Equity and Social Cohesion: the contribution of education to peacebuilding in the post 2015 development goals

Compare Forum Special Issue on Post-2015 Education and Development Agenda  Compare 43:6 December 2013
Compare Forum Special Issue on Post-2015 Education and Development Agenda
Compare 43:6 December 2013

Alan Smith

UNESCO Chair, University of Ulster, Coleraine, UK

This is an Author’s Original Manuscript of an article submitted for consideration in Compare [the exclusive right to publish residing with Taylor & Francis, copyright BAICE]. The final version can be found here.

The High-Level Panel report on the Post-2015 Development Agenda[1] provides a framework for global development goals to replace the MDGs and set the international development agenda for a further 15 years. The report states that, ‘a new development agenda should carry forward the spirit of the Millennium Declaration and the best of the MDGs, with a practical focus on things like poverty, hunger, water, sanitation, education and healthcare’, but ‘must go beyond the MDGs. They did not focus enough on reaching the very poorest and most excluded people. They were silent on the devastating effects of conflict and violence on development.’ The report calls for an emphasis on building peace as one of five big transformative shifts, stating that, ‘Freedom from fear, conflict and violence is the most fundamental human right, and the essential foundation for building peaceful and prosperous societies.’

There are two main ways that peacebuilding is addressed in the report. The first is the identification of a specific Goal 11 to ‘Ensure Stable and Peaceful Societies’ and the second is the identification of peace as a cross-cutting issue that has implications for other goals.[2] For those working within education this raises questions about how education can contribute towards the peacebuilding Goal 11, and also how the role of education in peacebuilding is reflected in the education Goal 3. Throughout the HLP report each goal is presented in terms of a set of more specific targets and these in turn will need to be underpinned by measurable indicators as a means of gauging progress over time.

Another expectation is that goals, targets and indicators should be universal. This reflects consultations around the New Deal[3] and the HLP aspiration for ‘a new global partnership’, whereby global development challenges are relevant to and apply across all countries, and responses involve ‘country owned and country-led plans’.  It is particularly important in the context of peacebuilding since there has been a tendency for the international development discourse to associate conflict with a limited set of countries that become stigmatized by the labels used by donors to categorise them.[4]

The UN Secretary-General’s (2009) report on peacebuilding identifies a number of recurring priorities in conflict-affected situations, ‘establishing security, building confidence in a political process, delivering initial peace dividends and expanding core national capacity’.[5]   However, UN support has tended to prioritise security, political and macroeconomic reforms, and undervalued the part that social development has to play in sustainable peacebuilding. Disarmament and security reforms may reduce violence, and new political arrangements may accommodate political elites, but peace agreements often fail and lead to relapses into conflict if underlying injustices and cause of conflict remain unaddressed. Good governance and the provision of public services will only be perceived as a ‘peace dividend’, and provide confidence in the state, if services such as education reach the most marginalised populations and the most deprived areas.

The 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report reported that 28 million children are out of school in conflict-affected countries, 42% of the world total. Children in conflict affected countries are twice as likely as children in other low income countries to die before their fifth birthday. Refugees and internally displaced people face major barriers to education, and conflict-affected countries have some of the largest gender inequalities and lowest literacy levels in the world. Yet education remains a low priority in situations of conflict – it accounts for just 2% of humanitarian aid and only 38% of emergency aid requests for education are met. Whilst development assistance to basic education has doubled since 2002 to US$4.7 billion, current aid levels fall far short of the US$16 billion required annually to close the external financing gap in low-income countries. So we need to ask why 21 of the world’s poorest developing countries continue to spend more on military budgets than primary education – redirecting just 10% into education could put almost 10 million additional children into school. We also need to question the priorities of donor governments whose military spending is US$1029 billion per year – yet 6 days of this would meet the funding gap required to achieve EFA.

Conflict presents huge challenges for education provision, but there have been some encouraging developments in the last few years. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has launched an initiative to put Education First, securing $1.5 billion and supported by an impressive array of high profile advocates. The initiative places a particular emphasis on securing the right to education for children in conflict-affected countries. Progress in such environments requires careful analysis of the drivers of conflict and the development of education responses that progressively address challenges on three broad fronts:

–          Education as a humanitarian response. The challenges include the need to protect children during violent conflict and ensure their right to education. Initiatives such as the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack have emerged. By maintaining a commitment to education during conflict we can not only protect from physical, social and psychosocial damage, but also provide the means by which societies can recover. Agencies such as UNHCR Education Strategy have also included an explicit commitment to use conflict analysis as part of its response to displacement situations and working with communities recovering from conflict.

–          Conflict sensitive education. The past decade has seen growing awareness of the ways in which education may be used and abused to exacerbate conflict. Unequal access to education is often one of the most powerful ways in which dominant groups maintain unequal access to power and wealth between groups within conflict-affected societies – often reproduced from one generation to the next. Tensions can be further exacerbated by exclusionary practices or policies related to language of instruction and identity issues – many of these are structural features that could be addressed as part of education reform processes.  Since the GMR an increasing number of agencies have made an explicit commitment to conflict-sensitive education, for example, one of the three goals of the new USAID Education Strategy will bring considerable resources to bear on ‘increased equitable access to education in crisis and conflict environments for 15 million learners by 2015’.

–          Education for peacebuilding. In conflict-affected societies people want to see an end to violence that also brings benefits, partly in terms of access to quality education provision, but also in terms of greater safety and security, involvement in political processes that work for the public good, an economic future that provides sustainable livelihoods and cooperative relations between diverse groups within society. This is a transformative agenda, yet in many countries education systems are geared to reproduce, rather than transform the conditions that generate conflict. One new development is a UNICEF Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy Programme that has received significant funding from the Netherlands to work on these challenges in fourteen conflict-affected countries.

On all of these fronts education can play a constructive role – whether it is by providing protection in response to crisis and conflict, tackling inequalities in access or bias in education provision, or by contributing to social transformation and change as part of peacebuilding processes. However, it is clear that these challenges will not be addressed successfully if we limit our efforts to solely to basic education. For example, the GMR highlighted research evidence that suggests a link between the risk of conflict and a high youth population, especially unemployed youth with few years of secondary education. The Global Partnership for Education (formerly the EFA Fast Track Initiative) has a particular role here since it is the only multilateral mechanism focused on funding education from early years through primary, secondary and higher education and this will become increasingly important post the current MDGs.

We are now entering a two-year period of inter-governmental negotiation about the post-2015 development goals. There are two big challenges for education. The first is about the importance of mainstreaming education and social development within current UN peacebuilding strategies. One way to achieve this would be the inclusion of a specific target as part of Goal 11 to ‘Enhance equity and social cohesion in access, resourcing, provision and outcomes from public services’. This would broaden the previous MDG in terms of indicators that are universal and measurable and go beyond a narrow focus on access. It also introduces a second challenge, that equality is only part of the peacebuilding equation. As the historical struggle for desegregation of education has told us, ‘equal but separate is not enough’. Education also has an important role in developing social cohesion, particularly within societies recovering from violent conflict. Otherwise it may become an instrument for separate development. Jenson (2010) highlights different ideological influences and definitions of the concept, but underlines the universal importance of social cohesion across OECD and low income countries, and identifies a range of practical indicators.[6]  The High Level Report rightly suggests that Goal 3 emphasises the importance of providing quality lifelong learning, but this also needs to recognise the crucial role of education in promoting social cohesion, measurable in terms of a number of practical indicators such as the extent to which education promotes integrated or separate development, influences perceptions of discrimination, and affects levels of trust between diverse groups in society. Ultimately sustainable peacebuilding cannot avoid issues of social justice, and the inclusion of post 2015 targets related to equity and social cohesion may go some way recognising the crucial role of education and social development in sustainable peacebuilding.

[1] United Nations (2013) ‘A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development’. The Report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, New York, United Nations.

[2] Ibid, p.16

[3] See the New Deal on Building Peaceful States http://www.newdeal4peace.org/new-deal-snapshot/

[4] See for example debates around ‘failed’ and ‘fragile’ states such as Bengsston

[5] UN General Assembly, Report of the Secretary-General on peacebuilding in the immediate aftermath of conflict, 11 June 2009, A/63/881–S/2009/304, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4a4c6c3b2.html  [accessed 28 June 2013]

[6] Jenson, J. (2010) Defining and Measuring Social Cohesion, London, Commonwealth Secretariat and United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.