The political economy of education systems in conflict-affected contexts

Mario Novelli; Sean Higgins; Mehmet Ugur; Oscar Valiente


This rigorous literature review offers insights into the global, national and local governance of education systems in conflict-affected contexts. It finds that the literature is nascent, fragmented and partial, yet provides rich and complex insights into the challenges of improving education systems in conflict-affected contexts. The review concludes with a theory of change that seeks to illuminate core policy issues and their complexities, and points towards areas of further research.

The review first presents a number of theoretical and methodological assumptions underpinning PE research on education and conflict that includes how PEA approaches can explore educational policy interventions and outcomes with an awareness of broader social issues and processes, as well as the dynamics affecting policy environments.  It combines purposive sampling with systematic review methods in order to develop a narrative synthesis of the qualitative evidence from a body of literature that is diverse in terms of methods used and issues addressed. The methodology is fully outlined in chapter 3 while chapter 4 critically analyses the characteristics and quality of the literature reviewed.

Key findings 

The literature highlights 10 key policy challenges in the three stage of the policy cycle.

  • Agenda setting:
    • The undermining of the potential of education to contribute to sustainable peacebuilding in favour of security/peacebuilding objectives.
    • The disconnect between peacebuilding and conflict practitioners and education specialists; both groups lack knowledge of each other’s fields, leading to silo approaches and missed opportunities.
    • The different approaches to the role of education by actors in the humanitarian, development and security sectors.
  • Policy formulation: 
    • The disconnect between a global educational agenda influenced by access/quality/efficiency and the peacebuilding needs of conflict-affected societies, e.g. addressing inequity, social cohesion, and economic and political exclusion.
    • The technical framing of educational interventions bypasses the cultural, political, religious and social contexts of implementation which may jeopardise the capacity of education to contribute to sustainable peacebuilding.
    • Lack of cross-sector collaboration between government education departments and other agencies prevents leveraging change on key cross-cutting issues linked to peacebuilding.
    • Inattention to agency and voices of national/local actors undermines the possibility of sustainable outcomes and of addressing conflict-related social justice issues.
    • Imbalances of power between global, national and local actors undermine the potential for local ownership of interventions and therefore opportunities for sustainable peacebuilding.
  • Policy formulation:
    • A disjuncture between different types of political economy analysis results in different evaluations of the significance of global and local actors, and local political and cultural contexts.
    • The complexity of factors influencing the success of educational interventions revealed by political economy analysis is difficult for practitioners to address and to use to inform policies and programming. However, failure to do so is likely to undermine technical solutions.


The review concludes with suggestions of where further systematic research is needed including on:

  • how education interventions can reduce inequalities
  • education’s multifaceted contribution to peacebuilding
  • the capacity development gap of education practitioners and policy makers in conflict contexts
  • role and integration of education across the humanitarian, security and development phases
  • country studies on the political economy/conflict and education relationship in key conflict contexts.
  • a normative framework on what constitutes a socially just education system in conflict affected contexts (security, equity, inclusion, participation)
  • coordinating conflict-sensitivity and peacebuilding across sectors
  • the potential and limitations of political economy research on education in conflict-affected contexts


Novelli M.; Higgins S.; Ugur M.; & Valiente V. (2014). The political economy of education systems in conflict-affected contexts: A rigorous literature review. London: UK Department for International Development.