Building Peace through the Classroom: How Education Can Transform the Nature of Conflicts

By Nirina Kiplagat 

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”-Nelson Mandela

Twelve years ago, while I was working in the Conflict Resolution Programme of the Carter Centre, I was part of a team that organized workshops for youth from divided societies. One of the youth groups came from the Cincinnati Museum Center. Due to heightened inter-racial tensions and riots in Cincinnati, interactions among the young people in the program had become strained. During the workshop, we conducted exercises on such topics as prejudice, stereotyping, active listening, reframing and mediation. I was particularly struck by how these simple exercises resonated so deeply among these young people. I saw them have their “Aha!” moments as they began to view one another with a different lens.

We later received a letter of thanks from the Youth Programme Director who said that those who participated in the program had changed the way they interacted with one another. They looked for similarities and identified their prejudices so they can overcome them. In short – they engaged in dialogue resulting in the formation of friendships. The Youth Programme Director approached the Carter Center because he recognized that it is not possible to work around conflict.[1]  Though the Cincinnati Museum Center program focused on developing youth, it could not achieve its aims without considering the context within which the young participants were living at the time and without incorporating conflict resolution skills into the program.

This example illustrates how transforming a context is not only about agreements, political settlements and new institutions, but also involves examining attitudes, relationships, common narratives and how we define ourselves and others. This is not only necessary for leaders or decision makers in a conflict but is applicable to everyone, particularly the young people who will shape future societies. Conflict transformation means “…addressing the structural roots of conflict by changing existing patterns of behavior and creating a culture of nonviolent approaches. It proposes an integrated approach to peacebuilding that aims to bring about long-term changes in personal, relational, structural, and cultural dimensions.”[2] It is thus clear that education, both formal and informal, plays an integral role in conflict transformation. However, it is important to note that it can also play a negative role. Therefore, to ensure that education programs maximize positive impacts, one of the most effective ways is through infusing conflict sensitivity into education planning and programming processes.

Applying a conflict sensitive lens examines not only how we work, but also what we are doing and whether this is making a contribution to conflict prevention and peacebuilding.

Conflict sensitivity:

  • Applies to all contexts, regardless of the severity or frequency of violence, even in situations where underlying tensions have not recently resulted in violence;
  • Applies across and throughout all working levels from the operational to the management and  strategic policy level;
  • Applies to all types of work including humanitarian, development, peacekeeping and  peacebuilding;
  • Applies to all actors and sectors including work conducted by UN agencies, development partners, local civil society, government and the private sector.[3]

While there appears to be widespread awareness particularly among humanitarian and development practitioners of the “Do No Harm” concept and of conflict sensitivity itself, this does not always translate into an application of conflict sensitivity. Although awareness-raising sessions have been held within organizations, the gap in application has been due to a gap in skills development in the application of a conflict sensitive approach. To address this gap there are some recently developed practical tools, which are available for use by any practitioner. The Inter-Agency Network of Education in Emergencies (INEE)[4] has developed a Conflict Sensitive Education pack comprised of a Guidance Note, Guiding Principles on Integrating Conflict Sensitivity in Education Policy and Programming in Conflict-Affected and Fragile Contexts, and a Reflection Tool for Designing and Implementing Conflict Sensitive Education Programmes in Conflict-Affected and Fragile Contexts,[5] which was launched in April 2013.

Meanwhile, the UN Inter-Agency Framework Team for Preventive Action has led the development of an online training course on conflict sensitivity available for the UN system, partners and other practitioners.[6] The online course offers learners the opportunity to acquire a deeper understanding, practical knowledge and hands-on skills for conflict-sensitive approaches in humanitarian, development, educational, peacebuilding and security work, among others. The course has two modules. The first explores the basic concepts of conflict sensitivity, reflects on individual attitudes and behavior and how we are affected by working in conflict-affected contexts. It also looks at the relevance of conflict sensitivity at organizational and strategic levels, as well as internal issues such as values, working principles, internal and external communication, staffing and budget allocation. The second module is more interactive as the learners are given the opportunity to apply conflict-sensitive approaches in a fictitious environment in either politically complex, acute violence or post-conflict phases. The course uses a simple three step model to apply conflict sensitivity:

Step 1:  Understand the context in which it operates;

Step 2:  Understand the interaction between the organization’s interventions and the context;

Step 3:  Act upon these understandings to avoid negative impacts (Do No Harm) and maximize positive impacts (“development ++” and peacebuilding).

The course will be available online in late February 2014. In addition to UN web platforms, it will also be   publically available without charge on the UN Staff College website to allow partners, civil society and other practitioners to access this knowledge product.

The hope is that, with the combination of efforts of training, simple tools, and technical support where possible, conflict sensitivity will be effectively mainstreamed into all programs. Since the ways in which policy and programmatic interventions address the challenges and potentials of young people will influence the social conditions of future generations, integrating conflict sensitivity into education programs in particular is fundamental. Conflict sensitivity not only has the potential to alter societal contradictions and improve relations and interactions, but can also shape attitudes in ways that can reduce the risk of conflict and help build sustainable peace.   

Nirina Kiplagat is currently a Programme Specialist in the UN Interagency Framework Team for Preventive Action

[1] There are three options for working in situations of conflict: Around -not working explicitly on conflict issues, In – through humanitarian or other conflict sensitive engagements during the conflict or On – explicit peacebuilding focused interventions.

[2] UNSSC Peace and Security Glossary

[3] Adapted from UN Conflict Sensitivity online course developed by the UN Inter-Agency Framework for Preventive Action

[4] INEE is a network of more than 10,000 individual members living and working in more than 170 countries. INEE members are practitioners working for national and international NGOs and UN agencies, Ministries of Education and other government personnel, donors, students, teachers, and researchers who voluntarily join in the work related to education in emergencies

[5] For further information on the pack and tools refer to:             

[6] The course was developed by the United Nations Inter-agency Framework Team on Preventive Action, and an inter-agency Task Force with the support of a consultant from the Swisspeace foundation and the UNDP Learning Centre. The initiative has been particularly well received by partner agencies and donors, with contributions received from UNICEF, UNWomen and the Swiss Government.

Has the International Baccalaureate Curriculum affected migrant educational attainment in the Netherlands? A literature-based response

By Justin Barbaro

In their comparative education report, Crul & Holdaway (2009) offer an extensive list of factors shaping educational attainment of two historically low-attaining migrant groups, Dominicans in New York City and Moroccans in the Netherlands. The authors identify factors including gender, parents’ educational attainment, financial resources, strong familial relations, school quality, and neighborhood as impacting migrant educational attainment in both locations. Discrimination represents another significant factor of impact recognized by the research team as, “shaping (migrant youths) educational careers and their future prospects” (p. 1485). According to the report, Moroccan students in the Netherlands are more likely than Dominican students in New York to be discriminated against because of their religion. Over the past decade, those of Dutch descent have demonstrated decreasing levels of tolerance towards its Muslim migrant population despite the fact the many second-generation youths do not actively practice Islam (p. 1485). According to one study (Boog, Donselaar, Houtzager, Rodrigues & Schiermer, 2006) 70% percent of young Moroccan migrants, in particular school-aged boys, reported “serious” incidents of discrimination or racism in 2005 (p. 1486).

The impact of discrimination and racism on Moroccan children’s’ educational attainment may prove as hard to measure as it is to assuage. One potential opportunity for Dutch schools to combat the wave of increased intolerance within the schoolhouse gates may include the implementation of the International Baccalaureate (IB) curricula within its public schools. The IB is a non-profit educational foundation providing k-12 curricula aimed at helping students around the globe develop the, “intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world” (IBO, 2013). Over the past twenty years a number of Dutch public schools have utilized various IB programs, first for gifted students and, increasingly within schools educating student populations representing more heterogeneous skill levels (Visser, 2010). One 2010 report estimates that over 100 Dutch public schools currently use at least one IB curricular program (Visser, 2010).

Theoretically, two of the five areas of interaction focus embedded within the IB curricula might serve as a mediator between in-school discrimination of Moroccan students in Dutch national schools and their curricular attainment. (IBO, 2013a) These five areas of interaction consist of approaches to learning, community and service, human ingenuity, environments, and health and social education. Curricula focusing on community and service as well as human ingenuity represent the two areas with legitimate potential to increase levels of tolerance within Dutch schools. According to the IB, community and service, “requires students to take an active part in the communities in which they live, thereby encouraging responsible citizenship” (IBO, 2013b). Curricula that allow for and encourage youth participation and service within their local communities provide potential opportunities for Dutch youth to move beyond the boundaries of the classroom in order to learn with and from migrants in their community. Additionally, the focus on human ingenuity allows, “students to explore the multiple ways the processes and products of human creativity, thus learning to appreciate and develop in themselves the human capacity to influence, transform, enjoy, and improve the quality of life” (IBO, 2013b). A deeper understanding of the processes of immigration and the ingenuity of immigrants, often in the face of scarce resources, may promote a greater appreciation of migrant community members among Dutch youth.

However, several limitations to the above propositions should be noted. First, the fidelity with which Dutch schoolteachers implement the IB curriculum might impact how it in turn influences the personal, emotional, and social skills of the students (Visser, 2010) Students may fail to grow these competencies if assigned to classrooms lead by teachers who fail to implement the IB with fidelity due to ideological opposition or limited pedagogical effectiveness. Second, the personal, emotional, and social skills of students may not benefit even if their teachers implement the IB curriculum with fidelity. Even exemplary pedagogical execution does not guarantee full or predictable internalization by students. Third, and most notably, even if IB curricula has the ability to increase tolerance at the school level there is very little evidence to support that it would directly impact levels of tolerance (or intolerance) within the greater community. Increased tolerance levels of Dutch youth can only be considered a positive outcome, yet the direct and indirect impact on Dutch adults who may be the primary social-norm-setters in the community might be only limited at best.

This blog post represents a preliminary literature-based exploration of how the implementation of IB curricula in Dutch national schools may increase levels of tolerance for Moroccan migrants at the school level. One potential next step might be a quasi-experimental longitudinal research design comparing the levels of migrant tolerance in Dutch national schools implementing IB curricula with those using another popular form of curriculum. 

Justin Barbaro is a 3rd year PhD student in Education Leadership and a Graduate Research Assistant at the Klingenstein Center for Independent School Leadership at Teachers College.


Boog, I., Donselaar, J., Houtzager, D., Rodrigues, P., & Schriemer, R. (2006). Monitor

Rassendiscriminatie 2005 [Monitor race discrimination 2005]. Leiden, Netherlands: Universiteit van Leiden.

Crul, M., & Holdaway, J. (2009). Children of immigrants in schools in New York and Amsterdam: The factors shaping attainment. Teachers College Record, 111(6), pp. 1476-1507.

International Baccalaureate Organization (2013a). About the International Baccalaureate. Retrieved from <>

International Baccalaureate Organization (2013b). Middle Years Programme at a glance. Retrieved from <>

Visser, A. (2010). International education in a national context: Introducing the International

Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme in Dutch public schools. Journal of Research in International Education, 9(2), 141-152.

Additional Readings

Peterson, A.D.C. (2003). Schools across frontiers: The story of the International Baccalaureate and World Colleges (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: Open Court Press.
Dower, N., & Williams, J. (Eds.). (2002). Global citizenship: A critical introduction.New York, NY: Routledge.
Sassen, S. (2002). Towards post-national and denationalized citizenship. In E. Isin and B. Turner (Eds.), Handbook of Citizenship Studies (pp. 278-291). London: Sage.


Education in Reconstruction- What is missing?


Hadeel Qazzaz

While thousands of Palestinians were celebrating the victory of a young Gaza singer in the popular competition “Arab Idol” the Middle Eastern version of American Idol, local news in the Gaza Strip was circulating the death of two young women committing suicide. The two women claimed their lives after failing to answer “Tawjihi”- end of school exam. The sad news did not stop many people to think of the reasons behind such emotional pressure that lead these young women to end their lives.

Living under one of the longest siege and isolation in modern history, education seems to be just one step to escape and move forward. The psychological pressure as a result of Israeli military aggression, poverty, restriction of movement and restriction of freedom of expression, is topped by traditional end of the year exam pressure. An exam which is very competitive and its results are publicly announced, which adds to the social pressure on young students. The results of the Tawjihi usually determine not only which college you can enroll in but also what subject you can study.

With one in 5 persons in Gaza falling under the “youth” category (between 15 and 24 years of age), university education is under enormous pressure to provide education and training opportunities. However, moving to college in the Gaza strip is not really a step in a person’s career. The limited number of specializations, the limited education resources and the traditional methods of education make it an extension of an over-run and over-crowded high school education. Even Mohammad Assaf, the Arab Idol himself could not study music in the Gaza strip and could not leave to study abroad because of travel restrictions on young people his age, compounded by limited financial resources available to support talented students.

At the same time graduation from university does not guarantee that a person will have access to better job opportunities. What is it that led these two young women to kill themselves? It is possibly because of the accumulation of psychological and emotional pressure, or to delay an arranged marriage or to delay unemployment. The youth unemployment in the Gaza strip is very high. The rate for the 15-to-19-year age group reaches 72%, while unemployment affects 66% of those aged between 20 and 24 years. In Gaza, 32% of men between 15 and 24 years participate in the labor force, but the rate is considerably lower for women in the same age group, 7%.

In all cases and despite all the criticism for deteriorating education system in Palestine, education is highly regarded and much valued by Palestinian families.  It is still the best available way to improve one’s status and well-being. After all not all young talented people have a chance to become Arab Idols and escape the restrictive norms of society. For young women university education is even more important because of the gender stereotype of what is acceptable for women. Young men can work in any available job, including life-threatening jobs in the underground tunnels that connect Gaza strip with Egypt (and often used for smuggling people and goods of all types). Young women can only work in certain sectors such as education and health services which require a university degree.

In conflict and war-zone areas, like the Gaza strip, education falls under pressure of fulfilling the demands for social and physical reconstruction. However, the consequent psychological and social pressure is largely ignored. Young people need to view the liberating opportunities of education more positively and with less pressure. The education system itself needs to be reformed in a way that accommodates the new needs of post-war communities. Addressing psychological pressure, fulfilling demands for new types of training and marketable skills, and identifying talents that can serve longer-term stability are only few components that need to be taken into consideration.

Dr. Hadeel Qazzaz, Program Director, Pro-Poor Integrity in Integrity Action.

Women Are Key to Development in the Middle East


Joshua Pringle

The math is simple. If a post-conflict country in the Middle East-North Africa region (MENA) wants to develop its institutions and grow economically, it is better off utilizing all of its human capital. Leaving women out of the equation is like building a house and leaving half your tools behind.

Unfortunately, across MENA, the picture is bleak for women. According to the 2012 Economist Intelligence Unit report, female labor participation in MENA is the lowest in the world—below 30 percent.[1] This is of course directly attributable to the difficulty women have accessing quality education, as the region also has some of the lowest female enrollment and literacy rates in the world.

However, even when women are able to get a university education, they still find it far more challenging than men to find a decent job. In Lebanon, 54 percent of university students are women, and yet women make up only 26 percent of the workforce, according to the United Nations Statistics Division.[2] When it comes to senior management and legislative positions, they hold only 8 percent of those jobs. In Qatar, women make up 63 percent of the university population, yet only 12 percent of the workforce.[3] In Iraq, 68 percent of women with a bachelor’s degree were unemployed in 2011, according to an Iraq Knowledge Network survey.[4]

Religious and cultural mores inhibit women’s progress in a number of ways. Many girls are encouraged to drop out of school and get married at an early age. In some countries, such as Yemen, mixed-gender classrooms are discouraged, which often leaves communities without enough schools for girls.[5] Other communities in the region view female education negatively in general. Women also have fewer protections against violence, and are allowed less of a political voice.

Even in countries where the government has made an effort to support female education and employment, socio-economic discrimination has been stubborn to budge. In Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah has invested massively in providing scholarships and creating jobs for women, realizing the boost this could give the Saudi economy. Yet unemployment in the country is still five times greater among women.[6] Maybe Abdullah would have better luck moving things forward if he started letting women drive and vote. We dare to dream.

Some of these issues are evolving, but it’s an uphill battle. Abstract arguments about economics or human rights are unlikely to unmoor the mores that have been in place for generations. Change requires engagement on a number of fronts, ranging from subversive political activism to simple community dialogue. One can see a certain circle of irony in the dynamics at work: For women to become more empowered, cultural transformation is required, and for cultural transformation to occur, women need to become more empowered. And it’s in everyone’s best interest to utilize all of the population’s brainpower, but part of the population doesn’t have the brainpower to see that.

Several initiatives are doing important work in the region. In Egypt, Save the Children’s Ishraq helps girls who have dropped out of school learn math and literacy, understand sexual and reproductive health, boost self-confidence, and re-enroll in school.[7] In Lebanon, Media Supporting Women Leaders encourages professional women to participate in public debates concerning the country’s future.[8] In Jordan, Women in Technology provides women with IT and professional development training.[9] Clearly these are just a few examples.

Non-governmental organizations often have the resources and the expertise to make real progress on the ground, while social media and technology have given women the ability to organize and create little fissures in the status quo. I imagine that fighting for women’s empowerment must feel like a Sisyphean task, but day by day the boulder climbs the hill.

Joshua Pringle is the senior editor of, an online publication that covers international affairs. 

Further Reading:

Empowering Women, Developing Society: Female Education in MENA

Women Empowerment Initiatives for the Future of the MENA Region



[3] Ibid.







Textbooks in Post-Conflict States: Tensions and Opportunities

By Kimberly Foulds

If to the victors go the spoils, then a sense of anxiety clouds the hope around education in states emerging from conflict. Many countries emerging from conflict-Bosnia and Herzegovina, Guatemala, Germany, Rwanda, South Africa, and South Sudan for example-have looked toward a revised history curriculum as the foundation for new directions in national narratives and sustained peace. As is often the case, education is the silver bullet to a nation’s ills. Admittedly, while education can offer students a sense of stability in the midst of conflict and during post-conflict reconstruction, the development of revised textbooks to address the changing environment, and curriculum, is given cursory consideration.

The timing around curriculum revisions is a major concern. Of the examples offered above, all revised curricula during the period following the conflict. The Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies [INEE], however, advocates for curriculum revisions during emergencies. The drive behind this suggestion is the concern that curriculum reform will not be addressed until the transition to a post-conflict society, particularly problematic during protracted conflicts. The situations among stateless peoples, like Palestine, Kashmir, Kurdistan, and Tibet, complicates these dynamics, though this issue remains under-researched. Nonetheless, reform is a contentious and slow process during times of peace. In the midst of conflict, the process is even slower and becomes more controversial, possibly exacerbating existing tensions.

INEE’s Guidance Notes offer a number of recommendations, arguing that potentially conflict-inducing elements remain in curriculum. In practice, however, this is rarely the case. There is a hunger for a simple, even universal, remedy independent of conditions. The contemporary trend appears that this hunger has revealed itself as an avoidance of critical discussions on conflict.

In Rwanda, for example, a superficial peace reigns and the official narrative leaves no room for ethnic identification. Those currently in power are primarily Tutsi who grew up outside of Rwanda, only to return after the rebel army they supported ended the 1994 genocide and took control. Though the minority, their representations of Rwandan history are not in line with the majority of Rwandans. Discussions of the genocide are forbidden. Further, Rwanda banned the teaching of history for more than a decade after the 1994 genocide. With its reintegration, only the official narrative is allowed in schools to support the creation of a unified Rwanda. With perpetrators and victims often coming from the same neighborhoods, even from under the same roof, the absence of the space to critically engage national history produces an uneasy peace, reminding us that the absence of war is not a symbol of peace.

Bosnia-Herzegovina offers an example on other end of the spectrum. The state operates as two distinct entities under one national identity: Republika Srpska and Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the war, each local area created its own curriculum and textbooks. This system persisted post-conflict. The Bosnian curriculum saw Bosniaks as victims, the Croat curriculum offered no history outside of Croatian history, and the Serbian curriculum ignored Bosnians and Bosnian-Croats. International interventions led to a number of changes, including the use of non-transparent markers to black out inappropriate text in lieu of revised textbooks because of time and cost considerations.

There are many, many more examples of how post-conflict states have moved forward with textbook reform. Postcolonial states also offer a number of examples of the challenges emerging governments face. Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina are used here to show that the two ends of the spectrum are ineffective and unsustainable. Moving forward, though the need for a revised history curriculum will certainly remain, post-conflict states appear to prioritize preparing student for the global marketplace over history. The driving need to craft a unified, albeit imagined, community under one national identity through a history that either obscures conflict or reinforces incomplete histories will ensure that peace remains artificial at best. In their study of history curriculum in Rwanda, Freedman et al (2008) put forth the idea of empowering teachers to mediate history curricula and accompanying textbooks by framing history as a democratic process:

We are going to look at history as a series of choices . . . We’ll look at the decision to be a bystander. We will look at the decision to be a perpetrator. We will look at the decision to be a rescuer. And we will look at the decisions of everyday citizens to make a positive difference (681).

The benefit of this framework is in its recognition that there is a significant need to move away from a binary history of aggressor/victim, and an awareness that through major political transformations, the next generation is there, waiting to be educated.

 Kimberly Foulds is a lecturer in International and Transcultural Studies at Teachers College, Columbia University. 


Freedman, Sarah Warshauer, Harvey M. Weinstein, Karen Murphy, and Timothy Longman. 2008. Teaching History after Identity-Based Conflicts: The Rwanda Experience. Comparative Education Review 52(4): 663-690.

Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies. 2004. INEE Minimum Standards for Education in Emergencies, Chronic Crisis and Early Reconstruction. New York: INEE.

 For further reading on textbooks and post-conflict transformation, the following list offers a few starting points:

Barnes, T. 2007. ‘History has to Play its Role’: Constructions of Race and Reconciliation in Secondary School Historiography in Zimbabwe, 1980-2002. Journal of Southern African Studies. 33(3): 633-651.

Chisholm, L. and R. Leyendecker. 2008. Curriculum reform in post-1990s sub-Saharan Africa. International Journal of Educational Development 28(2): 195-205.

Cole, E, and J Barsalou. 2006. Unite or Divide? The Challenges of Teaching History in Societies Emerging from Violent Conflict. Special report. Washington, DC: U.S. Institute of Peace.

Hodgkin, M. 2007. Negotiating Change: Participatory Curriculum Design in Emergencies. Current Issues in Comparative Education 9(2): 33-44.

Low-Beer, A. 2001. “Politics, School Textbooks and Cultural Identity: The Struggle in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” Paradigm 2 (3): 1–6.

Pingel, F. 2010. UNESCO Guidebook on Textbook Research and Textbook Revision. Paris: UNESCO.

Weldon, G. 2009. Memory, identity, and the politics of curriculum construction in transition societies: Rwanda and South Africa. Perspectives in Education. 27(2): 177-189.

Woolman, David C. 2001. Educational reconstruction and post-colonial curriculum development: A comparative study of four African countries. International Education Journal 2(5): 27-46.


Why We are Stuck: The Attraction of a Polarized America


Peter T. Coleman uses the Mathematical concept of attractors to explain the polarization of politics in the United States and the way out of it.

Peter T. Coleman is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Education, Department of Social-Organizational Psychology, Teachers College, Columbia University. He also serves as the Director of the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Teachers College.