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Highlighted Session: Global Evidence to Local Action in Central America: Understanding, localizing, and using evidence on education’s role in preventing violence

Wed, February 22, 9:45 to 11:15am EST (9:45 to 11:15am EST), Grand Hyatt Washington, Floor: Declaration Level (1B), Declaration B

Group Submission Type: Highlighted Paper Session


In the Northern Central American (NCA) countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, migration numbers continue to swell as the region grapples with insecurity, natural disasters, and the economic effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Urban violence, limited education resources, and gaps in workforce readiness remain obstacles for youth across the region. Gathering and applying evidence to design policies and programs to reduce violence requires significant time, resources, and capacity, which education stakeholders in the region often lack.

El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras suffer levels of violence similar to war zones. In each of these countries, there is a city with one of the ten highest homicide rates globally. This violence disproportionately affects the region’s growing youth population, which will reach nearly 40 million by 2030; youth are the majority of both crime victims and perpetrators. A 2017 UNICEF report ranked the NCA countries in the top 10 countries globally for mortality rates of boys and girls ages 10 to 19. Young women and girls also face rates of gender-based violence (GBV), including school-based GBV. For example, the Violence Against Children Survey (VACS) in Honduras uncovered that 55% of girls had experienced sexual violence prior to age 18.

Research from conflict-affected countries shows that youth who feel alienated from their communities are more likely to engage in violence, yet improving their sense of belonging can lower risks of violence. A recent USAID impact evaluation also provided evidence that schools can play a role in violence prevention. Migrants from NCA cite lack of education and limited economic opportunities as key factors that cause them to leave.

The COVID-19 exacerbated the situation of violence globally. Reports have demonstrated increased violence during periods of lockdown, especially among women and girls, with an uptake in calls to violence hotlines, crisis centers, and justice officials. Additionally, as schools closed and online teaching became the norm, other forms of violence occurred, such as cyberbullying or sexual violence through digital media. UNICEF has stated that young people in Latin America “are more exposed than ever to being victims of serious physical or psychological violence,” including neglect, sexual violence, and online violence. It is essential that key educational stakeholders in to use their capacities to make effective decisions for a violence prevention programming based on evidence while ramping up time in the classroom, particularly in a post-pandemic scenario.

Available data suggest that education programming can have a positive impact on violence prevention, yet key education stakeholders do not receive sufficiently clear, easy to access information about what evidence exists or how to use it to shape programming and policies. A recent study by USAID and Mathematica in Central America identified a “wide gap in the literature on the impacts of education programs on violence and crime.” Additionally, a recent USAID-funded meta-review of What Works in Community Violence Prevention in Central America states that “particularly in the Northern Triangle, the evidence-informed movement is still in its infancy.” A recent review on evidence-informed policymaking in Latin America and the Caribbean by J-PAL found that the reasons for this lack in evidence uptake has three main causes: 1) low prioritization of, and limited capacity for, evidence-informed policymaking; 2) limited “infrastructure” for evidence-informed policymaking; and 3) difficulty finding the right evidence to address priority questions, and understanding how it may apply in new contexts. The NCA region needs sustainable, effective solutions to youth violence and evidence-based programming that lets stakeholders clearly understand the impacts of their policies on education and violence outcomes.

Participants will directly engage with methodologies and findings from comprehensive, systematic approaches to reviewing literature and evaluations on the role of education in mitigating violence and crime, localized to the contexts in Central America countries. The US Government, including USAID, US Department of State, and Millennium Challenge Corporation, has funded studies to synthesize and articulate an evidence-based rationale for funding education programs to prevent violence and reduce crime, with the aim to translate the findings and make recommendations for key actors in Central America. This is the first of a two-part session highlighting four individual papers that focus on the lifecycle of using evidence related to education and the prevention of violence, working in close collaboration with local actors (Part 1 or 2).
• First paper: Setting the Stage, defining a learning agenda for violence prevention in LAC
• Second paper: Providing a conceptual framework, expansive global published and gray literature search protocol, identifying findings.
• Third paper: Defining country-level parameters, developing evidence searches and collecting evidence related to violence prevention, validated by key education stakeholders
• Fourth paper: Post-implementation, evaluating a regional violence prevention program in Central America

Sub Unit


Individual Presentations