Three priorities for protecting education in conflict zones

Common Futures Conversations members identify three policy areas where action could help protect access to education for young people affected by violence.

Explainer Updated 30 June 2023 Published 29 June 2023 3 minute READ

A quarter of the global population live in a conflict-affected country. Across the world conflict and violence are on the rise, impacting the lives of a whole generation of children and young people – and severely affecting their access to educational resources.

Globally, over a quarter of a billion children are out of school – many due to conflict and insecurity. In the first months of 2023, Common Futures Conversations members from across Africa and Europe discussed how to better serve the needs of young people in conflict zones.  

Between 2020 and 2021 there were over 5,000 violent attacks on educational facilities.

Perspectives were shared by members from countries with current or recent experience of war, including Ukraine and South Sudan. Through a series of discussions, three policy areas were identified to encourage young people back into the classroom during and after conflict.

Access

The infrastructure needed to deliver education is vulnerable to exploitation by belligerent groups during conflict. The protection of schools is mandated in several international agreements, but between 2020 and 2021 there were over 5,000 violent attacks on educational facilities.

In a conflict zone, a young person’s access to education is also limited by their physical proximity to schools. For children in volatile environments, such as refugee and internally displaced person camps, the insecurity of their living situation curtails regular access to teachers and other educational resources. Over half of all refugee children are not attending lessons.

To ensure that all young people have access to schooling during conflict, gender-based obstacles to education must be addressed.

There are also cultural obstacles that prevent girls from accessing education. When conflict begins, girls are often the first out of school and the last to return to the classroom. 

To ensure that all young people have access to schooling during conflict, gender-based obstacles to education must be addressed. This could involve actions like distributing gender-sensitive teaching resources and working with parents and community leaders to combat practices that discriminate against girls.  

Further challenges exist when children encounter different educational systems: as refugee children move into new areas, they may encounter a vastly different curriculum.

On a national level, governments should work together to allow refugee children to access their home country’s curriculum as much as possible and be supported in adapting to new educational circumstances.

Distribution

More creative solutions are needed to increase the speed and extend the outreach of educational materials distribution. 

The ideal state for education remains in-person schooling with qualified teachers surrounded by peers, but this cannot be guaranteed in a conflict zone. 

More must be done to provide provisional support to prevent children and young people from falling behind or leaving education entirely when their schooling situations change.

Education is the key to unlocking the potential of the next generation, and children in conflict zones should not be excluded from such opportunities.

USB sticks containing pre-downloaded books and lessons could be an efficient solution. 

One solution is to digitalize school curriculums and other educational resources. The experience of virtual schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated how effective online learning can be, when the resources are there to support it. 

However, in conflict situations there is often unreliable access to power, internet connectivity and personal technological devices. Streaming lessons could be hard in this context. Instead, USB sticks containing pre-downloaded books and lessons could be a more efficient solution. 

During the pandemic, radio and television were also used to broadcast lessons in areas with limited digital resources. NGOs that are already working in the area could partner with local groups to quickly produce lessons. 

Participation

Children in, and recovering from living in, conflict zones have specific needs which must be reflected in the content of their education.

Trauma-informed teaching and behavioural management strategies are required to begin to address the psychological harm they have undergone.

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Local young people should be involved in the design of these educational materials. Youth participation can be a vital means of restoring confidence among students as well as showing that there are avenues for change beyond violence.

Local knowledge must be represented in the solutions used to provide education during conflict and young people should have ownership over these solutions

If long-standing political elites dominate decision-making it can result in dissatisfaction and disillusionment of young people.

Local knowledge must be represented in the solutions used to provide education during conflict and young people should have ownership over these solutions, to ensure their commitment to learning and success.

Conflict prevention work can also be done by widening participation. Involving current and former members of the armed services to provide education to young people, especially in conflict vulnerable areas, can help to humanise combatants and provide a realistic perspective on war.

As opposed to valorising violence, peace education can present a matter-of-fact representation of its negative impacts.