The complex relationship between education and conflict can be seen in the decade-long conflict that took place in Nepal between 1996 and 2006. The conflict started when a group of Maoist rebels in a remote part of the country declared a â€˜Peopleâ€™s Warâ€™ against the government, which at the time was a constitutional monarchy. The situation was worsened when a royal massacre in 2001 created instability in the national government; the new king disbanded parliament in 2002 and eventually declared absolute rule in 2005. It was not until an alliance between Maoists and the disbanded parliament led to mass protests in 2006 that the king was overthrown and a new government formed (Shields and Rappleye, 2008b). However, the post-conflict environment has remained highly unstable (Pherali, 2011). Although Maoists had a strong showing in elections to the constituent assembly, they have remained at odds with more mainstream political parties and the threat of a return to violence is omnipresent.
Education was very much at the heart of the Peopleâ€™s War. Among the Maoistsâ€™ grievances were the right to education in studentsâ€™ mother tongue (rather than the national Nepali language) and the closure of private schools, which the Maoists claimed created a two-tier education system that benefited the wealthy. However, the links between education and conflict ran more deeply than the Maoistsâ€™ stated demands: for decades the curriculum had promoted a strong vision of national identity centred on conservative visions of Hinduism and the use of the Nepali language (Shields and Rappleye, 2008a). Pigg (1992) describes how textbooks promoted integration of the countryâ€™s many diverse ethnic groups in order to create a cohesive national identity, yet in doing so they favoured certain groups as being superior to others. High-caste HindusÂ â€“ who generally speak the national Nepali languageÂ â€“ were depicted in prominent positions in textbook illustrations while ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities were portrayed as deficient, often in the background (Pigg, 1992). This portrayal effectively marginalized many of the countryâ€™s ethnic and religious minorities, leading to feelings of alienation and antagonism towards the national government. In addition to practices within the classroom, half a century of rapid educational expansion had ingrained into popular consciousness the notion that education would lead to national development and improved standards of living. Although enrolment increased significantly, the promised improvements in employment and income never materialized for much of population. Instead, educated, unemployed, youth provided an ideal body of recruits for the Maoistsâ€™ Peopleâ€™s Army (Shields and Rappleye, 2008b).
During the conflict, schools were heavily politicized and subjected to ideological and physical attacks from both sides. As many remote areas of the country lacked other government offices or infrastructure, schools were the only state-run institution, which meant that â€˜an attack on the schoolâ€™ was equivalent to â€˜a symbolic attack on the state itselfâ€™ (Caddell, 2002:232). Maoists also used schools as a platform to promote their political ideology and to recruit young soldiers for their army (Parker and Standing, 2007). Thus, it is not surprising that on several occasions, fighting between the two sides spilled onto school grounds (Shields and Rappleye, 2008b). Teachers were put into a particularly difficult role, negotiating between the demands of government, the Maoist army, and the communities in which they lived (Shields, 2005). Writing during the conflict, Thapa and Sijipati describe howÂ teaching is a risky job in areas where the Maoists are strong. Teachers are at the receiving end from both sides. As people living in Maoist areas, they are viewed with suspicion by the authorities, whilst their regular contacts with the district administration causes them to be viewed with equal distrust by the Maoists. A disproportionate number of teachers have been killed in the conflict. (Thapa and Sijapati, 2004:6)
Nepalâ€™s recent history provides an excellent example of how conflict and education are deeply intertwined. It also suggests that this link does not stop at education but rather extends to the larger project of national development in which it is situated. Tracing the origins of the Maoist movement, Rappleye (2011a) describes how a USAID-funded programme in the Maoistsâ€™ stronghold in the remote west of the country increased the production of cash crops that were sold in India. While the programme benefited large-scale industrial agriculture, it left many of the regionâ€™s small-scale farmers behind. This was complemented by an educational paradigm centred on the values of â€˜modernityâ€™, including the belief that individual investments in education would inevitably lead to increased opportunities and national development (Pherali, 2011). Carney and Rappleye (2011) link these phenomena in their argument that â€˜Nepalâ€™s experience of modernity through â€œdevelopmentâ€, at least as this has manifested in and around the classroom, has contributed directly to the countryâ€™s devastating civil warâ€™ (Carney and Rappleye, 2011:2).
The timeframe of Nepalâ€™s conflict also overlaps with a growth in education in emergency programmes. In 2002, a number of development organizations initiated the â€˜Children as Zones of Peace Programmeâ€™, which sought to mitigate the effects of conflict, including violence against children and the recruitment of child soldiers, through a programme of peace education and advocacy for childrenâ€™s rights (Parker and Standing, 2007). Even in the post-conflict scenario, education remains a highly politicized and divisive issue, which contributes to a larger context of instability and national fragility (Pherali, 2011).
Using Nepal as a case study, one sees how the education-conflict relationship is complex and multifaceted. While enrolment had expanded greatly over a period of several decades, education contributed to the outbreak of the conflict by reproducing prejudices and marginalizing minority groups. Furthermore, the larger project of national development in which educational expansion was situated was exclusionary, benefiting some while leaving others behind. Throughout the conflict, schools were severely affected by the conflict as violence targeted both teachers and students.
Do you think that policymakers in Nepal could have averted the conflict through educational reform? Is there any way they could have foreseen the outbreak of conflict?
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