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Countering violent extremism or countering violent exclusion? Youth and the Role of Education in Promoting Conflict or Peace

Tue, March 7, 8:00 to 9:30am, Sheraton Atlanta, Floor: 1, Georgia 10 (South Tower)

Session Submission Type: Group Panel

Description of Session

Objectives: Media, lawmakers, and international aid organizations express significant concern about youth idleness and radicalization. In keeping with the theme of this year’s conference, “Problematizing (In)Equality: The Promise of Comparative and International Education,” we note that although international norms and institutions have gained strength in the past several decades and are better equipped to promote education for all, extremist ideology, social divisions, and an unprecedented level of inequitable distribution of resources pose serious challenges to the continued expansion of equitable and universal access to good quality education. Progress toward these goals requires a better understanding of the mechanisms that underpin the relationship between education and conflict, and between extremism and exclusion. This panel explores how young men and women’s views, identities, and experiences with formal and nonformal education may promote conflict or positive social change in Nairobi and Karachi, and rural or semi-urban environments in countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Somalia, and Lebanon. We present data about the relationship between youth education and conflict from two primary angles, examining: (1) mechanisms that may contribute to the underlying conditions for conflict or peace as they relate to youth identity, aspirations, and education; (2) strategies that some organizations use to cultivate positive social change among young men and women.

Perspectives or theoretical/conceptual framework: The relationship between education and conflict is under specified. First, some argue that opportunity costs prevent enrolled young people from joining violent groups. If so, does targeted education for civic engagement prevent youth from joining armed groups? Or does cultivating youth voice, identity, and community engagement through art and theater counter violent extremism? Second, it is an article of faith that extremism drives conflict. If so, what is the role of educational aspirations, social divisions, or exclusions? How do refugee youth fit in? And how do young men’s and women’s trajectories differ? These papers highlight several ways in which education, identity, aspirations, gender, and engagement play a role in reducing or increasing the likelihood of conflict or peace.

Research methods/modes of inquiry: The methods employed in these articles use mixed-methods designs, including extensive in-depth interviews, focus groups, and surveys.

Arguments/Questions/Results: The first paper seeks to understand if efforts to promote secondary education and civic engagement among Somali youth are able to reduce young people’s propensity towards violence, illegal migration, and other negative behaviors, by increasing their sense of optimism about the future, strengthening their connection to their communities and improving their perceptions of government. The second paper presents findings from a mixed methods study that investigates how a youth theater program in Afghanistan interacts with the identity characteristics and identity narratives of its youth participants. The third paper explores how aspects of education systems in Karachi and Nairobi (exclusions, inequities) may interact with youth educational aspirations and contribute to underlying conditions for conflict in these cities. The final paper examines the alignment between Syrian refugees’ educational aspirations and the educational policies of international organizations, finding that youth maintain pathways to pursue their original ambitions while satisfying donor interests.

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