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Between resistance and oppression.

The struggles of teaching under the influence of autocratic regimes: A qualitative study in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Education for peace-building and history teaching for conflict transformation have received increased attention from both international organisations and scholars. Numerous researchers examine teachers’ contribution to peace-building in (post-)conflict societies. However, little attention has been payed to how autocratic regimes that govern post-conflict societies intervene in the education system. The active role of teachers in coping with the oppressive presence of autocratic governments while trying to teach their students about social cohesion has been neglected in international research.


This master’s thesis research project aims to address this gap by investigating how Ethiopian teachers cope with the Ethiopian government’s oppressive political intervention in the education sector. For this purpose, a qualitative study that includes semi-structured interviews, focus group discussions and classroom observations with 80 educational stakeholders was carried out in Addis Ababa in autumn 2018. The results reveal that Ethiopia’s ruling party intervenes in the school education sector through the following means: Installing efficient systems of surveillance to identify political opponents; coercively cracking down any form of political dissent; tabooing all topics that could lead to government criticism and politicising teaching material. Teachers who include critical discussion on history and democracy in their lesson were imprisoned, suspended from schools, and attacked by educational administrators and school principals. Comprehensive teaching about Ethiopia’s history concerning ethnic conflict and democracy was aggravated by ethnically and politically biased teaching material. Because of the tabooing of conflict-related topics and the fear of attack, teachers faced immense challenges when engaging in critical dialogue with their students. Some teachers creatively overcame those limitations by complementing the 2 curriculum and carefully using examples and metaphors to promote critical reflections on the country’s past and present. However, was found that the government’s oppressive intervention in education creates a paralysing culture of fear in which history teachers have little space to promote the acceptance of ethnic and political diversity.


This research demonstrates the relevance of considering the structures that political regimes install in education when investigating the potential contribution of history teaching for conflict transformation and peace. It moreover shows that international organisations need to address those structures for implementing successful educational interventions.