Why education is vital in the process of building peace

A World at School, Children in conflicts, Education in emergencies

A Yemeni boy a boy stands on piece of exploded artillery shell near his home in Al Mahjar Picture: UNICEF

Conflict and insecurity are the dominant development challenges of our time – challenges that are inextricably linked to poverty.

Between 2005 and 2011, countries that experienced major violence had poverty rates 21% higher than those countries with no violence on average.

The social consequences of this conflict are shocking, particularly for children.

Those living in fragile and conflict-affected areas are more than twice as likely to be malnourished, more than three times as likely to be out of school, and more than twice as likely to die before age five. Of all child deaths, half occur in conflict-affected areas.

Sadly, the magnitude and intensity of this challenge is growing. The number of persons forcibly displaced is the largest since World War II, averaging 42,500 per day, a four-fold increase in four years.

One in 10 children globally – 230 million – now live in areas affected by armed conflict. Discouraging headlines from Syria, the Central African Republic, Yemen and countless other countries in conflict remind us of their plight daily.

Children from the Central African Republic at a refugee camp in Cameroon Picture: OCHA/Ivo Brandau

In the education community, we tend to frame this increasing conflict as an interrupter of education. While this is certainly true, with devastating and compounding consequences, less is said about the important peace-building role education can play in preventing conflict in the first place.

Education serves as the foundation for the development of a peaceful society – a secondary enrollment rate 10% higher than average reduces the risk of war by 3%.

In no small part, this is due to the role education plays in leveling the field, economically, politically and geographically, reducing inequality between groups.

A growing body of research led by FHI360 and UNICEF is shining light on this intimate relationship between education, inequality and conflict, finding that the likelihood of violent conflict doubles for countries with high levels of intergroup inequality in education – holding true even when wealth, political regime and geography are controlled.

While preventing conflict is certainly a complex issue with many moving parts, if we frame potential solutions by isolating its roots, there are obvious answers.

The relation between education inequality and conflict is clear. Not only does equality in education create significantly more peaceful societies, it sets precedent for equal access to opportunity, financial assets, political power and fair distribution of resources – not coincidentally, roots of conflict themselves.

Education allows often-segregated spheres of life between diverse groups to intersect, building a new generation sensitised to differences – ethnic, religious, geographic, or economic – while at the same time, exposed to the greater number of similarities shared.

A peace walk held in Pakistan by the Beydar Society

Education weaves tight the diverse threads of social fabric that builds nations and its power in this sense should not be underplayed.

Yet, our potentially most important tool is continually sidelined. Donor aid to basic education has fallen every year since 2010.

In 2014, just 1% of humanitarian aid – critical in conflict and emergency – was given to education. As support for education drops, conflict and inequality continue to rise.

As we set out to realise the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals – an extension of our failure to achieve the Millennium Development Goals – over 34 million children and adolescents are out of school due to conflict and emergency.

Education cannot continue to be just a reactionary instrument, delivering conflict sensitivity programming to these children in the hopes of dampening fires already lit.

If we are serious about addressing the conflict that continues to lay waste to millions of lives and resources, reversing decades of progress, then we urgently need to incorporate education as the essential tool in our peace-building architecture that it is, preventing conflict before it starts.

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