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Education can't wait

Even in times of war and civil strife, governments, civil society organizations, communities and donor countries must continue to place a high priority on education.

The investment will pay off when the inevitable peace process arrives, and society and the country will be in a much better position to heal the wounds of conflict and regain momentum for economic and social development.

These were some of the conclusions of a forum held at the Inter-American Development Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C. that compared experiences of social reconstruction through education in countries that experienced or are presently suffering from armed conflict: Cambodia, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Lao PDR (Laos), Peru, The Philippines and Vietnam.

The conference, titled Inter-regional Symposium on the Future of Children and Youth in Countries with Conflicts: Education and Social Reconstruction in Latin America and Asia , was organized by the Japan Program of the IDB and the Institute for Reconstruction and International Security through Education (R ISE Institute) of the United States and Colombia.

Specialists found that in most countries, investment in education during and immediately after conflict and strife can bring returns in national reconstruction. These investments include virtual learning centers for children isolated in their communities because of strife, job training for ex-combatants on both sides of a conflict, trauma healing, bilingual education for ethnic minorities, teacher training, and community counseling in democracy and human rights.

“During or after conflict, investing in education is investing in peace,” said José Luis Guzmán, a member of the board of directors of Centro ALFA of El Salvador, a private organization dedicated to research, training and technical assistance for improving education quality.

“You can't wait until a conflict is over to invest in education and children,” said Emily Vargas-Barón, director or the RISE Institute. It will be too late by then, and you will have lost a window of opportunity. You must have a plan for reconstruction and get started as soon as conditions allow. If a policy is not timely, you lose a generation or more.”

Experience has shown that “high quality education is possible even in the most intense of conflicts,” she added.

According to Feny de los Angeles-Bautista of the Philippines, the benefits of investing in education in societies in conflict or in post-conflict reconstruction “are not just in schooling, but in the processes involved in education, the interaction between the partners, the spontaneous opportunities that arise.”

Delegates to the conference adopted a plan for future action and a series of recommendations that include establishing a network to share experiences in conflict-afflicted countries, establishing education funds, documenting and disseminating information on the importance of investing in education, and conducting further studies and evaluations of the most effective projects.

We have to act in coordination to make sure that the Asian and Latin American experiences shared here are transferred to a larger group of countries and channeled into concrete actions," concluded Juan Carlos Navarro, Chief of the Education Unit at the IDB.

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