Conflict and education: counting the costs

Health and Education Advice and Resource Team (HEART), November 12, 2014

It takes terrible events, such as the suicide bombing at a boys’ school in Potiskum or the kidnapping of the Chibok school girls, for the impact of conflict on education to hit the headlines. Education Under Attack 2014 records thousands of similar attacks. But even this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the numbers of children whose right to education is denied due to conflict. Children miss out on education when schools are destroyed or teachers are killed as part of “collateral damage”, or when it becomes too hazardous to travel to school.  Millions of refugee and internally displaced children have had their education disrupted or cut short. Others drop out of school because their families can no longer afford to send them, for example if they have lost their family livelihood due to conflict. Others will never have had access to a school in the first place. Years of prolonged conflict can seriously weaken economies and education systems, reducing the resources available and stalling the development needed to grow an education system.

We know from UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report that there are 28.5 million primary school age children out of school in countries affected by conflict. For the larger countries, this estimate only includes the most conflict-affected areas. If the totals for all 33 conflict-affected countries were used, the total would be around 39 million.  If children of secondary school age were included, the figure would be closer to double that. But this does not tell us how many children are out of school as a result of conflict.

A recent study, commissioned by Protect Education in Insecurity and Conflict and written by CfBT Education Trust, quantifies the multiple impacts of conflict on education in terms of the number of out-of-school children and the financial costs to the sector. Looking in detail at the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Pakistan, the study finds that there are 19.4 million primary school aged children out of school in these three countries alone.  It estimates that up to a fifth of these children are out of school as a result of the conflict. The rest are out of school due to underlying social, political and economic factors that often predate the conflict. The findings show that the scale of the impact of conflict on education is huge. But programmes need to address much wider issues than conflict alone if all children in conflict-affected countries are to be guaranteed an education.

The study finds that the costs due to targeted attacks on education amount to tens of millions of dollars.  Where there is extensive bombing of urban areas, such as Gaza, Iraq and Syria, the costs of rebuilding schools can be in the region of hundreds of millions of dollars. But the lost education of children affected by conflict represents a far larger cost to economies, representing billions of dollars lost over their lifetimes.  The findings add a financial imperative to the call that Education Cannot Wait, and for the international community to act now to avoid a lost generation.

Blog by Ruth Naylor, CfBT Education Trust