State, Society & Governance in Melanesia (4)

Mid-term Review: Teaching the violent past in Solomon Islands and Bougainville?
David Oakeshott
PhD candidate, SSGM
Australian National University

Monday 22 August, 2016
Lecture Theatre 2, Hedley Bull Centre (130),
corner of Garran Road and Liversidge Street, ANU
3:00 – 4:30pm

This seminar presents some initial findings from 10 months of PhD field research on the role of formal secondary education in the transitional justice processes of Solomon Islands and Bougainville. It has often been understood in the transitional justice literature that for a society to achieve sustainable peace it must change its relationship to its past. It can do this by telling a complete ‘truth’ about what happened, often through truth commissions and public memorials. And it has been argued recently that schooling can help. Thus the fieldwork at three secondary boarding schools in Solomon Islands, and two in Bougainville, focused on ways schools help create or even alter the memories circulating in Solomon Islands and Bougainville about their violent pasts. Data was gathered through qualitative interviews and participant observation with teachers and students at these schools. Interviews with representatives from government and civil society involved in the education system were also conducted.

In the main, participants in both Solomon Islands and Bougainville consistently expressed considerable trepidation about sharing – and even hearing – stories about their recent conflicts. Reasons for this varied between Solomon Islands and Bougainville, and between different regions of each case, and will be discussed in the seminar. Nevertheless some of the data collected suggest that schools may be places that serve to challenge existing ideas some students and teachers hold about the Solomon Islands ‘Tension’ and Bougainville Crisis. Notably this happens less as part of the formal curriculum than in the course of everyday life at school as students and teachers learn to live together. Preliminary thoughts on the implications of these findings for the progress of the thesis, and indeed the role of education in transitional justice, will be discussed.

David Oakeshott is a PhD candidate in SSGM. His research concerns how the post-conflict societies of Solomon Islands and Bougainville are reconciling with their violent pasts, with a particular emphasis on the contribution of post-conflict education reform to that process. Email: David.Oakeshott@anu.edu.au.

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