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Education and Conflict: Data for Monitoring and Reporting

Charles Gale, Research Associate

Last week, global humanitarian and development leaders met in Istanbul for the UN's World Humanitarian Summit. The role of education was prominently debated, with $3.85 Billion USD in aid targeted as part of the Education Cannot Wait fund, and education featuring as a topic of discussion at several panel discussions and side events. While the week served to demonstrate the belief that education has a strong role to play in mobilizing response to conflict and crisis, one question remains unanswered: how can we adequately monitor the impact of conflict on education without access to timely and reliable data?

This was a question we grappled with in assessing different data sources to use in our research study on the relationship of education inequalities with conflict outbreak, which we produced in conjunction with UNICEF's Learning for Peace program. It is clear that there are a number of organizations and research centers that regularly monitor episodes of conflict, gang warfare, terrorism and other forms of violence. For example, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset (ACLED) is a cross-national conflict monitoring database, used by humanitarian agencies and researchers. ACLED compiles monthly data on episodes of violence, riots or protests for countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as several countries in Asia and the MENA region. As the dataset includes detailed descriptions for each event, we can parse out violent events involving the education system, up to May 2016.

Like most of the data contained in the ACLED dataset, the majority of conflict events involving students and schools are classified as riots or protests (over 90%). For this post we filter the dataset for violent events, which are classified as battles or some other form of violence, or those involving one or more fatalities. As can be seen in Figure 1 there are a number of countries where a disproportionate number of violent events involve actors in the education system (students, teachers, and schools), including Sudan, Ethiopia, Thailand, India and Bangladesh. To date for 2016, there have been over 168 violent events involving the education system. At the same time there are countries where the overall number of events are high, but the education system has been spared the bulk of the violence (at least in 2016), including Nigeria, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Libya. 

Figure 1 - Violent events involving education, by country



Figure 2 provides a geographical presentation of violent events involving the education system, in 2016. In the two countries that have seen the highest levels of violence, Ethiopia and Sudan (over 50% of events for 2016), the higher education system has played a prominent role in mobilizing protest groups. In Thailand on the other hand, attacks in and around schools continue in the very south of the country, where there has been a long running insurgency that specifically targets the education system. Important to note also are the countries in gray, which include those that currently experience high levels of violence such as Iraq and Syria, as well as Latin American countries and the United States, with high rates of gun violence. Although it is likely that these countries would contribute to the global total of violent attacks involving education, there is currently no way to monitor in a comparable manner across all countries.

Figure 2 - Map of violent events involving students, schools or teachers (2016)


The increased availability of disaggregated data on conflict and humanitarian emergencies invites questions about the extent to which we can monitor attacks on education in a way that allows governments and organizations to appropriately respond. We at FHI 360's Education Policy and Data Center offer a few points of consideration based upon our experience and observations:

  • Can we currently adequately classify attacks on education using information provided in cross-natonal violence datasets such as ACLED? The examples provided here include riots or protests involving higher education institutions, and also attacks in and around primary schools. Similarly, can we combine information from different datasets given the lack of comparability in how conflict may be defined?
  • Can we quickly analyze data and provide adequate contextual information for an appropriate response, such as mobilizing political will to protect students and teachers regardless of wider conflicts or protests? Information gathered during violent conflict can often be unreliable, and estimates from news reports may be revised later on.
  • Lastly, how can we make such data useful and relevant for understanding the root causes of violence, in hopes of stemming long-term drivers of conflict? Of particular interest is the role that inequality plays in promoting or mitigating conflict. FHI 360 is currently co-leading an initiative looking at inequalities in education, and conflict forms an important component of the violence that results and contributes to inequalities of opportunity. Recent advancements in data collection mean that attacks on education can be monitored more closely and understood more immediately.


·         Education Equity Research Initiative

·         Education in Crisis and Conflict Network (ECCN)

·         Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack


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