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The Challenge of Teaching Students about Post-Conflict Realities

by Taro Komatsu, Sophia University, Japan

I have been teaching issues relating to post-conflict education reconstruction at Kyushu University in Japan between 2003 and 2009, and Sophia University, also located in Japan, since this April 2013. A major challenge of teaching this subject is to help students (both undergraduate and graduate) “grasp” post-conflict realities. The post-conflict realities include: trauma suffered by pupils and teachers; inter-ethnic hatred and mistrust accentuated as a result of violent conflict; difficulty in speaking about “peace” when such a word may sound hollow to war victims; fragmented education administration systems with diverse curricula; and a high degree of international community’s involvement that shapes national education policies and local practices. None of these are familiar issues to the youth who live in an industrialized and relatively stable society; consequently, they often seem to find the subject intriguing but somewhat difficult to relate to, let alone consider post-conflict aid work as a potential career choice. Such reaction from the students can also be explained by the fact that these post-conflict issues are not easily “seen.” Unlike the typical emergency aid, including the delivery of textbooks and stationaries, construction of prefabricated school buildings, and securing learning/playing sites, many of post-conflict educational challenges are not easily observed, especially if you are not in the field.

In the past, I have tried several ways to deal with this pedagogical task. I use audio-visual materials extensively so that students can visualize post-conflict social and physical conditions in which schools or other various forms of education function. When security conditions allow, a field trip becomes an option: such an opportunity should offer students an invaluable educational experience (In this regard, I would appreciate suggestions by field organizations for possible site visits or program observation). I have also invited practitioners to speak to students about their experiences in post-conflict societies. In this case, it is my job to help students see the link between theories and practice of Education in Emergencies.

Another pedagogical approach I have adopted is to remind students of the fact that Japan itself was once a post-war society and recovered from devastation. However, few books and reports that systematically analyzed Japanese post-war education reconstruction are available. In particular, grass-roots experiences of teachers, local government officers and community residents working together to restart schools are generally unknown, since the Japanese education system has often been perceived as centrally managed. In order to fill this gap, my colleagues and I compiled Japan’s local practices to promote Education for All (EFA) and disseminated them, hoping to inspire those agencies and individuals engaged in community reconstruction/development. The report is titled “EFA good practices by local education administration in Japan and their applicability to the context of developing countries,” and it includes practices during the modernization and contemporary period.

Another research project I was engaged in examined education reconstruction experienced by the people in Okinawa, the southern island of Japan, that suffered from a heavy land-battle during the Second World War, resulting in a number of civilian deaths. Again, historical records show various kinds of innovative and earnest efforts by education professionals and community leaders to restart schools with whatever resources available, while caring for traumatized pupils and carefully avoiding to plant the seeds of hatred. Here is a part of the report: “Post-conflict reconstruction of education and peace building: Lessons from Okinawa’s experience”.

It seems that reading these reports helps students realize that post-conflict reconstruction is not something occurring only in “another world.” In fact, some of major educational challenges in post-conflict societies, such as “living together” and avoidance of reproducing inequality and hatred, are global concerns. These societies, therefore, offer much to learn. With this note, I continuously seek innovative and effective approaches to motivate students to want to learn more and eventually engage themselves in practices and research in post-conflict education.


Taro Komatsu is a professor in the Department of Education in the Faculty of Human Sciences at Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan. His research focuses on education policy and administration in developing nations and post-conflict societies, with a particular interest in the political dimensions of reform policies and their implementation. He previously worked as an education specialist for the UNESCO Paris and Sarajevo offices, the UN Mission in Kosovo, and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Pakistan and Afghanistan. His most recent articles include “Why do policy leaders adopt global education reforms? A political analysis of SBM reform adoption in post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina” in Education Policy Analysis Archives. Professor Komatsu holds an M.Sc. in Social Policy and Planning from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a Ph.D. in Education Policy and Administration from the University of Minnesota, USA. Professor Komatsu is a long-time INEE member.


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