Education and Conflict. Interview with Lynn Davies

Interview with Lynn Davis on the occasion of the launch of Development 53.4 'Education for Treansformation'.  

Q: How can education contribute to conflict?

A: Depending on the complex and interlocking roots of conflict, education can contribute to this in lots of obvious but also more hidden ways. There's the segregation of schools - and universities - by ethnicity or religion, which cements ideas of essential difference and does not allay fears and mistrust of 'others'. There's the fostering of grievance which can come from unequal educational opportunities and then the unequal job allocations which follow. Frustrations also come from unrealistic aspirations being raised in schools, aspirations which then cannot be met because of lack of jobs or of further education places. Such frustrations can easily be mobilised by conflicting groups. Some schools are in themselves conflictual places, with a militaristic curriculum, or with a masculinist, 'hard' or even brutal mode of operation. Nor does a severely individualistic, exam-oriented competitive ethos lend itself to the cooperation needed for an inclusive or peaceful society.

Q: What do you mean by the reproduction of normality?

A: One of the challenges for the schooling system is to break free of what is considered 'normal' in the outside society. Violence may be seen as normal, for example domestic violence, husbands beating wives and parents beating children 'for their own good', or violence being routine at the police level. Schools reproduce this normality through physical violence and corporal punishment or through ritual humiliations of children. This becomes accepted practice: one child in Angola said to me: 'Our teacher is very good. He only beats us if we don't learn'. Another sort of normality that can be reproduced in education is corruption as the normal way of doing things with bribes to teachers, ghost schools, schools charging illicit fees, and what in South Africa are called 'Sexually Transmitted Marks' girls trading for grades with teachers. Then there's the reinforcement of 'normal' but unequal or oppressive - gender relations, which are difficult to shift, as these are claimed to be deeply embedded in culture, and almost sacrosanct. As well as the well known gender bias in books, roles and expectations, of concern when we think about conflict is the equation of 'being a man' with fighting and dominance, with schools unable to foster alternative versions of masculinity, different ways of bring a 'normal' man.

Q: Can you give is some examples of where education has helped heal conflict?

A: The most obvious examples are of course at the individual level, with 'healing classrooms' and psycho-social care helping to heal children and teachers affected by the trauma of war. Child-friendly schools promoted by agencies such as UNICEF and Save the Children provide safe spaces for learning, and model humane and equitable relations in the school, with their emphasis on children's rights. Long term or at state level it is of course much more difficult to demonstrate impact. Schools can't really be responsible for overall conflict transformation, especially when this has political or economic roots, but they can lay foundations so that conflict between groups is perhaps less likely in the future. Accelerated Learning Programmes and Catch-up programmes can integrate youth and make it less likely they are recruited as child soldiers. Peace, civic and media education can start the process of critical thinking, so learners are more likely to recognize and challenge injustice at community and government levels. Such efforts are a leap of faith, but one well worth making.

Interview by Laura Fano Morrissey


Lynn Davies is Professor of Education at the Centre for International Education and Research, University of Birmingham.