Can education be used to create peace? Can it help mend long standing issues in conflict afflicted regions? These questions don’t have easy answers, but we’ll jump into the debates surrounding them feet first.

My guests today, Mieke Lopes Cardozo and Ritesh Shah, have been studying education, social transformations, and peacebuilding for the past decade and have worked and written together since 2011. They find that education has the capacity for both positive and negative outcomes. Education can certainly help resolve conflict by creating community and giving voice to under-represented groups in society. However, education can also be used as tool by ruling elites as a way to maintain their grip on power, which may sow further divisions in society.

Think of it this way: imagine if a ruling party in a country decides to censor content from history textbooks that may question its power. Would that really create the conditions under which peace is possible? Or imagine if minority groups are purposefully excluded from school-based decisions. How can peace be sustainable if the structures of education systematically exclude certain people? These issues are not strange or reserved for “poor” or “developing” countries. In fact, the politics of education happens in every country.

With me to talk about peacebuilding and education are Mieke Lopes Cardozo and Ritesh Shah. Mieke is assistant professor in International Development Studies at the Institute of Social Science Research at the University of Amsterdam, and Ritesh is a Senior Lecturer of Comparative and International Education at the University of Auckland.

Rui da Silva joins me today to talk about his PhD research on Portuguese Aid to Guinea-Bissau. Rui is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Education, University of Minho. He is also a board member of the Centre of African Studies of the Oporto University.

Guinea Bissau is a small state in West Africa that was formally colonized by Portugal. Since independence in the 1970s, the country has experienced tremendous political instability. As such, the educational development that has been undertaken in the country has been precarious. On top of this, there are many colonial legacies that make educational provision difficult. For instance, although Portuguese is the official language and language of instruction in public schools, only a handful of people in the country actually speak it.

In our conversation, Rui details this history and the attempts at educational development by different organizations. He’s recently co-written articles on these topics that appear in the journals Compare and Globalisation, Societies and Education.


Over a hundred billion dollars are spent on international aid each year. Most aid providers undergo periodic evaluations to assess their support. Have their policies worked? What priorities have guided aid? And what practices have been effective?

With such large sums of money circulating in the evaluation process, an aid evaluation industry has emerged. Formal evaluations are undertaken by “experts” who are hired by companies that bid on evaluation contracts. Sometimes universities themselves bid on the same contracts. And professors navigate the tricky terrain of research-for-hire. Many of FreshEd’s listeners have likely participated in an evaluation of an aid project. I know I have.

My guest today, Professor Joel Samoff, thinks it’s long overdue to “re-think evaluations, from conception through method to use.”

Joel Samoff is Adjunct Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences at the Center for African Studies at Stanford University. He studies and teaches about development and underdevelopment, with a particular interest in education, and with a primary geographic focus on Africa. He has recently co-written a report for The Expert Group for Aid Studies entitled Capturing complexity and context: evaluating aid to education.

CORRECTIONS [January 31, 2017]: In the podcast, I state that there are “hundreds of billions of dollars” spent on aid each year. That number is likely exaggerated. A more accurate figure would be a hundred billion dollars (see here or here). Also, I misstated Joel Samoff’s title. Since Stanford University retired the title “Consulting Professor” in September 2016, his correct title should be “Adjunct Professor.” I’ve corrected the blog post accordingly and apologize for the mistakes in the podcast.

Citation: Samoff, Joel, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 58, podcast audio, January 30, 2017.

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The Global Partnership for Education is a powerful multi-stakeholder organization in educational development. It funnels millions of dollars to develop education systems in dozens of low-income countries. Yet the board of directors of the organization strategically avoids some of the most important and controversial topics in education today.

My guest today, Francine Menashy, has researched the Global Partnership for Education and the ways in which its board of directors avoids the topic of low-fee private schools, which is a heavily debated idea in both education policy and research.

Francine Menashy is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Leadership in Education at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She researches aid to education and non-state sector engagement, including the policies of international organizations, companies, and philanthropies.

Her research discussed in today’s show was funded through a fellowship with the National Academy of Education and the Spencer Foundation.

Citation:Menashy, Francine, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 33, podcast audio, July 21, 2016.

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