The Right to Education in Situations of Conflict-Affected and Fragile States – a Post-2015 Priority?
By Mieke Lopes Cardozo & Ritesh Shah, University of Amsterdam & University of Auckland.
A strong message
On her sixteenth birthday on 12 July 2013, Malala Yousafzai stood before a crowd at the United Nations in New York and proclaimed a strong message:
“I speak not for myself, but so those without a voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights. Their right to live in peace. Their right to be treated with dignity. Their right to equality of opportunity. Their right to be educated.”
Nine months earlier, she had been attacked by the Taliban on her way to the school. Malala was shot in the forehead in a failed attempt to silence her active role in promoting the rights of children, particularly girls, who were being denied their right to education by ongoing conflict in her home country of Pakistan.
Navigating the post-2015 debates
This month, the global community will gather at the United Nations General Assembly to further discuss what the post-2015 global development agenda will look like. It now looks increasingly certain that education will continue to figure within this agenda (see for example the work of the High Level Panel at the United Nations). The focus in the post-2015 conversations on education has been on shifting from access to greater equity, from primary education to learning across a continuum, and/or towards an emphasis on quality learning and skill outcomes. The World Bank’s current 2020 education strategy (Learning for All) represents aspects of this shift. Today, many agree on the necessity of considering more ambitious and sophisticated education targets in comparison to those that were included in previous frameworks, particularly in the MDGs. The importance of taking equity, together with quality, as core principles in the post-2015 agenda generates a consensus among key stakeholders, as is illustrated in a posting of the UK Forum for International Education and Training. But how will the right to education for children in conflict-affected situation – a right that Malala so passionately fights for – figure in these new global mandates for development?
Why prioritise education in conflict?
‘Neglecting education can sow the seeds for a next conflict. Education in emergencies is demanded, life-saving and life-sustaining’, were the words of international education consultant Christopher Talbot, who presented at a NORRAG Policy Seminar in Geneva on Education in Conflict Emergencies in the Context of the post-2015 MDG and EFA Agendas (30 May 2013, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies). The meeting concluded with a set of opinions that were widely shared by the participants, including the need to: 1) recognize the key role of education in humanitarian relief operations; 2) join advocacy efforts for education in emergencies and child protection; 3) better protect teachers and students from attacks; 4) explore linkages with for instance disaster risk reduction and the health sector; and finally and importantly, 5) enhance rigorous research to work towards responses to these questions and grasp the role and position of education systems and education actors in complex situations of (post)conflict and emergencies. Illustrations of this last objective are reflected in research conducted by Novelli and Smith as part of UNICEFs EEPCT project, and the work of the INEE Working Group on Education and Fragility in their IIEP-published synthesis report on education’s multiple faces.
One of the main problems of creating yet another set of international agreed goals is related to the universalistic pretension of this type of instrument. Problems can also be found in the existing uncertainties concerning what is the actual association between setting targets and provoking substantive educational progress; in other words, whether targets are useful or relevant to the countries themselves. Target setting, as a way to constitute global development agendas, is especially problematic when stakeholders in the Global South do not feel ownership over such agendas.
Each context is different
Hence, there needs to be an acknowledgement that there is no single solution that fits all lower- conflict-affected and emergency contexts, which unfortunately is what is suggested in the World Banks’ current education strategy. Although Learning for All acknowledges the impact of conflict on development, it does little more than to classify all fragile states as the same, with a common set of priorities for assistance for all such contexts. As noted recently in a speech delivered by Helen Clark, chief administrator of the UN Development Programme, it is vital that the international community acknowledge the importance of making issues of conflict and fragility a core concern within the post-2015 global agenda, but also acknowledge that responses must be tailored to each specific environment, with the overall aim of building a lasting and sustained peace. Similarly, in INEE’s reaction to the UN Report on the post-2015 Development Agenda of May 2013, Lori Heninger applauded the recognition that education in conflict-affected regions receives, but claimed that rather than seeing those out-of-school children and youth in conflict and emergency situations as a ‘special interest group’, they should be regarded as THE group that should be at the core of at least one of the future post-2015 indicators. She underlined how ‘this can be an internationally agreed-upon indicator with national uptake depending on country circumstance.’
Switching on the light
In order to respond adequately to these issues and position them within the plethora of post-2015 debates, there is an urgent need to develop a strong and coherent message coming from the EiE community. Successful initiatives so far include for instance the Education Cannot Wait: Call to Action and the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack. We need a strong, but perhaps not a single message – and definitely not a single advocacy or programme strategy. As was nicely expressed by a UNICEF colleague during the NORRAG meeting in Geneva: “Education in times of conflict and emergencies is not only about light at the end of the tunnel, but also about light inside the tunnel.” We need evidence from research and practice, as well as multiple and joint advocacy strategies, to passionately and consistently continue to jointly fire the ‘education-in-emergency-light’ we have recognised as a community, and convince others in the broader post-2015 debates. Only two years ago UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report spoke of ‘a hidden crisis’ of education in emergencies. Since then, the message has spread. According to their recent policy paper ‘the crisis in education in conflict is no longer hidden’. There is no excuse. Children like Malala deserve an education as much as any other children, regardless of the situation they find themselves in. Let’s continue to spread the message.
Mieke Lopes Cardozo is assistant professor in International Development Studies and Education at the University of Amsterdam, and coordinator of the ‘IS Academie research group’. Ritesh Shah is lecturer and researcher in the Faculty of Education at the University of Auckland. The authors currently work together in an inter-institutional research project on education and peacebuilding in post-conflict and post-tsunami Aceh, Indonesia:
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