How does education make an impact in conflict situations?

Posted Tuesday June 06, 2017 by Africa Educational Trust

How does education make an impact in conflict situations?

Lynn Davies, Emeritus Professor of International Education at the University of Birmingham, Co-Director of the social enterprise ConnectFutures and Board Member of Africa Educational Trust, share’s her insight on developing appropriate education programmes during conflict.

Education can play an ambivalent role with regard to conflict. If education is divisive, if schools are themselves violent places, if children are taught to be intolerant of ‘others’ of different ethnicities or religions, then education will do nothing to interrupt cycles of conflict and violence. Yet the right sort of education can be a key part of building or rebuilding a more peaceful society. In a war-torn context, the twin tasks are keeping some sort of education going and making sure that that education helps build resilience to future conflict – and not reproduce it.

What then is this ‘right sort of education’? The first aspect is the basic principle of ‘do no harm’. This means non-violence, no corporal punishment and tackling racism or bullying by students or teachers – a sustained and all-round challenge to the normalisation of violence as a solution to a problem.

It means an inclusive ethos so that no child feels an outsider, and different ethnicities or religions are treated with equal respect. No student leaves with a grievance. Schools that are unwelcoming for girls can be changed dramatically by initiatives such as AET’s Girl Friendly School Spaces, together with their training of ‘School Mothers’ to be mentors and advocates for girls in school. Their peacebuilding programmes in schools foster discussion, acceptance of different points of view and conflict resolution skills. Mother tongue education for the early years builds confidence in learning. All conflict and post-conflict situations are different, and there is no one magic bullet. But attracting and keeping children in a safe, inclusive, rights-based school environment is one basic key to a stable society – as is a non-corrupt and efficient examination system.

This relates to the active inroads into the conditions that surround conflict and extremism– unemployment, mistrust of others, mistrust of authorities, disaffection and gender-based violence. Some educational interventions need to work directly with those already excluded from education – whether refugees, street children or nomadic children. When schools or the education system are shattered, such groups can be targeted with bespoke programmes so that they learn for livelihoods. This is not just a question of their right to education, but an awareness that learning and literacy bring a sense of inclusion and capability which makes people less vulnerable to threat or manipulation.

Interactive Radio Instruction South SudanThe target of this particular appeal is within this crucial area of non-formal education: AET’s radio schools and the ‘Speak-Up’ programme. Radio broadcasts and recorded lessons on CDs or MP3s mean that people can access education without having to leave the safety of their homes. AET trainers work with the learners who can gain basic literacy and numeracy skills within six months. Some learners can then enrol in certified courses in their communities to gain qualifications. But school buildings are not needed, and communities can plan the timing and location of lessons so as to be safe and accessible. The lessons are locally developed to address social issues, but also with humorous skits and stories in order to be fun.

Radio schools are low cost and low profile, but with a huge spread of influence. They reach, among others, internally displaced people in camps, those who have missed education because of war or poverty, out of school youth, girls who have been kept at home for safety or to ensure a bride price, and those with disabilities who have difficulty leaving home. The key link to tackling conflict lies in the title: ‘Speak Up’ gives people not just skills but confidence, the confidence to challenge injustice and to feel oneself not as an outsider but as a person with a stake in making a less unequal, less fragmented society.

By Lynn Davis

Lynn Davies is Emeritus Professor of International Education at the University of Birmingham and Co-Director of the social enterprise ConnectFutures. Her interests are in education and conflict, and education and extremism, and she has done research and consultancy in a number of conflict-affected states such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Angola and Sri Lanka. Work in the UK includes evaluating programmes to counter radicalisation, a project interviewing former extremists about their backgrounds, and training of young people and teachers in preventing violent extremism. Her books include Education and Conflict: Complexity and Chaos (2004), Educating Against Extremism (2008) and Unsafe Gods: Security, Secularism and Schooling (2014). As well as acting as a consultant for UNESCO, she is on the Board of Africa Educational Trust and previously served on the Board of UNICEF UK. In October 2014 she was awarded the Sir Brian Urquhart Award for Distinguished Service to the United Nations and its goals by a UK citizen.

Listen also to our Radio 4 Appeal – Education can continue


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