Stephanie Simmons Zuilkowski honored for paper on child soldiers of Sierra Leone’s civil war

The Comparative and International Education Society has honored the Learning Systems Institute’s Dr. Stephanie Simmons Zuilkowski for outstanding scholarly writing that explores themes related to people of African descent.

CIES honoree Stephanie Simmons Zuilkowski: “Returning to school is one of the most powerful means of normalizing children’s lives after a conflict.”

The society gave Dr. Zuilkowski its Joyce Cain Award for Distinguished Research for her paper in the August 2014 edition of Comparative Education Review. Her paper examines the impact of two categories of post-war interventions on dropout among more than 500 boys and girls who fought in Sierra Leone’s civil war. More than 15,000 child soldiers were involved in the war, which divided the West African nation from 1991 to 2002.

“We found that social support and family financial support for education are far more powerful in preventing dropout than internationally funded programs such as the payment of school fees on behalf of former child combatants,” said Dr. Zuilkowski, who joined the Learning Systems Institute in 2013. She also holds an appointment in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies in FSU’s College of Education.

Dr. Zuilkowski said the findings are relevant to current conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa, including in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where thousands of children and youth are serving as armed combatants.

“Our data suggest that international organizations should find ways to support local means of reintegration rather than using more invasive interventions, such as processing children through lengthy programs in formal centers for rehabilitation and reintegration,” she said. “Returning to school is one of the most powerful means of normalizing children’s lives after a conflict, and failing to successfully reintegrate young people may have a destabilizing effect on countries in the long term.”

The Comparative and International Education Society’s Joyce Cain Award honors the memory of Joyce Lynn Cain of Michigan State University and her dedication to introducing individuals across ethnic boundaries to African culture.

The Joyce Cain Award is Dr. Zuilkowski’s second honor for publication excellence. Last year, the British Journal of Educational Psychology awarded her its Early Stage Career Research Prize for her paper on malaria prevention and school dropout in the Gambia, published in its September 2014 issue.