Separate to Unite: the Paradox of Education in Deeply Divided Societies – Giuditta Fontana

Giuditta Fontana
King’s College London, London, UK

The thesis explores the interface between political systems and education reform in societies emerging from violent identity-based conflicts. It evaluates the political function of formal education in deeply divided societies, and highlights constraints and opportunities for education reform in jurisdictions that adopt consociational power-sharing to manage civil wars.

It does so by comparing initiatives for the reform of formal education in Lebanon, Northern Ireland and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Macedonia) since the Taif Agreement (1989), the Belfast Agreement (1998) and the Ohrid Agreement (2001), respectively. The three agreements are similar in two respects. First, they established consociational power-sharing to regulate Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1989), Northern Ireland’s troubles (1968-1998) and Macedonia’s conflict (2001). Consociations provide for the inclusion of all relevant religious, ethnic or national communities in political and non-political institutions through executive power-sharing, proportional representation, mutual veto rights and communal autonomy. Second, the three peace agreements presented schools as important instruments for furthering long-term peace. They mapped reforms in history education, citizenship education and languages, and auspicated more initiatives for contact among children of different ethnic, religious and national backgrounds.

In four separate chapters, this thesis compares reforms in the areas of history education, citizenship education and languages of instruction, as well as in the overall structure of compulsory education, after peace agreements in Lebanon, Northern Ireland and Macedonia. Each chapter evaluates the extent to which the principles and practices of consociational power-sharing influenced and constrained education policy. An additional chapter provides the essential historical background to the comparative analysis. The analysis is grounded in an extensive review of the literature on consociational power-sharing and social identity, and draws on the specific literature about history education, citizenship education, languages of instruction, and the contact hypothesis. It is based on extensive original data, including over 75 interviews carried out by the author in the three jurisdictions in 2012-13.

The thesis shows that post-conflict education reforms in Lebanon, Northern Ireland and Macedonia rarely fulfilled the integrationist aspirations of the peace agreements. Rather, through the manifest and hidden curricula, formal schooling tends to reproduce the core narratives and hierarchies underpinning power-sharing in the three consociations. This study suggests that consociations may generate consociational education systems, which help reproduce the political system’s basic building blocks: the mutually exclusive confessional, ethnic, national and political communities, which participated to conflict and currently share political power.

This thesis contributes both to the field of comparative education and to the field of conflict management. It adds to the latter by confirming that formal education is important to the resilience of peace processes: consociational education systems further the short-term stability of power-sharing by reproducing its core narratives and hierarchies. However, they may also plant the seeds of future conflicts by conveying mutually excusive narratives of identity to children belonging to different ascriptive groups in deeply divided societies. As to its implications for the field of comparative education, this thesis highlights that, despite the integrationist intents of peace agreements, a paradox characterises education systems in consociations. Initiatives that promote unity and integration in schools tend to generate backlashes against assimilation among the local population. This suggests that the structure and nature of political systems need to be taken into account when designing post-conflict education reforms. Specifically, if schools are to further social cohesion and transition out of conflict in consociations, they need to accommodate the separate institutions and mutually exclusive identity-forming narratives of the local communities which engaged in violent conflict and currently participate, to political power.

Date PhD was awarded: 14 October 2014.