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24 Oct 2017

Education amidst Fragility, Conflict and Violence by Stephen Commins

Stephen Commins is a Lecturer in Regional and International Development at the Department of Urban Planning UCLA, and Associate Director at Global Public Affairs, Luskin School of Public Affairs, UCLA.

Access to schooling and quality learning can be undermined by various manifestations of fragility, conflict and violence (FCV).

In different forms, FCV manifestations contribute to a denial of the right to education (RTE), whether from government failures, a violent ecosystem, the treatment of displaced children, divisions within schools, attacks on schools or the language of instruction. This can include the ways in which teachers and principals treat the lower caste, children with disabilities or minority groups and also how they respond to the threat or real violence against girls. It can also include how textbooks portray the history and culture of those children they teach. Notably, these are  issues which exist globally, not just in ‘fragile states’.

Over the past two decades, there has been an increased focus on the impact that long-term, complex humanitarian emergencies, fragile states, and protracted crises, are having on education. However, the aggregate impact of various forms of negative conflict and intra-personal violence has received much less attention.

The effect of different elements of FCV on education has both immediate and long lasting impacts on children’s learning, their well-being and their future prospects. There are three entry points to consider for FCV:  protracted crises; conflict as the basis of exclusion; and direct and indirect forms of intra-personal violence.

Protracted crises or fragile and conflict-affected States are the issues most familiar to donors.  When governments lack the capacity or commitment to support educational systems, there are notably fewer children in school; and when children are at school, these environments frequently suffer from lack of teachers and resources, therefore stifling effective learning.

In practical terms, the humanitarian aid system often, and through necessity, focuses first on saving lives. Thus, education frequently receives less support or priority in emergencies. However, when humanitarian crises are protracted, for example when long-term displacement creates urban migration challenges, there is room to build on the work of networks focused on education in emergencies.

The presence of widespread forms of exclusion based on negative conflict outcomes and violence in countries and regions not designated as ‘fragile’, needs to receive more attention. This includes OECD countries where exclusion manifests itself through bullying, gangs, threats and corporal punishment. Indeed, the overall impact of different forms of violence on education may be significantly underestimated.

Moreover, conflict and violence are distinct but related issues. Conflict is part of all societies at all levels, from household to state. There are many instances when conflict over resources, norms and access to power, are negatively resolved, even without violence. This can lead to exclusion from education and can result in the deliberate mistreatment of indigenous children, for example, when the language of instruction favors children from the dominant identity group.

In situations where the education system contributes to different forms of negative conflict (ethnic exclusion, gender exclusion, language of instruction), there will be reduced access to schools for certain groups as well as potential exacerbation of existing forms of conflict.

This is distinct from, but sometimes linked with, ecosystems of violence, both external to the school (gang violence) and within the school (bullying, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and corporal punishment).

Just as the total number of people affected by ‘small’ disasters can be comparable to those caught up in mega disasters, so too can we compare the total number of children affected by forms of negative conflict and local violence with those affected by fragile and conflict-affected states.

To address these issues, governments, donors and civil society organizations can expand the definition of FCV to give greater attention to the conflict and violence elements. Program design can also be structured more specifically to address pedagogical, community and classroom issues. There can similarly be specific programs structured to reduce bullying, SGBV and corporal punishment.

To conclude, questions concerning governance and fragility remain at the heart of the matter. For example, does the state have the capacity and will to deliver education to all children? Is the state reducing different forms of conflict-based exclusion? Does the state have enforceable laws against SGBV and corporal punishment? Creating safe and effective learning environments remains central to achieving educational goals in all countries and contexts. Therefore greater attention is required for both rebuilding and sustaining educational systems in fragile states, as well as to the neglected dimension of FCV as briefly outlined in this note.

Additional resources:

Disclaimer: NORRAGs blog offers a space for dialogue about issues, research and opinion on education and development. The views and factual claims made in NORRAG posts are the responsibility of their authors and are not necessarily representative of NORRAGs policy or activities.


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