Education, often viewed as the emblem of hope for developing nations, is the frontline of attack during sustained periods of conflict. By destroying the very foundations of a nation's hope, those leading the charge of violence achieve their ulterior motives. The impact of conflict is greatest on children who not only suffer injuries as a result of maneuvered attacks but also suffer from limited access to educational facilities. As per statistics releases by UNESCO, conflict ridden countries account for nearly 20% of all children falling in the primary school age bracket yet nearly half of them are currently not enrolled. Moreover, the probability of children dropping out of school in conflict zones is substantially higher than elsewhere in the world as only 65% of children in such regions attend the last primary school grade, a number well below the 86% that prevails across low-income countries. This in turn, reduces the competency level of students residing in conflict zones who then, fail to adapt to capitalist demands. Therefore, considering the gravity of the problem, it is imperative to understand the barriers to education in conflict zones and what potential policy reforms can help cater to the problem. Supply Side Barriers
Violence invokes damage that has grave consequences on the supply of education through three lenses. Firstly, armed conflict inflicts irreparable damage on the infrastructure and facilities of education systems whereby students are left with no options to pursue their goals. Lack of government support, due to dried up financial reserves, further exasperates the problem. This in turn impacts the teaching resources available to students as many teachers are desperate to flee in order to avoid becoming the focal point of attack due to important positions they hold within the community framework. Secondly, sustained conflict leads to displacement of masses which eventually leads to a breakdown of communities. Often, in such areas, education is then conveyed in camps that are disorganized, under-resourced and overcrowded. However, displacement places financial distress on families which is why children are forced to contribute financially rather than attending camps. Whilst some cases of displacement have been temporary in nature, many such as those of DR Congo, Colombia and Sudan have remained permanent which has left generations without access to education. Lastly, conflict has distributional and equity effects that influences who gets access to what sort of education. In most cases, those responsible for conflict hold the authoritative power to decide on part of victims. Demand Side Barriers
Educational barriers are not only limited to supply side barriers but are also impacted via a myriad of demand factors that entail poverty, health shocks, low returns to education, threat of recruitment and security fears. One of the major constraints to education in conflict zones revolves around poverty. Quite understandably, conflict inflicts severe economic losses on the masses whereby they can't even afford the most basic necessities, let alone education. Children, then, are required to contribute to the family through their labor. In case they have suffered through displacement, they fail to avail education provided via government support due to lack of documentation. This is particularly true for diasporic communities. Moreover, adverse health shocks, resulting from malnutrition and loss of family members, further strains access to educational facilities. Additionally, the fact that education no longer presents a suitable return on investment in conflict ridden areas force parents into neglecting the importance of educating their children. Furthermore, armed groups target children for recruitment as it is estimated that 300,000 children under the age of 18 are part of armed groups in active conflict zones across the globe. The fact that such recruitment opportunities provides economic and social validation to deprived children, forces them to opt for violence over education. Lastly, security fears with regards to threats of attack on educational institutes forces parents into prioritizing the lives of their children over their future prospects. Policy Reforms
The combination of the two forces provides a major obstacle to education in conflict zones. In my opinion, the problems associated with such barriers can only be solved through effective policy reforms. These reforms must be built based on a dual prong approach. Firstly, policy reforms must be focused on educating the future generations as agents of positive social change. Secondly, such reforms must be aimed at creating at fostering enabling environments for effective education systems which are cognizant of the power imbalances that exist in conflict ridden areas. These policy reforms, alongside cooperation amongst national and international stakeholders may enable masses to deal with barriers to education in conflict zones.
The following video provides great insights into how education can be protected in conflict zones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wywe5f9Lf94