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Armed Conflict and Schooling: Long-term Evidence from Cambodia and Rwanda

May 25, 2008, Damien de Walque

New data on the microeconomic impacts of war for non-combatants show that the journey out of conflict is a shaky one—for a long time, especially for young people. Two recent studies investigate the long-term effect of genocide on schooling outcomes in Cambodia and Rwanda. They both find long-term negative impacts for the affected cohorts.

As more data from war regions become available, the microeconomic impacts of civil war, and genocide in particular, for non-combatants is coming into better focus. [1,2]  For Cambodia, the results of the study are based on one survey collected more than twenty years after the Khmer Rouge period, while for Rwanda it is based on two nationally representative cross-sectional household surveys, one collected in 2000 (six years after the genocide ended) and one collected in 1992 (two years before the genocide started).

 Dewalque secondary education
 Source: Cambodia, Labor Force Survey, 2001.
In Cambodia over 2 million people were killed during the 1970s

Information collected in the 2000 Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey from adults about the survival status of their sibling confirms that adult males were the most likely to die, that violent deaths represented a large share of the excess mortality, and that individuals with an urban or educated background were more likely to die.[3,4] Furthermore, the school system was devastated under the Khmer Rouge regime.

Cambodia children of school-going age who were exposed to the conflict have lower educational achievement than cohorts who were not exposed to the genocide

One of the lasting legacies of the period is that survivors, in particular males, who were of schooling age at the end of the 1970s, have a lower level of educational achievement than the preceding and subsequent birth cohorts (see figure).

In Rwanda almost 10 percent of the country’s population was killed in 100 days

The Rwandan genocide is one of the most violent episodes in recent history, in which at least 800,000 people died in approximately one hundred days in 1994. Unlike Cambodia, the conflict was short and the country was taken over by a relatively well-organized regime. As a result the school system was not as devastated as it was in Cambodia.

Few studies in conflict areas are fortunate in having available data bracketing a conflict event. The study on Rwanda uses the pre-war data to control for baseline schooling levels for a given age group and exploits variation in birth cohorts of children who were still in school during the active conflict period. 

Dewalque-rwanda years

Children of school-going age at the time of the Rwandan conflict have experienced a drop in educational achievement

The Rwanda study examines the effects of the genocide on children’s enrollment and the probability of completing a particular grade, focusing on primary schooling. Enrollment trends would seem to suggest that the school system recovered quickly after 1994.

But when one compares explicitly the cohorts of children who were of school-going age during the genocide with previous cohorts, it becomes obvious that the exposed children experienced a significant drop in educational attainment.

Individuals aged 23 to 35 reported many more years of schooling in the survey interviews conducted in 2000 compared to similarly aged interviewees in 1992 (see figure).

 Dewalque-rwanda years

This observed increase in educational achievement from 1992 to 2000 for people in the 23 to 35-year-old range likely reflects the general tendency in developing countries for schooling outcomes to improve with each new birth cohort. Also, individuals aged 23 to 35 in 2000 were older than 17 at the time of the genocide, so a majority of them had already completed their schooling.

For people aged 6 to 23 (17 or younger in 1994) at the time of the genocide educational achievement is consistently higher in 1992 than in 2000, contradicting the general tendency for education levels to increase over time.

Children exposed to the genocide experienced a drop in educational achievement of almost one-half year of completed schooling, and are less likely to complete third or fourth grade.

Post-conflict periods have a long tail
Sustained efforts are needed in both countries, to restore educational institutions, heal social fractionalization, and offer a “second chance” to youth most affected by the conflict.

DAMIEN DE WALQUE  is an Economist in the Development Research Group (Human Development and Public Services Team). His research interests include health and education and the interactions between them. He is working on impact evaluations of HIV/AIDS interventions related to prevention and treatment in Africa and India. He is also developing a research agenda focusing on the long-term consequences of mortality crises, including the consequences of conflict. 

Related Resources


[1] Damien de Walque. 2006. “The Socio-Demographic Legacy of the Khmer Rouge Period in Cambodia.” Population Studies 60(2): 223-31.

[2] Richard Akresh and Damien de Walque. 2008. Armed Conflict and Schooling: Evidence from the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 4606. Download paper

[3] Patrick Heuveline. 1998.  “‘Between one and three million’: Towards the demographic reconstruction of a decade of Cambodian history (1970-79).” Population Studies 52: 49-65.

[4] Damien de Walque. 2005. “Selective Mortality During the Khmer Rouge Period in Cambodia.” Population and Development Review 31(2): 351-368.

Dewalque-rwanda years

Last updated: 2008-05-27

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