Education and Peacebuilding in conflict-affected states

Submitting Institution

University of Sussex

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Studies In Human Society: Political Science

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Summary of the impact

This research, commissioned by UNICEF between September 2010 and December 2012, and led by Professor Mario Novelli, University of Sussex, examines the role of education in peacebuilding in conflict-affected states. The findings were directly employed by UNICEF to create a Dutch government-funded, four-year, $200 million, Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy Programme (PBEA) now operating in 13 countries (2012-16). The findings successfully challenged the UN's approach to peacebuilding, which prioritises investment in security, democracy and economic reforms, making a strong case for greater investment in education programming in post-conflict settings. The findings form part of a paper commissioned by the UN Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO), where it is stated that the social sectors, including education and health, require a bigger role in peacebuilding operations. Both the UNICEF PBEA programme and the shift in UN Peacebuilding strategy are likely to make a positive long-term impact on children's and adolescents' lives in conflict contexts.

Underpinning research

The UNICEF Education and Peacebuilding in Post-Conflict Contexts Research Project (September 2010 to December 2012) was designed to strengthen evidence on the role of education in peacebuilding processes in conflict contexts. Its specific aims were to: 1) locate peacebuilding initiatives supported through education programming; 2) document country-specific education interventions where education played an important role in contributing to peace; 3) provide guidance on education interventions contributing to peacebuilding; and 4) identify strengths, weaknesses and recommendations for UNICEF policy in relation to peacebuilding. The project included a literature review on education and peacebuilding, three country case studies (Nepal, Lebanon and Sierra Leone), and a final synthesis report. The research involved 10 researchers, including 2 senior researchers: Professor Mario Novelli, University of Sussex and Professor Alan Smith, University of Ulster. Professor Novelli, who was overall team leader, designed the methodology, conducted the Sierra Leone case study and was first author on the final synthesis report. Professor Smith led the literature review and was 2nd author for the synthesis report.

The project developed theoretically informed, empirically driven, country case studies, through a mixture of desk review and fieldwork (over 200 interviews were conducted, and a series of consultation meetings were carried out with national and international stakeholders). The case studies developed an innovative political economy approach that explored education and peacebuilding at four analytical levels: the national post-conflict environment level, the education sector level, the international actor level and the education and peacebuilding programme level. This enabled the case studies to trace the interaction between local, national and international actors, institutions and structures. The case study findings were synthesised to draw out broader generalisations on the potential of education and peacebuilding in post-conflict reconstruction and UNICEF's role therein [see Section 3, R1]. The research proposal, methodology and all research outputs were internally reviewed by a four-person UNICEF team and externally reviewed by an International Advisory Board that included representatives of core UN agencies, bilateral donors and academics (see note in Section 3).

Key findings that emerged from the project:

Within the report, the authors argue that too much funding in conflict-affected states is directed towards institutions such as the police and the military and on organising elections; conversely not enough is provided to the social sectors, e.g. education or health. As a result, conflict is simply frozen and peace not built in a sustainable way. The authors suggested that, by adopting an alternative approach that increased education-sector funding in conflict-affected contexts, peacebuilding initiatives could better tackle the underlying causes of conflict and build sustainable peace.

Specific findings from the research included:

  • The concept of peacebuilding varied substantially between different stakeholders, from minimalist `negative peace' understandings (the cessation of violence) to more expansive and transformatory conceptualisations of `positive peace' (addressing the root causes of conflict).
  • The education sector and actors were largely marginalised within the UN peacebuilding agenda, with little knowledge amongst key peacebuilding actors on education's potential to contribute to peacebuilding.
  • Similarly, education stakeholders often lacked the skills and knowledge to successfully integrate peacebuilding measures into education programmes, sector plans, etc. or to lobby for education's role in UN peacebuilding frameworks. For this reason, education's peacebuilding potential remained unfulfilled.
  • Education can contribute to key peacebuilding objectives in different moments of conflict: during, in the immediate aftermath of conflict, in the short to medium-term and in the long-term. Education can contribute to key issues such as psychosocial healing, the reintegration of ex-combatants and the promotion of social cohesion and reconciliation, can act as a peace dividend, can contribute to state legitimacy, and can provide skills, opportunities and hope for marginalised citizens.
  • Whilst education can contribute to short-term peacebuilding outcomes, it also has the long-term potential to redress socio-economic and cultural marginalisation, often at the heart of many intra-state conflicts.
  • Whilst education has the potential to contribute to peacebuilding, this requires a context and conflict-sensitive approach closely linked to local and national needs and the drivers of conflict. Education is no panacea, and can harm as well as contribute to peacebuilding objectives.

The research was conducted by Mario Novelli at Sussex from 2010 to the present day.

References to the research

R1 Novelli, M. and Smith, A. (2012) The Role of Education in Peacebuilding in Post-Conflict Reconstruction: A Synthesis Report of Findings from Sierra Leone, Nepal and Lebanon. New York: UNICEF.

R2 Novelli, M. (2012) The Role of Education in Peacebuilding in Post-Conflict Reconstruction: The Case of Sierra Leone. New York: UNICEF.

All UNICEF research outputs were internally reviewed by a four-person UNICEF team and then externally reviewed by an International Advisory Board composed of Bartholomew Armah, UNDP/Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery; Cedric DeConig, NUPI/ACCORD; Constance Maregeya, UN Peacebuilding Fund Burundi; Corien Sips, Government of the Netherlands; Emily Oldmeadow, European Commission; Henk-Jan Brinkman, UN Peacebuilding Support Office; Isabel Candela, UNICEF HQ; Jim Ackers, UNICEF ESARO; Lori Heninger, INEE; Mark Richmond, UNESCO; and Sabina Joshi, UNICEF Nepal.

R3 Novelli, M. and Lopes Cardozo, M.T.A. (2012) `Globalizing educational interventions in zones of conflict: the role of Dutch aid to education', in Verger, A., Novelli, M. and Kosar-Altinyelken, H. (eds) Global Education Policy and International Development: New Agendas, Issues and Policies. London: Continuum, 223-44.


R4 Novelli, M. (2011) `"Are we all soldiers now?" The dangers of the securitization of education and conflict', in Mundy, K. and Dryden-Peterson, S. (eds) Educating Children in Conflict Zones: Research, Policy, and Practice for Systemic Change. A Tribute to Jackie Kirk. New York: Teachers' College Press, 49-66.


Outputs can be supplied by the University on request.

Details of the impact

The research has had, and continues to have, four major areas of impact:

1) The research forms part of a long-term initiative on peacebuilding, managed by UNICEF and funded by the Dutch Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The research findings were directly employed in the creation of a four-year, $200 million education programme for conflict-affected states (2012-16). Corien Sips, of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in an interview in 2012, noted `The interesting study of Mario Novelli and Alan Smith about Education and Peacebuilding was used as a building block for the new programme' [see Section 5, C1, C5]. This new programme was formally launched by UNICEF during the UN General Assembly, New York, in February 2012 and Mario Novelli, University of Sussex, presented the findings of the research to demonstrate the programme's intellectual underpinnings.

2) A number of organisations, such as UNHCR and USAID, forming part of the Advisory Board of the initial research programme, have engaged with these conclusions and begun developing `conflict-sensitive' approaches to education-programme planning in conflict-affected contexts [C6]. The findings were also directly debated by the United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO). As a result, they now form a key part of a paper written for the PBSO (McCandless 2011), which states that the social sectors, including education and health, need to be afforded a bigger role in peacekeeping in the future, a clear policy shift for UN peacebuilding work [C2].

3) The research is also having a profound impact on UNICEF's practice in conflict-affected states, and particularly in the country partners for the new $200 million Education, Peacebuilding and Advocacy Programme (2012-16): Chad, DRC, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen, Pakistan, Myanmar. Based on the research findings, each country carried out an education-focused political economy and conflict analysis at the beginning of the programme in order to ensure that education initiatives were linked to the drivers of conflict in each of the particular contexts. Mario Novelli and Alan Smith led the pilot political economy and conflict analysis in Sierra Leone in May 2012. This is the first time that UNICEF has undertaken these types of analysis to inform policy and programming and this is transforming both the content of and the rationale for education programming on the ground in these conflict-affected countries. For the first time in UNICEF's history, peacebuilding is a specific component of education strategy in all of the programme countries. Furthermore, a peacebuilding and education capacity-building process, both within UNICEF and towards partners and key stakeholders in each of the programme countries, is being rolled out, which directly addresses key finding 3 (see above) [C3, C4].

4) Furthermore, as evidence of the impact that the research is having on UNICEF, Mario Novelli was contracted in 2012 to write the research strategy for the new Education, Peacebuilding and Advocacy Programme (2012-16) and to act as an advisor for country offices developing their education and peacebuilding programmes [C3, C4]. He is currently in discussion with UNICEF towards developing a 3-year research consortium on the role of education and peacebuilding in conflict-affected states, in partnership with the University of Amsterdam and the University of Ulster [C3, C4].

Sources to corroborate the impact

The impact of research on the new $200 million UNICEF peacebuilding programme (PBEA) funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

C1 Corien Sips, of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in an interview in 2012, noted that `The interesting study of Mario Novelli and Alan Smith about Education and Peacebuilding was used as a building block for the new programme'

Evidence of research impacting on UN peacebuilding strategy:

C2 McCandless, E. (2011) Peace Dividends and Beyond: Contributions of Administrative and Social Services to Peacebuilding. New York: United Nations Thematic Review for the Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO).

Key informants who can corroborate the impact of research on policy:

C3 Senior Education Advisor, United Nations Children's Fund, New York, USA.

C4 Peacebuilding Programme Manager, United Nations Children's Fund, New York, USA.

C5 Senior Policy Adviser, Education and Research Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government of the Netherlands.

C6 Senior Education Specialist and member of the Secretariat, Global Partnership for Education, Washington, USA.

Background documents supporting the impact of the project:

C7 All project documents are available at the UNICEF webpage, along with a UN radio podcast discussing the role of education in building sustainable peace, with Dr Novelli, University of Sussex; Jim Rogan, UNICEF's Chief of Peacebuilding and Recovery Section; and Louise Anten, Head of the Education and Research Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government of the Netherlands.