PHILADELPHIA — A topic that is often overlooked during times of war and violent conflict is how children and youth will continue to be educated. Education, while it may not be an immediate concern during conflict, is highly crucial for post-conflict peace sustainability and provides stability and normalcy for youth and children living in violent conflict zones.
Conflicts completely disrupt education and damage the prospects for building a strong stable civil society. For example, a Save the Children report stated over 90 percent of youth were enrolled in schools and education was allocated 5 percent of the GDP in Syria. However, today, Syria has the second lowest percentage of children enrolled in schools in the world. Three million children have not attended school since the conflict began four years ago. In the report, a teacher in Syria was quoted: “Right now you can ask any child about the different types of weapons and they would be able to name all of them for you; they remember weapons more than lessons.” For Syria, and many other regions of the world in conflict, attending school can be dangerous and education itself is a threat. When children are left to view violence as the present and future, there is a chance that they may pick up arms and join the movements. As children, their environment represents their life as they know it. Violence becomes a reality which appears perpetual and normal, especially for those born into conflict.
On a global scale, conflict has become too normal, and there is a growing concern that a significant portion of an entire generation may be at risk of losing education. In Syria, child casualty rates are at 10,000, the highest in any region with recent conflict. IRIN News, an independent, nonprofit media organization, reported in May 2015 that 62,000 children in northern Cameroon are out of school because of Boko Haram’s attacks. Similar to Syria’s state, schools in the region have become sites for IDP settlements.
There is a great deal of effort taken to continue education through programs, such as the No Lost Generation Initiative. NLGI was created in Syria to provide the infrastructure needed for education (supported by USAID and other international agencies). This program was established in October 2013. NLGI’s goal is to provide educational tools to assist in the creation of a stable civil society in Syria.
On May 18th and 19th the World Education Forum (supported and organized by UNESCO) convened in Incheon, Republic of Korea. Its mission, “Equitable and inclusive quality education and lifelong learning for all by 2030”, is present in five key themes: Right to Education, Equity in Education, Inclusive Education, Quality Education and Lifelong Learning. This forum is based on the Education for All goals established in the year 2000. The goals were to be met by the year 2015, but they did not succeed. They now form part of the SDGs. As part of the strategic agenda, they will address education in emergency situations. The draft framework for this forum acknowledges that education should be prioritized in times of conflict. The framework states, “failure to prioritize education in humanitarian response renders entire generations uneducated, disadvantaged and unprepared to contribute to the social and economic recover of their country or region.” It urges states to protect education and access to schooling.
While states prioritize security during times of conflict, it is important that education is not overlooked. Education is the sustainable tool for human rights and promotes a stronger global civil society. It can promote peace, security and ultimately prevent future conflicts. When youth and children are engaged by society through education there is less of an incentive to participate in violent groups or criminal gangs. The Syrian war is an example of the importance of education as a role in building a peaceful civil society. In the eyes of youth, war is often seen as perpetual and education does not present itself as an opportunity that promises a positive future. This leads to an easy way to recruit youth as soldiers or rebels in violent conflict.
– Courteney Leinonen
Sources: IRIN, UNESCO, Save the Children, No Lost Generation, INEE