Academic Publication

A Systematic Policy Analysis of Early Childhood Development and Peacebuilding in fourteen Conflict-affected and Post-conflict countries

Authors:
Lynn Ang
Sandy Oliver
Source:
University College of London
Contributor:
Publication Year:
2015
May 04, 2020
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

This report presents the findings of a systematic review of early childhood development and peacebuilding policies across fourteen conflict-affected and post-conflict countries. The study sought to map existing national-level policies covering a range of cross-sectors: ECD, peacebuilding and social welfare policies. It built on extant research which recognizes the enormous harm caused by conflict on children at various levels of society and to provide an evidence-based review of how children are positioned in policy development. To this end, the research aimed to review ECD policies for components relevant to the promotion of peacebuilding and conversely, to review peacebuilding policies for evidence of potential links with young children and ECD.

 

Executive Summary

Conflict and fragile conditions that arise as a result of adversities such as civil wars, deprivation and emergency situations invariably compromise the lives of children. This research is concerned with a major issue; that of early childhood development and peacebuilding at a policy level in conflict- affected and post-conflict countries. The subject of peacebuilding features strongly on the international agenda. In 1996, the United Nations published an ‘Inventory of Post-Conflict Peacebuilding Activities’ that featured the varied peacebuilding activities which have been developed to aid conflict-affected countries in their recovery (United Nations 1996). The Secretary- General, Ban Ki-moon, asserted that ‘[a]chieving sustainable peace has long been a priority for the United Nations’, and the international community has an important responsibility to address the challenges that arise in the aftermath of conflict, to ‘better support countries in making an irreversible transition from war to peace.’ (United Nations Peacebuilding Office 2010, p2). It is also notable that ‘Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions’ was set as the 16th goal of the United Nations Global Goals for sustainable development 2015 (United Nations 2015).

Informed by this international context, this report presents the findings of a systematic review of early childhood development and peacebuilding policies across fourteen conflict-affected and post- conflict countries. The study sought to map existing national-level policies covering a range of cross- sectors: ECD, peacebuilding and social welfare policies. It built on extant research which recognises the enormous harm caused by conflict on children at various levels of society and to provide an evidence-based review of how children are positioned in policy development. To this end, the research aimed to review ECD policies for components relevant to the promotion of peacebuilding and conversely, to review peacebuilding policies for evidence of potential links with young children and ECD.

It did this by constructing a multilevel conceptual framework to understand children’s potential roles in peacebuilding. It then considered the policies of each country in depth and presented the exemplars and opportunities for children in peacebuilding emerging from that analysis. This was followed by a comparison of what is known from research about young people’s role in peacebuilding. Finally it synthesised the findings from all this work to draw out the links between how childhood is constructed in national policies and their existing or potential roles in peacebuilding predicted by the conceptual framework

What Does The Systematic Policy Review Show?

This systematic review provided a close examination of national documentation in order to determine the ways in which children are positioned in policy. It is based on the premise that how a society constructs the notion of children and childhood is fundamentally implicated in the policies and practices of that society. Central to the study is the idea that children, even from a young age, have a role in determining their own lives and can be active agents in shaping the world around them including peacebuilding processes and social outcomes. As such, the policy opportunities for young children are paramount to the promotion of peacebuilding in conflict-affected states.

Overall, the systematic review showed that even though it is encouraging that several governments have indicated intent to promote the importance of children, early childhood development and the principles of peacebuilding, and have done so in writing in national policy discourses, there is limited evidence of children’s participation in peacebuilding as agents of change. It is also not clear whether governmental aspirations exemplified in policy rhetoric are realised in practice. However, the research showed that recognising a multilevel, ecological model of determinants of peace within families, communities and wider societies, is important in supporting early childhood development and enhancing children’s lives. Influencing factors that promote young children’s development, and which have the potential to contribute to a wider social justice and equality agenda include the role of parents, families, and communities, and the role they play in fostering effective environments for children; that is, the dispositions that are conducive to building resilience and social cohesion. This suggests that for children living in conflict and adverse situations, policies that encourage positive social and familial influences can help to promote and facilitate young children’s developmental trajectory, with added social value. There is therefore a need to identify the policy opportunities for linking early childhood and peacebuilding at the multiple levels of the ecology of children’s lives. A key implication from the findings of this study is that policy development should seek to promote strategies that support early childhood development and also work to evidence and improve the impact of interventions. The following key messages have emerged:

Leveraging early childhood development as a cross-cutting policy issue for peacebuilding

1. The development of early childhood development policies is a complex area that is located within a number of policy domains. It is concerned not only with children’s care and early education, but also maternal and child health, nutrition, gender opportunities, social welfare and protection, social and economic equity, and poverty issues.

2. As such, children and early childhood development are often part of much wider policy agendas (eg national development, primary education, health promotion, reintegration of displaced persons). The policy goals for early childhood development are broader than simply developing and structuring services for young children but are also intrinsically linked with other larger social agendas such as tackling poverty, promoting universal primary education, improving educational standards, and establishing national security and development in post-conflict states.

3. Given the multi-sectoral nature of early childhood development and the diverse policy approaches undertaken by different governments, there are opportunities to be harnesses when thinking beyond policy dichotomies (eg early childhood development vs peacebuilding, early childhood vs primary education, children vs young people) but to undertake a polyphonic and multi-dimensional perspective of early childhood development as a cross-cutting issue, and the “added value” of aligning ECD and peacebuilding across sectors and multidisciplinary fields.

4. The majority of policies reviewed offer clear coverage of primary, youth and at times adult education. However, the focus on children 0 to 8 years is comparatively limited. Many of the policies cited do not or only marginally reflect early childhood development considerations related to 0 to 8 year olds especially as the findings show the majority of policies do not tend to disaggregate according to age group in terms of early or later childhood.

5. Protecting children’s rights to education, social protection and welfare in conflict-affected countries has the potential to mediate the negative impacts of conflict and provide children with the skills, knowledge and dispositions that they need to work towards reconciliation. It is therefore important that early childhood development is appropriately prioritised as a key national agenda, especially for countries where targeted peacebuilding and/or early childhood policies are notably absent.

Enhancing children’s participatory role in policy

6. The role and positioning of children in the policies are generally framed in a rights-based approach that is underpinned by the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), and simultaneously as ‘subjects of concern’ facing particular vulnerabilities and in need of special care and protection.

7. However, less discernible are national policies with clear intent which promote the participatory role and agency of children as having the potential to contribute to social change. For example, Ethiopia’s ‘Education Sector Development Program IV. [Ethiopia 2010a], recognises children as ‘agents of change’ (p47) within their own homes, schools and communities in the promotion of basic services in water sanitation & hygiene (WASH), and simultaneously, children’s role as active learners with the agency to engage in a rich learning environment as exemplified through the Ethiopian Pastoralist Area Education Strategy [Ethiopia 2009]. However, such policy leanings that construct the role of children as influencers of social change, and contributing to national development in a post-conflict society is not consistently evidenced across the policies.

Building alliances between early childhood development and peacebuilding

8. There are opportunities for peacebuilding across the policies, as evident through the articulation of educational programmes, schemes, training curricula, and strategic plans. However, the links between early childhood development and peacebuilding are less strong.

9. Policies which address early childhood and peacebuilding are at times exemplified within a rhetoric of promoting nation-building and national solidarity in the government’s attempts to reconcile the country’s history of conflict and to create a cohesive and peaceful society. In Myanmar, Yemen and State of Palestine for example, the national policies reflect strong statements of enhancing national identity and solidarity. The Education Act (2012) in South Sudan [South Sudan 2012b] is another example which stipulates the role of education in promoting peace and social integration through national patriotism, respect and tolerance for other cultures and traditions.

10. Focusing on early childhood programmes which seek to enhance the educational opportunities for marginalized populations has the potential to enhance children’s welfare and dispositions for further the peacebuilding and social cohesion agenda. For example, The Sierra Leone Education Sector Plan 2014 - 2018 ‘Learning to Succeed’ [Sierra Leone] suggests the need to enhance the quality of early childhood provisions and develop cost-effective community-based pre-school models, particularly for the most vulnerable communities in order to build a more equitable and cohesive society.

Strengthening the role of children and families

11. A vital link in the ecological model of early childhood development is the relationship between children and families. When this is nurtured in an environment of support, respect, and recognition of children’s rights to a quality life, children are more likely to prosper.

12. The findings of the review suggest the potential role of early childhood development in contributing indirectly to a more socially cohesive society through leveraging key areas, such as the strengthening of relationships between children and families, promoting the primary role of families in supporting early childhood education and embedding the central role of early childhood education at the level of family and community.

13. Supporting the (re)integration of internally displaced children and families in local communities who have been severely affected by conflict may help to address issues of inequality and social dissonance. For example, the policy review on Yemen shows that addressing children’s reintegration and access to basic services such education and social protection can contribute positively to building a more cohesive society.

14. Prioritising early childhood education through the primary role of parents and families, and strengthening their beliefs in the value of early education can improve children’s learning opportunities and later trajectory, and contribute indirectly to enhancing social equality. For example, the review of policies in Sierra Leone suggests that cultural constraints including early marriages and encouraging parents to appreciate the value of education for girls can be addressed at an early stage through emphasising the important role of early childhood education in the family and community.

Improving policy implementation, monitoring and evaluation

15. Policy rhetoric in the promotion of early childhood development and peacebuilding does not automatically translate to policy implementation. In countries where there is limited evidence or an absence of monitoring and evaluation systems, there are inevitable disparities between policy aspirations and actions, and evidence of what needs to be done to achieve those aspirations. It is difficult within the scope of the review to ascertain the impact of policy on the lives of children and families.

16. The policies show varying levels of government intent, aspiration, and in some cases, actions in the promotion of early childhood development and peacebuilding. More accurate and comprehensive data in regards to the monitoring and implementation of these policies is needed.

Common challenges and opportunities

17. Common underlying conflict drivers across all fourteen countries include deep-seated political, ethnic and religious divisions. To address these drivers, prioritisation of conflict- sensitive and culturally-sensitive early childhood education with an emphasis on building inter-ethnic understanding and trust from an early age, as well as developing resilience, has the potential to contribute favourably to social cohesion at a local and national level.

18. Some countries recognise young people, and less often young children, as active agents contributing to more cohesive societies in a political environment conducive to their involvement in developing and implementing social policies. These countries might be fruitful settings for peacebuilding programmes with children. As these predictions are made on the basis of policies written in the past, there is an opportunity to test the validity of the model by investigating the outcomes of peacebuilding programmes established in these settings.

19. Other countries lack the inclusive approaches to policy development and implementation that would be expected in more cohesive societies. Where adults’ roles are limited, the role for young people and children is more so. Peacebuilding programmes with children are premature as desirable outcomes in these circumstances are unlikely to be far reaching or sustained. Prior change is required at a national level, to develop more participatory approach, whereby adults, young people and children contribute to more cohesive societies in a political environment that is conducive to their involvement in developing and implementing peacebuilding and social policies.

Conclusions

The overall purpose of this study is to provide a clear analysis of national policies to investigate how children are positioned in policies and their development. The research aimed to review ECD policies for components relevant to the promotion of peacebuilding and conversely, to review peacebuilding policies for evidence of potential links with young children and ECD. Overall, the findings show distinct ‘policy gaps’ across all fourteen countries in the recognition of the importance of early childhood development. There are also limited linkages in the policy discourses between early childhood development and peacebuilding. Yet, there is some discernible empirical and policy evidence which show the effectiveness of early childhood development and education in promoting positive changes in young children’s lives and their potential contributions to social cohesion and reconciliation in conflict-affected states. The review therefore shows compelling reasons for increased prioritisation of the early years and ECD in policy development in the promotion of peacebuilding.

This will then need to be bolstered by enhancement of structural reforms and services at national level to achieve the policy aims and objectives, in order that policy aspirations or rhetoric can be effectively translated to policy implementation and actual practice. It is important that children and early childhood development are appropriately prioritised as the first key step to creating a culture of peace for future generations.

Implications

The implications of this study have been drawn out for different users in order to guide the future development of policy and practice, as well as research. Governments can directly influence the role and participation of children in conflict-affected and post-conflict countries through clear, coherent policies and social reform agendas. The implementation of systematically monitored and evaluation policies with the support of stable and coordinated governance can also have a direct influence on programmatic practices on the ground, for example through the work of ECD practitioners and professionals in ensuring that young children and families play a central role in promoting sustainable peace and rebuilding civil society.

Implications for policy and practice
  1. Move early childhood development and peacebuilding up the policy ladder within a wider context of public participation in policy development and implementation.
  2. Leverage early childhood development to promote community building and intergroup social cohesion in the reconciliation process.
  3. Develop clear national policies and time-bound policy strategies that focus on early childhood development and peacebuilding.
  4. Strengthen policies and programmes that support the integral role of young children and families in bringing about reconciliation and breaking the cycle of intergenerational conflict.
  5. Strengthen policies and programmes that enable the participation and inclusion of young children and families in peacebuilding.
  6. Strengthen accurate and comprehensive data on policy monitoring and implementation to promote more effective policy-making.
  7. Develop a position paper with the aim of informing practice that recognises the potential role and rights of children in contributing to the peacebuilding process as active social agents to bring about transformative change in society.
Implications for research
  1. Further research into early childhood and peacebuilding could examine the extent of policy implementation and the impact of policies at a national level in contributing to social cohesion and reconciliation. Well-designed outcome evaluations could be used to address questions as to whether policy development and interventions have contributed to social transformation and the extent to which policies and programme interventions work or do not work.
  2. Research into children’s perspectives and their voices in the peacebuilding process – based on the premise that children are more than just vulnerable victims of conflict, but active agents with autonomy, rights and the potential to pro-actively participate and contribute to peacebuilding and social cohesion. For example, through participation in educational programmes that foster peaceful relations among family and community, building positive attitudes in preschool and school settings that value diversity and inclusion, and developing conflict resolution skills and dispositions that can in turn contribute to building peaceful and resilient communities.
  3. Research into the relationship between children and families, and the associations with peacebuilding in early childhood.
  4. Further investigation into the effectiveness of early childhood programmes and intervention strategies that promote social cohesion and peacebuilding.
  5. Further research into the empirical evidence that connects early childhood development, conflict and peacebuilding.
  6. For each focus within this research agenda, there is an opportunity for a contextual analysis that takes into account countries with and without an ethos of public participation in policy development and implementation.

 

 

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