High Hopes, Grim Reality
Reintegration and the education of former child soldiers in Sierra Leone
A number of studies have explored aspects of education relating to the reintegration of former child soldiers into their communities. In particular, researchers have shown the negative effects of child soldiering on the educational and economic outcomes of former child soldiers. The complexity of providing education to former child soldiers in Sierra Leone and the potential challenges that may be associated with their return to school remain unexplored in the research. This study aims to fill this gap and presents the perspectives of former child soldiers in Sierra Leone, their caregivers, and community members speaking to the role of education in their psychosocial adjustment and community reintegration following the end of the civil war.
In this article we first examine the state of the Sierra Leonean educational system before and after the war and its role in the reintegration of former child soldiers. Next, we present the perspectives of former child soldiers, their caregivers, and community members on the role of education in reintegrating former child soldiers into society. We also examine the barriers they described in accessing educational and other training opportunities and in achieving their future goals.
The data presented here represent one segment of a large mixed-methods research study on the psychosocial adjustment of former child soldiers in Sierra Leone begun by the first author in collaboration with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in 2002. Data were collected in 2002 and again in 2003–4, with a third wave of data collection launched in April 2008. In 2003–4, follow up surveys were collected with 60 percent of the original sample. In addition to survey data, individual interviews were conducted with 31 key informants, and 10 focus group interviews were carried out involving 90 male and female participants. Respective caregivers available at the time of the child (key-informant) interviews were also interviewed. A total of 120 caregivers and community members in the Kono, Kenema, Bo, and Bombali districts also participated in focus groups.