Education as a key to solving conflicts

(Reposted from: Devex.  May 24, 2018)

By Stacia George 

Those of us who work in peacebuilding pull out every tool in our toolbox to solve conflicts — we talk about infrastructure, jobs, agriculture, governance, and youth programs.

But youth programs tend to focus on out-of-school individuals aged 18-35 years old, not school-aged children. And rarely do people talk about supporting children — nor education — unless it is about rebuilding schools, vocational training, or jump-starting immediate education services. While broader support to the education system remains undiscussed.

This needs to change.

Too often, those of us in the conflict field do not reach out to education experts, even though there are resources and experts who work specifically on education in conflict settings, such as the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies.

Many conflict experts view education as a long-term effort, too slow to provide merit in the immediate-term, while others feel too stressed by a crisis to find the time to figure out who to turn to and what to do —  but they should. Education is a solution that peacebuilders should consider, and peacebuilders could learn a lot from educators on how to change human behavior.

Contrary to what some may think, quick education responses exist. I have seen how education can bring immediate-term benefits in conflict areas by bringing people together, helping them solve problems, and giving them a path forward.

Programs, such as the Idarah program in Syria, offer immediate access to education including remedial learning, the promotion of inclusion, and psychosocial support to address biases and trauma that fuel a conflict. We know that conflicts require long-term solutions as well, so why rule that out? Long-term reforms should still be prioritized simultaneously.

“I hope my fellow conflict practitioners hold conversations around all youth and reach out to learn from and collaborate with our education partners because in the conflict field where the answers are not always evident, we can find one clearly in education.”
— Stacia George, director of West and Central Africa and Haiti at Chemonics

Education and education experts need to be more involved in solving conflict, here’s why:

Education enables people to form their own opinions and decisions

It’s no surprise that conflict instigators are master manipulators of perceptions and facts. Quality education reduces manipulation by providing citizens with the ability to read the facts for themselves and analyze what those facts mean for them. We saw this in Iraq, where terrorist recruiters provided their own interpretation of the Quran to draw people in. Teaching people to read Arabic allowed them to read the Quran for themselves and markedly reduced the appeal of terrorist recruiters.

Education addresses unemployment and unequal opportunities

Unemployment — one of the first words used when asked why conflict has or will exist. It is also one of the easiest issues to manipulate, even more so when people have unequal access to the jobs that exist. For these reasons, among others, the United Nations Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism names education as a course of action to counter violent extremism.

Job creation requires more than a skilled workforce. While vocational training addresses this in the immediate term, we also need to focus on the traditional education systems and how the teaching of entrepreneurship can serve as a pipeline for talent.

Programming to improve education and equal access to education can also help address the issue of marginalization and potential conflicts. Not only is this the right thing to do, but violent extremists often exploit marginalization in their messaging to drive recruitment, and rates of conflict are higher in areas with unequal education.

Education makes citizens more peaceful and resilient

Children, between the ages of five to eight, begin developing their awareness of how others are different and how they feel about it. Effective early childhood education programs intervene before and during this formative period and can teach tolerance and empathy, as well as reduce fears of others who are different. These are the same skills that make individuals and societies more resilient to conflict.

At the same time, early childhood education equips students with problem-solving skills, important for jobs and cultivating resiliency. A colleague working to rehabilitate al-Qaida members described members’ only common characteristic as having a weak ability to solve personal problems.

My own experience, as well as recent research, show an inability to overcome personal setbacks — such as losing a job or family problems — as one reason people join terrorist groups. Education provides the skills as well as the social networks to help individuals feel supported in overcoming personal setbacks.

(Go to original article)

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