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Exploring Post-Conflict Education

This week, our thematic blog post explores the topic of post-conflict education from three international perspectives. Our contributors have all worked in education in post-conflict contexts and use their diverse experiences to highlight one distinct element of the post-conflict education debate.


First, it is important to establish a shared understanding of the term and concept. The aim of education for post-conflict reconciliation is not only to strive to end violent conflict, but also to establish positive peace and thick democracy. ‘Positive peace’ is an ideal where structural and cultural forms of violence are eliminated and there is systemic social justice and harmonious relations between citizens and governing systems and structures. ‘Thick democracy’ meanwhile demands equitable participation in all democratic processes, including transitional justice, and is necessary for long-term, sustainable structural peace.


Our three contributors will explore this idea in greater depth, revealing the great variety of interpretations and applications within post-conflict education


Why Canada needs post-conflict education


By Sarah Kingstone


Canada is a nation violently founded on cultural division and oppression. The systematic colonization and marginalization of Indigenous peoples initiated by the British empire and expanded by the Canadian government resulted in deeply embedded cultural divisions, systemic discrimination, and inequality. The colonial policies legislated between the early 1860s and 1990s were intended to gain control of the land and force Aboriginal people to “cease to exist as a distinct people with their own government, cultures, and identities”. While overseeing the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, Justice Murray Sinclair challenged Canadians to acknowledge that colonization and the Indian Residential School system formed a two-pronged attack used to miseducate both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Reconciliation, therefore, must be tackled by all parts of contemporary Canadian society. In the words of Keavy Martin: “in order to heal, to be forgiven, or to reconcile, we must first re-open wounds, recount sins, and resurrect conflicts. In order to forget, we must remember.”


In order to do so, education will undoubtedly play a vital role. If used effectively, education is a powerful tool with which to transform individuals, communities, and society. Schools can provide space for teaching and practicing peacebuilding skills, truth-telling, ‘unsettling’ the Eurocentric colonial worldview, and ultimately healing deeply inflicted social wounds. Indeed, education is one of the most important factors for increasing quality of life and political inclusion, providing economic opportunities, mobilizing and expanding social capacity because it intersects with so many dimensions of our lives. In line with the concept of reconciliation, Nisga’a elder Rod Robinson OC describes how education allows us to “retrace our steps through our history to the source of our misperception and misconception of each other’s truth.”


The education reform movement growing in Canada today has the potential to play a very important role in the reconciliation process. The contemporary journey towards positive peace in Canadian schools first and foremost necessitates explicit recognition of the history of conflict in Canada and the ways in which these conflicts have become embedded in inequitable power structures. In order to begin to unsettle these structures, Indigenous knowledge and perspectives should be explicitly and authentically integrated into curricula and pedagogy. Previously marginalized voices should be given space in the more balanced and inclusive dissemination of the national history. Additionally, a pedagogical approach that includes peacebuilding practices — providing students with opportunities to use critical and historical thinking skills to understand and respect their own culture as well as those of others — would significantly improve the educational experience of all students, but most importantly of Aboriginal students.


These are not easy or comfortable shifts, but they are necessary to erode systemic inequality in Canada, expand access to social justice, and heal the still raw wounds inflicted by colonialism and the Indian Residential School System. The federal government has rhetorically recognized this, with Justin Trudeau recently stating that “reconciliation calls upon us to confront our past and commit to charting a … more inclusive future”. Authentic policy implementation and systematic national reflection must follow.


Balancing access and quality in post-conflict education: Somalia and South Sudan


By Jessica Gregson


Patterns of conflict have changed in the past 50 years, moving towards more protracted conflict situations within state boundaries, rather than international wars. As such, traditional approaches to post-conflict education are no longer universally applicable to complex conflicts in which countries move back and forth between states of war and peace, as in South Sudan, Syria or Somalia. In these contexts, it is increasingly important to focus on maintaining the education sector despite varying levels of insecurity, up to and including outright conflict, so that children and young people do not miss out entirely on education during multi-year conflicts.


The resilience of the education system in conflict-prone countries should not be underestimated. Patterns of ongoing education despite insecurity and conflict and in the absence of external support have been found in Somalia and South Sudan: the case of Somalia is particularly illustrative of the flexibility and innovation found in the education sector. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, when Somalia was largely without any meaningful government structure to manage education, a number of quasi-private education “umbrellas” sprung up across the country, bringing together networks of schools and aligning curricula, teacher payments and so on. At the same time, locally-based community education structures known as Community Education Committees (CECs) developed, often spontaneously, to oversee work in specific schools. In some cases, CECs attached to specific schools have had consistent membership for up to 20 years, and play a key role in resource mobilisation for infrastructural improvements and payment of teachers’ salaries.


From the perspective of international development, an ongoing struggle when looking at programming for post-conflict education – or education in protracted conflict contexts – is how to balance issues of access, issues of equity, and issues of education quality. A number of large-scale DFID programmes over the past several years have targeted girls’ education in high-risk and conflict-prone settings. These include Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC), a global programme that funds projects in Somalia and Afghanistan (among others) and Girls’ Education South Sudan (GESS), a £60m five-and-a-half-year programme that completed its first phase in 2018. Both GEC Somalia projects and GESS have tried to achieve increased overall access to education (for both girls and boys) by tackling the economic and social barriers to education and enhancing education quality through the provision of teaching and learning materials and teacher training. However, while significant strides have been made in overall educational access and increasing the share of girls in education, achievements in learning outcomes – reflecting education quality – have been much more modest. This reflects both the long-term commitment required to bring about lasting changes in educational quality – which goes far beyond the length of most development programmes – but also the paradoxical situation whereby increased access to education can reduce educational quality, due to overcrowding in classrooms, and bringing non-traditional learners into schools. This balance between between improving equitable access and education quality is one that must be acknowledged and addressed in post-conflict education settings.


Erasing conflict in the curriculum: Britain’s trouble with The Troubles


By Ellen Vanderhoven


While in some cases, the need for a reconciliatory approach to post-conflict education is acknowledged and welcomed, in others, education plays a role in silencing the significance of recent conflict. Such is the case of British history education and the Troubles.


Despite the Good Friday Agreement being signed just two decades ago, and the Troubles representing the most protracted and deadly conflict to take place on British soil in the late 20th century, it does not feature in British history curricula outside of Northern Ireland. Ironically, while Northern Ireland’s status within the United Kingdom lies at the centre of the conflict, it is somehow treated as a separate entity when it comes to history education. As a result, the Troubles has developed the status of a conflict which took place ‘over there’ and its political roots in Anglo-Irish relations and British colonialism have been downplayed.


This is problematic on a number of levels. Firstly, it ignores the implication of the whole of the United Kingdom in the conflict, both through the occurrence of violence outside of Northern Ireland and the (contested) involvement of the British government and its troops. To present Great Britain and Northern Ireland as separate entities in this case is a deeply politicised act, as fundamentally, this was a conflict concerned with the legitimacy of the UK and the values it represented for competing groups. Secondly, it underplays the ongoing legacy of the conflict in Northern Ireland where sporadic violence continues, and in other areas of the UK, such as south-west Scotland, where sectarian divisions remain significant. Finally, by divorcing this ‘Northern Irish’ event from its British context, the possibility of approaching the issue from a post-conflict perspective in all British schools is forestalled. As a result, rather than openly dealing with the legacy of the Troubles for British society through the medium of education, the issue continues to be swept under the carpet.


The tangible significance of this erasure is becoming evident as the UK prepares to leave the European Union. The frictionless border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has previously underpinned the functioning of the Good Friday Agreement. According to Dr Katy Hayward: “Any ‘hardening’ of the Irish border is not just a practical impediment to cooperation and economic growth but also an obstruction to the effective implementation of the Agreement.”


What is striking is how little the issue of Ireland was discussed in the run up to the EU referendum. While those in Northern Ireland would likely not hesitate to point out the fragility and infancy of peace in the region, the ongoing relevance of the Troubles is not so apparent to many in the wider UK. Arguably, the inclusion of the conflict in British education curricula might have helped sensitise both British voters and the Westminster political class to the complex ramifications of Brexit in Northern Ireland. Instead, a refusal to acknowledge the existence of a post-conflict context, and the resultant educational and political responsibilities, has produced political calamity and uncertainty over the future of peace in Northern Ireland, and thus the UK.

You can contact any of this week's contributors via our members page, or get in touch with the EPPE Network team on Twitter or at eppe.network@gmail.com.

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