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This work investigates the political function of education in consociations through primarily qualitative methods. The analysis is based on over 75 semi-structured interviews carried out in the course of research visits to Lebanon, Northern Ireland and Macedonia. The interviewees were key politicians, policymakers, representatives of monitoring agencies and educational practitioners from a variety of ethnic, national and religious backgrounds and representing different political opinions. Most interviewees, in the course of their career, had worked in (or consulted for) the main centres of educational policymaking, including the local education ministries. The interview questions focused on the benefits and shortcomings of initiatives for the reform of history education, citizenship education, the language of instruction and the structure of the education system since the Taif, Belfast and Ohrid Agreements. More broadly, the interviews explored the intended and unintended sociopolitical consequences of education reforms, with particular reference to their impact on peace-building and reconciliation. Qualitative analysis also relied on curricular and textbook material, government papers, official reports, case-specific literature, newspaper articles and a variety of other primary and secondary sources.

Quantitative methods were used to compare and evaluate statistical data and surveys. Government and international databases were employed to collect data on school enrolments, on the implementation of education reforms and on the ethnic, national and religious composition of the school population in Lebanon, Northern Ireland and Macedonia. Finally, surveys carried out by national and international organisations (such as the United Nations Development Programme [UNDP] and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe [OSCE]) provided estimates of public support for specific reforms and of the long-term sociopolitical impact of certain education initiatives.

There is considerable agreement that schools are one of the few ‘institutions] that society can formally, intentionally and extensively use to achieve the mission of peace education’34 or employ to reproduce the practices and narratives at the heart of conflict. To highlight the educational priorities of successive consociational governments in Lebanon, Northern Ireland and Macedonia, this work looks only at schools that adopt the official curriculum and/or receive some form of state subsidy. These institutions are most receptive to reform initiatives and, as Chap. 3 shows, they represent the overwhelming majority of schools in the three societies.

This analysis focuses on compulsory schooling because most children experience it during the most sensitive years for their socialisation into group values and identity (around 12 years of age).35 About 97 % of Lebanese children attend primary education and 76 % attend secondary school36; about 95 % of children in Macedonia attend the compulsory, nine-year primary school37; and about 99 % of children in Northern Ireland attend compulsory education.38

Finally, decision-making regarding curricular content and the basic structures of compulsory education is centralised in Beirut, Belfast and Skopje and this greatly facilitates comparative analysis of education reform.39 Indeed, this work frequently treats Northern Ireland as a separate state for analytical purposes: despite being part of the UK, policymakers, even during direct rule, had considerable autonomy in the design of reforms, and education was regulated by separate legislation.

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