The Role of Education In Peacebuilding: Findings from Lebanon, Nepal and Sierra Leone

Mario Novelli
Alan Smith
Publication Year:
April 21, 2020
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

The study consisted of two phases: Firstly, a literature review of education's role in peacebuilding. Secondly, the completion of three country case studies (Lebanon, Nepal and Sierra Leone), with a particular emphasis on the work of UNICEF. Rather than selecting cases for similarities, UNICEF sought to select for variety, drawing out the wide disparities between countries to highlight the types of education programming taking place in very different conflict environments. Fieldwork, interviews and consultation meetings were held with government officials, INGO and NGO representatives, UNICEF staff members and teachers. This report is a synthesis derived from both phases.

Access to a quality education is regarded as a right that should be maintained even in the most difficult circumstances. In the midst of conflict it can provide knowledge and skills that provide protection, while in the longer term, it can provide values and attitudes that offer a basis for transforming conflict itself. Education is deeply implicated in processes of socialization and identity formation, which are vital for economic growth and individual and national advancement and can act as an important vehicle for social cohesion. On the other hand, education can also undermine all these processes and, therefore, UNICEF needs to ensure that it is delivered effectively and equitably and is a driver of peace rather than war. Crucially, education is not a marginal player in peacebuilding, but a core component of building sustainable peace. Peacebuilding is essentially about supporting the transformative processes any post-conflict society needs to go through, and these changes unfold over generations. Developments through the education sector represent a very important part of this transformative process, with huge potential to impact positively or negatively.

The education sector is potentially a very important sector for supporting the transformative process in post-conflict societies. This study suggests that education programming should be based on high quality political economy and conflict analysis that is sensitive to the conflict dynamics of local contexts. Attention should be paid to supporting transformation through reform of the education sector and paying attention to the values and content communicated through the education system. Such interventions need to be mindful of the dynamics of social transformation, especially the need for these processes to evolve over several generations, in order for them to become part of a self-organized and sustainable future. The more intrusive and externally driven, the less self-organized and sustainable the outcome, and UNICEF must recognize the potential for the organization to do harm, despite its best intentions.


  • The concept of peacebuilding is not well defined. UNICEF must decide its own interpretation, which would need to go beyond humanitarian assistance and to emphasize social transformation within conflict-affected societies.
  • Neither UNICEF nor the education sector has been strongly integrated into the UN peacebuilding agenda within countries.
  • Consistent with its mandate, UNICEF has comparative advantages to take a lead on peacebuilding, however it must consider the implications of how this may affect perceptions and how peacebuilding relates to other priority areas.
  • For UNICEF education programming to support peacebuilding there is a strong need to: build key partnerships at the global level; work with national governments; identify partners that share transformation goals (with the understanding this may create tensions with other partners or governments); make education programming more relevant to post-conflict transformations; take a gender-sensitive approach to peacebuilding programming; ensure a peacebuilding/conflict analysis lens informs all policy; and move from generic ‘global’ solutions to localized adaptations.
  • There is a need for a comprehensive capacity-building strategy for peacebuilding across all agencies from headquarters level to field offices.
  • There are important distinctions between humanitarian response programming, providing conflict-sensitive education, and programmes aimed at peacebuilding. Thus, it is important to develop monitoring and evaluation indicators that are particular to peacebuilding outcomes.
  • There is a distinctive role for research that generates new knowledge and insight into education programming and how it relates to longer-term peacebuilding.


  • Develop a comprehensive policy paper (in consultation with field offices) on UNICEF’s commitment to peacebuilding.
  • Identify areas of common agreement with global partners about the contribution of education to peacebuilding in conflict-affected countries.
  • Carry out short (3 month) study to gather information about the extent to which UNICEF is currently integrated within the UN peacebuilding presence in conflict-affected countries; and how this operates in practice, obstacles and improvements.
  • Conduct assessment of capacity for conflict analysis and support for peacebuilding within HQ and field offices.
  • Run pilot studies in three countries to test the feasibility and direction of a shift towards education programming that has a more explicit peacebuilding rationale.
  • Introduce an education and peacebuilding programme in a limited number of countries (based on pilot studies’ findings).
  • Place greater emphasis on knowledge management and institutional learning.

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