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The political economy of education systems in conflict-affected contexts

 What do we want to know?

The report seeks to provide theoretically informed and policy relevant insights into the global, national and local governance of education systems in conflict-affected contexts. Three questions are asked: 1) What are the underpinning assumptions of the main bodies of political economy research in education and conflict? 2) What can the political economy of education literature since 1990 inform us about educational change and reform in conflict-affected contexts? 3) What are the strengths, weaknesses, blind spots and research gaps in the literature exploring the governance of educational change and reform in conflict-affected contexts?

Who wants to know and why?

The report is aimed at education advisers and agencies, development practitioners and government policy makers working in conflict-affected contexts. In the education sector in developing contexts, there is a strong recognition of the important role that political economy analysis might play in better understanding and addressing the obstacles to achieving the Education for All (EFA) objectives and the educational Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These challenges are undoubtedly most acute in countries affected by conflicts.

What did we find?

  • In relation to agenda setting, the review found that although education has firm and established recognition in international development strategy, it makes weaker inroads into the agenda-setting process compared to both the humanitarian aid and security sectors. There are also issues related to power, privileging a ‘security first’ approach to conflict and post-conflict reconstruction which overlooks the potential effects of poor and discriminatory education provision on conflicts, as well as institutional quality. However, this is being challenged: issues around economic and social justice are central to these arguments, and improving education provision appears as a key demand, but there is a danger that this might shift education programming towards more short-term and security-oriented interventions at the expense of long-term planning with more transformatory potential.
  • In relation to educational policy formulation, the review found ways in which it could be more effective and legitimate in conflict-affected contexts. An understanding of the political roots of conflict is necessary; as well as education goals around issues such as access and quality, it is necessary to engage with the social and educational causes of conflict, such as economic and political exclusion, linguistic repression and discrimination. In the design and selection of interventions and reforms,  priority should be given to equity over efficiency concerns. Also, policy formulation should go beyond a rights-based approach; a systemic and multisectoral approach is necessary, as is the removal of economic and political barriers. Legitimate educational interventions should not be imposed on recipient countries through aid conditionality; rather, it is necessary to encourage the adoption and ownership of policy reforms that are effective in enhancing educational outcomes and contributing to peacebuilding at the same time. Reforms should focus on long-term objectives and contribute to state building and capacity development in the decision making process.
  • In relation to policy implementation, engagement with cultural values and socio-political contexts can greatly enhance the potential of education to achieve peacebuilding objectives and contribute to social transformation in post-conflict settings. Context-sensitive implementation necessitates developing constructive, genuinely participatory dialogue with a range of different groups. The effectiveness of interventions requires an awareness of the context-specific political and cultural dynamics into which programmes and policies arrive and take root; it is necessary to locate educational interventions within complex, often highly politicised power relationships in order to prevent unintended and often counterproductive effects.

How did we get these results?

This rigorous literature review combined purposive sampling with systematic review methods, with a view to developing a narrative synthesis of the qualitative evidence from a body of literature that is heterogeneous in terms of methods used and issues addressed. A range of databases and websites were searched, and the documents found were assessed for relevance and quality. A narrative review of the final 69 studies is thus presented.

What are the implications?

1. The global security and peacebuilding agenda marginalises the potential of education to contribute to sustainable peacebuilding. There is a disconnect between peacebuilding and conflict practitioners and education specialists; both groups lack knowledge of each other’s fields, leading to silo approaches and missed opportunities. There is also a disconnect between actors in the humanitarian, development and security sectors, all of which have different approaches to the role of education.

2. There is a disjunction between a global educational agenda influenced by access, quality and efficiency and the peacebuilding needs of conflict-affected societies, e.g. addressing inequity, social cohesion and economic and political exclusion.

3. Educational interventions need to encompass cultural, political, religious and social contexts. Cross-sector collaboration between education departments and other agencies is necessary for change on key cross-cutting issues linked to peacebuilding.

4. Inattention to agency and voices of national/local actors undermines the possibility of sustainable outcomes and of addressing conflict-related social justice issues. There are also imbalances of power between global, national and local actors, which undermine the potential for local ownership of interventions and therefore opportunities for sustainable peacebuilding. A disjuncture between different types of political economy analysis results in different evaluations of the significance of global and local actors, and local political and cultural contexts.

5. The complexity of factors influencing the success of educational interventions revealed by political economy analysis makes them difficult for practitioners to address and to use to inform policies and programming. However, failure to do so is likely to undermine technical solutions.

This report should be cited as:
Novelli M, Higgins S, Ugur M, Valiente V (2014) The political economy of education systems in conflict-affected contexts: A rigorous literature review. London: Department for International Development.

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