By Shimali Senanayake
NEW YORK, United States, 7 December 2011 – Education can play a key part in the prevention and transformation of violent conflicts. In an effort to investigate what role UNICEF can play to realize this mission, a team of researchers presented their global findings at a brown-bag discussion on Friday, titled “Education and Peacebuilding in Conflict-Affected Contexts.”
The study was led by Mario Novelli of the Centre for International Education, University of Sussex and Alan Smith of the University of Ulster. It was commissioned by UNICEF’s Education Section as part of its Education in Emergencies and Post-Crisis Transition Programme and managed by the Evaluation Office.
UNICEF has a long and strong history of working effectively in conflict-affected situations and providing critical education interventions in some of the most challenging situations around the world.
The research team set out to collect evidence on the role of education in peacebuilding, how education interventions could have a stronger role in the UN peacebuilding structure and more specifically, how UNICEF can contribute effectively to peacebuilding through education.
“The lack of this evidence was initially a big gap in programming,” said Susan Durston, UNICEF Associate Director of Programmes and Chief of Education. “This evidence building study and its findings is providing a bridge to new programmes in education and peacebuilding, and will assist education to play a role in bringing about and sustaining peace worldwide.”
The first phase of the global study consisted of an extensive literature review. The research team then conducted case studies in Lebanon, Nepal and Sierra Leone – three very different conflict situations in very different parts of the world.
The key findings from the study were:
- 1. The concept of peacebuilding remains underdeveloped and contested, even among UN agencies
- 2. Security concerns dominate peacebuilding and marginalizes the role of education
- 3. Weak, inequitable and segregated school systems can be and often are drivers of conflict
- 4. The education system, including its students and teachers, is often a casualty of armed conflict
- 5. Education can be a vehicle for transformation and peace in all stages of conflict
- 6. UNICEF’s high credibility and rich national staff make it well-placed to lead a peacebuilding agenda
The research indicated that education can play a crucial role during conflicts with interventions such as emergency schooling for displaced populations and schools as zones of peace; in the immediate post-war period through school reconstruction and psycho social support; in the medium-term post conflict period through development and education curricular reform.
The interactive discussion concluded that while education can play a much stronger role in creating sustainable peace, the challenge might be to tailor education programming that is sensitive to the conflict dynamics in the local contexts.
The presentation coincided with a new agreement signed between the government of the Netherlands and UNICEF for a four-year programme on education and peacebuilding.