Promoting access to quality, safe, and relevant education for all persons affected by crisis

Learning for Peace - Looking Back, Looking Forward

1 November 2017

by Friedrich Affolter, Education Expert for Risk-Informed Programming, UNICEF

Violent conflict impacts all aspects of human survival, security, and well-being. Conflict and fragility are the greatest threats to human development; sustained, positive outcomes for human development will not be possible unless the current cycles of violent conflict end. As it is aptly stated in Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:  “There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.”

The increasing scale, intensity, duration, and reoccurrence of conflicts suggests the need to go beyond current approaches to identifying, mitigating and resolving long-standing grievances. Salient from contemporary discussions, within and outside the United Nations, is the vital imperative for both humanitarian and development activity – and education-in-emergencies in particular – to support measures that reduce the impact of insecurity, poverty, and inequality on those who are the most marginalized in conflict.


In response, under the 2014-2017 Strategic Plan, UNICEF has sought to increase risk mitigation and peacebuilding strategies in its programming. In this evolving context, the Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy in Conflict-Affected Contexts (PBEA) programme – Learning for Peace – was designed to strengthen social cohesion, resilience, and human security through improved education policies and practices. The programme operated on the rationale that, when delivered equitably and effectively, education and other social services can strengthen capacities to manage conflict shocks and stresses, from the national to individual levels, and promote peace, while sustaining long-term development opportunities for children, young people and their supportive communities.

From 2012-2016, Learning for Peace was implemented in 14 countries – Burundi, Chad,  Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Myanmar, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, the State of Palestine, Uganda, Pakistan, and Yemen – and supported by the partner governments in each country, UNICEF, and the Government of Netherlands. As a result of these education programmes, UNICEF was able to illustrate how education and other social services can be managed and delivered in a conflict-sensitive fashion (do-no-harm), and in some cases address dynamics and underlying causes of conflict (do-more-good), and thus strengthen social cohesion.

Learning for Peace activities were designed in accordance with five main outcome areas:

  • Policy integration, whereby education policies/curricula are peacebuilding focused and education is utilized as a strategic entry point for peacebuilding
  • Developing institutional capacities to deliver equitable, conflict-sensitive education services
  • Building the capacity of individuals and communities to mitigate conflict and promote peace
  • Increasing access to conflict-sensitive education and services
  • Generating evidence and knowledge on education and peacebuilding

At the country level, the programme was informed by conflict analyses identifying key underlying causes and dynamics, or factors, of violent conflict, and prioritizing entry points for programme design that addressed these factors. The analyses revealed a number of structural and relational dynamics that could be addressed through programming efforts in education. These dynamics include: a lack of transparency in or exclusion from political decision-making processes; the perpetuation of divisions based on identity through inequitable access to social services; and the inability of state mechanisms to appropriately guard against and respond to violence.

“The likelihood of violent conflict doubles for countries with high levels of inequality in education.”

Research supported by the programme compared education equality data and violent conflict data from nearly 100 countries over 50 years. It found robust evidence that the likelihood of violent conflict doubles for countries with high levels of intergroup inequality in education, after controlling for known conflict risk factors, such as wealth, political regime, geography, etc. The research also suggests that greater education equality between male and female students decreases the likelihood of violent conflict by as much as 37 per cent. Case study research funded by Learning for Peace furthermore demonstrates entry points for leveraging education to support and complement “transitional justice” processes, and for mitigating inequity, exclusion and narratives of violence in fragile and post-conflict settings.

Learning for Peace was an unprecedented effort by UNICEF to go beyond ‘business as usual’ in education programming. To date, it is UNICEF’s largest and only global education for peacebuilding programme.

Now that the Learning for Peace programme has formally ended, we are pleased to work with INEE to continue to promote the “education for peacebuilding” agenda and priorities, including by establishing a new home on the INEE website for the collection of materials produced and compiled by Learning for Peace.

The new INEE Learning for Peace Collection webpage shares guidance notes, research, conflict analysis reports, case studies, issue briefs, multimedia, and training modules that provide insight into the relationship between social service sectors such as education, adolescence, child protection, early childhood development, gender, and peacebuilding. This portal is a rich resource for practitioners, researchers, policymakers, and planners interested in leveraging social services so that, in addition to developmental benefits, they also strengthen the organization of peaceful, just, and inclusive societies.

Friedrich Affolter is an Education Expert for Risk-Informed Programming at the Education-in-Emergency Unit at UNICEF NY. Until June 2016, he served as the manager of UNICEF’s Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy Programme (PBEA), which designed education programmes that contribute to the mitigation of drivers of conflict in 14 fragile and post-conflict countries. Earlier UN assignments include Sudan, South Africa, Angola and Afghanistan. Friedrich holds a Masters and a Doctorate Degree from the Center for International Education of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.