In conflict & disaster, education systems face multiple risks, say experts at CIES

By Jillian Slutzker

March 8, 2016

Vancouver—In conflict-affected and disaster-prone communities, education programs cannot succeed unless they take into account the dynamics and risks associated with these unique environments, said a panel of experts at the Comparative and International Education Society conference on March 7.

With massive levels of displacement and trauma often caused by these crises, “we know you cannot do business as usual in these contexts,” said James Rogan, a principal consultant at Exterion and a key advisor to the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Education in Crisis and Conflict Network.

Rogan said that in these already precarious situations “no intervention is neutral.”

To mitigate the chance of heightening existing risks and increase the likelihood of effectively reaching learners, implementers must assess the conflict dynamics or disaster risks at play—including sources of grievances, potential community connectors, capacities for resilience and ongoing vulnerabilities to health hazards, natural disasters or renewed conflict.

Assessing conflict and education in Northern Nigeria

In the rural communities of Yobe state in Northern Nigeria, for example, food insecurity was already high and access to education was limited even before Boko Haram ramped up its attacks on schools in late 2013.

As school attacks surged, an already tenuous education system and its learners faced a compounded level of risk, explained panelist Jeffrey Coupe, Senior Education Associate at Creative Associates International.

In Yobe state alone, Boko Haram has destroyed or damaged more than 300 schools. Some 23,000 households have been displaced by the violence, said Coupe, and nearly 30 percent of the displaced population is between the ages of 6 to 17.

“As the situation goes on [those families] may be forced to withdraw kids from school, sell their animals……You may find the wholesale depletion of a livelihood,” said Coupe.

To respond to the unique educational needs of displaced children and youth, Creative is implementing the Nigeria Education Crisis Response Program, which is funded by USAID. To date, the program has reached more than 30,000  out-of-school, displaced children and youth in four states in Northern Nigeria with quality and protective non-formal education and psychological and social support. The three-year program will ultimately reach more than 50,000 children and youth.

But, as Coupe explained, the conflict dynamics are in flux in Yobe and its neighboring states. Education programming takes place against this backdrop of insecurity and economic vulnerability.

The program uses a Community Education and Conflict Assessment tool to track these risks, determine population needs and adapt to emerging priorities and changes in the environment.

“Our purpose is to do no harm and to mitigate risk,” said Coupe.

The Community Education and Conflict Assessment examines five key domains: Access; protection and wellbeing, both in and out of school; teaching and learning quality; relevance of instruction; and policy and coordination, including community involvement and family priorities.

For example, families are asked their perceptions about their children’s return to school and what ongoing risks they may fear.

The Community Education and Conflict Assessment triangulates data using in-depth interviews, community focus groups, secondary data from local education officials and a review of incident reports by monitor groups, such as the United Nations Office for the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs.

Through the assessment, the program has created a feedback loop and has been able to identify emerging needs for peace education, foundational skill development, safety and security, and livelihoods training, among others.

“We use the data to see if the methods we’re using are working…whether we have have the right people and are using the right tools so we can improve the methods over time,” said Coupe.

And while the Education Crisis Response program is only part of the solution, Coupe hopes this adaptive approach to education in conflict-torn Northern Nigeria will enable communities to become more resilient and rebound over time.

Overcoming barriers to multi-risk assessment in education

Despite the critical need for multi-risk assessments for education programs in conflict and disaster zones, panelists said, education implementers can be reluctant to conduct these analyses, which can be time consuming, incur additional costs and delve into political dynamics.

Often, there is a divide between the education field and traditional peacebuilding and humanitarian communities, where such assessments are commonplace, said USAID’s Rogan.

However, “there is really a need to paint the whole picture,” said Leonora MacEwan, Assistant Programme Specialist at the International Institute for Educational Planning at UNESCO, urging that these analyses inform programming and planning so education initiatives can be responsive and successful.

After all, said Rogan, for students, teachers, school and communities in these situations, exposure to multiple risks is unavoidable. Programs must be aware of the dynamics in order to mitigate the risks.

“The segmentation you see at our headquarters is very artificial if you are a learner in these environments,” said Rogan. “The school experiences everything.”

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