and the
rationale behind developing such programmes. These
sections are illustrated by examples of good practice.
Practical exercises and games are included which aim
to help those wishing to establish programmes and
develop existing work with young people.
A glimpse at the history of peer
As well as the writings of Aristotle in Ancient
Greece, Dr Andrew Bell developed one of the earliest
documented examples of a peer education approach with
his monitorial system in a Madras school in India.
Like Bell, Joseph Lancaster later identified peer
led approaches in the late eighteenth century through
school programmes where under a carefully planned
supervision, disadvantaged young people taught reading,
writing and arithmetic to their peers. Lancaster and
his contemporaries identified these early monitorial
'value for money, a way of maximising
the use of their limited resources'
'The dissemination of the Bell-Lancaster
system through Denmark, England, France, Greece, Italy,
Norway and Sweden constitutes one of the most amazing
educational movements of all time... It's success
was due to it's comparative effectiveness at a time
when cheapness was the prime consideration.'
Lilya Wagner in her comprehensive
history of peer teaching examines the development
of peer education acknowledging the work of the Swiss
educationalist Pestalozzi working with orphan children
in Switzerland. Pestalozzi developed a more informal
approach to peer teaching than Bell and Lancaster
'... drilling one child through an
artificial machinery of lifeless tasks and the child
so drilled they employ to drill others in the same
manner and by the same means.'
An 1831 American report numbered
almost two thousand monitorial schools each in Denmark,
Sweden, Spain and Sardinia. The Dutch had earlier
developed a system which was taken on by the English.
This time of reform and development within the educational
authorities of nineteenth century Europe influenced
greatly the development of educational theory in other
parts of the world.
Lancaster and others describe how
these early formal systems were beneficial to the
'Lancaster was shrewdly aware of the
stimulating effect of being a monitor not only on
a boy's learning but also on his behaviour. 'Lively,
active tempered boys are the most frequent transgressors
of good order; and the most difficult to reduce the
reason; the best way to form them is by making monitors
In the late 1950's, peer education
had a revival in Europe, Canada, USA and Australia
and continued to be pursued as an effective approach
to communicating and education sometimes hard to reach
young people with messages about health, welfare and
social issues. At the University of Minnesota (USA)
in the early 60's, programmes were developed to help
minority youth learn about science and mathematics,
this and others in Chicago and Sacramento identified
the role of the adult as a distant coach in the peer
It is well documented that peer led
methodology reduces the number of barriers between
teacher and taught where young people are trained
to be the educators. Paolo Freire the South American
educationalist, highlighted what he called 'teacher/student
contradiction' (Freire 1972), which can act as barriers
to learning and development. Peer led approaches whether
in formal settings or in very informal ways can -
if planned and resourced - affect attitudes and behaviour
positively to a great extent.
In recent years, peer education has
been widely applied to many issues particularly those
around HIV disease, AIDS prevention, sexual education,
drug abuse and smoking cessation. On the African and
Asian continents limited resources and the need for
educational approaches to stem the AIDS pandemic has
led to many programmes which build on the energy and
efficacy of young people. In Europe, USA and Australia
the development of peer group education in the context
of health is well documented, reaching young people
who are not in communication with health and education
of Peer Education
There are many reasons why peer group
education is used as an educational approach to deal
with specific issues. Commentators suggest a contemporary
rationale for using peer education (Manchester University),
looking at four main points:
3. Cost effectiveness
Young people are ready made
experts, may have a perspective on the issues as they
affect young people in similar situations and can
often 'make things happen', if encouraged and resourced.
Young people can be ready
made role models as members of their peer group they
will have the potential to determine effective styles
and approaches. This may be through workshops and
games, music and mass media, discussion and story
telling. Young people will be best placed to
devise such methods.
Where resources are limited and large
numbers have to be reached peer group education can
have a multiplier effect. Such programmes can also
have informal, knock-on or cascade effects, creating
'buzz' in the local community.
If carefully planned young people
can control the process of education and information
exchange. This will depend on in which setting a programme
is operating, Peer group education can help to foster
youth participation in programmes of formal and informal
peer learning and peer led approaches
There is clearly many different approaches
to peer group education, in the following a descriptions
distinction is made between different settings. For
some a more formal educational approach may be appropriate
whilst for another programme young people may be involved
on a grass roots level.
Peer group education can be applied
in different educational settings. There is not 'the
only way' to do it - diversity of approaches exists.
Educational approaches both within
and outside schools are tremendously important. How
we refer to these approaches depends a lot on context.
And it is also "true" that one can find
more formal methods in out-of-school education, (a
lecture, an input, written exercises…) just
as more informal methods can also be found in schools,
(working in project groups, using the local environment…).
When DOmino was written in 1994-95, we were
used to differentiate between formal and informal
education - it was relatively rare to talk of "non-formal
education/learning". The debate has moved on,
to the extent that the European Youth Forum recently
issued a policy paper called "Youth organisations
as non-formal educators - recognising our role"
(November 2003). Informal education is now more often
referred to when talking about non-planned learning
situations: in the family, on a bus, talking with
friends. Still, for this Internet edition we have
chosen to leave the terminology as it was. You might
find it refreshing!
Challenges facing educational systems
today and the need for complementarity between formal
and non-formal education are outlined in the Compass
chapter 5's section on Education.
For the facilitation of the planning
and to avoid confusion, three general pillars can
help to draw a dividing line:
1. Peer group education in formal
Peer group education in schools
is initiated by the teachers with the aim to subsequently
give over the responsibility of the programme to the
students and pupils. During the process of the programme
the role of the teacher changes from initiator and
teacher to facilitator and consultant, in the ideal
case, the teacher should eventually become redundant
for the succession of the programme.
In methodological terms, this could
mean teacherless groups, pairing of students, proctoring
(Keller, 1968) and the opening of formal educational
settings to a wider public.
(Project reference in section 5:
The mediation programme in schools of the Jugendbildungswerk
2. Peer group education in informal
Peer group education in 'out-of-school
education' is relevant for youth organisations, youth
services, youth agencies and youth and social work
in general. The aim to give young people the responsibility
for the education of other young people can be achieved
by the continuity of the out-of-school sector. The
challenge to the adults in out-of-school education
is the step by step retreat out of peer group education
programmes. Working towards loss of 'control' and
allowing for action alongside the structured programmes
of organisation, agencies and services. Peer group
education programmes can reach out to a wider public
than only to the "members" of the organisation
and institutions and can therefore bring about synthesis
(Project reference in section 5:
The prejudice reduction programme of NCBI, the programme
of RFSL in Stockholm).
3. Peer group education initiated
by young people - grass roots initiatives
Young people feel the urge
to gain the support of other young people for a subject
or issue they consider important or feel strongly
about. Consequently they organise action with multiplying
effects. This is the 'pure' peer group education without
any adult influence, peer led from the beginning to
the end of a 'project'.
(Project reference in section 5:
The Stop the Violence programme in Denmark, The Guardian