By Shimali Senanayake
NEW YORK, 14 February 2012 – Education can play a crucial role in peacebuilding in all phases of conflict, a UNICEF-commissioned study has concluded, outlining how education can help prevent conflict and contribute to long-term peace.
A fundamental human right of a quality education for all children is most at risk during conflict situations. It is precisely at these times that education can impart knowledge and skills that provide protection and access to life-saving abilities. In the longer term, education can provide values and attitudes that offer the basis for addressing the multiple drivers of conflict.
The report titled “The Role of Education in Peacebuilding,” was presented on 9 February, to a packed room of United Nations experts, donors, human rights activists and aid workers.
“Education can do so much and play a vital and transformative role in societies through peacebuilding,” said Mario Novelli of the Centre for International Education, University of Sussex, who led the study together with Alan Smith of the University of Ulster. The study, managed by UNICEF’s Evaluation Office, was commissioned by UNICEF’s Education Section as part of its five-year Dutch-funded Education in Emergencies and Post-Crisis Transition (EEPCT) Programme.
According to the findings, education can intervene during conflicts through emergency schooling for displaced people and schools as zones of peace, in the immediate post-war period through school reconstruction and psycho-social support and in the medium-term post-conflict period through development and curricula reform.
“We must invest as much in prevention as in post-conflict situations ….invest in systems to overcome obstacles as much as in challenges…invest in people and therefore the norms that entrench them that go beyond peacebuilding and peace keeping,” said Nicholas Alipui, UNICEF’s Director of Programmes, opening the event.
Mr. Alipui thanked the Dutch government for its steadfast support and strong partnership during UNICEF’s EEPCT programme and its transition into a new education and peacebuilding programme.
“Peacebuilding is central to achieving progress in the Millennium Development Goals,” said Corien Sips of the Government of the Netherlands. “And we believe education is a core component in building sustainable peace.”
In 2011, a research team set out to collect evidence on how education interventions could have a stronger role in the UN peacebuilding architecture and, more specifically, how UNICEF can contribute effectively to peacebuilding through education.
Among the key findings were that the concept of peacebuilding remains underdeveloped and contested, even among UN agencies; security concerns dominate peacebuilding and marginalizes the role of education; weak, inequitable and segregated school systems can be and often are drivers of conflict.
Zeena Zakharia of the Columbia University and Mr. Smith were a part of the panel, while UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Operations, Louis-George Arsenault also spoke at the event.
Mr. Novelli said that UNICEF was well placed to make interventions in peacebuilding given its high level of credibility, strong civil society partnerships, its reputation as a lead agency in education and its rich national staff working in the field.
- Develop a comprehensive policy paper on UNICEF’s commitment to peacebuilding.
- Identify areas of common agreement with global partners on the contribution of education to peacebuilding in conflict-affected countries.
- Carry out a short study to explore the extent to which UNICEF is integrated within UN peacebuilding, challenges and opportunities.
- Capacity support for peacebuilding and conflict analysis within HQ and field offices.
- At the outset, introduce education and peacebuilding in a limited number of countries.
- Place greater emphasis on knowledge management and institutional learning.
The panelists commended UNICEF for already instituting changes in its education programming based on its recommendation and getting a head start, which they said reflected the organization’s commitment to peacebuilding.
“UNICEF is uniquely placed not only in delivering services but in community development,” said Susan Durston, Associate Director, Education Section in her closing remarks, “This new programming is going to help us not only to be more strategic but to also focus on our equity approach by drawing attention to the underprivileged and marginalized who are most at risk during conflict situations.”