In emergency and conflict situations, the first wave of relief efforts hinge on meeting life-sustaining needs: food, water, shelter, and medicine. A new podcast series focuses on a crucial addition to the second wave of support: education.

Beyond School Books, a podcast launched by UNICEF and hosted by Amy Costello, rethinks the role of education in resolving and preventing conflict. Past segments (“When Crises Strike Children: Education as a Human Right and Long-Term Development Tool” and “The War’s Over, Now Where’s Your Homework”) have evoked the insights of guests like Ishmael Beah, an activist, author, and previous child soldier in Sierra Leone’s civil war, and Radhika Coomaraswamy, a Sri Lankan lawyer and special representative of the UN secretary general for children and armed conflict.

Education is no panacea, Coomaraswamy notes in the series. As a tool of power, education can foster as well as resolve conflict. In Sri Lanka, for example, Coosmaraswamy helped analyze school textbooks and found that the content promoted a nationalistic identity that contributed to tensions between ethnic groups. But when deployed carefully and thoughtfully, education may be able to diffuse and even prevent conflict.

According to studies by Population Action International (pdf), throughout the 1990s countries with large populations of young people were three times more likely to engage in civil wars than countries with older populations. Targeting youth is a military tactic, used to recruit fighters, fragment families, and instill terror. Educating these youths would not only bring the myriad familiar benefits of education, but could also curb military recruitment of young people and starve warring parties of their cannon fodder. —Anna Cynar

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