Education, Conflict and International Development

Alan Smith, Tony Vaux

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned reportpeer-review


What is the relationship between education and conflict, and how should the education sector respond to conflict? This paper, written for the Department for International Development, argues that more attention should be paid to the fact that education is not always a force for good and can sometimes help create the conditions for conflict. Donors need to consider this when allocating resources.Many contemporary conflicts take place within states as well as between states. Low-level conflicts form the backdrop to the lives of many poor people. In this context, issues of health, employment and education must be addressed. Internationally, education is regarded as a fundamental right. Yet in conflict situations, a hierarchy of rights tends to emerge, with education a low priority. Globally, education is also regarded as an essential tool for human development and poverty eradication. However, efforts to widen access to education need to focus more on how education can affect conflict. There is an urgent need to develop methods to track whether 'progress' in education may also create tensions that could spark or exacerbate conflict. At the very least it must be understood that education can be part of the problem as well as part of the solution.Providing education in countries in conflict or emerging from conflict raises the following issues:•State education can heighten tensions in various ways. These include systems of governance and policies on issues such as the language of instruction, access and curriculum content.•In conflict states, education can play a key role in protecting civilians, particularly girls, from the worst effects. However, running education systems can be difficult in emergency situations.•Providing education is especially problematic where there are no structures, as in the context of internal displacement. Immediate responses may have few links with longer-term education aid.•After conflict, the educational reconstruction process must consider whether to replace what existed before or to undertake major reform.•Education also has an important role to play in the process of reconciliation by addressing the legacies of conflict.Given the risks, donors need to ask whether contributing resources to education could make the conflict worse. To avoid this, they should conduct country-specific analysis in which education issues are considered alongside the political, security, economic and social dimensions of conflict. Other policy implications include:•Analysis of the role of education in conflict is still fragmented and needs to become more systemic. Donors should work strategically with each other.•The international community is focusing on special forms of education for specific groups, but more attention should be paid to issues involving the huge numbers of children in formal education.•Both conflict and education are transforming processes, and opportunities should be sought to develop "conflict-sensitive" education systems, as well as indicators to assess and monitor them.•In emergencies, education should be seen as a right, not a luxury and regarded as an integral part of the response.•While the educational status of child soldiers has received much attention, the exclusion of adolescent girls and disabled children from school during conflict has been neglected and should be addressed.•The large numbers of international organisations interested in conflict and education can cause confusion. There is a need for better co-ordination at international and government levels.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherDepartment for International Development
Number of pages72
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • education
  • conflict
  • international development


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