The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education, the 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, will be launched on March 1. Patricia Justino, a member of the report’s Conflict Advisory Group, looks at the long-term harm that results when conflict deprives children of education.
Education is one of the hidden costs of conflict and violence. Almost 750,000 people die as a result of armed conflict each year, and there are more than 20 million displaced people in the world. Violent conflict kills and injures people, destroys capital and infrastructure, damages the social fabric, endangers civil liberties, and creates health and famine crises. What is less known or talked about is how violent conflict denies million of children across the world their right to education.
The reasons are multiple. Armed violence often targets schools and teachers as symbols of community leadership or bastions of the type of social order that some armed factions want to see destroyed. Children are useful in armies as soldiers, as well as to perform a myriad of daily tasks from cooking and cleaning to sexual favours. Children need to work when members of their family die or are unable to make a living, and families remove children from school fearing for their lives and security.
Should we care about this loss of education? Several studies report that aid and reconstruction efforts are quick to re-establish basic education structures. What is missing in this argument is an adequate understanding of the profound long-term effects of educational losses among those exposed to conflict.
In particular, relatively minor shocks to educational access – even as small as one less year of schooling – can have long-lasting detrimental effects on the children that are out of school, as well as on the human capital of whole generations. These effects persist well after the conflict has ended, with long-term intergenerational consequences in terms of school achievement, health outcomes and future earnings.
Children who lose out on school earn less, have worse job opportunities and poorer health than those that stay in school. This not only affects their living standards, but also the opportunities available to their own children, creating cycles of hardship and deprivation that persist for decades after the end of the conflict. We observe these effects still among those that were at school age during World War II, as well as in children that have lived through modern conflicts in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
These long-term effects are difficult to measure and therefore easy to dismiss in post-conflict planning, which is traditionally concerned with the immediate recovery from war. But human capital – the stock of skills and knowledge we gain through education and experience – is the backbone of successful economic and social recovery. Ignoring these long-term consequences will endanger any attempts to rebuild peace, social justice and stability.
Patricia Justino, a fellow of the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Sussex, directs Microcon (A Micro Level Analysis of Violent Conflict), a research programme funded by the European Commission. She co-directs the Households in Conflict Network. Results mentioned in the blog are analysed and discussed in her background paper to the 2011 GMR, ‘How Does Violent Conflict Impact on Individual Educational Outcomes? The Evidence so Far.’