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Home arrow Education arrow Education Policy and Power-Sharing in Post-Conflict Societies: Lebanon, Northern Ireland, and Macedonia



This introduction explains the rationale for this study, presents its hypotheses and introduces the three case studies: Lebanon, Northern Ireland and Macedonia. It also summarises the research methods, chapter structure and theoretical contribution to the fields of conflict regulation and education studies.

Chapter 2 provides an overview of the academic literature on conflict regulation through consociational power-sharing and on the relationship between formal education and violent ethnic, religious and national conflicts. It aims to situate this study in the context of the most relevant academic and policy debates.

Chapter 3 traces the history of education as an instrument for the building of nation-states and for the reproduction of communal identities in Lebanon and Northern Ireland since 1920, and in Macedonia since 1918. It proposes that, before and during the three conflicts, school curricula and structures contributed to perpetuating the narratives, values and practices that fed inter-group animosity. The Taif, Belfast and Ohrid Agreements did not fundamentally alter the political function of education and the political priorities for education reform. Actually, the four aspects of schooling they tackled (history education, civic education, languages and contact between pupils of different backgrounds) reflect both the most politically salient markers of group identity and the dominant perceptions of the roots of violent conflict.

Chaps 4, 5, 6 and 7 focus on history education, civic education, languages and the promotion of contact between children of different backgrounds in compulsory schools. They first provide brief reviews of the literature and then analyse comparatively the debates over reform of each aspect of education in consociational Lebanon, Northern Ireland and Macedonia. Chapter 4 focuses on reform of history education and finds that debates in the three societies reflect tensions between the two ideal functions of history: to promote unity among the diverse citizenry and/ or to reflect, acknowledge and value the historical narratives of each religious, ethnic and national community. Tracing debates over reform of the history curricula in the three consociations, Chap. 4 suggests that the founding principles and practices of the political system impact on the contents of history education. In Lebanon, the involvement of politicians representing each community in the process of curriculum drafting set the stage for the failure of efforts to frame a unified, homogeneous and nationalistic history textbook. In Macedonia, the founding principle of proportionality seeped into the curriculum: information about the history of each ethnic community is proportional to its demographic weight. Finally, the Northern Ireland history curriculum focuses on historical skills rather than narratives, thus attempting to decouple history and national identity. In all three cases, the teaching of history in schools appears to reflect, and in some perspectives further, continuing communal monopolies over narratives of the past.40

Similarly, lack of consensus about national identity and the legitimacy of the state problematises the definition of citizenship in the three societies. Chapter 5 explores reforms of citizenship education after the three peace agreements and argues that, similar to history education, the citizenship education curricula are torn between the ambition to legitimise communal diversity and the desire to foster allegiance to the state. In Northern Ireland, a flexible curriculum aims to stimulate, through debate and critical thinking, the formulation of consensual notions of citizenship. In contrast, in Lebanon and Macedonia, the curricula promote overarching ‘national’ identities and teach majoritarian democracy. Thus, the contents of education clash with the reality of consociational politics and with the political saliency of ethnic and religious identities. The chapter proposes that schools contribute to inter-group tensions and mistrust of state institutions when they convey values and principles incongruent with the dominant practices of wider politics and society.

Chapter 6 draws attention to a further constraint to education reform in consociations: the need to ensure their symmetrical impact on all the major communities. It does so by tracing initiatives to reform the language(s) of instruction in the three education systems. In Lebanon, the end of the civil war brought a consensus on the benefits of multilingual education. In contrast, in Northern Ireland, language is being politically constructed as a further marker of identity, coinciding with salient national and religious cleavages: Irish-medium schools are instrumental to this process. Similarly, in Macedonia the expansion of mother tongue education led to the physical separation of children belonging to different communities into different schools. State initiatives to introduce the Macedonian language from the first grade aimed to reverse the trend of declining proficiency in the state language among children of Albanian, Turkish and Serbian backgrounds. These initiatives were bitterly opposed, and denounced as attempts to assimilate children into ethnic Macedonian culture.

This echoes debates over the reform of the very structure of education systems in Lebanon, Northern Ireland and Macedonia, examined in Chap. 7. The Taif and Belfast Agreements called for more opportunities for contact among children belonging to different socio-economic, religious, ethnic and national backgrounds. Similar to Macedonia’s 2010 Strategy for Integrated Education, they implicitly endorsed the ‘contact hypothesis’, which states that inter-group contact furthers tolerance, reduces fear and promotes reconciliation in post-conflict societies. In fact, Chap. 7 proposes that the three consociations ultimately generated or entrenched conso- ciational education systems, which rely on a plurality of separate institutions catering to different communities rather than on common, mixed schools. Separate schools subsidised by the state may help individual social mobility, demonstrate group influence over state institutions, and even legitimise the state among formerly marginalised communities when they are endowed with equal resources. Separate schools also reproduce the basic building blocks of the political system (the different religious, ethnic, national and political communities), thereby furthering the stability and legitimacy of consociational governments. Yet, Chap. 7 warns that the physical separation of children can further prejudice political extremism and fear of members of different communities. Thus, separate schools can hinder reconciliation. Finally, it points out that separate schools are rarely equal, despite the allocation of ostensibly equal resources. Most institutions are deeply different and provide different long-term opportunities: this may foster feelings of relative deprivation among the members of disadvantaged communities and destabilise peace processes. Chapter 7 also argues that ‘consociational education systems’ are not incompatible with initiatives for mixed education, which may contribute to the emergence of syncretistic identities and to the consolidation of peace. To succeed, initiatives for inter-group contact need to promote both group equality and relationship building, to hold broad institutional support, to be tailored to the specific sociopolitical context and to impact symmetrically on the communities involved.

This study concludes first, that the political function of education in consociations is remarkably similar to that of education during conflicts: it socialises children into different group identities and political allegiances through the curricula and separate schools. ‘Consociational education systems’ reproduce group boundaries and consolidate the different political communities, thus legitimising consociational government and facilitating its operation.

Second, the priorities for education reform in Lebanon, Northern Ireland and Macedonia converge after the establishment of consociational power-sharing. Consociational education systems come to reflect the tension between two political principles: the fostering of group equality and the encouragement of overarching plural identities. They do so both through the curricula for ‘national subjects’ and through the structure of the education system.

Third, education reform cannot change society but it can make schools flexible enough to accommodate and even encourage social change if and when it occurs. In the three consociations, education reforms succeeded when they promoted values congruent with those of the political system and when they impacted similarly on all the main communities.

This suggests that the imposition of unified narratives of identity and the top-down integration of schools may be inadequate and even counterproductive in deeply divided societies.

Finally, this study concludes that consociation per se is not incompatible with initiatives for conflict transformation. Consociation provides the political and social stability essential for the formulation, promotion and implementation of initiatives for peace-building in the education system. In turn, education can be employed as a complementary mechanism to further the long-term resolution of violent inter-group conflicts. Yet, the cases of Lebanon and Macedonia show that when they are internally unstable or subject to negative external pressures, consociations allow for curricula which convey mutually exclusive narratives of identity and for the physical separation of children belonging to different communities. This contributes to the long-term vulnerability of the system and the potential for relapse into violent conflict.

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