Congratulations to Dr Boniface Ojok for completing his PhD at the University of Birmingham
Dr Boniface Ojok's PhD title is 'Education After Conflict: An Examination of Schooling Attitudes and Responses to Children Born of War Following their (Re-)integration into the Post-conflict Settings of Northern Uganda'.
Using a multidisciplinary approach drawn from the fields of history, anthropology and sociology, the research explored how different stakeholders in northern Uganda viewed and used education as a tool to support the integration of CBoW. It examined the challenges and opportunities that CBoW returning with their mothers were confronted with and what it was like to enter formal education following their captivity.
The study's main question was: How have education-focused policies and practices in the post war period addressed the circumstances of CBoW in northern Uganda? To help answer this question, the study addressed the following sub-questions:
1. How have schools responded to the educational circumstances of CBoW?
This question provided an empirical insight into local practices and policies in order to contribute to an understanding of the school as one of the most influential institutions that shape the development of children. The question also examined the agencies of actors by focusing on teachers’ views and experiences with school policies and practices in relation to the local contexts of the children’s reintegration.
2. To what extent do CBoW feel that their needs have been addressed in a mainstream primary school setting?
The question was primarily concerned with giving the children a voice by allowing them to formulate their experiences through participatory processes as actors in their own right. The tasks for and with the pupils were helpful in inspiring children to understand better the circumstances at their local schools such as their experience of transitioning to a new school, the relationship with their teachers and peers and the academic and non- academic experiences of their everyday lives.
3. How did the CBoW adapt (or not) to going to school? This question sought to enhance our understanding of the extent of agency of children in their bid to integrate into the school settings - what it was like for CBoW to go to school, and what educational choices were made by their families upon return from the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). An understanding of their experiences was evaluated by assessing their responses and reactions to the different aspects of the school. This was primarily informed by their articulation of the way the children felt they were being treated at school.
Social stigma and exclusion in the post-conflict
More generally, the thesis’s conceptual framework is drawn from literature that examines CBoW's experiences of social stigma post-return in northern Uganda and educational studies on war affected children (centred on how educational stakeholders have responded to children’s specific needs). Social stigma is a key analytical concept in this study as it generates important insights into how CBoW experience their daily lives and respond or react to the social environment in which they have been integrated following their return from the LRA.
Special educational provisions for CBoW?
In northern Uganda, the discourse around the recovery of missed educational opportunities for children born in captivity has been centred around the provision of special education as an essential element of what is required in the aftermath of return to re-socialize them into the post conflict communities. But there were different interpretations about what such ‘special education’ should consist of. While some actors favoured interventions that provided special educational provisions for CBoW, others thought that general educational opportunities should be made available to all war affected children - a much larger group than CBoW. The thesis deconstructs some of the discourses that argue CBoW have specific learning needs’, alongside discourses that say they do not have different / specific ‘learning needs’ from other children. In doing so, it explores the hardship and strategies of young mothers and CBoW trying to overcome stigma in their post-conflict communities, families, and in the classroom.
The agency and authority of children: some key conclusions about their schooling experiences
In many ways, the main contribution of this thesis is that it gave a voice to CBoW in the research – drawing conclusions that the children were competent actors in their own rights rather than passive recipients of education in the school settings. This finding simultaneously responded to the two of the research questions: ‘How did the CBoW adapt (or not) to going to school’ and ‘To what extent do CBoW feel like their needs have been addressed in a mainstream primary school setting’. By being involved as participants in their assessment of the school practice at Alur Primary School (PS) – a local school in northern Uganda, the children were able to reflect on the positive aspects of their school experiences such as their academic orientation at the school and teachers’ expectations of them, in light of the desired behaviour and other forms of norm compliances at the Alur School.
The research found out that the children responded positively whenever they felt cared for; in particular, when their teachers gave them positive reinforcements and support. However, whenever teachers were less supportive, or provided negative reinforcements they felt they were less valued. In most cases these reinforced their feelings that they were being discriminated against on the basis of the LRA – even if it was not necessarily the case. The narratives that they shared during the study also showed that the children affirmed who they believe themselves to be, where they come from, and who they aspire to be in the future. In all aspects, they make sense of themselves in relation to their peers who had not been born in the bush – the way they dress, the way they articulate themselves in the English medium and their behaviour striving to emulate and adapt to the perceived models of the school culture. In this way, the children have been able to negotiate the difficult boundaries of their exclusion through conformity.
Recommendations for policy and practice
The thesis offers recommendations to policy and practice (service provision). Evidence demonstrates that in order to implement an inclusive practice in a post-conflict setting there is a need to have an understanding of the unique challenges that war-affected children bring to schools. In spite of the overlapping nature of educational needs found to be prominent among war-affected children more generally in northern Uganda, post conflict educational initiatives designed to support returnees from the LRA often overlooked the needs of larger groups of war affected children. Like CBoW, other groups of war affected children (orphans, children living with HIV/AIDS, formerly abducted children and others) also lived impoverished situations and experienced conditions that increased their chances of exclusion from and within educational institutions. On balance, it is indeed sometimes necessary to provide special treatment to combatants as a separate group – which the research found to be a compelling argument in inclusive educational discourse observed in local schools in northern Uganda. But as we do so, specialised treatment did not negate the fact that everyone has needs that have to be attended to in an educational sense. For example, the philosophy ‘Every Child is Special’ that has been practiced as a way of promoting educational inclusion or special education at Alur PS would mean that everyone is the same – but that children have to be attended to on the basis of their individualities irrespective of their background – born from the bush or not.
The research contributes to an enhanced understanding of how inclusivity can be practiced in post war settings. We learn that in order to develop policies that respond to the educational needs of war affected children, we have to have a better understanding of their circumstances and the extent to which these impact on the children’s participation in the schooling environment. The northern Uganda case studies demonstrate that the concept and idea of inclusion in the post conflict settings is very much open to different interpretations by different actors and that it is impossible to adopt a one-size-fits-all model for building inclusive post-conflict education systems.