Ford Research Finds Diverse Friendships Promote Interethnic Trust in Kenyan Schools | News | Department of Political Science

Kenya’s Basic Education Act 2013 increased the number of national schools and increased student body diversity quotas based on the Act’s guiding principles: the “promotion of peace, inclusiveness , cohesion, tolerance and inclusion” and the promotion of “the spirit and sense of patriotism, national identity, unity of purpose, unity and respect. This policy shift has allowed researchers from the Ford Program in Human Development and Solidarity at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies to explore the effects of increased diversity in the student body on certain principles of trust and tolerance.

What did they find? Increasing ethnic diversity in these schools makes a difference.

“Students in these national schools have more cross-ethnic and cross-religious friendships, and these friendships contribute to a more tolerant and confident student body that prioritizes a national identity,” says the lead researcher jaime bleckassociate professor of political science and senior research advisor for the Ford Program.

The research project, “Can Diversity in the Student Body Foster Interethnic Trust, Tolerance, and Patriotism?” The Role of Friendship in Kenya”, found that national school attendance, through the mediating factor of intergroup friendships, leads to higher levels of tolerance and self-reported trust towards other religious and ethnic groups and to a stronger sense of national identity versus local identity. Students in national schools have more diverse friendships than students in comparison schools (a difference of 18 percentage points).

“It’s important because Kenya tends to experience political violence after elections, and sometimes we have a very fragile peace,” said a Kenyan from Nairobi. Jackline Oluoch-Aridi, Our Lady International director and former manager of Ford’s regional research program who was a co-investigator and coordinated data collection for this project. “We have ethnic fault lines, and it’s a good nation-building initiative to bring diverse people together, because it doesn’t happen organically. Nothing does it better than schools.

These findings also suggest that schools may be an ideal environment to further explore the contact hypothesis, a theory originating in the 1950s that prejudice toward outgroups can be under the following ideal conditions: equal status, intergroup cooperation, common goals, support from the authorities and opportunity for friendship. These conditions are inherent in many educational environments.

The study looked at 10 national schools with diversity quotas and 10 comparison schools without diversity quotas in five counties (Marsabit, Trans Nzoia, Homa Bay, Kericho, Tana River), with a total population of 986 students participating in investigation. The Kenyan Ministry of Education assigns students to these boarding schools using test scores. National school students represent three more ethnic groups and five more home counties than comparison school students. Forty-six percent of national school students come from counties that do not share a border with the school county, compared to only 13 percent of comparison school students.

Data collection in Kenyan schools is quite difficult, especially access to the best schools.

“The Ministry of Education restricts access, so you need to get special permission from them to search schools. It’s hard to get,” says Oluoch-Aridi. “We were very well placed. With the support of our partners – Dr. John Mugo of the Zizi Africa Foundation – we were able to conduct such a study. No such study has been done in secondary schools in Kenya.

In addition to the research paper, the team will prepare a brief that policy makers can refer to when making decisions.

“We hope this research will feed directly into the policy development of the Ministry of Education in Kenya,” said Danice Brown Guzmanassociate director of the Pulte Institute Evidence and Learning Division, who is also a co-investigator for this project and designed the survey. “And we’re excited to find more empirical evidence that people are able to reduce prejudice against other groups via the friendship mechanism.”

It was something included in the survey. “We asked Kenyan students to name their four best friends and then give some information about them,” Brown Guzmán explained. “So we were really able to isolate this friendship mechanism to find out if that was the pathway by which these students reduced their bias towards other students.”

Although the study delved into the issue of religious diversity, it focused more on ethnic diversity, which is a major driver of political conflict in the country.

The findings of this study are not only important for Kenya, but have global applications for secondary school policies in other contexts where inter-ethnic and religious conflict is present and where policies are needed for peacebuilding. and the resettlement of refugees.

“We know that schools are important in creating a cohesive and inclusive sense of community. The experiences young people have at school are crucial in extending their sense of empathy and togetherness beyond immediate family to people of different races, ethnicities and religious groups,” shared Rev. Robert Dowd, CSCvice president and associate provost for interdisciplinary initiatives at the University of Notre Dame, former director of the Ford program, who was the project’s principal investigator.

“This study not only helps us understand the ways in which secondary schools in Kenya promote such a sense of community, but also helps us to conceive of how schools in other parts of the world, where national community ties seem to be unraveling, could serve to break down prejudices and promote a sense of cohesive and inclusive national community.”