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Schools without Stones: Education for Conflict or for Peace in Afghanistan

Global Education Colloquium

February 16, 2016
Dana Burde, Steinhardt, New York University

This talk, based on Professor Burde's book Schools for Conflict or for Peace in Afghanistan, discusses the ways that international aid to education contributes to conflict or peace. Popular interest in education to mitigate conflict resonates with the belief that uneducated masses contribute to instability, and moreover, that outside aid to education can stabilize countries and enhance statebuilding efforts. Yet empirical research on the relationship between education and conflict is limited. Burde provides a systematic analysis of this relationship. Although aid to education can promote peace, Burde shows how US aid to education in Afghanistan has been used to support conflict both deliberately in the 1980s with violence-infused, anti-Soviet curricula, and inadvertently in the 2000s with misguided stabilization programs. In addition, dominant humanitarian models have severely limited the attention and resources devoted to education, in some cases leading to poorly planned programs that undermine their goals. For education to promote peace in Afghanistan, Burde argues that it works by expanding equal access to good quality community-based education, not by simply building more schools. Alongside historical analysis and interviews, Burde uses qualitative and quantitative data from a first-of-its-kind, large-scale, randomized controlled trial of an education intervention in a country affected by conflict. Her findings show that community-based schools eliminate disparity in educational access between boys and girls in Afghanistan and narrow the achievement gap significantly. She constructs a broad analysis of the politics of education in Afghanistan to show how community-based education can work to reduce the underlying conditions for conflict and build peace across the country.

About the Speaker

Dr. Dana Burde is an Associate Professor and Director of International Education at New York University, and affiliated faculty member at NYU Abu Dhabi, NYU Wagner School of Public Service, and the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal on Education in Emergencies. Her research focuses on the effects of conflict on education, the efforts of humanitarian organizations to mitigate these effects, and the relationship between education and political violence or peace. She is particularly interested in research that can be used to inform policy and that has the potential to help state and non-state actors create social change. She is currently working on three projects: assessing the learning outcomes and sustainability of community-based schools in Afghanistan as they transition from NGOs to government administration; understanding how youth aspirations and education affect youth participation in public life in Pakistan and Kenya; and learning how boosting community engagement affects girls’ and boys’ performance in community-based schools in remote Afghan villages.  She uses diverse research methods including qualitative case studies and complex field experiments (also known as randomized controlled trials) that rely on both large-scale surveys and in-depth, qualitative interviews. Her book, Schools for Conflict or for Peace in Afghanistan, was published by Columbia University Press in October 2014 and recently won the Jackie Kirk Outstanding Book Award.  Her research has also been published in Comparative Education Review, International Journal of Educational Development, American Economic Journal—Applied, Current Issues in Comparative Education, and the New York Times. Bloggers for the World Bank and The National Interest have featured her work and it also appears on the Jameel-Poverty Action Lab website. Her research has been funded by the Spencer Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Institute of Peace, the Weikart Family Foundation, the Danish International Aid Agency, and the US Agency for International Development. Burde’s experiences as an aid worker and international education consultant include work in Latin America, Africa, and Central and South Asia. She received her PhD in Comparative Education and Political Science from Columbia University; EdM from Harvard University; and BA in English from Oberlin College.