To the editor:
Globally there are more than 72 million children ages 5 to 11 not in school and more than 250,000 youth engaged in conflict, some of which are recruited into violent extremist groups as early as 10 years old. In a 2004 report by United States Agency for International Development on youth in conflict, researchers found that when young people are uprooted, jobless, intolerant, alienated, and with few opportunities for positive engagement, they represent a ready pool of recruits for groups seeking to mobilize violence.
As a local social worker and life skills specialist, I have seen how the lack of a quality education leads to a hopeless worldview, lack of opportunities and often incites a violent lifestyle. I have taught children who fled their country for lack of educational opportunities and fear of becoming influenced by violent extremist groups. And as a resident of Alexandria and a citizen of this country, which has been affected by acts of terrorism, I believe in the security and innate value of each human being. Therefore, offering a better quality education in a conflict-free environment extends to our global partners.
The common denominator between youth who are forced into conflict and those who voluntarily join extremist groups is a lack of educational and economic opportunities, which in return changes an individuals worldview from one of hope to despair. Research shows that an individuals income level does not solely dictate whether they will join an extremist group; however, lack of a quality education coupled with extreme poverty is fertile ground for violence and exploitation.
In the Middle East, Central Asia and parts of Africa youth can receive a free education at unregistered madrasahs, some of which teach an extreme worldview of justice by violence. In Sub-Saharan Africa, not only can youth not afford an education, but when many return from being forced into conflict they are often denied the opportunity of continuing their education, which causes them to return to conflict and violence for survival. A report by Save the Children shows that every year of schooling a male receives decreases his chances of engaging in violent conflict by 20 percent. So what should our response be towards the lack of quality education for children in conflict?
Globally, a better quality education would include the elimination of school fees and establishing a community-based curriculum that includes teaching a worldview fostering respect and dignity, life skills, literacy and numeracy skills as well as entrepreneurship. This can be accomplished by supporting the Education for All Act of 2010 (H.R. 5117) that was recently introduced in the House of Representatives. Alexandrias congressman, Rep. Jim Moran, an astute decision maker and champion of fighting crime with education reform, has co-sponsored this act and I encourage other representatives to follow his lead. By passing this act, America can become a global example of choosing education to nurture world peace.