Educ. 794J

Education in fragile and conflict environments


Draft syllabus

Updated version will be provided in class


Tuesdays 1-4 Hills South 275

Bjorn H. Nordtveit (office hours by appointment: )



Conflict, displacement, insecurity, and natural disasters prevent millions of children from attending basic education. Armed conflict alone is leading to more than 28 million children who are targets of sexual violence, worst forms of child labor (including being forced into work as child soldiers) and other forms of abuse.


Recently, an increased international acceptance that education is an important element of humanitarian work has led to a rise in education programs in crisis settings. It is now recognized that the provision of various kinds of education in the different phases of emergencies, insecurity (including situations of displacement), chronic crises and early reconstruction is necessary to provide survival skills (e.g., landmine and unexploded ordnance awareness); to re-establish a sense of normalcy (and thus build resilience); at the same time as ensuring the safety of children, teachers and staff. In many cases schools may need to provide non-educational services, such as basic medical treatment and vaccination.


This course will build skills for education system-specific conflict analysis and “early warning” evaluation; provide instruments to assess the impact of conflicts and fragility on education assistance; as well as evaluation of peace education measures. Further, the course objective is to examine opportunities for establishing learning environments that prevent and ameliorate social conflict leading to violence.



Class Objectives:


After the successful completion of this course, the students will be able to



Class Requirements: 


The class entails a combination of readings, lectures, student presentations, group work, guest lectures and class discussion to elucidate the challenges inherent to the analysis, planning and provision of education in fragile and conflict environments. 

The course is being offered on a pass/fail basis with a letter grade option. Any student wishing a letter grade must submit a written request for that option by the fourth class meeting. Method of Evaluation:


Ø Blog on evolution of one conflict setting of the students’ choice: 15%

Ø Three brief online exercises: 15% (5% each)

Ø Final portfolio on conflict setting of choice: 40%

Ø Group presentation: 30%





Course schedule



January 22: Clarifying the terminology – macro mapping of conflict context


Definitions of conflict, humanitarian aid, development aid, and fragility. Dialectical relationship between education, fragility, stability, and peace. Macro mapping of conflict settings; key characteristics. Choice of one conflict setting to be followed up on by each individual student.


Explanation of course requirements.



January 29: Mapping of micro contexts


Social roots of conflict. Tools for macro and micro mapping of conflict and fragility. Early warning analysis.



February 5: Local violence and insecurity


Mapping of violence and insecurity. Structural violence, direct violence, violent conflict, gender violence, violence prevention and protection for school-aged population and educational staff.



February 12: Stages: pre-conflict, conflict, and post-conflict


How to prioritize and coordinate interventions. Use of toolkits for delivering education in emergencies (Save the Children), education cluster documents (Strategic Plan for Disaster Management), and Needs Assessment for Education in Conflict.



February 19: No class session (Monday schedule at UMass)


February 26: Basic education for survival and disaster management


Landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO); water treatment and awareness about cholera outbreaks (INEE Toolkits).



March 5: Formal education systems


Impact assessment of conflict on formal education systems; how to ensure basic protection of children, teachers and staff. Curriculum issues.



March 12: Online session – Non-formal education and vocational training


Alternatives to formal education: non-formal education; skills training; education by military personnel. Training of military, police and security personnel.



March 19: No class – spring recess


March 26: Education in protracted refugee and chronic crisis settings


Education for internally displaced people and in refugee camps. Best practices for implementing education programs - how to move from non-formal education in early emergency to formal education.



April 2: Education in post-conflict/early reconstruction settings


Return and reintegration of displaced populations; reintegration of out-of-school youth and provision of skills training for development. Assessment of education infrastructure needs.



April 9: Peace education


Best practices in education for peace, reconciliation, nonviolent alternatives for managing conflict. Critical analysis of structural arrangements that produce and legitimize injustice and inequality.



April 16: Micro resilience


Psychosocial adjustment; dealing with trauma; including recently demobilized child soldiers. How to enhance children’s resilience in various settings of adversity?



April 23: Macro resilience


Education and macro resilience (including macroeconomic resilience); how to implement education in uncertainty; how to create new structures and dynamics following system crashes.


April 30: Bringing it together: tools for disaster management


Review of tools for disaster management and education. Conclusions of course; future of education in conflict and fragility (theoretical and practical aspects).