When Education Mitigates the Negative Effects of Violent Conflict on Youth
Violent conflict presents one of the greatest threats to human development. Nearly half of the more than 1.4 billion population living in fragile and conflict affected states are below the age of 20. This blog post explores recent reports that indicate that equitable and relevant education is one critical way to build young people's capacities and strengthen social cohesion to mitigate the negative effects of violent conflict on young women and men’s lives.
To support the dissemination of these reports and insights around education for peacebuilding, the USAID Education in Crisis and Conflict Network (ECCN) has partnered with UNICEF’s Peacebuilding, Education, and Advocacy Programme (PEBEA or Learning for Peace); the findings from dozens of countries can be found here.
These reports are complemented by insights from other successful program models, for instance the ones by Search for Common Ground (Search), which recently facilitated a webcast with the Washington Network on Children & Armed Conflict to discuss the findings. The takeaways of that discussion are covered below.
Empirical Insights and Findings from Education for Peacebuilding Programs and Studies
- UNICEF’s Learning for Peace programme supported interventions in 14 countries mainly in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Key results from these interventions include strengthened social cohesion (both vertical and horizontal) and strengthened individual capacities, according to their final program report.
- Another study conducted under the program, led by the University of Amsterdam,  sheds light on youth agency and the role of formal and non-formal education in peacebuilding in Pakistan, Myanmar, South Africa, and Uganda. Youth in these countries express widespread disillusion and disaffection with formal education, which, in part, contributes to a lack of participation.
- The PBEA report and research study both conclude that including youth voices in policy and programming is imperative to avoid this disconnect and to ensure that post-conflict societies, education systems, and programs respond to the needs of youth. The reports also examine the role education can play in mitigating conflict, and the need to understand, and frame, youth in more nuanced ways to better reflect the many dimensions of a large, heterogeneous population. One important takeaway that echoed throughout the literature and research is that education is not a panacea for peace. If education initiatives are not included in more robust peacebuilding processes, they can cause harm through reproducing existing or new inequalities and tensions in divided societies.
The reports were released roughly one year after the passage of United Nations Security Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace, and Security, which urges Member States “to support, as appropriate, quality education for peace that equips youth with the ability to engage constructively in civic structures and inclusive political processes” and “to consider instituting mechanisms to promote a culture of peace, tolerance, intercultural, and inter-religious dialogue that involve youth.” The resolution presents a framework for the international community and governments to acknowledge, invest, and engage its youth populations, especially in fragile or conflict settings, as an urgent democratic opportunity.
Two successful models of education for peacebuilding are Search for Common Ground’s Mozaik and Rainbow of Hope programs, in Macedonia and Lebanon, respectively. Search’s Mozaik interethnic, bilingual pre-school program has been active since 1998 in Macedonia, and became institutionalized as part of the national education system in 2012. The success of this program is rooted in its bilingual and child-centered approach, which allows for children to collaborate and communicate at young ages to build trust across ethnicities. Similar results have also been found at Rainbow of Hope, an after-school program in Lebanon that brings together Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian children through English language classes, sports, and arts activities. Both programs show the transformative power that education programs have on an individual and communal level. By creating space to explore the “other,” children, teachers, and parents challenge stereotypes and build friendships that continue beyond the program.
Key Lessons and Recommendations for Implementing and Investing in Education for Peacebuilding Programs
Discussion among researchers, experts, and practitioners behind these programs and studies at the Washington Network on Children and Armed Conflict webcast on January 31 revealed a number of key lessons and recommendations for implementing and investing in education for peacebuilding:
- Comprehensive and Ongoing Conflict Analysis - Conflicts are contextual and multi-layered. As the PBEA findings show, it is beneficial to perform a broader conflict analysis that is inclusive of the political, economic, and social climate as well as youth’s experiences and opinions to reveal and address the root causes of conflict.
- Holistic Approach - Practitioners should design programs to strengthen vertical social cohesion between the state and its people, horizontal social cohesion to build positive relationships between groups, and individual capacity to leverage youth agency in terms of economic empowerment, political representation, socio-cultural recognition and reconciliation. It is also important to work through formal and non-formal channels to simultaneously institutionalize programs and build transformative resilience for peace and social ties.
- Qualitative Research and Participatory Methods - Youth identities are diverse, making it crucial to incorporate youth’s voices into programming. Using methods that bring youth’s experiences to the forefront allow for increased representation, empowerment, and agency.
- Education Can Do Harm - Education is not a panacea. When implemented narrowly, education can harm rather than improve relationships. Practitioners should integrate education programs into broader peacebuilding initiatives, to ensure they transform existing injustices.
- Teacher and Parent Support - Programs should adequately compensate and properly train teachers in conflict resolution skills as well as provide them with psychosocial support. In addition, programs need to include spaces for parent engagement and learning through opportunities like parents' councils or parent meetings, ensuring meaningful representation of marginalized parental voices in such bodies.
To listen to a recording of the discussion hosted by the Washington Network on Children and Armed Conflict, click here.
The Washington Network on Children and Armed Conflict (WNCAC) is an informal network initiated in July 2004 by Search for Common Ground and the Displaced Children and Orphans Fund of USAID with the broad aim of improving the protection of children affected by armed conflict. Topics addressed include child protection, education, psychosocial interventions in emergencies, child soldiers, separated children, humanitarian relief, post-conflict development, conflict resolution, and peacebuilding.
If you have additional insights, reports, or other comments related to this blog post, we’d love to hear from you in the commenting box below.
 In collaboration with the University of Ulster and the University of Sussex, and research teams in the four countries.