New research awards to explore the role of education in conflict-affected regions of Indonesia

21 February 2013

Ritesh Shah is highly regarded for his research in countries with a history of conflict. He believes it is important to critically examine how education can contribute to a lasting peace in conflict-affected societies. “While education is often assumed to be a force for good in post-conflict reconstruction,” he says, “more critical analyses can suggest that in so far as education can help to heal societal wounds, there are also great risks that it can exacerbate existing tensions if sufficient attention is not given to the cultural political economy within which education functions in such societies.”

As a recently appointed lecturer in the Faculty of Education’s School of Critical Studies in Education, Ritesh has embarked on a unique research collaboration with the University of Amsterdam’s IS Academie. The project, led by Ritesh and Assistant Professor Mieke Lopes Cardozo from the University of Amsterdam and entitled The Politics and practice of building peace and social justice through education in conflict-affected regions of Indonesia, aims to bolster the conceptual and methodological understandings of the complex relationship that exists between education and peace building in conflict-affected regions of the country.

Ritesh will be building on past research and evaluation experience in several conflict-affected settings, including his recently completed PhD on the role of teachers within reform efforts in Timor-Leste and an evaluation of a psychosocial and education support programme for pre-adolescent children in Northern Gaza. His interest in the relationship between education and conflict stems from recent reports suggesting that conflict-affected states and regions within developing countries are those that are most at-risk of not meeting the Millennium Development Goals for education.

The first phase of the project will focus on the Indonesian province of Aceh, at the northwest tip of Indonesia. “The province saw nearly 30 years of separatist struggle from Indonesia that led to the deaths of thousands of citizens and the destruction of a significant amount of infrastructure which was then exacerbated by the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004,” says Ritesh. “After the tsunami, assistance flowed into the region to restore infrastructure and in 2005 a peace accord was signed by the separatist movement and the Indonesian Government.”

Since then, the region has focused on reconstructing the state and reforming the education sector with significant changes in educational governance, school curriculum, pedagogy and teacher management. Significant attention has also been given to the Islamic school system that serves a sizable portion of the province’s children. Ritesh and Mieke believe that more critical analyses is needed on the degree to which attention has been given to the underlying causes of conflict in Aceh, and whether these reforms address these tensions or not. “While there has been a lot of money and government/donor attention given to Aceh in recent years, it is unclear how much of this has acknowledged 30 years of conflict in Acehnese society,” says Ritesh. “Our hope through this research is to demonstrate to policymakers how a conflict-sensitive approach to educational programming is both necessary and needed in Aceh.”

The School of Critical Studies in Education is offering several study awards in education and international development for postgraduate students interested in researching in this area and working with Ritesh over the coming two years. The opportunity will also provide students with a platform for collaboration with international students and researchers on the project.

“There is huge potential for educational research in the province and we want to explore various themes such as the politics of educational aid in the region, the impacts of school decentralisation on local and regional conflict, the relationship between Islamic and state schools, the degree to which Aceh’s special autonomy within Indonesia allows for teachers to promote Acehnese identity, culture, language and religion and school, to name just a few,” says Ritesh. “These awards pave the way for postgraduate students to explore education outside New Zealand and contribute to a unique and significant international project.

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