30 October 2015, NEW YORK – The likelihood of violent conflict doubles in countries with high levels of inequality in education, according to a new UNICEF and FHI360 study launched in New York on Thursday.
The global study, Does Horizontal Education Inequality Lead to Violent Conflict?, looked at more than 100 countries over a 50 year period (1960-2010), and analyzed the relationship between educational attainment, education inequality and incidents of conflict.
Carina Omoeva, FHI360 Education Policy and Data Center Director, presented the report findings at a panel discussion with international education and peacebuilding experts at UNICEF headquarters.Sharing examples from Cote d’Ivoire and the Central African Republic, which have recent and ongoing violent conflicts, Dr. Omoeva noted the large gaps in levels of schooling between groups (broken down along ethnic, religious, and regional lines and disaggregated by gender and age).
Dr. Omoeva explained that these gaps were not just discrete examples, but rather belonged to a larger trend observed across the data.
“The vast historical and geographic lens and the level of depth in the data produced as part of the project has strengthened the ability of researchers to identify the relationships between inequality in education and violent conflict,” Dr. Omoeva said.
“We’ve found that countries where intergroup inequality is extremely high there is a substantially higher risk of conflict, even after the level of economic development, political regime, population density and other known risk factors are taken into account,” she said.
“We can challenge inequality or we can reproduce it”Mario Novelli, from the Centre for International Education, University of Sussex, part of UNICEF’s Learning for Peace Research Consortium, presented research on education, inequality, conflict and peacebuilding in South Sudan, which drew similar conclusions.
“Education reflects society and also reproduces it,” Dr. Novelli said. “So it matters what happens in education. We can challenge inequality or we can reproduce it.”
“Education is often conceptualized in our field of education in emergencies as conflict interrupting education,” Dr. Novelli continued. “I would challenge that and say that often conflict is the result of poor, alienating education systems that marginalize communities and contribute to those feelings and triggers for armed conflict.”
Dr. Novelli added, “It’s not only the reality of inequality and injustice, but it’s also about the perceptions. How people feel. And that means you might have equitable policies, but if you’re not communicating to people it’s easy for them to believe that they’re being treated unfairly.”
Michael Dean, International Rescue Committee (IRC) Education Research Technical Advisor presented on two IRC projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and stressed the need to improve measurements of academic and non-academic (well-being, social emotional learning) outcomes in challenging contexts.
Building the evidence
Panel Chair Josephine Bourne, UNICEF Associate Director and Chief of Education, commended the panel for tackling difficult topics and contributing to an evidence base that can inform programmes in fragile environments.
This evidence “helps us understand better the types of choices and trade offs that governments are making with quite limited resources in education and how they can make choices that will either help those communities and address inequalities in their societies or conversely potentially make those things worse,” Ms. Bourne said.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that we do have to tackle inequity. And we have to tackle it urgently if we are going to succeed in any of our ambitions around the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly the education goal,” she said.
Download the full UNICEF FHI360 report:
Does horizontal education inequality lead to violent conflict?