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Education has a huge role to play in peace and development: 5 essential reads

NELSON Mandela was a famous advocate for the value of education. In 1990, the man who would become South Africa’s first democratic president four years later told a high school in Boston: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

NATASHA JOSEPH, Commissioning Editor, The Conversation

The United Nations agrees. In 2018 its General Assembly adopted a resolution that proclaimed 24 January as the International Day of Education. It’s an annual opportunity to shine a spotlight on the role that education can and should play in promoting peace and development. This year the theme is “learning for lasting peace” – a critical focus in a world that, the UN points out, is “seeing a surge of violent conflicts paralleled by an alarming rise of discrimination, racism, xenophobia, and hate speech”.

To mark the occasion, we’re sharing some of the many articles our authors have contributed since we launched in 2015 that examine the intersection of education and conflict – and how to wield this powerful “weapon” for positive change.

Education under attack

Education systems in several African countries have been identified by international advocacy groups as “very heavily affected” by conflict. These include Sudan, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Central Sahel, which includes Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, is another region of high concern. In 2020 alone (and before COVID lockdowns), 4,000 schools in the Central Sahel closed because of insecurity.


Craig Bailie explains what drives armed groups to attack schools in the Central Sahel, leaving hundreds of thousands of students high and dry.

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Long-term effects

Education systems, of course, do not exist in a vacuum. Where conflict meets long-term governance failures, poor resourcing and other societal issues, schooling comes under even more pressure. Ethiopia, for instance, has not only had to reckon with internal conflict since 2020; it’s also grappling with deeply rooted systemic crises.

Tebeje Molla and Dawit Tibebu Tiruneh unpack how these crises are colliding to leave Ethiopian children and teenagers floundering.

Rebuilding is possible

That’s not to say education systems can’t bounce back after conflict. During Somalia’s civil war in the late 1980s, more than 90% of schools were destroyed. In the wake of the war, the north of the country declared itself as the Republic of Somaliland.

Tobias Gandrup and Kristof Titeca examine how, together, the state, NGOs and the diaspora have succeeded in rebuilding the education system.

Solutions exist

Researchers also have a role to play in strengthening education systems. All over the continent, projects that aim to keep children learning even amid devastating conflicts are being developed, rolled out and tested.

One example comes from north-eastern Nigeria, which has been beset by Boko Haram attacks. Margee Ensign and Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob used a combination of radio and tablet computers to improve the literacy and numeracy skills of 22,000 children forced out of school.

In the classroom

Conflicts seem inevitable in a world racked by many “wicked problems” like climate change, inequality and poverty. But what’s taught in Africa’s classrooms could play a role in solving them. The ability to think critically, and to engage with facts rather than fiction, is key.

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To this end, Ayodeji Olukoju explains why it was so important that Nigeria reintroduced history as a school subject in 2019, a decade after scrapping it from the curriculum. Understanding history, he argues, helps to explode myths and stereotypes, leading to a more cohesive society.

By The African Mirror