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Promoting access to quality, safe, and relevant education for all persons affected by crisis

CSE and Youth, Week 1: Introduction - The Role of Youth in Conflict

In this introductory post, we will explore and define the concept of ‘conflict-sensitive education’ and discuss the importance of considering and including adolescents and youth in any conflict-sensitive approaches or programming.

What is Conflict-Sensitive Education (CSE)?

The concept of conflict-sensitive education recognizes that education interventions in conflict-affected and fragile situations are not neutral and that ‘education can be a force for conflict or for peace depending on its context’.

It is critical that education providers in all situations, but particularly within conflict-affected settings, are aware of the potentially volatile relationship between education and conflict, and seek to provide education that is sensitive and appropriate to historical and social contexts. On the positive side, it is also possible to provide education that promotes peace by offering both physical spaces and pedagogical tools for inclusion, and by promoting the development of interpersonal skills around conflict management and reconciliation.

The role of youth & adolescents in conflict-affected situations

Adolescents and youth 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 situations. For young people who are displaced, the nature of protracted refugee situations and an average length of time 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.

As young persons on the cusp of adulthood, adolescents have the potential to take on more direct roles within conflicts. Although more frequently the victims of violence and of the restricted educational and economic opportunities caused by conflict, youth are also a targeted population for recruitment and participation in armed conflicts. Though the majority of youth do not become perpetrators of violence, there is undeniably a higher likelihood for youth to become engaged in violence or even to be forced to support those who do, which can be attributed largely to the lack of livelihood or educational opportunities available. In a 2014 study for SCUK and NRC, over 90% of boys consulted in DRC said that being in school made them less likely to be recruited by an armed group.

Youth are also a poignant and immediate reminder of the influence and role of future generations in conflicts. As young people prepare to participate more fully in their societies and take on leadership roles, their experiences, relationships, and education will inevitably affect the future of conflict and reconciliation within their communities– for good or for bad. This means that adolescents and youth can also be a great resource for resolving conflicts and building better, more peaceful futures. In a focus group n Za’atari refugee camp, youth expressed desire to assist new refugees in many ways. Youth often have the time and the motivation to receive and orient newly arrived refugees, support the distribution of aid, and help their communities to access services in the large and often opaque camp system.

The importance of considering adolescents and youth in CSE

In crisis contexts, education and training play a critical role in creating an environment where all young people can develop a sense of agency and purpose, gain livelihood skills and become actors for peace and stability. Yet youth are often overlooked in emergency response strategies and programmes. Even where education is available in emergencies, most programmes focus on younger, primary-aged children, with too little investment in the developmental and protection rights and needs of youth.

Ensuring that youth have access to education is vital for the protection and well-being of these young people and their communities. Conversely, a lack of educational and economic opportunities, compounded by the negative consequences of living in conflict-affected situations, can have severe and adverse impacts upon young people’s futures.

Considering these youth-specific issues and the role of youth in conflict-affected situations more broadly has important implications for conflict-sensitive education.

Post-primary schooling, vocational training programmes and other education, including conflict-resolution programmes, 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. Youth with higher levels of education and skills are better positioned to contribute to the economic advancement of their communities and better equipped for participation in civil society and political systems. 

Yet inequality of educational opportunities or the entrenchment of social or ethnic prejudices in school curricula are often implicated as contributing factors in conflicts. These opposing influences of education highlight the potential for education as both a site of social tension and a space for community transformation.

Involving youth and adolescents in the CSE discussion

The above discussion highlights the importance of involving youth and adolescents in CSE and creating opportunities for youth participation in programmes as part of a conflict-sensitive approach by:

-Providing space for youth participation and youth voices in CSE efforts

-Considering how to assess conflict sensitivity within educational programming for youth

-In keeping with best practices for CSE programming, ensuring that:

  • Policy priorities, plans and programmes are based on a comprehensive conflict analysis
  • All education providers apply conflict sensitive programming
  • Programmes do not intentionally favour one group over another
  • Education is not manipulated to promote exclusion and hate
  • Education does not reflect and perpetuate gender and social inequities
  • Education programmes respond to diverse local priorities and take account of the particular context
  • Community participation is prioritised

For more information and to find out how you can support conflict sensitivity in your work, check out these free resources, which are available in several languages:

Additional Resources

Koons, Cynthia. ‘Conflict Sensitive Education.’ INEE blog. 15 September 2014. /en/blog/conflict-sensitive-education1 

Save the Children UK & Norwegian Refugee Council. 2014. ‘Hear it from the children: Why education in emergencies is critical.’ ;

Hilker, L. and Fraser, E. ‘Youth exclusion, violence, conflict and fragile states.’ Social Development Direct: Report prepared for DFID‟s Equity and Rights Team, 30th April 2009. ;

Talbot, Christopher. ‘Education in Conflict Emergencies in Light of the post-2015 MDGs and EFA Agendas.’ Norrag Working Paper. 2013. ;

War Child. ‘Youth and Conflict.’ DFID/CSO Youth Working Group (2011). ;

INEE Toolkit Resources ;
/en/education-fragility/conflict-sensitive-education[1].pdf[1].pdf ; ;


Discussion Series: Conflict Sensitive Education (CSE) in Youth Programming

This discussion series will review the particular needs of adolescents and youth around CSE, discuss ways to better incorporate youth in CSE programming, and will feature posts on topics such as the role of youth in conflict, the inclusion of youth as ‘citizens’ with rights to participate in their communities and education, approaches to getting out-of-school adolescents and youth into classrooms, and best practices around CSE programming for youth in conflict-affected situations.

The discussion series will be launched on Monday, 6 October 2014. New blogs will be posted each week, followed by comments and discussions below. Discussions will be wrapped up on Friday of each week.

Rules of participation: To comment, Feel free to introduce yourself and provide any relevant contact information. Remember your netiquette! Be concise and relevant, respond to your colleagues and we will create a discussion from which we can all learn.

Guiding questions for discussion

  • Are youth a risk or an opportunity in emergency settings? If a risk, how can CSE mitigate that risk? If an opportunity, how can CSE enhance the opportunity of working with youth in emergency settings
  • Please share specific examples of youth programming that you have worked on or are familiar with that addresses conflict sensitive education. Tell us about the context, the location, ages of beneficiaries, goals of the programme and, if available, outcomes.
  • How can youth benefit from educational programming in conflict-affected environments? For example, training for employment, accelerated learning programs, or other opportunities.
  • How can youth be included in planning for conflict sensitive educational programming to address their needs in context?

Thank you for sharing your thoughts! We look forward to reading your discussion comments by 19 October 2014.

This discussion is moderated by: Nina Weaver, AYTT Intern


Click to read more about the CSE in Youth Programming discussion series.