Conflict Barrier

Armed Conflict

Conflict represents a major impediment for the realisation of MDG2, universal completion of primary education. More than half of the world’s primary-aged children out of school are estimated to live in conflict-affected fragile states.

How does armed conflict act a barrier to enrollment and participation in primary education?

Across many of the world’s poorest countries, armed conflict continues to destroy not just school infrastructure, but also the hopes and ambitions of a whole generation of children.

Given that armed conflicts vary in duration, intensity and localization, educational systems are affected in different ways. The 2010 UNESCO report The Hidden Crisis (paraphrased here) points to the significant negative impact of conflict on the proportion of the population with formal education, the average years of education attained, and the literacy rate.

This legacy of conflict is visible at the national and subnational level in household survey data for 19 out of the 25 conflict affected countries that UNESCO analyzed. The trends for most countries demonstrate that cohorts that were of school-going age during a time of conflict have lower educational attainment that persists over time, indicating that these children generally do not resume their education after a conflict. These lost years of schooling reflect the legacy of the conflict and its repercussions.

Conflict affects education in many ways:

  • Death or displacement of teachers and students. Example: more than two-thirds of teachers in primary and secondary schools were killed or displaced as a result of the Rwandan genocide.
  • Destruction and damage to schools and educational infrastructure. Examples: as a result of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 50% of its schools required reconstruction and rehabilitation; 58% of primary schools in Mozambique were destroyed or closed as a result of its long civil war; 85% in Iraq.
  • Schools are often explicit targets during periods of armed conflict.  Educational facilities were attacked in at least 31 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America in the three years leading up to 2010. Example: there were 670 attacks on schools in Afghanistan in 2008.  For more information, please go to PEIC website.
  • Conflict prevents the opening of schools and increases teacher absenteeism.
  • Conflict threatens children’s security while travelling to school and attending class. Girls may be kept from school by their parents in fear of violence against female students.
  • Conflict increases likelihood for child involvement in the military, the workforce or marriage.
  • Conflict exacerbates existing marginalization in society.

How pervasive is it?

UNESCO (2013) reported that globally, the number of children out of school has fallen, from 60 million in 2008 to 57 million in 2011. But the benefits of this progress have not reached children in conflict-affected countries. These children make up 22% of the world’s primary school aged population, yet they comprise 50% of children who are denied an education, a proportion that has increased from 42% in 2008.

Of the 28.5 million primary school age children out of school in conflict-affected countries, 12.6 million live in sub-Saharan Africa, 5.3 million live in South and West Asia, and 4 million live in the Arab States. The vast majority, 95%, live in low and lower middle income countries. Girls, who make up 55% of the total, are the worst affected, as they are often victims of rape and other sexual violence that accompanies armed conflicts.

39 countries were identified as affected by armed conflict in the period 2002-2011. Those shown in blue may be viewed as post-conflict in 2014. Those in red were added to the list in 2011. The 23 countries highlighted are EAC priority countries (out of the 36 EAC had selected at the end of 2013)

Conflict-affected countries: 1999-2014

Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Côte d’Ivoire

Palestinian territory
Russian Federation

Sierra Leone
South Sudan
Sri Lanka

Source: EFA Global Monitoring Report.


  • Black: 2011 list
  • Blue: 2011 list but no longer identified as conflict-affected in 2013
  • Red: Joined list in 2013.
  • Brown: Added list to list as 2014 update

Examples of EAC partners who are addressing this barrier

In Côte d’Ivoire, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is improving access for conflict-related OOSC through rehabilitation of 24 primary schools damaged during 2011 political instability and is training teachers in the Healing Classroom methodology, designed to care for and protect children in countries in the midst of conflict or post-crisis recovery. (See here for Healing Classroom methodology).

UNESCO is contributing to the re-establishment of education, through building or rehabilitating 100 schools in four governorates (Erbil, Nineva, Baghdad, and Basrah), enrolling 30,000 OOSC in accelerated and accredited education programs and providing teaching and learning materials. Phase 2 will expand geographical coverage reach more than 150,000 beneficiaries in eight additional governorates selected for their vulnerability.

Further reading

  • UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2010. The hidden crisis - armed conflict and education: The quantitative impact of conflict on education. Think-piece prepared for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2011 
  • UNESCO, 2010.  Education under attack, 2010. Global study on targeted political and military violence against education staff, students, teachers, union and government officials and institutions.
  • Save the Children, 2013. Attacks on education: the impact of conflict and grave violations on children’s futures.
  • UNESCO, 2013. Children still battling to go to school. Education for All Global Monitoring Report Policy Paper 10.
  • World Bank, 2011, WDR 2011 : Conflict, Security, and Development, The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.