Young People’s Demands - Sustainable Peacebuilding Through Meaningful Education

This article is published as part of Fridays With MUNPlanet, and its special series dedicated to world politics. The aim of this series is to bring you the analysis of global affairs by the established and upcoming scholars, decision-makers and policy analysts from various world regions. This week, Mieke Lopes Cardozo writes about recent insights from research with and for youth in four conflict-affected contexts – Myanmar, Pakistan, South Africa and Uganda – and the potential and limitations of formal and non-formal education in supporting young people’s roles in processes of peacebuilding.

This article draws on research conducted as part of the Research Consortium on Education and Peacebuilding, a partnership between UNICEF, the University of Amsterdam, University of Sussex and Ulster University and research teams in Myanmar, Pakistan, South Africa and Uganda (2014-2016). Findings presented here are written up in a Synthesis Report on Youth Agency and Peacebuilding: An analysis of the role of formal and non-formal education (Lopes Cardozo, Higgins and Le Mat, 2016).

This report combines a focus on youth agency, peacebuilding and education – an intersection that is often not addressed simultaneously. Recognising education’s potential to enhance or undermine processes of sustainable peacebuilding and social cohesion, this report brings together a focus on the role of formal and non-formal education initiatives that are available to (some) youth in four conflict-affected countries: Myanmar, Pakistan, South Africa and Uganda. In addressing these issues the report aims to provide useful analysis and reflection for a range of audiences including scholars, practitioners and other professionals working in youth-related policy and programming as well as youth themselves, whose voice is too frequently marginalized.

Recent posts on Fridays With MUNPlanetare exemplary of a pressing sense of the need forchange and opportunity, optimism, sustainable responses and urgency. These blog posts are written at a timely moment, as all of them – form various angles - respond to current global shifting agenda’s and gears with regards to issues of peace, security and sustainable development, including the adoption of the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, September 2015) and the UN Security Council adoption of Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security (December, 2015). By urging member states to increase representation of youth in decision-making at all levels, the Resolution 2250 shifts attention from seeing youth only as a security threat, to recognizing them as a large section of the population that can potentially contribute to constructive change. At the same time, and in line with SDG number 4 (as well as 16, 8 and a range of others), attention is being directed internationally to the important role of education in zones of conflict, with an important advocacy role taken up by (members of) the International Network of Education in Emergencies.

The UN Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security includes several references to the importance of education for young people’s lives, yet what becomes apparent is a specific view of education’s role to foster “youth entrepreneurship and constructive political engagement”. The assumption is that education should support “employment and training in preventing the marginalization of youth” and “investment in building young persons’ capabilities and skills to meet labour demands through relevant education opportunities designed in a manner which promotes a culture of peace” (article 17a/b, UN Resolution 2250). In addition, article 16 includes “education leaders” in a list of actors that would need to be “empowered” to counter recruitment of youth into violent extremism and terrorist attacks; education systems are not directly referred to as one of the conditions that might be conducive to the spread of violent extremism. Considering the general lack of attention and evidence on the roles, actions and hopes of youth in conflict-affected situations, the Resolution 2250 is an important step forward in terms of international recognition. However, it does lead to a range of unanswered questions, including the ways in which education is supposed to support youth to engage in long-term processes of peacebuilding and conflict resolution, and what this concretely means for actors working in this field.

Dilemmas of studying “youth”

In a way, as scholars in the field of sustainable development, peace and education, we have probably set ourselves out to do the impossible – to contribute something meaningful into the debates about “youth” – in others words, to say something significant about a massive, in some cases majority, segment of the population. In addition, definitions of the term “youth” itself remain contested all over the globe, ranging from more technical age-ranges to a wide scope of social categorisations. While recognizing the concept’s cultural specificity, we have defined youth as those within their second and third decade of life.Our analysis aims to illustrate both the heterogeneity of ‘youth’ in the four countries, as well as highlight how often only a selection of youth constituencies are included in (formal and non-formal) education. We draw on a rich data base, covering several regions within four countries, presenting a special opportunity to clarify how youth may contribute to peacebuilding processes, how distinct cultural, political and economic factors impact on their capacity to do so and how in turn education may be mobilized to support them – or, in turn, is currently limiting to do so.

Working together with young researchers and youth respondents in Myanmar, Pakistan, South Africa and Uganda, weaim to highlight the needs, challenges and daily realities of youth themselves. The four country case studies were selected with the intention of providing the maximum variety of contrast relating to the relationship between education and peacebuilding, in terms of geographical diversity, the nature and temporality of the conflict contexts explored and the drivers and root causes that underpin them. The rich diversity of research sites emphasises the need for conflict sensitive, contextually coherent approaches to enhancing the role and potential of education in peacebuilding processes in each context, while serving to enrich globally relevant insights and reflections on the differing challenges, possibilities and potentials of education, as a key social sector, in the promotion of sustainable peace-promoting societies.

Analytical approach for sustainable peacebuilding: 4Rs

We complement our research findings with insights from the literature on youth agency in conflict-affected settings as presented in our earlier developed Literature Review (Lopes Cardozo, Higgins, Maber, Brandt, Kusmallah, Le Mat, 2015). We apply the Research Consortium’s 4Rs theoretical framework (figure 1), which combines social justice and transitional justice thinking to develop a normative analytical framework for the study of education and peacebuilding, which recognises the multiple dimensions of inequality and injustice that often drive contemporary conflicts and the need to address the legacies of these conflicts in and through education (Novelli, Lopes Cardozo, & Smith, 2015). The framework combines dimensions of redistribution, recognition, representation, and reconciliation, linking Fraser’s (1995, 2005) work on social justice with the peacebuilding and reconciliation work of Galtung (1976), Lederach (1995, 1997), and others, to explore what sustainable peacebuilding might look like in post-conflict and conflict-affected environments.

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