Professor Tejendra Pherali was conferred to the Fellowship of the Academy in autumn 2023. He is Professor of Education, Conflict and Peace at University College London and over the past 15 years, his research has been instrumental in shaping educational debates in conflict-affected contexts and promoting access to quality learning for children and young people in contexts of violent conflicts and refugee situations.
Having lived through the Maoist insurgency (1996–2006) in his native Nepal and observed the adverse effects of civil war on schools, students, teachers and educational communities, Tejendra developed research interests in understanding complex interactions between education, conflict and peace. Now, an internationally acclaimed scholar, he examines the relationships between diverse social identities (e.g. ethnicity, religion, caste, gender, refugee and social class) and educational access and outcomes in low-income contexts to understand the ways educational grievances fuel social exclusion and violent conflicts.
Tejendra’s research and educational partnerships in Nepal, Somalia, Jordan, Lebanon and Thailand/ Myanmar have assisted educational practitioners, academics and researchers to develop new approaches to educational delivery and promote education’s role in peacebuilding and social transformation.
He established a peer-reviewed, open-access journal, Education and Conflict Review, with the view of making knowledge in the field freely available to those in conflict-affected contexts, and developed and leads an MA programme on Conflict, Emergencies and Peace at UCL. He is the Chair of the British Association of International and Comparative Education (BAICE) and Compare Editorial Board and has been a visiting professor at Kobe University, Japan (2015–date) and Chulalongkorn University, Thailand (2018–2019); and was the President of the Society of Nepalese Professionals UK (2016–2018). He also serves on the Executive Committee of the World Council of Comparative Education Society (WCCES) (2020–date) and the Britain-Nepal Academic Council.
Why do the social sciences matter?
Human wellbeing is at the centre of the social sciences debate. The social sciences help us understand how societies interact with the environment, technologies, and knowledge systems differently, at different times and in different spaces. Most importantly, the social sciences provide insights and a critical gaze on ethical, moral and legal responsibilities, helping us make informed decisions in areas such as politics, economics and public policy.
By studying and addressing the most pressing issues such as poverty, inequality, healthcare, education and social justice, the social sciences safeguard human wellbeing by promoting imaginations of alternative futures. The value of the social sciences has never been more important as humanity faces the harmful effects of the climate crisis and biodiversity breakdown, the rise of violent conflicts, and large-scale refugee crises. The social sciences matter the most today in finding solutions to these global problems.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
As an academic researching and teaching about the role of education in promoting peace and social transformation, I really enjoy working with an international body of postgraduate students who believe in the possibility of an alternative world order that could work for the most disenfranchised populations across the globe.
While working with education communities including teachers, researchers and educational practitioners in contexts of mass displacement, I have found them to be filled with enormous hope and trust for a better future despite having endured the debilitating effects of war, forced displacement, and hostilities in host communities. It is a privilege to be part of their struggle for human rights, peace and safe return to their country of origin. Most importantly, I have learnt the value of social movements for social justice while working with grassroots communities who are deeply connected to their land, ecology, history and epistemic traditions.
What is the most urgent issue social scientists need to tackle today and within the next three years?
I believe social scientists must prioritise what I think are the most pressing interconnected social challenges that humanity faces today. Firstly, it is vital that social scientists unite to produce research knowledge and campaign, as public intellectuals, to encourage governments to take concrete and bold measures to tackle the climate crisis.
Secondly, social scientists should collaborate more to strengthen multidisciplinary research approaches to understand violent conflicts that threaten democracy, human wellbeing and global prosperity.
Thirdly, it must be recognised that the market-based economic models, hinged upon natural resource extraction, have been detrimental to the environment, threatening the lives of most indigenous peoples and exacerbating global inequalities.
Finally, the rapid growth of artificial intelligence will likely have serious repercussions for human interactions and ways of life, fuelling power imbalances through access to knowledge and resource mobilisation. Social scientists must be well prepared to safeguard democracy, human values and interests of the peoples who are at the margins of social, economic and political structures.
What does being a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences mean to you?
I am honoured to be elected to the Fellowship of the Academy of Social Sciences, recognising the work I do in the field of education, conflict and peace. I am really looking forward to engaging with the work of the Academy and to collaborating with other Fellows from diverse fields of the social sciences to advocate for the crucial role social science plays in tackling global challenges.