Addressing Perception in the Delivery of Education in Conflict and Crisis

Amy West

Education for All (EFA) is a priority among practitioners and researchers working in international relief and development. This article, published in Winter 2013 issue of The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, stresses the importance of identifying how a community views education—whether it is seen as an indomitable evil or a leverageable asset, or both—when providing EFA interventions. How these perceptions are understood and addressed mean the difference between whether education interventions in conflict have any real impact or not. Complications oftentimes rest in the historical meaning that education has held within local communities and the role education has played in emboldening certain power dynamics, undermining culture and language, and exacerbating marginalization and division.

In this article, education is examined in the following ways:

  • as a right protected under international law;
  • as a priority in donor efforts seeking to rebuild societies in a stable and peaceful way;
  • as an enemy when education is misused for political, social and economic gain and to create or reinforce bias or hatred; and, 
  • as a positive good when past patterns of inequity and aggression are understood and realistic, relevant context-based strategies provide access, equity and quality education.

Moreover, strong marketing and communications strategies rolled out through local networks play an essential role in accompanying education interventions in conflict- and crisis- affected settings. Relief and development efforts have a better chance at sustainability if they create equitable access and deliver quality education and training that is free of hate speech, bias and military influence. However, attention must be paid to breaking old patterns, as well as reforming systems that have previously made education vulnerable to manipulation or neglect. Indeed, it is not just the practical security and resource deficiencies that conflict- and crisis-affected countries face, but injustice and grievances within the society in which education is being addressed that must be considered for effective reform to occur and endure.

The article concludes with recommendations on how to identify the perception of education in a community as part of effective education interventions:

  • Seek out the most disenfranchised and marginalized (not simply the usual political elites and easily accessible community leaders) as part of conflict assessment and the establishment of dialogue around the role of bias and hatred embedded in the education systems of local communities;
  • Assess and map local information and communication networks and who the gatekeepers of those networks are in a given community; 
  • Establish legitimacy with trusted community leaders and key information gatekeepers across all factions within a community; 
  • Create robust, strategic marketing and communication plans that respond not just to supply and demand but also to the greatest needs and most contentious perceptions around education;
  • Market education door-to-door, through local networks that intersect with education (for example, farmers’ associations that are made up of parents whose children are in local schools), and with local messaging; and,
  • Utilize multiple and existing information and communication channels, and a plethora of information and communication tools relevant for and trusted in that specific context.