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Schools can be a breeding ground for conflict

Education is not merely about imparting knowledge; it’s also about shaping attitudes, fostering understanding and equipping individuals with essential life skills

Schools can be a breeding ground for conflict

Formal education at school plays a pivotal role in shaping individuals’ perspectives and behaviors. These initial perspectives serve as the foundation upon which subsequent views and actions are constructed throughout one’s life. Consequently, school education leaves a substantial and lasting impact on individuals. Therefore, school actors must remain highly vigilant in overseeing every event and activity within the school environment. This vigilance is essential because each event can have a profound and enduring impact on individuals’ lives.

In July 2002, Transparency International issued a report highlighting that teachers had become primary targets for both the Maoist rebels and the security forces in Nepal. This situation is particularly noteworthy in a society where teachers hold an esteemed status; they, revered as god and goddess, are also equated as parents of the students.  These unique cultural contextual ties naturally prompt us to ponder as to why teachers found themselves specifically singled out during the insurgency period.

Several factors could be behind this targeting, but many education experts now argue that the school education practices during that time, and even now, lack sensitivity toward conflicts that could take root in the formative years of children; the teaching methods and strategies employed were insufficiently attuned to the potential generation of conflicts; students from diverse backgrounds, including differences in learning capacities, cultural heritage, ethnicity, and caste, often did not receive the sensitive treatment they needed within the school environment. Additionally, these students often faced bullying and harassment. Corporal punishment of students was commonly accepted and practiced. As a result, certain binary oppositions were instilled in the young minds of students, such as males versus females, the rich versus the poor, Dalit versus non-Dalits, ethnic versus non-ethnic people, and Pahade versus Madhesi, among others. These binaries left negative imprints on young minds, fostering a readiness to oppose those on binary oppositions. Corporal punishment might have also contributed in building a deep-seated anguish and agony in students toward the teachers, and/or others opposed to their views. When these individuals became embroiled in conflicts, they subconsciously targeted their perceived adversaries as a form of retribution. If one were to endorse this perspective, it is disheartening to observe that no meaningful actions have been taken to date to introduce conflict-sensitive education or implement conflict-sensitive teaching strategies at the school level education.

Certain common school education practices inadvertently contribute to the development of a conflict-prone mindset and behaviors within the school environment. For instance, many schools form separate teams based on gender, creating a division between girls and boys. Some historical events, which are celebrated for their bravery and glory, are often presented in the class, in a way that (that) emphasizes the cast or ethnicity of the individuals involved. In the same strain, some specific qualities are assumed/attributed to the students readily in the class in terms of their ethnic, social and linguistic backgrounds while conducting various teaching-learning activities. But these practices only serve to perpetuate disparities and divisions among students from various backgrounds, including different castes, ethnicities, gender, geographical locations, and socioeconomic and cultural groups providing a fertile ground for the germination of a conflict-prone mindset. 

The competitive teaching approach is usually practiced among students at schools to motivate learning and achievements at the cost of collaboration and teamwork. Instead of learning together, in a competitive teaching approach students may view their peers as rivals, which can hinder a cooperative environment. The fear of failure or falling behind their peers can have detrimental effects on mental health and overall well-being of students. Intense competition can lead to increased stress and anxiety among students. Competitive teaching can exacerbate inequalities among students. Students from privileged backgrounds or with access to additional resources may have an advantage, while others may struggle to keep up. As a result, a highly competitive classroom environment can strain teacher-student relationships, as teachers may be perceived as judges or enforcers of competition rather than facilitators of learning. It, then, unintentionally, results in developing conflict-prone mindsets in students.  

Other prevalent teaching methods often center around competition, fostering a sense of rivalry among students. Competition establishes a hierarchy where excellent performers inhabit a higher pedestal, receiving preferential treatment and higher rankings, while those lagging behind land lower positions. This again unintentionally creates a division between high and low achievers, potentially leading to a conflict-prone atmosphere. There is no universally perfect teaching method that guarantees the creation of an inclusive environment and equal learning outcomes. However, one can exhibit sensitivity in choosing a teaching approach that maximizes learning opportunity for everyone. This, in turn, reduces the likelihood of creating conflicting situations and minimizes the risks associated with a divisive learning environment.

Education is not merely about imparting knowledge; it’s also about shaping attitudes, fostering understanding and equipping individuals with essential life skills. In today’s interconnected and diverse world, the ability to navigate conflicts effectively and with sensitivity is a crucial skill. Teaching methods that promote conflict sensitivity is of paramount importance.  Summing up, selection of conflict-sensitive teaching strategies is essential for nurturing well-rounded individuals, who possess the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to thrive in an increasingly diverse and complex world. By promoting empathy, critical thinking, effective communication and conflict resolution skills, these strategies play a pivotal role in shaping a more peaceful, inclusive and just society. Educators, policymakers and institutions have a collective responsibility to prioritize the incorporation of conflict-sensitive teaching strategies into educational curricula to prepare students for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. Teachers should also receive training in conflict-sensitive education methods and practices to better understand and address the potential sources of conflict that may grip young minds.