Between Conflict and Peace: Intergroup Relations and the Federal Unity Colleges in Nigeria
Schools have a position in society that could provide tools for students to move toward more positive intergroup relations and to shape their nation as desired. In this dissertation, I present an analysis of how and whether schools in Nigeria, particularly unity schools (FUCs), achieve this. Schools are a concentrated site for interactions among young people, yet research in the field of education and conflict settings is limited in its exploration of how schools facilitate intergroup relations that deter hostility and increase intergroup tolerance while shaping positive and peaceful social relations. To address this gap, this project explores tolerance levels, national identities, and social interactions among students in Federal Unity Colleges (FUCs) in Nigeria. The FUCs are secondary boarding schools utilizing a nationwide quota system to ensure an ethnically and religiously representative student body in Nigeria—a place with a history of instability, conflicts, and complex politically prominent group categorizations that overlap across ethnic, religious, regional, and socioeconomic lines.
This mixed methods longitudinal research was based on extensive fieldwork in 8 secondary schools (6 FUC and 2 State) over one academic year in Nigeria (2017-2018). The research includes a unique combination of methods:
- pre- and post- student surveys including data on social (friendship) networks with 643 students,
- pre- and post- interviews involving 47 students (group and individual),
- 17 teacher and 8 administrator interviews,
- 56 hours of classroom and school observations, and
- an analysis of curriculum and policy documents.
The findings indicate the following three points:
- Maintaining an illusion of unity only serves to reproduce existing social relations,
- Boarding schools have great potential for the reshaping of intergroup relations in areas of conflict and should be further utilized and explored, and
- Simply removing students from the conflict in a boarding school bubble is not sufficient.
Schools must use this unique position to have students view conflict, their identities, and one another from a different vantage point.The findings contribute to literature and theory related to education in conflict, peace and sustainable education, diversity, friendship networks, and school relationship to the nation.