Education Matters for Youth in Conflict-affected Countries
“When I came to school, there were some who pointed at me and said, “Look, there’s a returnee! She’s crazy! She’s a witch! She has come from Tanzania.” - Angélique, a female returnee in Burundi. Many returnee youths like Angélique wonder what their identity is and try to figure out what ‘community’ means and how they can shape their future civic experiences.
October 21, 2014 by INEE Adolescent and Youth Task Team, INEE
7 minutes read
'Back To School' Programme in Burundi. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

Between 2005 and 2012, nearly half a million Burundians returned to their country from Tanzania after having fled as refugees during the civil wars of 1972 and 1993. In Tanzania, the language of school instruction was English and Swahili. On their return, many youths found themselves demoted to lower grades in school since they were unable to communicate fluently in French and Kirundi, Burundi’s official languages. In their communities, some youths were even labeled as “traitors” for having left the country during the civil war.

Torn between two countries

Angélique, a female returnee recalled: “When I came to school, there were some who pointed at me and said, “Look, there’s a returnee! She’s crazy! She’s a witch! She has come from Tanzania.”

In 2009, Burundi joined the East African Community, a move towards greater economic integration and perhaps, even language integration in the region. Meanwhile, many returnee youths like Angélique wonder what their identity is and try to figure out what ‘community’ means and how they can shape their future civic experiences.

To which country should their allegiance go? Tanzania, a country that provided refuge during the war and where many spent the better part of their childhood? Or Burundi, a country where their roots lie but where they also find themselves stigmatized? Or is a hybrid East African, regional identity possible? But what would that mean for teachings of a nation state and for developing civic identity?

Discuss with us!

The example of youth refugees from Burundi is part of an online discussion that the Adolescents and Youth Task Team (AYTT) at the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) has initiated.

In August, Salathiel Ntakirutimana and Lauren Greubel wrote in a blog post on GPE’s Education for All Blog about Burundi’s National Youth Forum: “In Burundi youth engagement in the elections has a direct implication on the country’s peace and stability. Without prospects of education or employment young people were vulnerable to political ploys during previous election periods.” The statement hits right at the heart of the discussion.

The online series discusses conflict-sensitive education in the context of adolescents and youth programs. Two events have already taken place and discussion summaries can be accessed:


Discussion Topic


October 6

Introductory Session


October 20

Youth as citizens

Michelle Bellino (University of Michigan School of Education), Vidur Chopra (Harvard University)

October 27

Best practices for youth programming

Lisa Zimmermann (Graduate Institute)

November 3

Education for out-of-school and over-age youth

Ally Krupar (RET)

November 10

Conclusion and Post-2015 agenda

Sarah Beardmore (Global Partnership for Education)


Access to education is vital for the protection and well-being of youth

Adolescents and youths in conflict-affected situations often occupy a vulnerable position within their communities. Many may be displaced or may have lacked access to education or other skill-building opportunities throughout their lives.

Of the 74 million adolescents who do not attend any sort of formal education, 28 million live in conflict-affected places. For young people who are displaced, the nature of protracted refugee situations at an average of 17 years means that whole generations are potentially missing out on quality education and training. These factors can severely constrain the social development and livelihood opportunities of young people living in conflict situations.

Conflict-sensitive education

The concept of conflict-sensitive education recognizes that education interventions in conflict-affected and fragile situations (one of GPE’s focus areas) are not neutral and that education can be a force for conflict or for peace depending on its context.

In crisis contexts, education and training play a critical role in creating an environment where all young people can develop a sense of purpose, gain livelihood skills and become actors for peace and stability. Post-primary schooling, vocational training programs and other education, including conflict-resolution programs, can provide alternative options for engagement and empowerment for young people affected by violence.

Increasing youths’ access to educational opportunities also has the potential to contribute to reconstruction efforts and future social stability. Yet inequality of educational opportunities or the entrenchment of social or ethnic prejudices in school curricula are often seen as contributing factors in conflicts.

Join the next discussion on the INEE website and share your thoughts and experience. New posts will be added on Monday each week. Please join in the discussion in the comments section of each post, which will run until the following Friday.

Related blogs


Education has yet to make its way to the national priorities list, particularly when it comes to resource allocation and utilisation. The ground realities paint a gloomy picture across the rural and urban divide in the Swat Valley. The majority of students in remote rural areas of the valley face access problems that lead to much higher dropout rates at the high school and college level. Moreover, rural schools are also ill-equipped in terms of resources such as computers and science laboratories and tend to have fewer qualified teachers in subjects such as mathematics and physics.

A 2012 report regarding government schools issued by the Elementary & Secondary Education Department of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa shows a steady increase in enrolment since 2006-07 that is inching towards gender parity at the primary level, but depicts a massive dropout at middle and secondary levels. These findings were also confirmed by a study we undertook.

The considerable dropout rate of male students at the middle and secondary levels can be explained in economic terms. According to our study, students from lower and lower-middle income groups cannot afford either transportation cost to big towns or boarding and lodging expenses in the urban centres where most of the higher education facilities are located.

Affordability of educational expenses is not the only factor behind high dropout rates for males; opportunity cost on the part of parents is also fundamental to low enrolments at higher levels. In the urban areas of Swat, after completing their primary education, many children opt for skill-learning enterprises; they start work as apprentices in different workshops such as furniture shops, automobile workshops and electrician stores.

For girl students, economic factors, along with cultural norms, dictate gender segregation and complicate their access to education. In the prevailing social environment, girls are not allowed to utilise public transportation and their main conveyance tends to be private vehicles, which many cannot afford.

Besides pointing to issues around basic infrastructure, other problems, including the lack of teaching staff and laboratory equipment, also exist. Most of the laboratories in high schools, a prerequisite for scientific experiments, either lack equipment or contain outdated instruments. Apart from a few exceptions, private schools are not better in this regard either.

Accessibility issues overshadow questions of quality and viability of education in policy circles. Secondary and intermediate level students were unable to express themselves fully in the language of instruction, that is, Urdu or English, highlighting the need for a curriculum that is delivered in the students’ mother tongues. The majority of secondary and intermediate level students interviewed for the study exhibited a lack of clarity of vision and were totally indecisive about their career, indicating a lack of confidence in the education system and its viability. Additionally, political interference in education departments also hinders accountability and quality. Posting and transfer of academic as well as management cadre is mostly politically motivated: merit and preference of location rarely figure in such matters. Such practices suppress motivation and initiatives on the part of both cadres. While local members of parliaments never bother to visit or monitor schools, they do take an interest in matters of posting and transfer.

The majority of respondents in our study stated that the purpose of education was to get jobs and wealth. At the same time, the majority of the students we interviewed did not reflect critical thinking nor any sociopolitical analyses in their responses. Our study also noted that some of the respondents spoke of their desire to join the military. Although the majority of the interviewed youth supported Malala’s stance on female education, they also cited social pressure as a reason for not sending their own sisters to school beyond the primary level.

Gender discrimination is indeed sharp when it comes to post-primary education of women. When the Talibanisation receded in the valley, there was a surge in girls’ enrolment at the primary level. Yet, the sustainability of this trend is a challenge. The dropout rates for females at middle and secondary levels is currently quite alarming.

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