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Education and Conflict: What Do We Know?
August 23, 2011 – 11:30 a.m.

Presenters:  Yolande Miller-Grandvaux, USAID Office of Education
Dana Burde, New York University
Henrik Urdal, Harvard University

The presenters in this session discussed findings from recent qualitative and quantitative research regarding the relationship between education and conflict. Dana Burde of New York University and Henrik Urdal of Harvard University acknowledged that ‘education and conflict’ is a recent field of study that currently lacks data from past evidence-based studies. Both strongly supported the need for more research to understand the entire spectrum of the relationship between education and conflict. Drawing from limited data and recent studies, the presenters briefly highlighted key challenges, suggestions and a way forward. They established that past research does not indicate a direct causal relationship between education and conflict and/or conflict mitigation and that this relationship remains under-explored.

Research suggests that education may have the potential to mitigate conflict, depending on its content and quality, as well as on access. Education content that is inclusive, non-discriminatory and related to peace and reconciliation offers such promise since data show fewer conflicts when there is an increase in higher levels of education in general. Burde emphasized that messages sent to children in their formative years are critical and that education content must be designed to provide appropriate messages to lessen conflict. Reducing inequality in education is also important. There is some evidence that when any threat to education is reduced, both boys and girls are willing to go to school. Community education, activities that engage communities in a non-formal way, and initiatives to protect girls – having female school attendants or teaching assistants, for instance – have all shown some positive effect in providing safer access to education for all children, especially girls. These initiatives ensure that children have a safe way to commute to school and are not faced with sexual exploitation or abuse on school premises.

Quality in education benefits from teacher training, special interventions in conflict areas, and action based on evidence of what works; the presenters discussed these as some of the issues that differ between stable and conflict regions. For example, it is beneficial for an education system to acknowledge that the trauma faced by children in conflict and/or crisis areas may affect their learning. It is helpful to recognize the need to provide assistance to children to manage trauma better and thereby promote effective learning, rather than just provide access to education. For this reason, quality of education in conflict and post-conflict regions must be addressed differently from quality of education elsewhere.

As discussed above, Urdal pointed out that higher levels of education may have positive effects on mitigating conflict in a variety of situations. Yet actors or participants in terrorist activities are often more educated than the average person in the society. He emphasized that it is important to understand the interplay of education’s content, quality and access in order to reconcile such apparently contradictory realities.

Key take away points encompassed the importance of including education as part of a humanitarian response in conflict areas. Burde explained that the rise of education during emergencies shapes the way an education system evolves in the region. Both speakers supported the idea that providing education programs in areas where there is a stable government is different from providing these in regions that have an unstable government. People’s perception of the government affects the reception of programs offered by the government. The presenters proposed that more data from evidence-based education programs and an understanding of problems specific to conflict regions are areas that can help planning for both short-term and long-term approaches to development in these regions.


To view the presentations, please click on a link below:

Burde PPT (185 KB)
Urdal PPT (587 KB)





For questions related to the 2011 Education Workshop,
please contact Rachel Kozolup at rkozolup@jbsinternational.com