Conceptualising inclusive education for conflict affected children in one school in Kenya: implications for leadership and inclusive practices
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Violent conflicts related to tribal-political differences have characterised the Kenyan society since the declaration of multi-party democracy in 1991. The 2007/8 post-election violence (PEV) in particular resulted in the displacement of many Kenyans. Scattering of families saw some children losing months or years of schooling with others permanently excluded from education, while the participation and achievement of those arriving in school was characterised by complex needs and experiences. This PhD study explored pupil and teacher perceptions of the learning and development needs of conflict-affected children in one primary school in Kenya. In particular, this study sought to understand how school leadership practice was developed and leadership roles negotiated, in order to meet pupils’ needs and develop an inclusive ethos. The study addressed the connection between leadership, inclusion and post-conflict education. A single intrinsic case study with aspects of ethnography was undertaken adopting an interpretive approach. Sixteen pupils (9–12 year-olds) shared their views of their learning and development needs through two activities. The headteacher, deputy, senior teacher and six teachers were interviewed (n=9) and asked to reflect on the challenges they experienced in addressing pupils’ needs. Their perceptions of the roles for school leadership were sought, and observations of their everyday practices were conducted in classrooms, assemblies and school ceremonies. Data from these interviews, observations, texts-on-walls, and pupils’ activities were thematically analysed. The participants identified the following as pupils’ learning and development needs: access to, acceptance in, and predictability of their new school; ‘peer-connectedness’, social development, and social inclusion. Children emerged as active agents in their own education, combating adversity through supportive peer relationships. Eurocentric and African perspectives on leadership, and Davies’ (2004) work on education and post-conflict reconstruction were particularly useful in making-sense of how leadership unfolded in practice. Three areas of educational reconstruction in particular were identified as significantly underpinning leadership roles: i) reconstruction of leadership structures allowed shared leadership which facilitated the meeting of pupils’ needs at different levels; ii) reconstruction of relationships targeted repairing children’s emotional, social and moral distortion, and iii) reconstruction of learning cultures encouraged collaborative learning initiatives that improved academic standards. The study found that the connection between school leadership and inclusion in post-conflict schools can be understood along three themes. The first is ‘post-conflict conflict’. I have used this term to reflect that the cessation of overt tribal violence, coupled with movement of pupils into this new settlement ushered in a new phase of conflict for pupils, teachers, schools and their communities. Schooling was characterised by poverty, fragmented/mobile families, distorted social values associated with post-election atrocities, alongside, structural barriers linked to government and sponsor-related needs. Second, ‘connectedness’: while societal fragmentation produced divisions, fear and suspicion of ‘others’, reversing the situation required school leadership to foster social connectedness. Finally, ‘Africanised school leadership’: fostering connectedness required enlisting communal responsibility and mutuality in undertaking emerging roles, thus, employing aspects of local indigenous heritage. The study contributes to knowledge in the emerging field of educational leadership in post-conflict settings (Clarke and O’Donoghue, 2013) whilst addressing the less investigated connection between teachers, leadership and inclusive education (Edmund and Macmillan, 2010), particularly in post-conflict circumstances. The research is timely in informing leadership programs that the government of Kenya is advancing e.g. in decentralising decision-making (MOE, 2012b/c) and, re-alignment to its obligations in the IDP Protocol of the Great Lakes Pact (Kigozi, 2014). Recommendations are made for policy, practice and further research. The conclusion to my study argues for a reconceptualisation of school leadership practice beyond single-leader paradigms, whilst revisiting prioritisation of roles for school leadership, especially, towards fostering inclusiveness in the conflict-prone Kenyan society.