Education: how to keep the peace

Today, on the International Day of Peace, we should remember one key line taken from the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: “There can be no sustainable development without peace, and no peace without sustainable development”. Stable peace, our latest Report confirms, is more likely in societies where institutions are democratic, and where people are educated in ways that help them access political information and participate in political processes. Education also makes the electorate and polity more representative of society, holds governments more effectively to account and helps enforce constitutionally guaranteed rights.


1.jpg.pngIf you weren’t able to understand the language used in official government documents and had never been shown how to register for your vote or correctly fill in a ballot paper, wouldn’t you be frustrated if a politician you didn’t want was voted into power? If you didn’t know where to access information about candidates and their policies, or weren’t able to read newspapers or analyse political broadcasts, how would you make an informed decision? Education is critical not just during elections but throughout the entire political cycle. As the GEM Report shows, more educated people are more likely to contact their political representative, more likely to request information on political processes, more likely to participate in political and community meetings, and are overall more likely to be critically minded in political activities.

Education is particularly important when it comes to effectively disenfranchised groups, or groups that don’t ordinarily engage in political processes. Women reached by a door-to-door voter education campaign in Pakistan in 2008 were 12 percentage points more likely to vote than others, and were also significantly more likely to choose a candidate independently rather than following the preference of the men in their household. Youth who receive a quality civic education programme are significantly more active in local politics, both during their youth and into adulthood.

  • Expand the emphasis on global citizenship and peace education in curricula. [Tweet]
  • Invest in quality civic education programmes that contribute to a well functioning justice system, including participation and access for marginalized communities. [Tweet]


2.jpg.pngWhat’s more, better education allows for greater female representation in political leadership positions. A study of female leaders at various levels of government in eight countries revealed that those women with higher educational levels held office in higher tiers of government. The positive cycle continues, with a greater representation of women in politics and public office often reducing gender disparities in education, as well as inspiring other women and girls.


From the Occupy movement to the Arab Spring, mass protests on the streets of Brazil and Turkey, people are increasingly using non-violent tactics to challenge oppressive, corrupt or unfair political and economic structures. The GEM Report shows that the spread of education makes it more likely that discontented citizens will channel their concerns through non-violent protests, boycotts, strikes, rallies, political demonstrations and social non-cooperation and resistance. Using data on 238 ethnic groups in 106 states from 1945 to 2000, a study found that ethnic groups with higher levels of educational attainment were more likely to engage in non-violent protests than those with lower levels of education.

  • Promote learning that emphasizes the values of tolerance and peace to help build less violent and more constructive societies. [Tweet]


It’s critical to note that not all types of education help to keep the peace. In fact, the wrong sort of education can encourage prejudice and intolerance, or teach a distorted view of history, which can actually exacerbate conflict. In Rwanda, the education system is accused of playing a role in reflecting and amplifying ethnic inequality in society, and encouraging the categorization of Hutu and Tutsi people into two exclusive groups.

Designed well, appropriate contents and pedagogy in school can even help rebuild societies after conflict. In particular, integrated schools can promote inclusion, build tolerance, and positively influence minority group identity. Such schools have seen success in conflict-prone areas like Northern Ireland and Israel. Of course, such success depends on the availability of motivated, engaged and well-trained teachers, and the availability of a curriculum that includes aspects like education on human rights, citizenship, culture, environment and social justice.

  • For refugees and internally displaced persons, implement policies that expand the pool of qualified teachers proficient in their languages, and address the issue of official validation and certification of learning by refugees. [Tweet]
  • Incorporate education into official foreign policy and the peacebuilding agenda when trying to prevent and recover from conflict situations. [Tweet]
  • Teach in children’s mother languages. Consider training teachers in methods for teaching second language learners. [Tweet]
  • Ensure curricula and learning materials are not biased or prejudiced against ethnic and minority groups. [Tweet]


3As we showed on a previous blog on this site, without a basic level of education, it’s also very difficult to interact with the justice system. This means it’s harder to understand how the system works, what legal protections are available, and what is the effect of signing certain documents. There are several community-based education programmes that are working to fill this knowledge gap, like the Human Rights and Legal Aid Services programme in Bangladesh where women are taught about their legal rights and how to seek justice. Also essential are initiatives that train and build the capacity of judicial and law enforcement officers.

  • Fund civil society organizations and other associations that provide legal and political education in communities. [Tweet]

These examples, taken from the 2016 GEM Report show the various ways that education can help contribute towards setting up and maintaining peaceful, just and inclusive societies that are free from fear and violence and contribute to a sense of personal security and dignity. Yet at present, of all publicly available peace agreements signed between 1989 and 2005, around a third make no mention of education at all. Building sustainable peace is a major challenge. More should be made of the potential education has to help.




  1. This explains most of the political outbreaks that follow elections in developing countries. The minority of educated people amounting only 20% of the voting population makes the choice for the large majority of 80% uneducated people. I think tomorrow is not the day when democracy is a reality in countries where primary needs such as food, shelter… are not fully satisfied.

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