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Education in Conflict and Emergencies



2017/18 Seminars


Education, peace and refugee contexts

19 October, 2017

Time: 17.00-19.00

Room: Jeffrey Hall, UCL Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL.

Please register here for this seminar.

Violence prevention and peace education workshops in the Central African Republic, Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan

Dr Kirriliy Pells is Lecturer in Childhood at the Department of Social Science in the UCL Institute of Education.

Globally, an estimated 1.5 billion people are living in areas affected by conflict. The human cost is incalculable yet evidence on what works to prevent conflict and build peace is limited. The Aegis Trust has pioneered one innovative approach involving the direct engagement of people that have experienced genocide and mass violence with people at risk today to prevent impending violence. Integral to this approach has been exchange visits and peace education workshops with political, civil society and religious leaders and youth in the Central African Republic, Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan with the aim of supporting and stimulating locally-led peacebuilding efforts. This presentation discusses findings from a qualitative research evaluation of this organic approach to peacebuilding. While small-scale, the evaluation found profound, transformative effects for participants and promising evidence of wider impacts beyond those directly involved. The presentation also reflects on challenges encountered related to the conflict-affected environments in which people are living and working, before drawing out key implications for the field of violence prevention and evaluative work in this area.

Building Resilience to Genocide through Peace Education: Concepts, Methods, Tools and Impact

Mariana Goetz, Head of Advocacy & Learning at the AEGIS Trust

Understanding mass atrocity through a “continuum of violence”, has allowed Aegis Trust and its partners to conceptualise stages of dehumanization that can lead to genocide. These stages include in-grouping, out-grouping, indifference, scapegoating, demonization, persecution, etc. We can picture them graphically in a downward trend allowing the development of self awareness about developments in our own community, one’s own attitudes and behaviours building a range of skills and values. Aegis Trust has developed a peace education programme based on building up the skills and values that constitute the opposite of these stages of dehumanisation that we have termed a “continuum of benevolence”. How does one reverse dehumanization of the “other”? How does one build social cohesion when starting from indifference? Can teaching Openness, Acceptance, Empathy, Personal Responsibility, Trust, Caring and other positive values combined with Critical Thinking skills build resilience to identity based violence? And how can progress and impact be measured? Building on the lessons learned from a 3 day Colloquium in Peace Education held in Kigali in February, Aegis Trust is developing a tool to assess impact of is peace education programmes, which may help provide deeper insights as to whether and how such interactive peace education work can be effective.

But some are more equal than others: Understanding the global education response for refugees and migrants

Dr Stephanie Bengtsson
Research Scholar, Wittgenstein Centre for Demography & Global Human Capital

In the United Nations (UN) New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, participants in the first ever high-level Summit for Refugees and Migrants acknowledged their shared responsibility to take a “humane, sensitive, compassionate and people-centred” approach to managing refugees and migrants through international cooperation, which recognises countries’ “varying capacities and resources to respond” (UN General Assembly, 2016, para.11). However, it has become clear that, while most High Income Country (HIC) governments have signed the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and/or the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, and tend to have stronger, more stable institutions than Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) (and thus greater ‘capacities and resources to respond’), a coordinated response to education provision for refugees and migrants within HICs is still lacking, and, LMICs, who host over 85% of the world’s refugees, continue to bear the brunt of the global burden.

In this presentation, I provide a broad overview of the global education response for refugees and migrants. My theoretical framework is informed by Tikly’s (2016) recent work on understanding the international (educational) development agenda as a global governance regime, characterised by a complex matrix of power relations, competing and converging interests, and tensions and agreements. As Tikly points out, the agenda has primarily been led by the so-called Global North, and in its own interests. This has led to the reinforcement of the socially-constructed North-South binary, where the South continues to be seen in deficit terms as the source of the world’s problems, and the North, as the exporter of the solutions to these problems (Akyeampong et al., 2006).

I compare and contrast the state of education provision for refugees and migrants in HIC and LMIC contexts in order to capture the complexities and dynamics of the refugee crisis as it relates to education. This presentation considers the political, legal and practical dimensions of delivering education interventions to populations characterised by displacement and erratic mobility. It concludes with the contention that a new mind-set is required, particularly among HIC governments, one which allows for a more effective educational response by challenging the traditional North-South dichotomy and supports the building of a more productive, more cohesive, and happier global society.


Understanding education in humanitarian situations: A critical realist approach

30 November, 2017

Time: 17.00-19.00

Room: Jeffrey Hall, UCL Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL.

Please register here for this seminar.

Power and Myth of Evidence: Educational Marginalisation of Children in Cross-Line Areas of Syria

Tomoya Sonoda, Education Specialist, UNICEF Syria

The concept of ‘an evidence base’ has gained considerable purchase as a standard approach to today’s international aid policy and practice. The use of empirical data that are observable and measurable is meant to enhance rationality and de-politicisation in decision-making processes. It is widely embraced for audit culture and managerial accountability within development and humanitarian contexts.

In reality, however, the delivery of scientifically rational and impartial humanitarian aid, including education, is far from easy. In a real-world context, government authorities, aid agencies, donors and other actors weave across and within the messy political webs, where different forms of power and micro-politics permeate the process of evidence generation and decision making. The interplay between power and knowledge constructs particular ‘discourses’ of evidence that establish certain facts as true and others as false. The underlying discourses or the regime of truth influence the way aid professionals see and know educational needs and priorities, thereby shaping decisions about who is in and who is out of aid entitlements. As such, evidence-informed decision making, albeit seemingly rational and accountable, can also serve to downplay and exclude particular groups from opportunities and agendas, and even symbolise their marginality and exclusion as legitimate.

Drawing on the case of education sector in Syria, my doctoral research aims to unpack what power relations come into play in the generation and application of evidence and how they form the implicit patterns of legitimisation of marginality of the most vulnerable. From a critical realist perspective, my research attempts to see the real world as differentiated and stratified, and seeks to unravel the enduring generative mechanisms – or underlying discourses – that reproduce educational marginalisation of children in opposition-controlled cross-line areas of Syria.

The deployment of critical realism enables me to question the epistemology of empirical realism and actualism that takes observable and measurable entities at face value, a predominant methodology that permeates current aid policies and practices in Syria. Indeed, educational needs and gaps are often assessed by measurable indicators, evaluated with predetermined standards and grouped into a certain category that is amenable to programmatic decisions about interventions and resource allocation. The everyday aid practice mirrors Bhaskar’s account of ‘epistemic fallacy’. Moreover, whereas UN agencies, NGOs and donors often pursue and demonstrate measurable and quantifiable results – or what they did – for managerial accountability, they tend to obscure unobservable elements – that is, what they did not do. The absence of inaction, which is called ‘ontological monovalence’ in Bhaskar’s terms, can possibly result in a pattern to maintain the status quo of aid disparities in Syria. My research attempts to explore the Bhaskarian/Foucauldian viewpoints in order to understand different forms of hegemonic power that lie behind evidence generation and use. It problematizes the ongoing aid practice and calls for critical reflexivity by aid practitioners, including myself, for more just and transformative aid practice in Syria.

Education and Conflict: A Critical Realist approach

Dima Khazem, University College London

Critical Realism, as an ontology and epistemology, provides valuable concepts and methdodolgies for researching education and conflict. This paper employs critical realist concepts of ‘absence’, ‘the four-planar social being’  (Bhaskar, 1993) and ‘judgemental rationality’ to suggest different approaches to understanding education and conflict with implications for policy makers, researchers and practitioners.


Negotiating Student Narratives and Academics’ Professional Identity in Times of Displacement: Case Study of Three Displaced Universities in Ukraine

24 January, 2018

Time: 17.00-19.00

Room: Drama Studio, UCL Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL.

Please register here for the seminar.

Anna Kutkina, University of Helsinki, Finland

Olga Mun, Institute of Education, University College London

Mariya Vitrukh, Ukrainian Educational Research Association, Ukraine

Since the year of 2014, when a military conflict broke out in Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Eastern Ukraine, there have been over 1.5 million (UNHCR, 2015) internally displaced people (IDPs) in Ukraine. People have migrated in groups as institutions, as well as individually. Displacement of the Ukrainians has been enhanced by the problem of permutation of infrastructure: about 31 educational and research institutions, including 18 state universities, 2 private universities and 11 research institutes with 2,844 staff and 39,500 students (Verkhovna Rada, 2015) have been moved from the eastern parts of the country. As military actions in Ukraine endure, the issue of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Ukraine is gradually escalating. Though there is an understanding in educational research literature that access to and certain types of education could contribute positively to well-being of people affected by the conflicts (Winthrop & Kirk, 2011), the role of education remains unclear in the situation such as that of the displaced universities, professors and students of Ukraine. This paper presents the results of the small exploratory project funded by the grant from the US Embassy in Ukraine which focuses on understanding how the displacement affected education experience of 33 students and professional identity of 16 professors and administration staff from three displaced universities. The data from initial interviews is supplemented by the field observations, information provided by the university representatives, Coordination Centre for Displaced Universities, articles printed in mass media and gathered from the informal interviews with the representatives of other nine displaced universities collected during the second fieldwork.


21 February, 2018

Education and ‘critical’ peacebuilding: The case of South Sudan

Dr Gabrielle Daoust, University of Sussex

Time: 17.00-19.00

Room: Drama Studio, UCL Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL.

Please register here for the seminar.

In contemporary peacebuilding debates, ‘critical’ perspectives call for transformative approaches that address inequalities and systemic violence underpinning conflict, promote ‘local’ engagement, and respond to ‘everyday’ priorities. Education systems play central roles in reproducing or challenging relations of power, privilege, and inequality associated with violent conflict, and represent key sites of ‘local’ and ‘everyday’ engagement. However, the peacebuilding literature has paid limited attention to education’s peacebuilding role. Drawing on findings from research in South Sudan, I explore the importance of education in peacebuilding, and argue that peacebuilding scholarship should seriously engage with education. In this presentation, I discuss the ways in which education policies and practices reproduce political, economic, and cultural forms of inequality and violence and undermine peacebuilding aims, through resource and service distribution, ‘local’ participation strategies, and formal practices and informal narratives concerning identity and difference. These findings provide insights for ‘critical’ peacebuilding discussions of, and responses to, questions of inequality, the ‘local’, and the ‘everyday’.



21 March, 2018

Developing Global Partnerships for Higher Education in Conflict

Dr Tejendra Pherali and Dr Alexandra Lewis, UCL Institute of Education

Time: 17.00-19.00

Room: Drama Studio, UCL Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL.

Please register here for the seminar.

Education plays an essential role in helping individuals and the societies in which they live to work towards better living circumstances and development: it has been theorised to improve quality of life1, as well as health and health equity2, while parent education may impact on earning capacity and prospects of their children3. Therefore, education is recognised as a fundamental human right by Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and reinforced as such by Articles 13 and 14 of the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. These instruments place a duty on signatory states to make basic education available and accessible to the general public, and to make higher education accessible on the basis of merit, by recognising education to be an economic, social and cultural right4. However, educational quality and capacities are severely diminished in fragile states, limiting positive development impacts, while poor educational design and delivery may also contribute to conflict and insecurity5. The internationally generated literature on the interconnections between education, peace and conflict is extensive, but the voices of those living in conflict-affected and fragile states are easily lost in the debate. We asked a spectrum of Somali higher education professionals whether the global narrative reflects regional and cultural knowledge production on these issues, and found that the Somali experience of education, peace and conflict is distinctive. We determined that understanding historical narratives, local participation and incorporating indigenous perspectives and cultural values is key to analysing the Somali experience, but also that the Somali narrative of civic participation in developing the core principles of conflict resolution and peacebuilding in education has much to offer to the wider debate on education in emergencies.