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

CSE and Youth, Week 2: Youth as Citizens

This discussion will center on the first guiding principle of Conflict Sensitive Education, put forward by INEE:

Promote Equity and the Holistic Development of the Youth as a Citizen, or how CSE can encourage youth community and civic participation.

  • Promote equitable distribution of services across identity groups (ethnic, religious, geographic, gender)
  • Avoid pockets of exclusion and marginalisation
  • Focus on the reintegration of out of school children and youth
  • Deliver teaching and learning for peace through pedagogy, curriculum and materials that are free of gender and social prejudices and build competencies for responsible citizenship, conflict transformation and resilience
  • Provide psycho-social protection for children
  • Involve parents, communities, civil society and local leadership

Brief cases of youth citizenship and civic education

Between 2005-2012, nearly half a million Burundians who had fled as refugees between 1972 and 1993, returned from Tanzania. In Tanzania, some youth were exposed to the Tanzanian curriculum, others to the Burundian curriculum and the majority, a hybrid of the two curricula. Many of these youth learned in English and Swahili, but on their return to Burundi, they were shunted to lower grades since they were unable to communicate fluently in French and Kirundi—Burundi’s official languages.

In their communities, some youth were labeled as “traitors” for leaving the country during the civil wars. Many of these youth felt confused; some were born in refugee camps in Tanzania and their understanding of home wasn’t singular. Some were even born in refugee camps in Tanzania. Angélique, a female returnee youth recalled, “When I came to school, there were some who pointed and said, ‘Look, there’s a returnee! She’s crazy! She’s a witch! She’s come from Tanzania.’ ” As of 2009, Burundi was the newest member of the East African Community, a move towards greater economic integration and perhaps, even language integration in the region. Meanwhile, scores of returnee youth like Angélique question who or what their identity is and how they imagine ‘community’ and their future civic experiences.

Who should their allegiance be to—Tanzania, a country that provided refuge during the war and where many spent the better part of their childhoods, or Burundi, a country where their roots lie but where they also find themselves stigmatized on the grounds of language? Or is a hybrid East African, regional identity possible and what that might imply for our teachings of nation state and in developing civic agency and identity? How do decisions around curriculum and language of instruction while in exile alienate young people, their sense of belonging and attachment and their understandings of their civic identities in post-conflict reconstruction and development?

Guatemala’s civil war lasted thirty-six years and included ethnic genocide of indigenous Mayan populations. The Peace Accords that ended the conflict outlined plans for a national civic education program “for democracy and peace, promoting the protection of human rights, the renewal of political culture and the peaceful resolution of conflicts.” Educational reforms since the war are filled with expressions of national pride for Guatemala’s “pluricultural, multiethnic, and multilingual” identity. Yet Guatemalan society remains deeply divided and highly unequal, with indigenous populations far more likely to be living in impoverished communities, and with fewer opportunities for formal education or employment. Many of the country’s schools are ethnically segregated with indigenous populations inhabiting rural areas, where it is more difficult to access state services. Teachers in schools serving largely rural indigenous youth struggle with the task of civic education. On the one hand, they want young people to understand their rights to human dignity and cultural expression. On the other hand, these rights and freedoms are regularly denied to indigenous groups. One teacher named Marta says, “I don’t feel comfortable teaching about opportunities that do not exist for them.”

Case-based discussion questions

  • Why is Marta struggling with civic education in her classroom? What does her struggle reveal about youth citizenship in the community? How should she respond?
  • How do conceptions of citizenship differ among actors in these two communities?
  • How does what is happening in schools relate to what is happening in communities and nations experiencing and emerging from conflict?
  • In what ways can civic education contribute to peacebuilding?
  • In a rapidly globalizing world, can we re-conceptualize previously nation-bound conceptions of citizenship? What might this mean for post-conflict countries dependent on large youth populations for nation building and post-conflict reconstruction?
  • What are the CSE principles highlighted in these cases?

Further questions for discussion:

  • What does citizenship mean in post-conflict contexts?
  • How do we think about youth citizenship when there are constraints (legal or social, e.g., language) to status and membership?
  • What role should educators and communities play in formal and informal youth civic education? What role should other sectors of society play? 

Further Resources on “Promote Equity and the Holistic Development of the Child as a Citizen” in Youth in Emergencies:

Michelle Bellino is an Assistant Professor of Educational Studies at the University of Michigan School of Education. Her research centers on the intersection of historical consciousness and civic development of youth in the aftermath of intergroup conflict, as well as the role of human rights and history education as intergenerational mechanisms of transitional justice. * [email protected]

Vidur Chopra is a doctoral candidate at Harvard University and a Spencer Foundation New Civics Early Career Scholar. His research focuses on young people experiencing conflict and their civic attitudes and actions. He is particularly interested in the interactions between humanitarian policy, communities and education and the ways in which these interactions constrain or expand civic and educational opportunities for young people affected by conflict. | [email protected] 


Thank you for sharing your thoughts! We look forward to reading your discussion comments before 26 October 2014.

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