Reports of armed conflicts around the world have become a familiar headline on the television, in the newspapers and online. Much of the reporting includes the impact that violence and war has on children, often containing graphic images of children in horrendous circumstances. For example, images of child soldiers holding large guns in Sierra Leone, or cold and frightened children that are fleeing from the fighting in Syria on inflatable boats. The ever increasing numbers of children who have died or been abused during the armed conflict are disturbing. To take just one conflict, a recent UNICEF and Save the Children report, Small Hands Heavy Burden ,outlines how war has devastated the lives of Syrian children. The report states that 2.7 million Syrian children are not in education and identifies a range of dangerous jobs that a high number of Syrian refugee children are forced to carry out due to the ongoing conflict.
One of the most overwhelming impacts of armed conflicts around the world is the destruction and eradication of the education system. The lived experiences of children who continue to live in the conflict area, or become refugees, is devastating with the dreams and aspirations of the children, the community and the country, starting to fade and vanish. For some children, the only hope is to join the armed conflict, or in other circumstances they are forced to join. A report by Grac’a Machel, on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, provides striking findings and analysis of the impact that war and conflict has on children. Issues such as extensive emotional and psychological stress are associated with the feelings and behaviours children develop from such shocking and disturbing lived experiences. These can be the traumatic experiences from violent attacks on their person or surroundings, separation and loss of family members and homes and communities being destroyed. This report found children developed problems such as flashbacks, anxiety or panic attacks, nightmares, heightened aggression or severe depression. The report outlined the importance of education during and after armed conflict. It emphasises how education can give children and their community, a sense of normality, hope and assurance for the future, while around them is only confusion, hatred and anarchy. Education can have an especially positive impact on young people as the report suggests that education is particularly useful in supporting their psychosocial well-being and discourages them from participating in the conflict.
Machel’s research makes clear that education needs to be a priority for post-conflict reconstruction and development. Education is a valuable tool for furthering security and post-conflict development. Education influences and constructs a child’s life. It can encourage and inspire community principles and humanitarian values. Through an education, children can develop a knowledge and experience justice and respect for human rights. Ensuring all children have access to education can enhance stability and create a sustainable, peaceful future. Therefore, education should be recognised and realized as a priority in the post-conflict agenda and not a marginal concern.
How effective education support security and post-conflict development
Access to a quality education, as a human right, is widely acknowledged. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948, states in Article 26: ‘Everyone has the right to education’. Subsequently, the right to education has been widely recognised through its inclusion in various international instruments such as theInternational Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, theUNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The CRC sets out a framework for promoting the protecting the human rights of children that is applicable in both peace and conflict. In particular Article 28 recognises all children have a right to education with a view to contributing to “the elimination of ignorance and illiteracy throughout the world”. Article 29 holds that states parties will ensure education is directed at developing the individual personality of the child, as well as developing respects for human rights, cultural identity, language and values, for the national values and for different civilizations. The aims of education also include preparing children
“for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin”.
Article 38 calls on states to ensure children are protected during an armed conflict. And Article 39 provides
“States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child victim of: any form of neglect, exploitation, or abuse; torture or any other form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or armed conflicts. Such recovery and reintegration shall take place in an environment which fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child.”
The importance of these provisions is that they seek not only to protect the life and development of children, but they are also directed at supporting views of tolerance and understanding of others, essential attributes to ensuring post-conflict security
Gordon Brown, the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, recently called for the international community to urgently support children living through conflicts to be in school and learning. Education encourages, supports and sustains a positive lived experience for children and can provide an inspiring positive future. Through education, children can develop friendships, learn life skills, and develop a humanitarian knowledge that can shape their lives and the lives of the communities to which they belong. Access to education is crucial to children’s physiological and physical health during violent conflicts and wars. Education can give hope and a sense of future to children and the community during times of armed conflict. It gives children a sense of normality.
However, access to education during and after conflicts is a key issue. Schools are soft targets, mainly due to the aggressors knowing the devastating and harmful impact that destroying a school and removing access to education can have on a community. The longer a child goes without education, the more vulnerable they become and it can take longer for the community to recover economically and return to being a socially sustainable environment. A school not only provides a child with an education but can also offer a safe place to learn and develop. Schools tend to be community spaces, central places within a village, town or city that give mainly children a sense of security. By purposely destroying schools or using schools to launch military operations, communities are destroyed, both physically by destroying the building and socially, by removing the sense of safety and community. Latest figures estimate that almost 40 million children across the world, are out of school due to current armed conflicts. Overtime living in a conflict zone becomes a normal lived experience for a child and the inspirations for a positive future that an education may have resulted from becomes eroded and destroyed. The expectations and even incentives for the child can then be to participate in the violence and hatred that they have come to experience every day, their normality, their lived experience.
To provide effective and accessible education in conflict zones, during and post-conflict requires effective international, interagency collaboration to ensure governments and organisations cooperate and agree on the coordination of responses. Reports from Save the Children, acknowledge the difficulties of providing education in conflict zones. However, they outline that it is possible with funding and appropriate community engagement; robust security analysis; teacher training; adjustments to school infrastructure; a flexible approach to delivering learning and an appropriate level of psychosocial support; children can continue to access education. It is important to note that education can be a stabilizing factor in armed conflict zones but also the education system and content can be used to fuel hostility within the area. Research has shown how education can be used as a weapon and can deepen divides within a community. This shows a need to ensure support for education in post-conflict development is guided by benchmarks like the CRC. Attention needs to be given to informal and formal education modes, the content of the curriculum is critical, e.g. the history must be represented accurately, and the curriculum needs to be directed at the development and security needs of the community through the promotion of tolerance.
During the rebuilding of communities devastated by conflict, education has not always been prioritised. According to A World at School, in 2014, funding for education and creating safe spaces for children in countries affected by armed conflict was only 1% of the overall humanitarian relief. However, at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in 2015, the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides announced he would commit 4% of the EU humanitarian aid budget to education for children in emergency situations. Also at the Forum, Gordon Brown raised the profile of the movement for education for children affected by conflict situations. Within his speech, he stated,
“I’m convinced now that we need an emergency fund for education where there are humanitarian crises. Countries should put upfront money to make it possible for UNICEF and other organisations to provide help for children when they’re in urgent need. We shouldn’t have to wait a year or more for some help to come when we have a plan, and we know we can do something urgently. The importance of education in a crisis is that, while every child needs shelter and food and nutrition and health care, a child also needs hope.”
On 4 February 2016, UK, Germany, Kuwait, Norway, and the United Nations co-hosted the Supporting Syria and the Region conference in London. Government leaders, NGOs, the private sector and civil society pledged over US$ 11 billion to meet the needs of the Syrian people. A key aim is to use the money to provide access to education in host countries where a significant number of refugees have travelled to and within Syria. However, the pledge is not enough, actual delivery and support for education must be demonstrated.
A recent UNESCO report, Education for All, identified a range of unsupported funding requests for education projects around the world. Many of these were requests for humanitarian aid to support the education of children in armed conflict areas. The report made clear recommendations to address funding problems, suggesting that a joint needs assessment process should be developed to improve the prioritization and targeting of funding. The report also suggested linking humanitarian and development aid to support all identified emergency crisis situations and distributing the resources equitably. The report clearly stated that education should be recognised as a priority and funding should be ensured where it is needed and suggests that all those involved within the global emergency fund, humanitarian and development aid organisations must work in partnership. Recently the INEE, an international network for education in emergencies, led on a consultation with major donors, affected governments and other stakeholders, to find a ‘common platform’ and to create a Global Humanitarian Fund and Platform for Education in Emergencies. The aim of this ‘platform’ is to generate political and financial commitment to provide education for children affected by armed conflict and natural disasters. This will be achieved by developing and agreeing upon a system to improve how aid is given in emergencies and urgently address the gap in funding education in emergencies.
Believing that education is not immediately critical to saving lives is a misconception. Schools can teach children how to stay safe during and after a conflict; for example, how to avoid landmines or how to identify safe water to drink. It can be a safe and protective place to socialize with each other. According to War Child International, an international humanitarian organization who specialises in child protection in conflict-affected countries, education can save lives in countries affected by war. Children born to mothers who are illiterate are 50% more likely to die before their fifth birthday. A recent study by UNICEF put a monetary cost on the impact of conflict on education. The report addressed the situation in Syria and figured the widespread inability of children to access education, was US$10.7 billion.
However, to ensure education furthers security and post-conflict development, the planning, designing and implementation must be sensitive to the communities and cultures in which the education programs are being implemented. This can be carried out by involving the children, young people and adults in the curriculum planning and development of the education. The UN Security Council has recognised the importance of including children and young people in post-conflict development. Providing formal, non-formal and informal education interventions are delivered through a variety of community channels can provide the sensitivity to gender, ethnic and religious tolerances that education programs require while ensuring the curriculum is appropriate and rights respecting.
The content of the curriculum must be conflict-sensitive and address the root causes of the conflict. Only by doing this can education contribute to peace and create unified societies. Education can address the causes that generate armed conflict. Education can identify and address inequalities, many of which generate armed conflict situations. Including awareness on the right to education can empower individuals and communities to get actively involved and support education. Long-term planning is required to develop and implement a plan that ensures every child receives an education no matter where they live. Education is starting to become recognised as a priority for international humanitarian organisations. In seeking to prioritise education as a security concern in post conflict situations, we would do well to heed the words of the former South African President, Nelson Mandela – “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”