Rebuilding school systems destroyed by years of violent civil war is the focus of new projects by researchers including a Rwandan academic at The University of Western Australia.
Gilbert Karareba's experiences educating teachers in Rwanda, where "some households are headed by children orphaned by the genocide", drove him to undertake research that would better serve the educational needs of his country.
Professor Simon Clarke and Winthrop Professor Tom O'Donoghue, from UWA's Graduate School of Education, are working with Mr Karareba to fill a crucial knowledge gap as they research ways to repair Rwanda's broken education systems. They have also co-edited a book published this month about education in post-conflict societies.
Professor Clarke said people in post-war countries face immense challenges as they try to re-establish schools.
"Imagine sending your child to a school whose teachers you know are corrupt and routinely use physical violence to ‘teach' their students," he said.
"Imagine teaching a class consisting of former child soldiers and orphans with mental health issues. Imagine being the principal trying to overcome the underlying tribal tensions of your teaching staff, with very little resources and no government support behind you.
"Imagine the language of education suddenly changing in your country so the students, teachers and administrators can no longer work in their native language."
Each context was different, with destruction of infrastructure and lingering ethnic or religious tensions among the key difficulties, Professor Clarke said.
"There is also very little research available on school leadership in these contexts, and as a result little understanding on how to proceed in repairing broken education systems."
After completing his Masters in Educational Management at UWA in 2010, Mr Karareba returned to Rwanda to continue his work as a lecturer at Rwanda Teachers' College.
Funded by UWA's International Postgraduate Research Scholarship, Mr Karareba has now returned to Australia to undertake a PhD on primary school leadership in post-conflict Rwanda. He said informed school leadership is absolutely critical for children to achieve a sustainable level of basic literacy and numeracy skills.
The researchers' book School Level Leadership in Post-conflict Societies - The importance of context, published by Routledge, discusses educational contexts in a range of post-war environments, including Angola, Sri Lanka, Kosovo and Northern Ireland.
Each chapter highlights the importance of context for understanding the realities of school leadership, and reveals the problems that school leaders face as well as the strategies they adopt to deal with the complexities of their work.
The authors point to inspiring examples across the world, such as collaborations between schools, community churches and non-government organisations, the inclusion of life skills in school curricula and an increasing importance placed on learning for peace and human rights.
Professor Clarke said while it would be naïve to think that the appalling circumstances associated with post-conflict contexts could be alleviated by reforming schools alone, schooling could still improve social and economic life.
Professor Simon Clarke (Graduate School of Education) (+61 8) 6488 2398
Winthrop Professor Tom O'Donoghue (Graduate School of Education) (+61 8) 6488 3822
Gilbert Karareba (+61 4) 13 452 359
Michael Sinclair-Jones (UWA Public Affairs) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 00 700 783