Youth and education in fragile states by Dr. Marc Sommers

In the first of our new HEART Talks series Dr. Sommers gives an insight into youth and education in fragile states. He addresses the following themes:

  • sexual violence
  • increasing urban migration
  • education systems
  • masculinity

Dr. Sommers is an internationally recognised youth expert and an award-winning author. An anthropologist, Africanist, educationalist and evaluator, he has carried out research, assessment and evaluation work in 21 war-affected countries (across Africa as well as in Colombia, Kosovo and Timor-Leste). Dr. Sommers has consulted for donor agencies, NGOs, UN agencies and policy institutes, taught for many years at The Fletcher School, Tufts University, and was both a Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace and a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Currently, he is a Visiting Researcher with the African Studies Center at Boston University.

Dr. Sommers has an extensive publication record, including his seventh and latest book, Stuck: Rwandan Youth and the Struggle for Adulthood. Previous books include Islands of Education: Schooling, Civil War and the Southern Sudanese (1983 – 2004) and Fear in Bongoland: Burundi Refugees in Urban Tanzania, for which he received the 2003 Margaret Mead Award. He is completing a book on youth and conflict in Africa.

Related reading

Bhanaa, D., Nzimakweb, T. & Nzimakwea, P. 2011, Gender in the early years: Boys and girls in an African working class primary school. International Journal of Educational Development; 31 (5)
Understanding the ways in which young boys and girls give meaning to gender and sexuality is vital, and is especially significant in the light of South Africa’s commitment to gender equality. Yet the gendered cultures of young children in the early years of South African primary schools remains a marginal concern in debate, research and interventions around gender equality in education. This, paper addresses this caveat through a small-scale qualitative study of boys and girls between the ages, of 7 and 8 years in an African working class primary school. It focuses on friendships, games, and violent gendered interactions to show how gender features in the cultural world of young children. Given that both boys and girls invest heavily in dominant gender norms, the paper argues that greater, understanding of gender identity processes in the early years of formal schooling are important in, devising strategies to end inequalities and gender violence.

Hadley, S. 2010, Seasonality and Access to Education: the case of primary education in sub-Saharan Africa. CREATE PATHWAYS TO ACCESS Research Monograph No. 31
Discussions of seasonality and public policy together are rare, particularly outside the contexts of food security and agricultural policy. This paper seeks to add a seasonal dimension to education policy-making procedures by drawing together discussions on seasonality, child labour and education in the context of primary education in sub Saharan Africa. Seasonality describes how variables like income poverty and demand for labour can fluctuate within and between years, yet discussions of (indirect and direct) private costs of education and child labour frequently ignore the significance of highlighting seasonal patterns. Similarly, seasonality discourse is largely silent on education.

Kirk, J. 2007. Education and fragile states. Globalisation, Societies and Education; 5 (2)
Within the fragile states agendas and policies of development agencies and organisations education is of concern; education is a social service sector in which the impacts of state fragility are significant, in terms of access and quality of provision for children, working conditions and support for teachers, good governance and legitimacy for the society/community as a whole. However, this article argues that education should be at the centre of fragile states discussions as more than a basic service; in relation to fragility, education is at the same time cause, effect, problem and possible solution. Education needs to be part of fragility analysis as well as in the identification of priority stabilising interventions. In education – as in other sectors and domains – gender equality and state fragility are inherently connected and gender equality must be integrated through all analysis and interventions. The article ends with some recommendations for moving in this direction.

Kyoheirwe Muhanguzia, F. 2011, Gender and sexual vulnerability of young women in Africa: experiences of young girls in secondary schools in Uganda. Culture, Health & Sexuality; 13 (6)
Sexuality is part and parcel of students’ experiences of schooling manifested in personal friendships, relations and social interaction. These encounters constitute sites within which sexual identities are developed, practiced and actively produced through processes of negotiation. Drawing on qualitative research conducted in 14 selected secondary schools in Central and Western Uganda, the study illuminates gendered sexual vulnerability within patterns of social interaction and young girls gendered experiences and negotiation of their sexuality. The study reveals that through social and discursive practices, students construct complex gendered relations of domination and subordination that position boys and girls differently, often creating gender inequalities and sexual vulnerability for those gendered as girls. Girls’ vulnerability is characterised by confusing and traumatic experiences fraught with double standards and silences. Typical of these experiences are complex tensions and contradictions surrounding constructions of sexuality that are predicated upon unequal power and gender relations characterised by homophobia, misogyny, control of female sexuality and sexual abuse and exploitation, all which work against girls’ expression of sexuality. Gender sensitive sexuality education is identified as a valuable site of intervention to address such vulnerabilities and promote gender equality and equity in society.

Sommers, M. 2004, Coordinating education during emergencies and reconstruction: challenges and responsibilities. UNESCO
This book demonstrates why the coordination of humanitarian and post-conflict reconstruction activities is so difficult to accomplish in the education sector. It also suggests ways to overcome barriers to effective coordination.

Sommers, M. 2005, Islands of Education. Schooling, Civil War and the Southern Sudanese (1983 – 2004) UNESCO
War, isolation and instability have left the Southern Sudanese as one of the most undereducated populations in the world. The overwhelming majority of Southern Sudanese children and youth have had little access to education of any kind. Schooling has largely consisted of island-like entities surrounded by oceans of educational emptiness. This book documents the educational catastrophe facing Southern Sudanese. It illuminates their strong desire to educate themselves and their children. Major findings include:

  • The consequences of under-investing in education during conflict
  • Series deficiencies in the coordination of education
  • A direct connection between quality education and compensating teachers
  • Alarmingly low levels of representation of girls in schools
  • The dangers of involving military personnel in the management of education
  • The invasive effects of state dominance on learning for the internally displaced

Sommers, M. 2006, Fearing Africa’s Young Men: The case of Rwanda. World Bank, Social Development Papers, 32
This paper sets the case of Rwanda’s male youth within the larger context of Africa’s urbanization and burgeoning youth population. It investigates the pervasive images of male urban youth as a menace to Africa’s development and its primary source of instability. It then turns to the Rwandan case, examining the desperate conditions its young men (and women) faced before the civil war (1990-94) and 1994 genocide, as well as their experience of it. It draws on field interviews with Rwandan youth to consider the situation male youth face in the postwar, post-genocide era. The paper situates the Rwandan case within the debate on whether concentrated numbers of African male youth are dangerous (the youth bulge theory), as well as prospects for Rwanda’s male youth population.

Sommers, M. 2006, Youth and Conflict; A Brief Review of Available Literature. USAID
This review introduces debates over how the youth category has been defined and whether youth should be seen primarily as passive victims of warfare, active threats to peace, or as resilient survivors. Analysis suggests that while war’s effects on youth are complex, resilience is their most prominent shared characteristic. The implication of this analysis on programming is significant because it casts youth as central formulators of youth programming.

Sommers, M. 2007, West Africa’s Youth Employment Challenge. The Case of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire. United Nations Industrial Development Organization
This report will examine the large and complex youth employment challenge in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire, where there is an “urgent need to create employment for 4.5 million youth” and where over half of all youth lack proper work. Mindful that much of the region’s youth cohort is restive and unemployed, Liberia’s ‘rebel behaviour’ and ex-combatant youth among them, the report will also consider the implications of providing ‘productive and decent work’ for youth; that is, work that promises to put youth on the road towards acquiring respect and professional development as well as compensation. The report will conclude with a description of an employment programme for some of the region’s most marginalized and overlooked: poor, unemployed urban youth.

Sommers, M. 2007, Creating Programs for Africa’s Urban Youth: The Challenge of Marginalization. CICE Hiroshima University, Journal of International Cooperation in Education; 10 (1)
Urban youth constitute the vanguard of Africa’s twinned demographic transformations. Sub-Saharan Africa’s youth population growth rate is the highest of any world region (North Africa’s rate is also high). In addition, Africa’s urban growth rate is the world’s highest. Taken together, the need to provide adequate, effective support for urban youth is critical to fostering Africa’s development – and its political, social and economic stability. This article is designed to help address this need in two ways. First, it focuses attention on those comprising the overwhelming majority of this population, urban youth who are poor and marginalized. Second, drawing largely on the author’s extensive professional experience with African urban youth, the article reviews the major challenges this population faces; considers the programming context for Africa’s urban youth; reviews six principles for developing programs for them; provides field-based insights on improving the assessment, monitoring and evaluation of urban youth programming; and suggest ways to enhance the inclusion of female youth in programs. The article concludes with a consideration of the particular challenge of marginalization in meeting the needs of Africa’s huge urban youth population, and a call to respond to this challenge with youth-centred policy reforms and investments.

Sommers, M. 2009, Africa’s Young Urbanites. Challenging Realities in a Changing Region. UNICEF/ADAP.
This study highlights the contours of Sub-Saharan African urban life and what it’s like to be a young person (in this case, those between ages 10 and 24) in a big African city. It will begin by examining some assumptions about urban Africa and what trends help illuminate Africa’s high urbanization rate and the challenges that African cities face. Next, it will review some central themes of urban youth life in Africa. Wherever possible, particular attention will be paid to adolescent youth and to cities in East and Southern Africa. The study will conclude by considering programme and policy implications for working with Africa’s urban youth and providing suggestions for enhancing strategies that support them.

Sommers, M. 2009, Education Amidst Conflict: The Youth Challenge. PRAXIS The Fletcher Journal of Human Security VOLUME XXIV
This article examines how education and conflict are intertwined. Most war-affected youth are not in school and have little reasonable chance of ever attending. Sheer demographics alone— today’s world population is history’s youngest ever—set significant limits on the effectiveness and reach of current efforts to address education needs during and after wars. Included in the article’s analysis is how youth exclusion and colossal youth populations create considerable education challenges in conflict-affected contexts.

Sommers, M. 2012, Moving Targets: Youth Priorities and the Policy Response in War and Post-War Africa. Africa Programme Policy Brief 5, The Wilson Center
In war and post-war Africa, youth populations are colossal and most governments are weak. The elemental youthfulness of Africa’s war-affected has created a daunting yet virtually overlooked irony: that while youth are demographically dominant, many if not most consider themselves to be members of an outcast minority.

Sommers, M. 2012, Stuck: Rwandan Youth and the Struggle for Adulthood. University of Georgia Press
This book focuses on how young people are transforming the global landscape. As the human population today is younger and more urban than ever before, prospects for achieving adulthood dwindle while urban migration soars. Devastated by genocide, hailed as a spectacular success, and critiqued for its human rights record, the Central African nation of Rwanda provides a compelling setting for grasping new challenges to the world’s youth. Spotlighting failed masculinity, urban desperation, and forceful governance, this book tells the dramatic story of young Rwandans who are “stuck,” striving against near-impossible odds to become adults.

Sommers, M. & Schwartz, S. 2011, Dowry and Division. Youth and State Building in South Sudan. United States Institute of Peace, Special Report 295
Most South Sudanese youth are undereducated and underemployed, and their priorities and perspectives are largely unknown. To address this critical knowledge gap, the authors conducted field research between April and May 2011 with youth, adults, and government and nongovernment officials in Juba and two South Sudanese states. The increasing inability of male youth to meet rising dowry (bride price) demands was the main research finding. Unable to meet these demands, many male youth enlist in militias, join cattle raids, or seek wives from different ethnic groups or countries. Skyrocketing dowry demands have negatively and alarmingly affected female youth. They are routinely viewed as property that can generate family wealth. Potent new post-war identities involving youth returning from Khartoum, refugee asylum countries, and those who never left South Sudan, are stimulating hostility and conflict. Excess demand on government jobs, widespread reports of nepotism in government hiring practices, cultural restrictions against many kinds of work, and a general lack of entrepreneurial vision are fuelling an exceptionally challenging youth employment situation. Gang activities continue to thrive in some urban centres in South Sudan. They are reportedly dominated by youth with connections to government officials and by orphans. While most undereducated youth highlighted dowry and marriage as their primary concerns, members of the elite youth minority emphasized vocational training and scholarships for higher education. While South Sudanese youth view their government as the primary source of education, jobs, and hope, the government of South Sudan does not appear poised to provide substantial support to vital youth priorities related to dowry, employment, education, and training. The government of South Sudan and its international partners need to proactively address non-elite youth priorities. They must find ways to cap dowry demands, protect female youth, and support orphan youth, in addition to expanding quality education, job training, and English language training.

Sommers, M. & Uvin, P. 2011, Youth in Rwanda and Burundi. United States Institute of Peace. Special Report 293
Extensive research with non-elite youth in post-war Rwanda and Burundi revealed stark and startling contrasts between the lives of poor Rwandan and Burundian youth, particularly concerning issues of masculinity, education, urban migration, and social mobility. Severe manhood pressures and the threat of failure for male and female youth emerged as the dominant research theme in Rwanda. In Burundi, severe economic pressure surfaced as the dominant research theme. Yet many youth there believe that the future holds promise if they can work hard, remain flexible, and have some luck. Although youth in Burundi contend that educational accomplishment directly influences social mobility and survival strategies, the Rwanda research points to low demand for education and training among the lesser-educated youth majority. For Burundian youth, especially male youth, urban migration was a risky but nonetheless desirable option. Meanwhile, Rwandan youth mainly viewed rural-urban migration as an escape from humiliation in rural areas. Whereas many Burundian youth held out the hope of improving their lot and perhaps even ascending socially, the commanding imprint of risk aversion led many Rwandan youth to focus on minimizing prospects of collapse. Most Burundian youth believe that they have options and possibilities while most Rwandan youth do not. While Rwandan youth face constraining adulthood mandates and government regulations, as well as a severe housing crisis, Burundian youth perceive a range of option for making plans and then implementing them. Weak governance and adaptable cultures appear to provide non-elite youth populations in post-war contexts with opportunities for creative advancement. Strong and restrictive governments and cultures, while capable of implementing policies that are favourable to economic growth, may also create calamitous results for many youth. Boosting Rwandan youth prospects calls for reforming or perhaps eliminating housing and informal economy regulations that undermine their aims. Aiding Burundian youth necessitates an enhanced focus on jobs and job training. Qualitative research on marginalized youth perspectives should be carried out before youth work begins.

Turrent, V. 2009, Expanding Support for Education in Fragile States: What Role for the Education for All – Fast Track Initiative? CREATE PATHWAYS TO ACCESS Research Monograph No. 3
The new international aid architecture was established to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of development aid by emphasising country ownership, alignment with national priorities and the harmonisation of donor processes. These features are evident in the Education for All-Fast Track Initiative, a global partnership between donor and developing countries launched to ensure accelerated progress towards universal primary education. Despite the move to ‘fast-track’ progress toward Education for All, only a few ‘fragile’ states (countries demonstrating weak governance and home to around a third of the out-of-school primary population), have been able to access EFA-FTI funding facilities, with serious consequences for widening participation in education. For most fragile states, the absence of a credible education sector plan has meant that they are not eligible for endorsement to receive financial resources via the EFA-FTI mechanism. Even where financing can be made available, the low credibility of institutions at the sectoral and financial management levels, as well as weak systems and low capacity, make fragile states a high-risk proposition for donor investment. One of the major challenges has therefore been to find a suitable financing and management channel for education aid. This monograph explores EFA-FTI efforts to expand the partnership model to incorporate fragile states. It analyses the critical factors, procedures and governance issues that have been addressed in the development of a framework for financing education in such contexts, and identifies key lessons for future education resourcing initiatives in fragile states.

Turrent, V. & Oketch, M. 2009. Financing universal primary education: An analysis of official development assistance in fragile states. International Journal of Educational Development, 29 (4)
At existing rates of progress, fragile states represent those countries most at-risk of failing to achieve universal primary education. It is estimated that around a third of the world’s out of school children live in countries where the state faces severe development challenges instigated and perpetuated by weak institutional capacity, poor governance, political instability, or the legacy effects of past conflict. Typically, fragile states have the most difficulty in mobilising domestic resources to finance national education strategies and, consequently, rely heavily on other sources of educational investment. This paper examines the provision of development aid within a group of 52 low-income countries, and concludes that despite the international commitment to universal primary education, the prevailing attitude of selectively allocating aid to ‘good performers’ has led to education in fragile states being sidelined by the development community.

UNESCO.  2011, The Hidden Crisis: Armed Conflict and Education. Regional Overview: South and West Asia, Regional Overview: South and West Asia.
Violent conflict is one of the greatest development challenges facing the international community. Beyond the immediate human suffering it causes, it is a source of poverty, inequality and economic stagnation. Children and education systems are often on the front line of violent conflict. The past decade has seen marked advances towards Education for All (EFA) in South and West Asia. The region has increased primary enrolment rates despite an increase in the school age population. Gender gaps have narrowed at the primary and secondary levels and more children are moving from primary school to secondary education. Yet major challenges remain. The region is home to 27% of the world’s out-of-school children, levels of learning achievement are low, gender disparities are still large, and the learning needs of young children in 2008, adolescents and adults continue to suffer from widespread neglect. The countries of South and West Asia spend, on average, a low share of national income on education, far below the world average. On the other hand, external aid to basic education has increased, despite a stagnation in overall levels.

Unterhalter, E. 2013, Connecting the private and the public: pregnancy, exclusion, and the expansion of schooling in Africa. Gender and Education; 25 (1)
In a number of countries in Africa, young women who become pregnant are excluded from school. This article presents a critique of policy and practice in this area drawing partly on Diana Leonard’s scholarship concerning the relational dynamic of gender, generation, social division, and household forms. Much of the policy prescription of large global organisations concerned with the expansion of secondary schooling in Africa does not sufficiently take account of the connection between the gender dynamics of the private and that of the public outlined in Leonard’s work. In showing some of the effects of this oversight, this article reports on data from research studies in five countries in Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Nigeria, and Ghana) to show how aspects of silence, evasion, and stereotyping often characterise teachers’ and education officials’ reflections on youth and pregnancy. Young women’s concerns with the risk of pregnancy are often given inadequate attention, while harsh actions to shame young women who become pregnant are reported. The importance of working across sectors to link social policy in this area is shown to be difficult and in need of much more focused resource.

You may also be interested in