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Education Demands and Benefits in Fragile States

Mar 09, 2016, by Elizabeth Boten
Tags: Education

By Asmaa Abumezied, Internet2 research fellow and Atlas Corps fellow

“There is a lost generation growing up now. We need to invest in education and jobs.” Ali Sindi, Minister of Planning- Kurdistan Regional government, shared this at the World Bank Group Fragility, Conflict and Violence Forum 2016. As a research fellow at Internet2, and an Atlas Corps fellow, researching the impact of education and technology on economies, I was pleased to have the opportunity to attend this event. 

The Forum was hosted at a time where many universities and educational institutions are trying to help empowering children and refugees in conflict affected states. The Forum took place in Washington, DC; March 1-3, and addressed the widespread conflict around the globe and ways of overcoming the resulting challenges. 

Education provides access to opportunities for people in conflict areas that could change their lives. Although education was mentioned by panelist during the Forum in different session; only only session “The role of Education in Conflict Affected Contexts” deeply discussed education. During the session, academic and practitioners discussed and explored education as a healing tool, as well as the new education demands on the development community faced by conflict affected countries 

Education as a healing tool:

Education is where an individual experiences life and shape one’s opinions, attitudes and knowledge. It can be a stabilizing factor in a person’s life. As a person who grow up in conflict area, and now as a Fellow working at Internet2, the main question to reflect on was “how we can extend the power of education and its stability power over an area of conflict?”

Here are highlights of the session on how education can be used as a healing tool:  

At the Forum, Mieke Lopes Cardozo shared a study exploring the role of education in sustainable peace building. It investigated the impact of youth agency and the provision of a space that extend beyond offering economic opportunities to social and political awareness as well as cultural identity. Through such agency education provides voice and position of youth. However, to effectively tap into these opportunities implicit and explicit education polices addressing peacebuilding as well as reform for formal education are needed. For example, in Somalia, youth participated and engaged in the development of school curriculum. 

Inequity is a serious concern in conflict areas; and education needs to tackle it when assuming its role in social change. Also, addressing legacies of conflict is fundamental even after the conflict ends. In the case of South Africa, schools are still separated, even after the apartheid ended, as a result of class, lack of income and legacies of the past. The isolation of the education from the current circumstances of the country can only increase social segregation and issues of national unity as well as cultural conflict. Therefore, education needs to include policies of social cohesion, good governance and reconciliation policies, as stated by Simon Datzberger, from UNESCO Center, Ulster University. 

Joel Reyes, Senior Institutional Development Specialist at the World Bank, talked about how vital “school climate” is for developing individual identity, recognition of religion, ethnicity and gender. A positive climate can be supported by teachers who, as stated by Yusuf Sayed, “have significant leadership roles in marginalized communities.” Teachers salaries account for 75% of the education budget, yet maximizing the return on teachers remains a challenge for the impact teachers have on students’ lives is difficult to quantify. State policy and capacity building to enable teacher agency for social cohesion and peacebuilding is a necessity especially in teacher professional development (Yusuf Sayed, Professor at University of Sussex).

New Education Demands: 

"The new education demands faced by countries affected by violence and conflict encompass bridging the divide between humanitarian and education response," said Nina Papadopoulos, Team Lead Access in Crisis & Conflict at USAID. Furthermore, there is a pressing need to develop creative solutions that are achievable and effective in complicated setting such as “protracted conflict areas” or “active conflict”. Safety is a significant concern especially with the attack on schools and biased curriculum; a concern which should be highlighted in the developed solutions. Joel Reyes said “people don’t need access to education only, but also protection”

Developmental agencies should be aware that “one size-fit-alone” and the “dominance of global paradigm”, as expressed by Karen Mundy, are unsuitable for conflict areas. Any approach has to be flexible to adapt to the local context. Having a realistic education sector planning with operational framework, accelerated financing and transitional education helps in developing flexible education. 

Education funding to provide quality education is one of the most persistent demands. The absence of quality education has been linked with violence, service inequality, youth unemployment and thus vulnerability to radicalization especially in Uganda and Keya. If education is not preparing people for work and being active in their communities, as expressed by Patrick Vinck, grievance would be the result.   In the study exploring the role of education in sustainable peace building, shared by Mieke Lopes Cardozo, they found that there is heavy investment in economic and political aspects yet little is invested in understanding the role of education in peacebuilding in fragile state. 

Although there are calls for education to create solutions, as stated by Nina Papadopoulos, youth expressed high degrees of negative experience with formal education. As most of the interventions assumes stability, the current model of education delivery fails to influence youth positively. Additionally, youth has to be considered an integrated part of the solutions created by education. Mieke Lopes Cardozo highlighted the impact on youth agency, positioning youth and giving them voice, on peace building. The concept of youth agency “is collective”, she said, where it extends beyond economical one to social awareness and cultural identity. 

The session highlighted through academic work and practical experience how education can be pivotal for peacebuilding in conflict states. Consequently, rebuilding trust between state, education and individual is valuable and various studies are needed to learn how this can be done; looking at the correlation of violence, peacebuilding and their interaction with education. Within the global Internet2 community, members can assist in the humanitarian crisis; by advancing research in these areas, greatly benefiting developmental agencies as well as refugees and children.

A view of a session from the World Bank Group Fragility, Conflict and Violence Forum 2016