Sierra Leone: child soldiers 10 years on

University vice-chancellor reveals the struggle to educate students who have been brutalised by civil war

March 14, 2013

Universities in Sierra Leone are playing a major role in reintegrating former child soldiers into society, a session at Going Global heard.

Jonas Redwood-Sawyerr, vice-chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone, said that educating ex-combatants was a “key challenge” for the country’s higher education system.

Professor Redwood-Sawyerr explained to Times Higher Education that dealing with the students’ volatile emotional state was more difficult than bringing them up to scratch academically.

He said that many of the 10,000 students at his institution, one of the country’s two public universities, had been combatants in the decade-long civil war that officially ended in 2002.

“After the war, these boys were so dangerous because they were almost like killing machines,” he said.

“You used to see 10-year-olds walking around with an RPG [rocket propelled grenade launcher] over their shoulder and some of these are the children who became students.”

Professor Redwood-Sawyerr said his academics were helping students to gain basic social skills, including peaceful ways of resolving disputes.

“They come from a culture of violence and intolerance, so we look at alternative ways to solve confrontation.

However, the strong focus on rehabilitating ex-child soldiers was controversial, Professor Redwood-Sawyerr added.

“We also have war victims - often amputees - who feel they are not cared for in the same way as former soldiers,” he said. “Ex-combatants have a fully fledged scheme to help them rehabilitate, so it’s a social debate on where the resources should go.”

However, he believed higher education should play a vital role in preventing future conflicts.

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