Research dialogue on peace and conflict: Responses from MSc students

CIRE – Research Dialogue on Peace and Conflict: Dr. Shelley McKeown Jones and Dr. Julia Paulson9 November 2016

MSc students Anil Akbulut and Chris Doel give their personal responses to the Research Dialogue presentations on 9 November, followed by MSc student Anna Burchfield’s reflection on a recent lecture by the first speaker, Dr. McKeown Jones. 

Anil Akbulut on Dr. Shelley McKeown Jones’ presentation:

When I joined this CIRE seminar, I was very excited because I wanted to write an assignment about segregation, migration and/or refugees and asylum seekers. At the time, I was reading a lot of papers about these topics, but the experiments that Dr. Jones explored in her presentation were really helpful to me because she provided real world examples and experiences. I have obtained some ideas from her presentation, especially the following sections: “micro ecologies” of segregation, her current project with racial segregation, and her future work with “the diversity effect”.  

From this presentation, several points stood out to me. In her research, she focuses on segregation, in that she looks at where students sit and who they interact with in order to see if they are moving outside of their groups. For this, the context of religious diversity in Northern Ireland for the example was interesting. The size of the population of Catholics and Protestants are almost the same so we cannot talk about “religious minorities” here, and they don’t “look” so different from each other, but they still maintain their different groups within their classrooms. Contact Theory argues that people will decrease their negative views of a group because of contact with them; Dr. Jones’ research appears to show that this isn’t always true. After this section, Dr. Jones asked the question: “Do we expect too much from contact?”

Secondly, and this was the most interesting part for me, she gave us some information about the experiments to look at racial segregation observations in primary schools.  In these observations, they used different methods, but mostly the Value In Diversity storybook, which teaches principles of diversity at a child’s level. The researchers observed the children before the story, immediately after, and then 24-48 hours after the story. Immediately after, the actions of children showed more intergroup contact, but unfortunately 24-48 hours after the story, their contact reverted to their own groups. Precisely at this point, I was wondering about their families’ attitudes and approaches to ‘segregation’ and ‘diversity’, because this stimulant is really significant in a pupil’s approach to his/her friends.

To conclude, I must mention that education (especially primary education) will be the most significant part when we are trying to create peace and desegregation and, as a teacher, these real examples from the real world are going to be our pathfinders. This presentation provided research that will help inform us as teachers. 

Dr Shelley McKeown Jones

Chris Doel on Dr. Julia Paulson’s presentation:

The broad essence with Dr Paulson’s presentation was a précis on the nature of Truth Commissions and their links to education since 1980. The broad range of countries included in the research analysis ranged from Argentina and Uganda in the 1980s, to more recent examples of Kenya and Canada (yet to be concluded and not fully implemented in the research at present). As such, it was highlighted that there had been forty Truth Commissions around the world, but to ascertain their relative success Dr Paulson’s research seeks to investigate the purpose of each and how they were evaluated and quantified. Commissions were evaluated broadly and then examined more specifically for education, with fourteen subsections for education engagement identified. Themes from the research included the significance of a recommendation to increase the use of education to address the issues raised through the Truth Commissions (such as new and revised pedagogical techniques), the exclusion of Northern Ireland from the research, and the validity of such research and the impact that it may have on issues such as ‘peace and conflict’ and, significantly, education.

The research raised the point that whilst education had also become a more prominent part of peaceable agendas in the past, it is not necessarily the case more recently. For instance, summative findings suggest that ‘the number of Truth Commissions and engagements in education, which was relatively insignificant in the 1980s, spiked in the 2000s, and has regressed to date’. What does this suggest?

Let us illustrate a number of points here that can illuminate some of the significant findings. When one examines the ‘Type and frequency of Truth Commission engagements with education’ there are four broad categories: ‘Instrumental’, Relationship’, ‘Investigative’ and ‘Recommended’. One interesting category which I will highlight is the latter; why? I thought it would be interesting to ascertain how the ‘Recommended’ category from the research was (or will be) acted upon by countries as a result of Truth Commissions. For example, considering the aspect of ‘non-formal’ education, where would this be filtered into institutions? Possibilities include the military and civil service so that beyond formal education, society can come to terms with the nature of conflict and strive toward peace. Additionally, ‘Teach history of conflict’ is interesting if only because it would be a challenge to the very nature of the problems that had occurred and triggered a Truth Commission; how would this be implemented and measured? Would the history be objective? What would objectivity look like? These are some of the questions that I would raise.

Whilst an interesting and insightful presentation, the length of time was too short and as such there could have been more time given to developing some of the major conclusions thus far. This is by no means a negative comment, but as an MSc student I would have liked the fourteen points from the initial qualitative analysis to have been addressed in more depth, together with ‘Types and frequency of Truth Commission engagements with education’. On the latter point, each of the types of engagement could have been covered in more depth which could have stimulated an interesting discussion; especially important due to the nature of the research. Finally, to the point of Truth Commissions; who decides when they happen and why?

Dr. Julia Paulson

Anna Burchfield: A recent lecture by Dr Shelley McKeown Jones

In one of the recent lectures for the Education, Peace and Sustainable Development module, we were lucky to be joined by Shelley McKeown Jones. In the lecture, we learned and discussed contact hypothesis and how identity is reflected in individual’s group actions.

We learned that when using the contact hypothesis (the more time people spend with someone who is different to them, the more tolerant they become) there are some limitations. It is stated that for contact hypothesis to be true, all participants must start on an equal standing. Ensuring this in a society which has been polarised or with people who have lived their lives segregated is incredibly difficult – you cannot undo years of socialisation in one experiment.

Researchers must also ensure that there is cooperation and common goals amongst the participants. Creating a common goal can be easy, for example a sports team or a project. However when considering cooperation, it is important to recognise that there may not be equal participation or cooperation, and societal hierarchies may still be apparent and dominate the work.

Our group identities make us feel good about ourselves, being part of a group makes us happy. Pointing out the differences in other people makes us feel better about our standing. Trying to work to challenge these deeply ingrained attitudes will take long-term societal shift. I believe that we are moving towards a more inclusive society, as can be evidenced by voting patterns of young people in a couple of key elections/referendums this year. As we move into the future, we will bring with us more multicultural contact and more recognition of the need for diversity and celebration of each other’s differences.


Education for sustainability and the MFL classroom

Jennifer is a current MSc Education student at the Graduate School of Education. She is a languages teacher with a PGCE from KCL and has taught French and Spanish in the UK and French in Peru. In this post she argues for the inclusion of ‘Education for Sustainability’ in the languages classroom.

As a French and Spanish teacher I have long felt that education, and specifically Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) education, can and should be a force for positive change. Recent work on education and sustainability, as part of my Master’s study at the University of Bristol, has led me to believe that education for sustainability should have a place within the UK’s MFL curricula at secondary level. Here, I tell you why and consider some of the practicalities.

Education for sustainable development vs. education for sustainability

Jickling’s Why I don’t want my children to be educated for sustainable development (1992) rejects the idea of education for sustainable development (ESD), highlighting the ‘paucity of precision’ in the term sustainable development and pointing to the inconsistencies that some people see in juxtaposing the terms development and sustainable. It also problematizes the idea of educating for anything, stating that ‘the prescription of a particular outlook is repugnant to the development of autonomous thinking’. In recognition that ESD aligns with a development-centered view of the world as opposed to leaving room in which to debate issues such as whether development and sustainability are compatible, I am not advocating for the inclusion of ESD in the UK’s MFL curricula. However, I do not agree with Jickling’s claim that education should not be for anything; I feel it would be naïve to claim that secondary school teachers do not have some idea of how we hope our pupils will respond to certain issues. It is for this reason that I would advocate for the UK’s MFL curricula to include education for sustainability, defined by Wade in Journey’s around Education for Sustainability (2008) as ‘education helping to bring [sustainability] about’.

The importance of education for sustainability

Whilst it is true that ‘teachers know that their job is primarily to teach students how to think, not what to think’ (Jickling 2000), I feel it is important to acknowledge that all decisions regarding school curricula are a result of value judgments on the part of teachers. Our choice of subject material (if not prescribed by a manager or exam board) is certainly based on our own interests and worldviews, whether we acknowledge this or not. My argument for the inclusion of education for sustainability in the MFL GCSE and A-Level curricula is based on a desire to see young people consider environmental issues, and I believe that this is reasonable, provided room is left to ‘enable students to debate, evaluate, and judge for themselves the relative merits of contesting positions’ (Jickling 1992). After all, covering education for sustainability within the curriculum will lead to pupils who are knowledgeable enough to consider the issues facing our world and, ultimately, act upon them.

Education for sustainability in the MFL classroom

It is quite easy to move from a conviction that education for sustainability is positive, to a conviction that it should be incorporated into MFL curricula in the UK. I view MFL lessons as not just a place to learn the language studied, but a window into different countries or cultures. For me, reading about the Sahel drought in French, for example, or Spanish approaches to recycling, enables pupils to engage with environmental issues beyond their immediate experience and to actively think about the interconnectedness of the world. It is my belief that education can, and should, expand pupils’ horizons and create agents of change and that’s why I argue education for sustainability should have a place in the UK’s MFL curricula.

Example word cloud for use with students (created with

The practicalities of integrating education for sustainability into MFL teaching

So, if we accept that education for sustainability should be integrated into the UK’s MFL curricula, we must consider how. Currently environmental topics feature on the GCSE and A-Level syllabi of all main exam boards, providing space and time for the inclusion of education for sustainability in the classroom. The challenge facing MFL teachers is how environmental issues can be covered in a way that involves reflection on the state of the world as opposed to mere learning of vocabulary. For me, this is a challenge that can be met through careful planning, the use of authentic texts, videos and audio files to introduce new perspectives through the target language, and leaving space for pupil discussion.

Jickling, B. (1992). Viewpoint: Why I don’t want my children to be educated for sustainable development. The Journal of Environmental Education, 23(4), 5-8
Jickling, B. (2000). A future for sustainability? Water, Air, and Soil Pollution, 123, 467–476
Parker, J. and Wade, R. eds., (2008) Journeys around Education for Sustainability, London: Education for Sustainability Programme London South Bank University

Student Voices in SDG4 and Education 2030

Beth Button, current MSc. Education (Education Policy and International Development) student, reports on participating in the recent SDG4 and Education 2030 regional consultation meeting. Beth is an executive committee member for the European Students’ Union, responsible for representing students studying in higher education across Europe and campaigning and lobbying on educational issues within Europe and internationally. 

The regional consultation meeting for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) and the Education 2030 agenda took place on the 24th and 25th of October at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Attended by government representatives from Europe and North America, NGOs, and foundations’ representatives, the meeting assessed governmental progress on SDG4 and proposed recommendations to strengthen regional cooperation and monitoring of the targets.

As a representative of the European Students’ Union (ESU), I was present to offer student input, host a discussion on our work on national student movement engagement, and contribute to the discussions that took place regarding the region’s priority areas for the coming year, such as quality of education, skills and competencies, and education for refugees and migrants.


One of the thematic areas within SDG4 the European and North American regions have chosen to focus on this year is global citizenship education (GCED)– as a means for achieving target 4.7, specifically “promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence.”   GCED aims to  “empower learners to assume active roles to face and resolve global challenges and to become proactive contributors to a more peaceful, tolerant, inclusive and secure world” (UNESCO).

Strategies for approaching GCED within the SDGs vary from country to country. Some, like Norway, are focusing very much on human rights education, whilst others such as Albania, have developed specific targeted points in the curriculum to develop intercultural or interfaith understanding. Meanwhile, France has developed specific citizenship education which seeks to develop a sense of belonging- recognising that when people are afraid they tend to fall back on issues of identity. We at ESU strongly lobbied for an approach to GCED that was embedded holistically throughout the educational system- both formal and informal, and not approached as a singular thread in the delivery of a specific module.

In our engagement with the topic, ESU also argued that promoting peace and active citizenship through education has to be approached with a focus on embedding students as central partners in any process that takes place. Whether that’s in ensuring students are active in democratic structures, or through taking a student centered approach to redesigning the curriculum to make it more inclusive and diverse, if a learner can see their lived experience reflected in the content they’re delivered, they’re less likely to feel alienated within their education. This student centered approach will also develop leadership and critical thinking in learners through the process- by empowering students to be part of building inclusive and tolerant schools, education can be a tool to creating more inclusive and tolerant societies, promoting peace and preventing violence.

However, what struck me during all the discussions at the conference was how ‘preventing violent extremism’ (PVE) has become a dominant focus for the region within this thematic area. The continued threat of terrorist attacks has altered the way governments perceive the role and responsibilities of education- with a renewed focus on preparing learners to be resilient to violent extremism and preventing radicalisation. We, as ESU, along with other NGOs raised our concerns during the debates that this approach misses the opportunity to present education’s role in positively developing citizenship and promoting peace- and therefore preventing violence.

Whilst GCED has historically been about promoting positive values, the shift to focus on PVE has changed the language and terminology used, and therefore the implicit and explicit meaning of the policy focus. This change in language, from the positive role of education in the promotion of citizenship development and peace (for example through human rights education) to negative and even violent language about stopping radicalisation and extremism through preventative measures will undoubtedly have implications for the way member states approach educational policy on the matter in the months to come.

Another striking observation during the meeting, was the subtle removal of education for sustainable development from the first draft of this year’s policy recommendations. After years of debate within the group about the subject, for it to suddenly disappear from the agenda was striking. I was rapporteur for the thematic discussion on GCED, a platform which I also used to raise the concerns held by ESU and other groups such as open society foundations as to the lack of inclusion of education for sustainable development. Thankfully, it was reinstated in the final recommendations document, which can be found online here


Post author Beth Button (left) with Arleen Michelle, a representative from the European Federation of Intercultural Learning (EFIL)


Diversity in the Field: Masters Roundtable

EventCIRE Masters Dissertation Roundtable.  21 October 2016, 12.00 PM – 21 October 2016, 1.30 PM Room 1.20. 35 Berkeley Square, Clifton, Bristol BS8 1JA

At the recent CIRE Masters Dissertation Roundtable session, five Masters students exemplified the diversity found within the field of international and comparative education as they presented research submitted towards completion of their degrees. Representing five countries of origin (China, Dominican Republic, Malawi, the United Kingdom, and the United States), varying research methods (including desk studies, interviews, and action research), and even styles of presentation, they delivered their work to an audience of classmates and current postgraduate students, and faculty from CIRE and the Graduate School of Education. Despite this diversity, the speakers were bound by a common theme that each mentioned as an influence in their work, the advice of CIRE Professor Michael Crossley: “Context matters.”


Here, current Masters student Hannah Walsh  presents her reactions and commentary on the presentations.

The recent Masters Dissertation Roundtable event gave current students an engaging insight into the range and scope of research projects undertaken by last year’s cohort of students.

I was particularly interested by Betty Wisiki’s presentation on her research: ‘An exploratory analysis of the experiences of Deaf students in accessing higher education in UK universities.’

As a part-time Masters student, I am also working this year to coordinate a new outreach project, Bristol Classics Hub, for the Classics Department at the University of Bristol. This hub is designed to support state schools in introducing and developing their provision of classical subjects. A particular focus of my work on this project is to encourage the growth of Classics in state schools which have a high proportion of students from low socio-economic groups.

Betty’s discussion of the issues facing deaf students in higher education was therefore both challenging and surprising, in that it highlighted the extent to which deaf students are often underrepresented in the WP agenda. Her presentation has prompted me to consider how the outreach project that I am working on could provide more targeted and specific support to deaf or disabled students who may wish to access classical subjects.


Bowen, Laura, and Felipe pictured during the question panel.

The five speakers featured at the event included:

Bowen Xu: Globalisation and its impact on Chinese Higher Education Development: Opportunities, Challenges and Dilemmas.

Betty Wisiki: An exploratory analysis of the experiences of Deaf students in accessing higher education in UK universities.

Felipe Hernandez: An exploratory study on the “I am Me: Strong, Capable, and Peaceful” Summer Program: A pilot intervention program designed to strengthen self-esteem and perceived efficacy.

Laura Hankin: PREVENTing Critical Thinking: A study into the impact of the statutory Prevent duty 2015 on the development of critical thinking in young people in schools in England.

Nidia Aviles Nunez: Bridging the educational achievement gap in public school students of the Dominican Republic.

If you would like to contact the researchers individually, please contact Jane Nebe, CIRE Research Assistant.