It Takes a Village to Educate the World
"We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community... Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own." - Cesar Chavez
In the field of International Educational Development, there are no shortage of organizations coming together to take a communal step towards a more educated world. This past week, I spent my time in Atlanta, GA surrounded by global experts in the field at the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) annual conference. It did not take me long to realize the swath of support and diversity that exists in the village of professionals working to support the development and knowledge acquisition of children around the world.
In everything that I do, I am inspired to challenge the reasons the status quo exists. My approach to the CIES annual conference was no different. From the very beginning I set out to identify the way international educational development is currently happening and identify weaknesses in the armor. With that, I was pleased to see a plethora of panels focused on genuine innovation in the field. From Sesame Workshop's work in India with smart phone reading initiatives to interventions supporting the social and emotional learning of children in conflict zones the conference was filled with uplifting examples of innovation in education around the world.
The theme of the conference centered on the idea of inequalities in education. Two populations suffering the most from inequalities in education were LGBTQ people and people living at the "Bottom of the Pyramid" (BoP). In discussion about the every day experiences of LGBTQ people in their education, the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) discussed the common and dangerous experiences of LGBTQ youth around the world. In addition, they discussed the unique challenges in measuring the experiences of LGBTQ youth around the world. This difficulty is primarily the result of a lack of shared lexicons within and among nations and regions around the world.
While many people see screens as the future classroom and automated cartoon characters as the future teachers, the CIES annual conference problematized the mass acceptance of tech in the education framework. There is strength in technology in education, especially when utilized as a tool to enhance learning. If technology has a high perceived usefulness and a high perceived ease of use, then it is likely to be accepted by a population. This acceptance is often the biggest barrier to introducing tech into this framework. Technology should be used to enable equitable access to transformational learning experiences.
For learners at the Bottom of the Pyramid, attaining and education is consistently difficult. These learners, identified as ranking in the bottom quintile across indicators of well being, often fall through the cracks of formal education. Furthermore, this population is rarely measured and their sufferings are erased with sweeping generalizations identified by national and regional averages. This is where I saw the most disagreement across the conference. While an argument can be made for both national data and localized data, I see localized data as the solution to failing local education systems.
Finally, noticeably absent from the conference was the discussion on the importance of nonformal education. The work of organizations such as Sesame Workshop has demonstrated success in student learning and development outcomes. However, nonformal education (education existing outside of a formal classroom) continues to act as an unnecessary but beneficial supplement to formal education - as compared to a fundamental piece of a child's learning network. This is especially important in low and middle income countries (LMICs) as the cost of improving education infrastructure is prohibitive in comparison to the cost of introducing multimedia or play based learning opportunities for children.
When Cesar Chavez said "we cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community... Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own," he was describing the work of International Educational Development. The 2500 people in the hotel in downtown Atlanta this past week very much understood the notion that we must be broadly and overly ambitious and we must include the needs of others in our scope of work. When we work together towards global aspirations, we are working to improve the lives of our neighbors and ourselves.