GCRF Development Award: The Political Economy of Education Research (PEER) Network

Lead Research Organisation: University of Ulster
Department Name: Sch of Education

Abstract

Almost half of all children who are out of school live in conflict affected countries (at least 27 million children in 24 countries). Children in these countries are twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday and countries with conflict have some of the largest inequalities between girls and boys and the lowest literacy levels in the world. Good quality education can protect children from violence and provide life-saving messages concerning health and safety, as well as the knowledge, skills and attitudes to survive, recover and rebuild their society after conflict. Yet, education is often given a low priority in situations of conflict.

We know that modern conflicts can last more than 20 years and often involve multiple armed groups competing for control of government institutions [such as schools], natural resources and territory. This also means that provision of education can be highly politicised in situations of conflict and this can prevent much needed assistance reaching those who need it most - it is usually the poorest or most marginalised who suffer the worst consequences of violent conflict. Education is usually considered 'a good thing', but we know that in certain circumstances education may actually be 'part of the problem' as well as 'part of the solution'. For example, unequal access to education and distribution of education resources may fuel grievances between groups in society, particularly if they are already in conflict. Exclusion of minority voices from decision-making will cause resentment. Insensitive or politically biased education policies in terms of the language of instruction or content of the curriculum may create mistrust between different ethnic, religious or cultural groups by fuelling stereotypes, xenophobia and other antagonisms.

We therefore need to better understand the underlying political, economic and social reasons why some forms of education may make conflict worse. This is known as Political Economy Analysis (PEA) and is highly relevant to the provision of education in conflict affected countries. However, there are problems with current approaches. There is a reliance on international consultants to undertake 'one-off' assessments that lack sensitivity to local history, politics, culture and knowledge of power-relations that are better conveyed in local languages. There is also a tendency to ignore the impact that international agencies have on national policy and practices and the different political circumstances that operate in different parts of a country. There is often a reluctance to raise critical questions about education provision because they are too sensitive or may challenge vested interests. These severely limit the potential of analysis to improve the planning and development of socially just education systems.

Planned Impact

The stated aim of the GCRF Strategy is to facilitate "a positive transformational impact on development research and on sustainable global development. The overarching goal of the PEER Network is to inform socially just education systems and provision for children and young people in contexts of conflict and protracted crises.

To achieve this, the PEER Network will:

- Identify new solutions to the problems of 'why good technical policies fail' through a process of endogenous knowledge production.
- Inform intelligent policy and planning decision-making that directly recognises the trade-offs inherent in activities targeting the drivers and the legacies of conflict.
- Produce sustainable solutions by building networks of social accountability at the national and regional level to monitor progress and take account of changing circumstances.
- Create regional hubs of expertise to facilitate joint analysis of political economy analysis of bottlenecks that extend beyond national borders.
- Transform the global knowledge base and increasing standardisation of global education governance response by challenging postcolonial approaches to political economy analysis.

We will achieve these impact objectives through the following activities:

1. Develop three Challenge Papers to provide intellectual leadership and set the research development agenda
2. Produce three state of the art reviews to assess the extent of, and synthesise findings from, existing political economy analysis of education in the three regions.
3. 60 policymakers, practitioners and academics across the three regions commit to a year long process to co-develop PEA expertise and resources.
4. 20 case studies will explore political economy analysis of education in context
5. Creation of an online Community of Practice (CoP) to promote the sharing of the co-produced body of political economy analysis resources.
6. Support for Masters Level and PhD dissertations in the field
7. Commitment to funding one PhD studentship up to the value of £130,000 by Ulster University.
8. Workshops carried out at conferences for ECR
9. Disseminate and engage with 'global education actors' through attendance at workshops, conferences, meetings, blogs and social media.

By meeting these objectives, this research will provide benefits to the following groups:

1. Children and young people in the context of conflict and protracted crises
2. National level policymakers & practitioners seeking to make sustainable and informed choices in the context of constrained resources
3. Policymakers and practitioners working across national borders in the region.
4. International architecture of humanitarian aid and development actors supporting the provision of education for increasingly prolonged periods in the context of conflict and protracted crises.

Publications

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