Education for Peace
Earlier this month we told you about a 16-year-old girl from South Sudan who, despite the odds stacked against her, managed to complete primary school in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp and is now studying at a secondary school in Nairobi. Sadly, her story is far from common. Almost two-thirds of children caught up in conflict drop out of school before they finish. For them, going to school (never mind completing primary school) can seem like an insurmountable challenge.
For the first time since the Second World War, the number of refugees worldwide exceeds 50 million, about half of whom are children. Shockingly, the average time spent in a refugee camp has increased from 9 years to 20 years. We know that half of all out-of-school primary-aged children live in conflict zones. At the secondary level, one-third of children in conflict zones are out of school. Through no fault of their own, children suffer disproportionately in times of conflict through interruptions in schooling, pressure to become soldiers (or other instruments of war), or early and forced married. It seems that every day there is more news about escalating conflicts around the world. Boko Haram, ISIS and the Taliban are getting our attention through the perpetration of increasingly horrific acts of violence. South Sudan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria and Ukraine are conflict hot spots, where shaky ceasefires seem hardly worth the paper on which they are written.
Meanwhile, in Latin America, children are caught up in narco wars and gang violence that pervade countries such as Honduras and Guatemala. Technology is helping us to understand who is affected by conflict. The International Crisis Group puts together an interactive map to illustrate conflicts around the world, along with a monthly update on security improvements or deterioration. The drone footage of the huge swaths of territory burned and buildings destroyed by Boko Haram in Nigeria in January revealed the extent to which this organization will go to extend its reach.
The spread of conflict has reduced the opportunity for children to go to school, yet we know that an education is an essential ingredient to ensuring future peacefulness and stability. Making matters worse, schools and students are often targeted as part of the violence. Human Rights Watch lists the countries where schools are particularly at risk. Meant to be a “top 10” list, Human Rights Watch lists 19 countries where students are at risk. The top three are: Afghanistan, Burma and the Central African Republic. Malala Yousafzai, now the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner, was targeted by the Taliban for daring to challenge their edict that girls be banned from getting an education.
In December, the Taliban targeted a school in Peshawar, killing 132 students. You can read my op-ed, published in the Montreal Gazette. In northern Nigeria, the fact that the very name Boko Haram translates to “Western Education is Forbidden” does not bode well for the future of children in this region, where more than two-thirds of children are out of school. In contrast, in Nigeria’s wealthier southern regions, the out-of-school rate drops to around 6%. Education must be part of wider ranging reforms to reduce conflict. Not only does going to school help children maintain stability, it is key for the future peacefulness of their communities. In fact, UNESCO’s Education for All report on Sustainable Development states that:
“While a low level of education does not automatically lead to conflict, it is an important risk factor: if the male secondary school enrolment ratio were 10 percentage points higher than average, the risk of war would decline by a quarter. The expected risk of conflict is highest in countries that have both low male education levels and a large youth population.”
The 60 million girls Foundation partners with organizations that work with the most vulnerable children around the world. We are working toward gender parity in education by ensuring that all of our projects have at least 50% girl participation. It is our belief that a more educated world will also lead to a healthier, happier and more peaceful one with lower poverty and where girls and women are able to assert their true voice.