Education as a tool for building sustainable peace

Children in conflicts, Education in emergencies, Theirworld

A Yemeni girl walks past soldiers on her way to school during the conflict Picture: Human Rights Watch


In his “Agenda for Humanity” vision for the first ever World Humanitarian Summit, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon set forth five core responsibilities of global leaders to end human suffering and recognise our common humanity.

It is clear that we can achieve none of the five core responsibilities without education – but for now let’s focus on education’s impact on just one. Core responsibility number one is to “Prevent and End Conflict.”

A World at School has been joined by a number of leading education organisations in recent months in highlighting the ways in which the right to education is threatened during emergencies, conflicts and protracted crises.

Education is one of the first things sacrificed in an emergency – it is under-prioritised and under-funded. In 2015 alone, 80 million children and adolescents had their education disrupted due to crises and disasters, yet only 1.4% of all humanitarian aid went to education.

Another side of the coin, however, reveals that education is not merely another casualty of emergencies but has the potential to be a very powerful tool for building sustainable peace and preventing future violence.

Last week, the World Bank, the Global Partnership for Education and the UNICEF #Learningforpeace programme hosted a two-day event in Washington, DC, to discuss the role of education in peacebuilding and social cohesion.

Again and again, researchers, academics, practitioners and policymakers stood up and shared different strains of strong evidence, all pointing to one thing: education can play a key role in building lasting peace by addressing the underlying causes of conflict.

A call was echoed throughout the two-day event to recognise that education does not only consist of learning outcomes — writing, reading, mathematics, etc — it is also “the way we transmit coping mechanisms to the younger generations”.

The way education engages or fails to engage, replicates or transforms, the underlying roots of conflict will have an enormous impact on the prospects for sustainable peace in societies affected by violent conflict.

Syrian refugees at school in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon Picture: Adam Petterson Panos/DFID

At the closing of the event, Michael Lopuke, Under Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology of the Republic of South Sudan, reflected on his own experiences growing up in war-torn Sudan, where he “was born just a few months before the signing of the peace and before [he] went to school another war had started in [his] country.”

Mr Lopuke beautifully summarised the role education plays in either enhancing and solidifying or undermining the peacebuilding process.

He said: “Education is not just about reading, writing and academic achievement. In crisis-affected situations, education is the way in which a child, a community and teachers are able to transmit the coping mechanisms in which that child will be able to respond in the face of events that threaten peace or her own life, and therefore, I see it as a very important means through which we can create peace and be able to transform the community and the society.”

Syria presents another potent example. As the refugee crisis in Europe continues to grab headlines, policymakers, politicians and humanitarian actors, while seeking solutions to the current state of chaos, continue to point to an end to the violence in Syria through a peace deal as the real solution.

History and research tells us, however, that even if a peace deal were reached – which looks nowhere in sight – if the underlying causes of the conflict are not addressed in a positive way violence is likely to recur before too long.

Crucial to that response is the inclusion of the younger generations who can be engaged in the peace and reconciliation process through education.

While ending the violence immediately is key to the Syria response now, a real solution has to involve the building of long-term sustainable peace which cannot be achieved while nearly three million Syrian children and youth – the most essential population to rebuilding Syria and determining Syria’s future path toward either peace or recurring violence – are out of school.

To truly have a sustainable peace, education cannot be omitted from the conversation.

Follow the continuing conversation tomorrow, April 15, as the World Bank convenes a discussion on forced displacement and development for peace, with #dev4peace.

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