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

CSE and Youth, Week 3: Youth in conflict

Lessons learned from education programming for youth in conflict

The importance of education programming that is sensitive to local and national contexts of conflict and violence has been acknowledged as imperative in order to minimise negative impacts and maximise positive impacts of education interventions, and to use education as a way for promoting peace. This discussion focuses on lessons learned from education programming for youth in conflict-affected situations. The findings presented here are mainly drawn from a document prepared for the Global Education Cluster & Child Protection Working Group at UNICEF on “Ensuring protection and education in emergencies: lessons learned from youth & adolescent programming” which will be released in the upcoming weeks.

Many education programmes now include young people in their approach and a growing number specifically focus on youth. However, little is known about the best practices of conflict-sensitive education programming for youth and on whether youth education programmes actually minimise negative impacts and maximise positive impacts on conflict. There is thus a need for more and better documentation of evidence around the impacts of youth education programmes. 

Evaluation has shown that engaging adolescents as active participants is essential for their sustainable participation; this concerns for example the design, implementation and evaluation of interventions. All youth should be provided with equal learning opportunities, however their skills and abilities need to be recognised to build on existing strengths. Other lessons learned from education programming in conflict contexts include:

  • Building partnerships with communities, parents and teachers during conflict is essential to ensure relevance, ownership and sustainability of education programmes, this also ensures that the environment for youth is supportive
  • Capacity-building in the community involves ensuring that the environments where youth learn are supportive and that the content they are learning is relevant to their lives
  • Distance to school affects enrolment; building schools close to communities is particularly important in conflict situations
  • Educational activities which provide flexible schedules increase accessibility, particularly to girls and adolescent heads of household
  • Psychosocial training for teachers enhances their self-esteem in conflict situations and enables them to see students as active learners
  • Non-formal education programmes can complement formal education activities, have proven to address barriers to access, and are important for adolescents who cannot attend school
  • Holistic and cross-sectoral approaches with a combination of components (such as health education or psychosocial support) have proven successful, nevertheless more needs to be known on what combinations result in the most positive outcomes for youth in conflicts

Example: Youth Education, Development & Participation Programme in Somalia

Non-formal education programmes have shown successful for youth in conflict-affected situations. Through the Youth Education, Development and Participation Programme, UNICEF Somalia provided a holistic approach to learning and youth participation for out-of-school young people aged 14 to 18. Starting with sports and recreational activities the programme expanded to focus on non-formal learning and community development which aimed at providing young people with capacity and helping them identify their own needs. Peace-building and conflict resolution skills were one of the main focuses of the leadership and organisational training aspects of the programme. The lessons learned from this programme include:

  • Young people will be most effective if they are able to help determine programme priorities and goals
  • Young adults in their early 20s are very effective as role models and mentors for adolescents
  • Adolescent participation in events and activities is not in itself sufficient. However, it is an excellent catalyst to encourage their involvement in substantive issues that affect their lives. Gradually they can learn and apply new skills towards community development and peace-building

While more remains to be learned, the example and the general lessons learned give an idea of what is necessary for conflict-sensitive education programming for youth. One of the main points to be taken from this is the importance of actively involving youth in their own education programmes.

Lisa Zimmermann is an MA Candidate in Development Studies at the Graduate Institute in Geneva and a former intern for the UNICEF Education Cluster & Child Protection Working Group in the Office of Emergency Programmes.

This discussion is moderated by: Caroline Schmidt, AYTT Co-Convener

Questions for Discussion

  • What other methods exist that exemplify best practices for designing conflict-sensitive education programmes for youth to best address their needs?
  • What other programmes do you know of which have successfully addressed education for young people in conflict-affected settings?
  • What additional tools or mechanisms do we need in order to overcome this gap regarding a lack of documenting best practices for youth education programming in conflict-affected settings?
  • How can we encourage organisations to better document lessons learned and best practices?

Further Resources on Lessons Learned from Education Programming for Youth in Conflict

Cahill, H., Beadle, S., Mitch, J., Coffey, J., & Crofts, J. (2010). Adolescents in emergencies, Background Paper. Youth Research Centre, University of Melbourne. Available at ;

Olenik, K., & Takyi-Laryea, A. (2013). State of the field report: Examining the evidence in youth education in crisis and conflict. USAID. Available at ;

Sommers, M. (2001). Youth: Care & Protection of Children in Emergencies. Save the Children. Available at ;

United Nations Children’s Fund. (2004). Adolescent programming during conflict and post-conflict situations. UNICEF. Available at 

Women’s Refugee Commission. (2000). Untapped potential: Adolescents affected by armed conflict – A review of programs and policies. New York, United States: Women’s Refugee Commission. Available at ;

Women’s Refugee Commission. (2005). Youth Speak Out: Easy Reference Guides. Available at ;


Thank you for sharing your thoughts! We look forward to reading your discussion comments by 31 October 2014.

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