Building peace through education
The Learning for Peace initiatives addresses the root causes of conflict and strengthen resilience, social cohesion and human security in 14 conflict-affected countries
June 27, 2016 by Friedrich W Affolter, UNICEF
7 minutes read
A girl holding a Learning for Peace poster in a classroom. Credit: UNICEF

In 2012, UNICEF and the government of the Netherlands began an ambitious and unprecedented journey to change the way education was delivered to children and young people in countries at risk of, experiencing, or recovering from violent conflict.

Learning for Peace is an innovative, cross-sectoral initiative to address root causes of conflict and strengthen resilience, social cohesion and human security in 14 conflict-affected countries[1].

To date, Learning for Peace is UNICEF’s largest global peacebuilding program. While the world is a different place than when we started 4 years ago, so is UNICEF. We’ve gained experience, insight and evidence on how education and other social services can be leveraged to not only meet social needs but also contribute to mitigating drivers of conflict, and help to build peace.

Changing policies and strengthening systems

Based on the findings of in-depth conflict analyses, the program designed context-specific education interventions to address underlying causes and dynamics of conflict at various levels: policy, institution, community, and individual. And we have made significant inroads at all levels.

We have changed existing or introduced new policies in 10 countries.  In Pakistan, findings from the conflict analysis informed education sector plans in the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan, ensuring the plans were conflict-sensitive and strengthened education equality. The provincial education sector plans are further informing 59 (out of 61) district level education sector plans and establishing an enabling environment for textbook content reviews.

With training modules and guidance tools, we have strengthened capacities of government representatives, educators, teachers and communities. And we’ve strengthened systems, particularly around reporting and responding to violence, including police and judicial mechanisms in countries like Uganda and Burundi.

Building relationships and expanding access to education

Collaborating with partners like the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), we’ve worked to measure social cohesion and resilience. Baseline research in Burundi indicates that levels of trust in the government were lowest amongst those with no experience of formal schooling. Thus, UNICEF has worked to increase access to education to strengthen state-community relations, and build more cohesive societies. 

We have expanded access to quality conflict-sensitive and relevant education, particularly focusing on marginalized and excluded groups, from cattle-raising communities in South Sudan to pastoral communities in Ethiopia and refugee communities in Pakistan.  

  • In Pakistan, enrollment rates amongst Afghan refugee children have increased by 25% in the 50 government schools that participated in the program, with girls’ enrollment increasing by 17% amongst the Afghan community. Additionally, the enrollment of girls from host communities has increased by 10%, underlining the mutual benefits of inclusive education environments.
  • In Ethiopia, UNICEF worked with the government and pastoralist communities to broaden education access to nearly 6,000 pastoralist children.
  • In Cote d’Ivoire, we established 22 early childhood development (ECD) centers bringing together mothers from different ethnic groups. Prior to the Learning for Peace programme, these communities were divided with negative perceptions of one another. UNICEF and partners united 650 mothers around shared values of child well-being, literacy classes and income-generating activities, with the objective of building trust between communities. Group members report this has also impacted relations between their husbands and children, breaking the cycle of division in the community.

Flexibility to respond when crises strike

We have adapted our response to contexts, highlighting the importance of flexibility in programming. During the Ebola Virus outbreak in West Africa, around 300 national volunteers trained through the Learning for Peace program in community mobilization and conflict resolution were activated to share health and hygiene knowledge and practices in communities where they already had established trust. These young volunteers also worked to protect Ebola-affected families from stigmatization.

Celebrating our achievements on June 30

While the program officially ends on June 30, 2016, the wealth of research and evidence collected by UNICEF and partners on the relationship between education and peacebuilding will shape future programming.

At a special event on June 30, 2016, UNICEF and FHI 360 will launch our final piece of research, examining the impact of conflict on education inequality and gender parity. The Faces of Peace event will also highlight program achievements, feature presentations from Pakistan and the UN Peacebuilding Support Office, and will discuss ways forward for social services and peacebuilding.

This has been a long and eye-opening process, and we are grateful to the government of the Netherlands and our partners, whose commitment and tireless efforts not only transformed the field of education and peacebuilding, but also the lives of millions of children in conflict-affected contexts.

Finally, our gratitude is with the children, women and men living in conflict-affected areas who participated in the program and whose resilience inspires us to continue working for the rights of children around the world.

For more on the Learning for Peace programme:


[1] Burundi, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, State of Palestine, Uganda, and Yemen.


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