Social Pedagogues Set to Battle Inter-Ethnic Conflict in School

July 12, 2011


Children perform during the “Festival of Nations” celebrations.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure says the old adage. For a few days last June in Kyrgyzstan, the politics of inter-ethnic tensions flared up spilling out into the most underserved communities. Though the outbreaks of violence subsided within days, it was clear that tensions remained and were simmering just beneath the surface, waiting for any small incident to spark further violence.

While an unlikely source to respond to such tensions, in August 2010, the USAID-funded Quality Learning Project, or QLP, provided the swift action that the situation demanded.

Managed and implemented by Creative Associates, QLP addresses broad education reform by putting in place systems that will improve learning, teacher education, curricula and budget allocation. In the aftermath of last summer’s events, QLP launched an additional initiative to ensure that schools would provide a safe space for children to learn by training teachers, administrators and community leaders in conflict resolution. As such, QLP was the first organization to directly address the issues of ethnic conflict and violence in Kyrgyz schools during this critical period.

“Training sessions were designed and conducted at just the right time. Sessions covered in the training were practical and important. To me, the training content is like helping a person who is searching for water in the desert, or how to provide medical treatment when a patient is ill,” said Amangeldi Asanov, principal of Manas-1000 school.

To ensure buy-in of all ethnic groups in the troubled areas, thirty trainers working in three languages — Russian, Kyrgyz and Uzbek — trained 2,300 participants in 420 schools. Training sessions included exercises and materials that provided participants with the skills to help guide a school through the difficult process of bringing students and communities together after ethnic conflict. Participants were provided with information about child behaviour during and after crisis situations. The session also provided specific competencies for school and community leaders on how to assist students and parents after emergency situations, and techniques on how to deal with stress in communities and schools. Participants included school principals and deputies, social workers, inspectors for juvenile offenders, local committees for youth affairs, District Education Boards, parent committees and social counsellors.

One year later, QLP has continued its school normalization process by introducing social pedagogues into schools to support teachers, administrators and community leaders to increase their capacity to address issues related to violence. Social pedagogy literally means leading the child. It is a pedagogy that is comprehensive emphasizing community learning and individual development that help instill cooperation and builds on various elements of a child-centered education. As such, social pedagogy implies that the upbringing of children is not simply the responsibility of parents but a shared responsibility of school and community.

Working in close collaboration with the Kyrgyz Ministry of Education and Sports, QLP helps train social pedagogues to identify students at risk and to support the development of appropriate interventions. Also providing safe school environments helps boost the legitimacy of the current transitional government in that it shows they can deliver basic services such as education. Given that last June’s outbreaks occurred primarily in the south’s Jalalabad Oblast, much of the training of social pedagogues has been concentrated there and in the settlements around Bishkek where many from the south migrated after the conflict.

Guests sample various ethnic foods during the “Festival of Nations” activities.

While it’s too soon to measure the full impact of the introduction of social pedagogues into schools, there are a few indications that the intervention is helping to mitigate the fear and suspicion levelled at each group – Russian, Kyrgyz and Uzbek — by the other. In addition to working with children, social pedagogues are organizing activities to bring the various groups together. The principal of School #2 in Nooken District, Malika Abduvahapova who is also the school’s social pedagogue initiated a “Festival of Nations” in which students who are normally separated during activities according to their native language built teams across language and ethnic groups and united under the common slogan, “We are all together!”

Situated in one of the 45 new settlements on the outskirts of Bishkek, the Orok School caters to the children of internal migrants whose families make less than $21 monthly. Built to serve 396 children, the school now has a population of 845. Gulnaz Mokishova is the school’s social pedagogue and received training from QLP last September. Among her interventions has been to identify four siblings whose mother is unemployed and the father an alcoholic and who were unable to attend school due to lack of adequate clothing. Mokishova organized a charity event and raised $250 to provide clothing and food to the children, all of whom now attend school regularly.

“Thanks to USAID’s QLP, I learned clearly my responsibilities as social pedagogue. Before I was not sure about my direct responsibilities and did not know what to do exactly…Now, I do enjoy my work since I make kids happier.”

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