Reducing Conflict through Equitable Education

By Anne Smiley and Nina Weisenhorn

The relationship between education inequality and violent conflict is clear: Inequitable access to quality education makes the world less safe. Recent research for UNICEF by FHI 360 found that the likelihood of experiencing violent conflict doubles in countries with high education inequality between ethnic and religious groups, and the reverse is also true; violent conflict increases educational inequalities between groups. Ethnic, religious, and socio-economic divides are clearly problematic, but gender inequality also plays a role: greater equality between males and females decreases the likelihood of conflict by as much as 37 percent. If the findings are clear, so must be the solutions: It is imperative that the global community find effective ways to address education inequities and tackle the systemic barriers that prevent millions of children around the globe from accessing equitable educational opportunities.

[T]he likelihood of experiencing violent conflict doubles in countries with high education inequality between ethnic and religious groups...

How do we ensure that education programs, especially those in conflict-affected environments, aren’t actually contributing to inequality and therefore fueling conflict? Conflict-sensitive education refers to the design and delivery of education programs and policies in a way that considers the conflict context and aims to minimize the negative impact (which contributes to conflict) and maximize positive impact (which contributes to peace). It is easy to see how the delivery of education services in an inequitable manner, such as only providing teaching and learning materials in one language, or in one region, or to one ethnic group, could contribute to conflict, while an equitable approach could contribute to peace. In 2012, the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), with support from USAID, developed a Conflict-Sensitive Education Pack designed to help policymakers and practitioners design, implement, and evaluate education programs to be sensitive to conflict dynamics. Equity considerations are at the forefront of this work.

Beyond INEE’s initial contributions, in recent years, USAID and its partners have made significant strides towards developing practical CSE approaches, particularly in measurement and analysis. Policymakers and practitioners need answers to the following questions: How do we know if we are contributing to conflict or contributing to peace? How do we know if our programs are truly improving education equity? In support of better measurement, the Education Equity Research Initiative is developing guidance on how to measure equitable education access and retention in programs in crisis and conflict settings, going beyond simple disaggregation of numbers towards more sophisticated metrics that can be standardized or customized, depending on the context and the specific equity dynamics.

How do we know if our programs are truly improving education equity?

USAID also developed the Rapid Education Risk Analysis (RERA) guide which includes measures to analyze real and perceived inequity in the education sector. RERAs have been conducted in six USAID programs over the past year, contributing to improved conflict-sensitivity in activity design and implementation plans. USAID also developed the Checklist for Conflict Sensitivity in Education Programs to assess the extent to which education programs are promoting equity and reducing conflict and tensions through access to education programs, curricula, teaching and learning materials, capacity building for education sector personnel, community engagement, and other areas of programming.

CSE Trainings are also rolling out globally: Through INEE’s conflict-sensitive education subgroup, a Training of Trainers was held in Amman, Jordan, in July 2017, which has been followed by a global dissemination of trainings, reaching from Colombia to Ukraine, South Sudan, East Africa, Afghanistan, and the whole Middle East region. As part of this, FHI 360 partnered with Creative Associates International, USAID, and ECCN to offer trainings to USAID staff and implementing partners in Washington, D.C., in November 2017.

All are welcome to learn more and join the discussion through networks and initiatives including INEE, the Education Equity Research Initiative, and the USAID Education Conflict and Crisis Network. We must work together to address the challenge of educational inequality, and collectively contribute to building a more peaceful and inclusive world. ♦

About the Authors

Anne Smiley is a Technical Advisor on Research in Education at FHI 360. Previously, she was an Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University lecturing on Education and Development.

Nina Weisenhorn is a Senior Education Advisor on Conflict and Crisis at USAID. Previously, Nina was the Emergency Response Team Senior Education Coordinator at the International Rescue Committe (IRC).

A version of this post originally appeared on the blog of USAID Education in Crisis and Conflict Network (ECCN). Reprinted with permission.