Unequal educational opportunity often lies at the heart of deep inequities in economic productivity, social well-being and participation in democratic institutions. Key livelihood statistics show that across the globe, individuals with lower levels of education are more likely to earn less, have poorer health outcomes and are less likely to enter leadership positions. For this reason, efforts to improve equity must start with education.
A soon-to-be released study, completed by the FHI 360 Education Policy and Data Center (EPDC) and commissioned by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy Programme, indicates that ensuring equitable access to educational resources may be more than just a moral right: It may also contribute to reducing the likelihood of civil conflict.
Using an innovative methodology that captures disparities in educational attainment among ethnic and religious groups, as well as among subnational regions within countries, we found that violent civil conflict is more likely in countries with high levels of disparity among groups. Preliminary results showed that the difference in the odds of conflict between highly unequal and more equal countries was large in magnitude and held true even after accounting for the countries’ differences in economic development, political systems, populations and income inequalities.
What might explain these differences in the relationship between inequality in education and violent conflict? What is it about the nature of inequality that makes it a stronger predictor of conflict in the recent decade, compared with earlier years? What has changed in the nature of conflicts during the past fifty years?
While more research is needed to answer these questions definitively, these findings come against the backdrop of the overall expansion of educational opportunity at the turn of the millennium. Globally, both the average years of schooling completed and the disparities in educational attainment among groups have declined substantially since the 1960s. And yet, inequality in schooling has grown in importance as a potential contributor to violent conflict, making an even stronger case for addressing equity imbalances before they contribute to civil strife.
While the current study focused on the extent to which inequality in education can predict the occurrence of future conflict, identifying and addressing intergroup disparities in education is even more important in contexts now affected by violence. Ongoing country-level case study research, also conducted by FHI 360 for UNICEF, will shed some light on policymaking in post-conflict contexts. Additional research will examine the reverse effects of conflict on the balance of intergroup equity in education.