Education Does Not Save Lives So Why Should We Care?

Posted by Patricia Justino

Education is one of the hidden costs of conflict and violence. Almost 750,000 people die as a result of armed conflict each year, and there are more than 20 million displaced people in the world. Violent conflict kills and injures people, destroys capital and infrastructure, damages the social fabric, endangers civil liberties, and creates health and famine crises.

What is less known or talked about is how violent conflict denies million of children across the world their right to education. The reasons are multiple. Armed violence often targets schools and teachers as symbols of community leadership or bastions of the type of social order that some armed factions want to see destroyed. Children are useful in armies as soldiers, as well as to perform a myriad of daily tasks from cooking and cleaning to sexual favours. Children need to work when members of their family die or are unable to make a living, and families remove children from school fearing for their lives and security.

Should we care about this loss of education? Several studies report that aid and reconstruction efforts are quick to re-establish basic education structures. What is missing in this argument is an adequate understanding of the profound long-term effects of educational losses amongst those exposed to conflict.

In particular, relatively minor shocks to educational access – even as small as achieving one less year of schooling – can cause long-lasting detrimental effects on the children that are out of school, as well as on the human capital stock of whole generations. These effects persist well after the conflict has ended, with long-term intergenerational consequences in terms of school achievement, health outcomes and future earnings.

Children that lose out on school earn less, have worse job opportunities and poorer health than those that stay in school. This not only affects their living standards, but also the opportunities available to their own children, creating cycles of hardship and deprivation that persist for decades after the end of the conflict. We observe these effects still amongst those that were at school age during WWII, as well as in children that have lived through modern conflicts in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

These long-term effects are difficult to measure and therefore easy to dismiss in post-conflict planning traditionally concerned with the immediate recovery from war. But human capital is the backbone of successful economic and social recovery. Ignoring these long-term consequences will endanger any attempts to rebuild peace, social justice and stability.    

Results mentioned in the blog are analysed and discussed in Justino, Patricia. 2010. “How Does Violent Conflict Impact on Individual Educational Outcomes? The Evidence so Far”, background paper to the Global Monitoring Report on Education for All 2011, UNESCO.  

This blog post originally appeared on the Education for All World Education Blog.

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