This study compares reforms of the curricula of history, citizenship education and languages as well as of the structure of education systems after peace agreements in Lebanon (1989), Northern Ireland (1998) and Macedonia (2001), to investigate the political function of formal education in consociations. It tests three hypotheses.
The first hypothesis is that education systems help reproduce the founding values and narratives of power-sharing, thereby contributing to the stability of consociational government. This analysis aims to highlight the extent to which the priorities and values underpinning education reform converge in the three consociations, and proposes a typology of consocia- tional education systems. It also aims to show that the existing literature has underestimated the contribution of non-political institutions to the legitimacy and stability of consociational power-sharing.
The second hypothesis is that the success of specific education reforms depends on their compatibility with the values and hierarchies sustaining the political system. This comparison shows that reform initiatives are considerably constrained by consociational education systems and that they are successfully implemented and mainstreamed only when, alongside fostering overarching plural identities, they promote group equality. This explains the failure of efforts to integrate and homogenise the curricula and structures of schooling in the three societies, and initiates a debate on the most appropriate approaches to the design of education reforms in consociations.
The third hypothesis is that consociation per se is not incompatible with long-term conflict resolution. This study proposes that consocia- tional governments can employ education to facilitate mutual knowledge and understanding and to help establish or re-establish peaceful, harmonious and interdependent relationships among the different communities in plural societies (reconciliation). A prime example is Northern Ireland’s shared education initiatives.8 Yet, it also finds that in periods of political instability, schools often convey mutually exclusive and hostile narratives of identity, hindering rather than furthering peace processes.