Friday, 26 July 2013

Providing food, shelter and health care used to be the priority in post-conflict zones.

But in contemporary conflicts, where communities are torn apart by years of violent civil war, schooling for children has emerged as the most important single priority for maintaining communities, aiding the psychological recovery of children and for the general recovery of society.

Rebuilding school systems destroyed by long-running conflict is the focus of new projects in the Graduate School of Education.

Gilbert Karareba is a PhD candidate from Rwanda, which is a post-conflict country. He and his supervisors, Professor Simon Clarke and Winthrop Professor Tom O'Donoghue, are working together to fill a crucial knowledge gap as they research ways to assist the reconstruction of Rwanda's education system.

Both Simon Clarke and Tom O'Donoghue have done research in other post-conflict zones and they have recently published a book about education in these societies:

"It's designed to open up research in the area of school leadership in post -conflict  contexts, which we hope will develop more traction in the next couple of years, especially as it complements the work that we are already doing with Chilean colleagues investigating schools facing challenging circumstance in Chile", 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 few resources and no government support behind you."

Mr Karareba came to UWA as an AusAID student in 2010 to do his Masters with the same supervisors.  He then won an International Postgraduate Research Scholarship from UWA to do his PhD investigating primary school leadership in post-conflict Rwanda.

Another PhD candidate - from Cambodia -- will start work in this area of research with Professors O'Donoghue and Clarke later this month.

"We're extremely grateful that the University has deemed these scholarships worth funding," Professor O'Donoghue said. "It's great that UWA has a social justice agenda."

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 it would be naïve to think that the appalling circumstances associated with post-conflict contexts could be alleviated by reforming schools alone, but schooling could still play an important role in social and economic life.

After he has completed his PhD, Mr Karareba will return to Rwanda to pass on his research and leadership skills to teachers and school principals, hoping they will achieve his level of determination to succeed.

Just to get to UWA was a mission of determination and perseverance for the young teacher.

Mr Karareba had to travel 24 hours each way by bus from Rwanda to Kenya to lodge a visa application, than travel another 10 hours each way by bus to Uganda for the required medical checks.

He is returning to his homeland in January 2014 for field work.


UWA Forward