In our fast-changing world, how should we think about the curriculum? For what macro competencies should education aim? And has the COVID-19 pandemic revealed any failures in our education systems worldwide?

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended higher education internationalization. Many universities are worried the pandemic will cause a huge drop in international student enrollment and their associated fees, which account for a large part of many university budgets.


The global architecture for aid is mostly contained within the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which were adopted by the United Nation’s member states in 2015. We’ve discussed goal 4 – the one on education – at length in previous episodes. Today we take a look at goal 17, which aims to “strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.” What is a global partnership for sustainable development? And how does it manifest in education?

With me to discuss goal 17 is Francine Menashy, an Associate Professor in the Department of Leadership in Education at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her research explores global education policy, international financing of education, and private sector engagement in education.

Francine’s latest book, International Aid to Education: Power Dynamics in an Era of Partnership, provides a critical take on partnerships, arguing that power asymmetries continue to exist.

Citation: Menashy, Francine, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 186, podcast audio, February 10, 2020.

Will Brehm 2:47
Francine Menashy, welcome back to FreshEd.

Francine Menashy 2:50
Thank you.

Will Brehm 2:51
So, I want to start with maybe just a context question here. Can you tell me what the Sustainable Development Goal #17 is?

Francine Menashy 3:00
Sure. I am sure most of your listeners are quite aware of the SDGs, which is this huge agenda to address all sorts of economic, social, environmental challenges that are facing humanity. And in particular, most people working in the field of international education know about SDG 4, which is on quality education. But the SDG goal that I think we should be paying a bit more attention to is the last of all the goals, and that’s #17, and it’s on partnership, or as its termed “partnership for the goals.” So, this goal, and the way that it’s framed in the UN SDG declaration, actually acts as the foundation for all the rest of the goals by advocating for increased partnership in order to achieve the whole SDG agenda. So, the other 16 goals.

Will Brehm 4:04
So, basically, SDG 17 is saying that we need partnerships to achieve goal 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8…all the way to goal 16. Is that?

Francine Menashy 4:12

Will Brehm 4:13
Partnerships are somehow the most important thing, or a valuable tool, to achieve these goals.

Francine Menashy 4:20
Yes. So, it is framed as this need for global solidarity between all different actors -the state, the non-state sector, the global North, the global South- nobody can achieve the SDGs on their own. We need to work together in partnership with one another. So, in many ways, the SDG agenda is considered dependent on partnership on achieving SDG 17.

Will Brehm 4:45
So, how do we even begin to understand what the idea of partnership is? I mean, I am just thinking here, there’s so many different definitions of what a partnership could be, you know. My wife and I are in a partnership, I am a partner in the structures of FreshEd, you know, I have a partnership with my university in the IoE in London. So, you know, how do we even begin to understand what a partnership even means?

Francine Menashy 5:11
Yeah, I mean, when I say the word partnership, a lot of different definitions pop into my head, too. And I am sure everyone listening has an idea of what a partner is. And it probably brings about pretty positive associations, right. But in trying to define it, it is actually a pretty ambiguous term. And this has meant that in international development and in international aid, people and organizations have taken it up and used it in all sorts of ways. So, for instance, a partnership might be defined as something really practical, like just working together to reach common aims. And in international aid, it often means coordination between actors, or collaboration, or building coalitions, but in this sense, partnerships are for practical reasons. It is very instrumentalist to achieve particular aims and more effective practices.

Will Brehm 6:15
So, that is how they are implied in the SDGs, but you know, are there other ways to think about partnerships that you know, maybe people in development aspire to?

Francine Menashy 6:24
Sure. And even in the SDGs, it goes beyond that. So, partnerships are also defined in the development arena through a more ethical or a more normative lens. So, most often, this is in reference to those on the receiving end of aid. So, local communities, beneficiaries, people in the global South, and how they need to be viewed as partners as well. Because not only would this lead to more effective development practices, but also because inclusion and participation is the right thing to do -that recipients of aid shouldn’t be excluded from the processes that directly affect them. And then finally, this term partnership is often also conflated with this notion of public-private partnership. So, many organizations and people in the development arena argue that the private sector -and you know, I will admit the private sector is huge. It is really anything non-state, but I’m speaking mainly about businesses and foundations- that they must be partners in all of this as well. And so, and even within the SDGs and SDG 17, there is a lot of discussion around public-private partnership. And so, some organizations use this term partnership interchangeably with PPPs with public-private. So, partnership is a huge, vague term that actually has multiple definitions. And over the past decade, especially, it’s become a real buzzword in international aid.

Will Brehm 7:57
Yeah. So, it seems like there is a conflation of different meanings of partnership sort of into one, which maybe is a good thing somehow, maybe it is a bad thing. What do we know about the history of this sort of partnership-based mandate in the aid and development structures that you know, such as the SDGs that we started with?

Francine Menashy 8:21
So, I would trace the real start of this partnership-based mandate to around the late 1990s. So, the 1990s were a pretty interesting time -well, I think they were an interesting time- when the international aid community was going through sort of an identity crisis. So, first of all, you have the end of the Cold War. And during the Cold War period, motivations for development aid were pretty clear cut. Rich country, capitalist governments largely saw international aid, as a way to get the support of post-colonial countries while also promoting democracy and capitalism. So, this was essentially buying allies in the Cold War. But then, with the end of the Cold War, capitalist countries no longer needed to build these strategic alliances or any kind of strategic advantage through aid. Secondly, the development practices and the policies of these capitalist economies, and also multilateral agencies, were very market-based. I mean, some would argue that they’re still very market-based, but then they were largely promoting structural adjustment, which, and especially in education, came under intense scrutiny by the mid-90s when critics really came down hard on structural adjustment programs, they’re widely considered ineffective, they hadn’t spurred substantial economic growth, and they had severe impact on social services, exacerbating all sorts of inequities. And so, by the mid-90s, public perception of aid was that it simply didn’t work. It actually sometimes did harm. And this led to really tempered public support and reduced aid budgets overall, it was a really pessimistic mood. So, this combination of this vacuum in purpose left by the end of the Cold War, and then all this rising criticism of the ethical impacts of all these market-based development policies, it left the aid world in kind of a crisis state, and they were in search of a remedy. And so, a new framing of international aid was needed, that would provide a clear purpose and lend a new legitimacy to aid. And this new framing, or this new narrative, became this notion of partnership. And it was actually an explicit decision that was made by members of the OECD DAC to change the narrative. They wrote a report on this new agenda and development cooperation, and it was also codified in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, which was adopted in 2005. So, partnership became the new aid narrative.

Will Brehm 11:10
So, there’s these very clear actors who wanted to, as you said, rewrite the narrative on aid in this sort of post-Cold War moment, or not even post-Cold War, I should say, sort of post-Soviet Union. The end of the Cold War, we have to think about how does aid fit into development around the world. And so, you know, what did -these particular actors that were trying to rewrite the narrative- what did they see the purposes of partnerships as being?

Francine Menashy 11:42
Well, they thought it would be a narrative that could be sold really well to all of those who’ve been critiquing the aid environment over the course of the 80s and the 90s. So, I mean, although this partnership narrative was taken up as a mandate, because new actors agreed that collaboration and coordination, and that sort of thing was needed, the real value of partnership as a development mandate, I think, really rested on this idea of North-South partnership. So, the critiques of development aid that I was just talking about, at that point, were really focused on structural adjustment and on this unethical, top-down nature of aid, and how donors and multilateral organizations from the global North just drove development policies and practices. It was a near completely non-participatory environment. And this was seen as wrong and unethical. But partnership meant that power asymmetries between actors and organizations in the global North and the global South could be reversed, in a sense with recipient countries now considered partners, who not only participated in the design of development programs, but owned them. So, this concept of “country ownership” became core to so many aid policies. So, through North-South partnership, with more country ownership, with more local participation, there would be a change in power relations.

Will Brehm 13:15
It just makes me think, so this is the 1990s, it is like 30 years on from then, how did it go? You know, did the power imbalances change?

Francine Menashy 13:24
So, the partnerships that I have studied and also, I mean, I make this assessment based on all of the, you know, research that I’ve read from other fields, from development studies, from those who have studied partnerships in health and in the environment and in other areas, as they’re currently designed, it appears that partnerships don’t really shift power asymmetries. In fact, sometimes partnerships exacerbate inequities. And this is because although the narrative changed the structure of international aid, the systems, or the architecture of aid, and by that I mean, the system, and the relationships, and the mechanics through which decisions are made on aid and how it’s delivered, and the people and the organizations who really drive the policies and the processes have remained the same. Those in power are still those from the global North. And those who I mean, to put it really bluntly, those who have money, those who have resources.

Will Brehm 14:30
Right. So, the discourse perhaps has changed, but the underlying power structures have not.

Francine Menashy 14:36
Yeah. And even the organizations have changed, and the activities they engage in have changed. But the structure of international aid has really fundamentally remained the same.

Will Brehm 14:50
So, let’s look at a couple examples to sort of explore what that actually means, where things have stayed the same even if some superficial changes have taken place. So, one of the big actors in development today is the Global Partnership for Education. It literally has partnership in its name. Can you tell us a little bit about, we call it, the GPE? What is the GPE? And how does it sort of operationalize the idea of partnerships?

Francine Menashy 15:21
Yeah, I mean, first of all, I wouldn’t call these changes so much “superficial” because I mean, the partnership mandate actually spurred the design of a new form of organization. And that’s pretty big. And they are called multi-stakeholder partnerships, or MSPs. And I should first explain that these multi-stakeholder partnerships are everywhere. They are not just in education, they’re in development more generally in all different sectors, and they’re these organizational manifestations of this partnership narrative. So, multi-stakeholder partnerships, they tackle single-issue areas like health or the environment or, as in the case of GPE, education. And they bring together stakeholders from the state and the non-state sectors from the global North and the global South into single decision-making forums where they can collaborate and coordinate policies on development funding, they pool aid. And GPE is a multi-stakeholder partnership dedicated to increasing quality education worldwide, and they support low-income countries. And GPE was initially launched in 2002 by the World Bank, and it was called the Education for All Fast Track Initiative. But it’s since been rebranded into GPE. It’s been GPE for quite some time, and it operationalizes this idea of partnerships through both its country operations and its governance. So, its governing body is rhetorically defined as an equal partnership. It is a constituency-based board. It consists of voting members that represent donor countries or bilateral aid agencies, recipient countries, multilateral agencies, civil society, from the North and the South, private sector foundations, and includes over 70 developing country partners -that’s what GPE terms them DCPs- that receive resources via this GPE Fund, which is this pooled fund, and it’s financed predominantly by high-income, Northern donor country partners or bilateral donors. And its first guiding principle in its charter is country ownership. So, it is an organization, it really attempting to embody this idea of recipient countries on equal footing with those in the global North.

Will Brehm 17:57
And has it lived up to such a value?

Francine Menashy 17:59
In my research -and this includes many interviews with stakeholders and analysis of many different kinds of documents- I studied GPE’s history of reforms, its governance dynamics, its country-level processes and I found that despite real efforts, like real explicit efforts, GPE tends to retain a power dynamic that’s akin to that of this traditional aid architecture in which actors who are situated in the global North wield the most influence and have the most dominant voices in decision making. So, just as an example, the World Bank, which initiated GPE back when it was the Fast Track Initiative, it acts as its host, the GPE offices are within World Bank headquarters, and it is GPE’s most common grant agent, which means it distributes funds at the country level. And according to many of my interview respondents, the World Bank is viewed as having just an outsized level of influence on the partnership. As well, representatives of high-income donor governments were widely viewed as having the most dominant voice and influence within GPE governance based on my interviews, and it’s no coincidence that they’re the ones that are financing GPE. So, in this case, resources, or money, equals influence in many ways. I also found that those who speak dominant languages, mainly English and French, also had more influence, which naturally exclude so many representatives from many countries in the global South. And I also saw that country-level operations, despite engaging local education groups and local actors, were, in fact, very donor and multilateral dominated as well. But I do want to add that GPE as an organization, its members, its Secretariat; they’ve made huge strides and numerous explicit efforts to ensure that its developing country partners have more voice and have more influence. They’ve started having these pre-board meetings for Southern constituencies; the Secretariat gives them a lot of support to engage. So, these are more recent efforts that I’m hopeful will make some difference, but at the time of my research, these North-South power asymmetries were pretty stark.

Will Brehm 20:38
It’s quite interesting, I mean, because you can, you know, design a whole organization to sort of embrace that 1990s idea of partnership and, you know, have constituencies on the board and have DCPs trying to be represented and try and have a bit more equality between the North and the South, so to speak and yet, you’re saying, we still see sort of power imbalances reemerging along very familiar lines -language, money, particular institutions that are powerful globally and have been for quite some time. And it just makes me wonder, you know, even if we had the best design structure, are we always going to be running into some of these larger problems? Like in other words, is it actually a function of the nation-state being sort of problematic and therefore having power imbalances among and between nations, and so creating structures that are multi-stakeholder partnerships where the nation-state is, you know, one of the main actors, that these problems that you’ve identified are sort of always going to emerge out of it?

Francine Menashy 22:01
That’s a great question. It is entirely possible, but my only hesitation with thinking that that’s at the root of the problem is because these multi-stakeholder partnerships are also highly inclusive of private sector actors and non-state-based actors, civil society actors. And what I also observed is that those power dynamics, the issue is not with the nation-states so much, the issue is with the global North and having money and being from high-income countries. That is where I see this issue hinging. Less so about the issue of the nation-state.

Will Brehm 22:48
Right. So, it could be more about, in a sense, global capitalism, and you know, big multinational organizations or companies finding new ways to extract profit. And for whatever reason, they’re deciding to get into these multi-stakeholder partnerships; they still have their bottom line as being the driving force.

Francine Menashy 23:09
Absolutely. Yeah. And that would be most notable when we are discussing the private sector. But I think this has much more to do with the capitalist and unequal -as a result of being capitalist- unequal economic structure of the world economy. It’s less about the nation-states and more about economic structures, in my view.

Will Brehm 23:37
Yeah. Right. It’s interesting because then it just makes me think, you know, how can you then create any organization and structure in, you know, these sort of idealistic, ethical, sort of you know, want to change power imbalances but if you don’t actually address some of these deeply unequal economic structures, we’re going to basically replicate the same power imbalances that we originally were trying to solve. I mean, it’s a bit, I don’t know, depressing.

Francine Menashy 24:07
It is! I mean, the economic system and our structures are so fundamentally flawed and so destined to rely on these power imbalances in some ways. It is depressing, but I’m hopeful for change.

Will Brehm 24:25
I mean, that is interesting as well. That the power imbalances are actually a needed feature in the system. And, you know, therefore, it’s almost impossible to overcome them. But I want to turn to maybe not as big of an organization as GPE, but a slightly different type of organization that also is thinking about partnerships in new ways. And I want to talk through that. And this is the organization called Education Cannot Wait or it is a fund, I think, and you sort of detail this in your book as well. Can you just give us an idea of, you know, what is Education Cannot Wait, and how does it sort of understand and operationalize the idea of partnerships?

Francine Menashy 25:09
Sure. So, Education Cannot Wait is a partnership with a mandate to fund education in emergency contexts, which are contexts that have been historically underfunded. And it’s fairly widely agreed now that the traditional aid mechanisms have not been adequate to address education in sudden emergencies and in contexts of fragility. So, Education Cannot Wait was envisioned as a faster, a more agile, a less bureaucratic organization that can respond rapidly to support education in contexts of crisis. So, it was largely spearheaded by Gordon Brown, who’s the UN Special Envoy for global education. ECW is governed by what’s called a high-level steering group, but it’s actually very much like the GPE board. It’s also constituency-based, and it operationalizes this idea of partnership, and in a similar way to GPE, through its decision-making process. It has governments of conflict-affected countries represented in this high-level steering group; it has representatives from the state and the non-state sector. And it also promotes in its policy discourse, and its organizational rhetoric, this idea of national ownership. And it promotes what it calls a localization agenda. And this means the participation of local communities, affected communities in its governance and in its country-level processes. And it’s only been around since 2016.

Will Brehm 26:57
Do you think it is, you know, living up to this idea of partnership by creating, you know, less Northern driven aid, more local participation, changing power imbalances, you know, how do you read what ECW has been doing for the last three or four years?

Francine Menashy 27:16
So, based on my research, including interviews that I’ve conducted, quite interestingly, because I conducted the ECW research after the GPE research, but many of the critiques of GPE were really paralleled in my findings. So, just as the World Bank hosts GPE, UNICEF hosts Education Cannot Wait. And respondents in interviews repeatedly identified UNICEF as holding an outside influence and being a real central player. As well, in its governing body, high-level actors and organizations from the global North hold the most vocal positions, while beneficiaries, including local governments, and communities that are affected by crisis -refugee communities, for instance- have participated in only a fairly limited way. And in its country level work, I was told that organizations and actors from the global North -including not only donors and multilateral agencies, but also international nongovernmental organizations, so the big global NGOs- really control the Education Cannot Wait fund implementation process, with very little input from local actors. So, I should add, though, as I mentioned, ECW is a very young partnership. It’s only been around for a few years, and all the people who I spoke, I was going to say most of the people, but all the people that I spoke with, recognize this as a problem, and they want to make changes. But as it stands, there are still these clear North-South power asymmetries with ECW.

Will Brehm 28:56
It’s interesting. So, I mean, this is sort of like organizational studies in a way, right? How do you have an organization where everyone potentially inside sees that this is a problem, and they want to make change, but then still cannot make change? Right? How is the organization somehow larger, and has a life of its own, that’s preventing all of these individuals who share the same idea from enacting the change they want to see?

Francine Menashy 29:21
You know, that’s such an interesting point, because I’ve actually been in search for a name for this phenomenon of an individual recognizing the problem and individuals within an organization, all of them recognizing that this is an issue, and not so much even the inability or the incapacity to change it but it’s almost as though the institution itself won’t permit the change. And so I’d be really curious if any of your listeners have a name for it in organizational theory perhaps, for this phenomenon, because I find it so fascinating, because I can safely say that I interviewed so many people from within these organizations that partner with them and believe in them and recognize this as a fundamental problem and yet, these power asymmetries continue.

Will Brehm 30:24
And, are private actors involved in ECW, like they are in the GPE?

Francine Menashy 30:29
They are. They’re involved in both of these multi-stakeholder partnerships. And by this, again, I am speaking mainly about companies and foundations, and in Education Cannot Wait rhetoric, they’re really strongly embraced. So, the Global Business Coalition for Education, for instance, has been involved, since the start. Actually, a core impetus behind the establishment of Education Cannot Wait was to engage the private sector and leverage private actors as what’s termed non-traditional funders to education in emergencies. So, they’ve been invited into the Education Cannot Wait fund and partnership largely because of their resources. In my analysis of the discourse around Education Cannot Wait, private actors are framed in a very aspirational and positive way. A lot of language around efficiency, technical expertise, having huge resources, advocacy power, they’re a new form of financing. So, it’s all very exciting, creativity, innovation. And I should add that a very similar discourse comes out of GPE, too. And this discourse, I think, drives perceptions of private actors as legitimate partners. And it leads to their authority in decision making spaces. So, private actors, including both foundations and companies, sit on the governing bodies and the decision-making spaces of both Education Cannot Wait and the Global Partnership, but what I actually found is that the private sector hasn’t made much of a financial commitment to either of these partnerships. But they have this key powerful role in governance. So, they have what’s termed, and this is a term I do know, “private authority,” which refers to the growing role of non-state based actors, most notably those affiliated with businesses in public policymaking spaces such as education. And I’d say that this role of private actors also perpetuates; it comes back to this North-South power hierarchy because the vast majority of private partners are situated in the global North, or headquartered in the global North, be it in California or New York, or London, or in other high-income countries and they’re primarily involved from my understanding because they have resources.

Will Brehm 33:09
But yet they’re not giving the resources is what you’re saying.

Francine Menashy 33:12

Will Brehm 33:13
Right. So, GPE is inviting them in, or ECW is inviting them in, giving them a spot on the board because they have resources and then the private actors in return don’t actually -they’re not contributing to the common pool of funds.

Francine Menashy 33:25
That’s right. Or to a very small degree. And the reason that I was giving and asking directly to these private actors, to foundations, to company representatives, was they don’t feel comfortable putting their funds into a pool of money where they can’t track it. They can’t follow the money; they can’t track their investments, which I mean, I guess it’s a fair statement to make. They want to know where their money is going and whether or not it’s having an impact, and that’s not something that’s possible when it’s pooled with other funds.

Will Brehm 34:02
So, I wonder why do they then even accept the board seat?

Francine Menashy 34:06
Well, I think they want to have a voice and have some type of power in decision making. They want to have an ear to the ground on what’s happening. It’s a question that I don’t really have a firm answer to. And I should say my answer was kind of skeptical because they also say because they care. Because they care about humanitarianism, they care about education in emergency context, they care about education in development, and they want to be there because they believe they have the expertise, they believe they have the technical know-how, that they can really give something to these partnerships above and beyond resources.

Will Brehm 34:52
It’s a very fascinating ethnographic insight into some of these boards that are made up of such different stakeholders and trying to understand why they might participate in such an endeavor. So, you know, in the end here, we have a situation where we have, you know, new aid architecture forming since the 1990s around the idea of partnerships and yet, you know, in the end, we’re still seeing a lot of these power imbalances continue, even though we have some new aid architecture. In your research, did you find any sort of examples or things that you can point to, to say, that’s a particular strategy that seems like it would be valuable to explore, to create a bit more power equality?

Francine Menashy 35:40
Yeah. I mean, despite all of these critiques of partnerships, I believe, and this is based on not just my own thinking but also the views of many of these interview respondents that I spoke with that multi-stakeholder partnerships are a move in the right direction, and they do have potential to shift power imbalances. But it’s a real challenge -what they’re up against. One way, I think, to make this shift happen is to be very intentional about eliciting active participation of stakeholders from the global South. And what I found is that partnerships have a tendency to elicit what I describe as symbolic participation, which is when actors are included physically in a space, and they’re touted by an organization as partners based on their seats at the table, but they wield very little influence, and they’re positioned as the least dominant voices in decision-making. So, one of the respondents in the study told me, and I always remember this quote, “the whole starting point needs to be different.” The starting point needs to be with the recipients of aid. The starting point can’t be with a bilateral donor, a multilateral organization; it can’t be with UNICEF or the World Bank. It can’t be with a company in Silicon Valley. It has to be with those who are receiving the aid. They’re the ones that need to get the ball rolling, make the decisions. And also, this idea of active participation, especially at the country levels, requires trust in local partners. Yet this trust appears to be quite rare. It requires that Northern actors relinquish control over development processes. And I found that bilateral donors, in particular, seemed very resistant to relinquishing control. But if I had that opportunity, I would be more explicit about the fact that power relates so strongly to privilege. And there is a lot of conversation around this notion of privilege, especially in the United States, where I work around, you know, white privilege and male privilege and the need to recognize it. So, I’d say that actors from the global North, who engage in these partnerships, they need to recognize their own economic, social, and more often than not racial privilege. It’s not discussed nearly enough, I think, in comparative education. But these hierarchies we’re talking about, they’re near always racialized. But more important than just recognizing privilege, it’s being willing to give that privilege up. To either use less of your own voice, to keep quiet, to defer to others, or to possibly step down and off of these policy bodies to make space for representatives from local communities or recipient countries. So, I think that would make real structural change and begin the process of shifting these power dynamics in international aid.

Will Brehm 39:01
Well, Francine Menashy, thank you so much for joining FreshEd again. It really was a pleasure of talking.

Francine Menashy 39:06
Thank you.

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The timeframe to achieve the sustainable development goals is tight. We have just over a decade to complete the 169 targets across 17 goals. Target 4.7, which aims for all learners to acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, is particularly challenging. What are the knowledge and skills needed for sustainable development? And how can they be integrated into policies, programs, curricula, materials, and practices?

My guest today is Andy Smart, a former teacher with almost 20 years’ experience working in educational and children’s book publishing in England and Egypt. He is a co-convener of a networking initiative called Networking to Integrate SDG Target 4.7 and Social and Emotional Learning into Educational Materials, or NISSEM for short, where he is interested in how textbooks support pro-social learning in low- and middle-income countries. Together with Margaret Sinclair, Aaron Benavot, Jean Bernard, Colette Chabbot, S. Garnett Russell, and James Williams, Andy has recently co-edited a volume entitled NISSEM Global Briefs: Educating for the Social, the Emotional, and the Sustainable. This collection aims at helping education ministries, donors, consultancy groups and NGOs advance SDG target 4.7 in low-and middle-income countries.

Photo by: Helena g Anderson

Citation: Smart, Andy, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 182, podcast audio, November 25, 2019.

Will Brehm 3:03
Andy Smart, welcome to FreshEd.

Andy Smart 3:05
Thanks, Will. It is a great pleasure to be here.

Will Brehm 3:07
Okay, so, I want to start with a pretty subjective question, let’s say. Do you think the Sustainable Development Goals will actually be achieved by 2030?

Andy Smart 3:17
Well, I wish I had the answer to that one. I wish everybody else had the answer to that one. I am naturally an optimist by nature, but I recognize these are hugely ambitious across the board. I mean, you know, targets that talk about, you know, ensuring that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary, secondary education. I mean, the word “all” is a pretty big word. Even goals like ending poverty. Yeah, I wish. So, these are hugely ambitious. And, I was interested to see, just these past few days, how there’s been some discussion over the announcement by the Bank of their ending learning poverty initiative, which is setting what might be called a more realistic target. Of course, that’s been getting a bit of pushback as to, you know, why dropping back from the ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goals? So, you know, you travel hopefully, basically, in this business; you arrive as far as you can.

Will Brehm 4:19
So, you brought up the World Bank’s annual meeting where they introduced this idea of “learning poverty”, some metric to measure learning poverty. This particular show that we’re recording now is not about that topic, even though it probably deserves a whole show unto itself, but you said it is sort of trying to make, maybe a more, a metric that could be achieved. So, what is problematic about the SDGs as they’re currently written, in terms of being able to achieve them by 2030, that has made the World Bank propose something maybe less ambitious and perhaps more feasible?

Andy Smart 4:55
Yeah, I mean this is way above my pay grade, as we might say, but I mean, my view on any kind of system change, which I think is what we’re engaged in within the NISSEM team: we’re looking at system changes which are scalable and sustainable. But you know, systemic change across a country, it means changing the practices of thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of people. When we are looking at how textbooks impact on classroom practices, we are talking about teachers’ practices. We are talking about all those who support the teachers: the supervisors, head teachers, etc. We are talking about a lot of people changing the way they do things. That is at bottom why I would be cautious about how far you can get within this quite short time.

Will Brehm 5:52
So, in these new policy briefs that you and your colleagues put together and put out as part of NISSEM, you talk about how SDG Target 4.7 is sort of very critical to the SDG 4 overall, if not all of the SDGs. What is SDG Target 4.7, briefly?

Andy Smart 6:13
Well, the shorthand that we tend to use within the NISSEM networking team is the pro-social themes and values. So it’s looking at a more holistic view of the purpose of education, and it’s bringing together some of the stories that have been going on in the education and development arena for decades and trying to group them together in a single package. Of course, it’s very diverse; it seems rather sort of unbalanced, sometimes not very clear. On the other hand, I would say you could juxtapose what you find in 4.7 as being the other side of education: you’ve got the academic purpose, and you’ve got the non-academic purpose. And I think that’s something which resonates for people, both in the practitioner community, but also in terms of parents and students themselves, you know, that is the reason kids go to school, why parents send the kids to school. It is partly, of course, about getting those academic skills and qualifications, but it’s also about a lot more than that. And that’s what 4.7 brings together. It’s the pro-social aspects of education.

Will Brehm 7:33
And so, what would be some of these themes in this pro-social aspect of education, or these non-academic areas? How would we start to classify what some of these themes would be?

Andy Smart 7:43
Well, I mean, you could start with the name of the Sustainable Development Goals itself. So “sustainability” is a clear theme that needs to be unpacked in all sorts of ways. So, sustainability is not simply about environmental protection; it is about sustainability across social fabrics and other aspects. It is also about gender equality; it is about cohesion between communities. A lot of the schools that we are targeting in the low and middle-income countries and post-conflict countries – which are the areas of interest for us in the NISSEM networking group – these are countries which are challenged by social tensions within the country, as well as refugee tensions, etc. So, you know, social cohesion is clearly an important theme, and promotion of peace and resolution conflict.

Will Brehm 8:38
So, these different themes: the social fabric, the gender equality, social cohesion, peace, and reconciliation, even the environment. In the policy brief, the term that is often used is this idea of “social and emotional learning”. You know, I hear that as just jargon, and quite vague and very difficult to even begin to comprehend and define. What is social and emotional learning? And why is it important in the education of young adults and young children?

Andy Smart 9:08
Well, first, I want to thank you for your honesty, Will. To admit confusion, I think, is a great starting point for any understanding. I think everybody has their different understandings. And that’s part of the challenge that we face. To some extent, this is due to the terminologies that are used, many of which overlap, and you will find any discussion or any text that is addressing these issues, especially within the non-OECD country context, has to start out by saying, “Well, we’ve got all these terms. How do they overlap? How do we separate them out? What do they mean in these different contexts?” So that’s going to lead to confusion, that’s for sure. Where there is a common understanding, I think, and that’s what brought us together within the NISSEM team, is that although we come from different backgrounds, we all had this sense that what we were doing needed to be rooted in something that was not part of the narrow academic purpose of education, but it was rooted in what we understand to be the meaning of the word “learning” itself. And so, learning, in my view, is often used as shorthand for “learning outcomes”, and learning outcomes is a shorthand for “academic achievements”. But I think it’s critical that we think of learning as a process, not just as an outcome. And so, “social and emotional learning” describes, actually, how learning happens, as well as the purpose of learning. So, this begins to take us into something which is, I think, very important, very interesting, but also quite difficult to grasp unless you have a lot of time to unpack it in different ways. But separating, to some extent, the idea of the process of learning from the product or the outcomes of learning, I think, is very important.

Will Brehm 11:08
So, I mean, it almost sounds like it is a philosophical issue here. The purpose of learning, I would imagine there is not one universal purpose of learning; that it would be contextualized both within nation-states, within governments, but also within households. You know, families probably have very different conceptions of the purpose of learning.

Andy Smart 11:30
Absolutely. I mean, there is increasing evidence for how the social and the emotional play a part in learning, not only in academic learning outcomes but also in building the more rounded learner and rounded member of society. So, a lot of this research is coming out of higher-income contexts because that’s where research is better funded. But one of the things we’re trying to do is apply the appropriate evidence and results of this research into other contexts. But at bottom, there are some universal principles, or universal ideas, about how learning happens. After all, the child, who age seven in one country, has pretty much similar developmental processes as a child age seven in another country. And as far as I’m concerned, I think that the differences between contexts are more related to the differences in the way the adults operate around the child than in the way the child is actually following their own developmental path.

Will Brehm 12:41
So, what would be some of these universal principles, then, of social and emotional learning?

Andy Smart 12:47
Yeah, that’s where you get into the wonderful world of models. And so, we love models. We all love models. They have sort of visual directness that is immediately appealing. Unless they’re far too complicated, which some of them are. But there are definitely various models, and it’s not too difficult to bring them together and compare them. And again, when commentators or practitioners are looking at the different models, you have to start thinking, “So, what are the common characteristics of these models? And then how do they apply in my own context?” The best-known model of all – or the most widely quoted, let’s say – is the one that comes out of Chicago: the CASEL model, with these five competencies. Again, the word “competency” itself is a word that needs a bit of thought. But they have these five competencies, which are: the two related to the self, or the intrapersonal, which has the self-awareness and the self-management; and then the interpersonal, the relations between people. That is the social awareness and the relationship skills. And then the fifth competency is responsible decision making. That is one of the models, and there are several around. They tend to be simplifying because that has to be the nature of a model; otherwise, it’s going to be difficult to grasp. And sometimes you might think, “Well, this is a bit too simplistic”. So, I think that has to be a balance between what these models try to do in terms of simplifying and what they have to do in terms of recognizing the complexity of what we’re talking about.

Will Brehm 14:31
Another idea in the NISSEM policy brief is about this idea of 21st-century skills. And I’ll admit that this also causes some confusion for me, because it’s rather vague, and you know, why are we talking 21st-century skills rather than 20th-century skills? Are these skills that people in the 20th century, in the 19th century never needed? Why aren’t we talking about the 22nd-century skills? So, what on earth is that idea? How do we begin to understand 21st-century skills?

Andy Smart 15:03
Yeah, I think probably – I haven’t done a sort of word count on this – but I think in the NISSEM global briefs, you probably won’t find so many references to 21st-century skills, at least not necessarily from within the co-editors. It is not a term that we have used a great deal. I think different contexts have different preferences for the way they think about these, what may be called sometimes “soft skills”, what may be called “21st-century skills”. What we prefer, as a way of thinking, to call “social and emotional learning”. I would say my personal view is that very often, when people are talking about 21st-century skills, first of all, they’re talking about, to some extent, vocational or pro-career, pro-work kind of soft skills, and therefore it’s not something which is as much used in terms of primary education as for secondary and post-secondary education. So, I would say the opposite of a 21st-century skill might be the traditional academic skills. To some extent, we are back to what we were talking about at the beginning of this conversation. It is about thinking about these different skills areas and different purposes of education. Some of that comes from studies about what employers are looking for: they’re not just looking for the hard skills, sometimes people rather disparaging call “the basics” – the reading, writing, and so on. But the employers are talking about they need these “people skills”, these 21st-century skills. But again, those are very often coming from higher-income environments, which are not our main area of focus.

Will Brehm 16:45
So, let’s turn to some examples here, right. So, SDG Target 4.7 has this non-academic focus of social and emotional learning, maybe 21st century skills or soft skills, all these other non-academic skills that are valuable and important to the learning process. Now, what does that actually look like in practice? In non-rich countries, what have you found? Can you give some examples of, you know, what even exists today?

Andy Smart 17:17
Yeah, before I answer that, what I wanted to just underline is that we are not promoting the idea that non-academic skills are any way more important than the academic skills. So, I think the big message from the research, and the message that we carry, is that the two are interrelated and impossible to disconnect. And I think this is something which the neuroscience is very much telling us, and particularly the researcher who we interviewed for the NISSEM global briefs, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang at University of Southern California. So, this is really about how social and emotional learning in the field of cognitive science and neuroscience supports academic learning, and you cannot separate the two out. So that is the first thing I want to say. So, going back to the examples, well, I mean the examples that we are looking at primarily, as you know, are the lower-middle-income countries. And the reason we are focusing on that is partly because that’s where we’ve always worked all our lives. That is where I started out as a teacher, in low-income countries, in government schools. And the reason that what we’re promoting as a sort of NISSEM approach is that there are characteristics across low- and middle-income countries that make them slightly different from contexts of high-income countries. One of the differences is the way that the curriculum operates. What is called a curriculum in a school in, say, the UK or the US, is very often something that belongs to the school. You have national curriculum standards or state standards, and then the school develops a curriculum within that sort of framework. Now, in low- and middle-income countries, that’s different. The curriculum is what comes down from government, from the Ministry of Education. And very often, it’s what’s represented in the textbook. So, that’s why we see the textbook as so critical to this whole business: because the textbook shapes so much of what happens in the classroom in terms of the teaching, learning and the activities, and the way of thinking, and the pedagogy. So that’s something which is really characteristic of the lower-middle-income countries. And it is why we are focusing on textbooks as a main vehicle for the NISSEM ideas. Now, there’s a paper in the NISSEM global briefs which comes out of my own experience working with the National Curriculum Textbook Board in Bangladesh a few years ago, where we were asked to work with the curriculum developers who were, to some extent, also the textbook writers. And all the textbooks in Bangladesh are centrally written by the NCTB, National Curriculum Textbook Board. All schools use the same textbooks. And we were asked to come in and look at how the textbooks shape what happens in the classroom to improve learning outcomes. So, this was funded by cross donor, sectoral approach and the paper that’s in the global briefs talks about what we were able to do in terms of the social studies for upper primary, and to set out a different kind of way of teaching and learning in the classroom what we and others have called a “structured pedagogy”, which is not scripting a kind of step-by-step, this is what you should do as a teacher and reducing the teacher’s autonomy to very narrow area, but setting out a principle for teaching and learning that will work in a crowded classroom, limited number of resources and doesn’t push the teacher into something which is an imported kind of over child-centered pedagogy, but it’s something that takes them into something which is supported by social and emotional learning principles, but within an academic framework to achieve better learning outcomes, more engagement by learners, and frankly, more engagement by teachers. And we’ve had some great feedback from the teachers who have used these books in Bangladesh.

Will Brehm 21:16
So, I would imagine this then, you know, not only changing textbooks in a particular way, but I would imagine the preparation of teachers and how to be a teacher, teacher training, in a sense, would similarly have to change to incorporate these social and emotional learning.

Andy Smart 21:36
Yes, absolutely. And I don’t want to oversell the power of the textbook to create change. I mean, after all, the tool is as good as what you do with it. But what we see the textbook as is a sort of lever for change; it enables different way of thinking, a different way of supporting good pedagogy that can be translated into teacher education, into the professional development, even into the assessment approach. But the textbooks legitimize approaches. I think this is a critical point about the role that textbooks play. There is a textbook in every classroom, and many cases in every home in the country. In a large country like Bangladesh, there is a lot of, sort of policy statements and legitimization statements going on. And what we found was that the textbooks that were in use beforehand were really gearing the teacher to teach by rote learning. In fact, there was really no other recourse for the teacher other than to teach by rote learning, for various reasons. Partly, because the language was very dense, very academic. Too many concepts piled onto the page, partly coming out of the curriculum itself. And then a textbook writing plan that is based on what I would simply call, you know, “comprehension plus”. So, you have a great chunk of text. It could be two, three pages of text, uninterrupted text, followed by some very narrow gap-filling, you know, right-or-wrong type answers. And that’s the way that science was taught in terms of the textbook. It’s always social studies, very often language. So, the core subjects are being taught in this sort of comprehension plus kind of way. And I would say by comprehension, we’re talking about a narrow definition comprehension; we’re talking about comprehension where there is only a right or wrong answer. So, what we tried to do is just rethink that text in the textbook so that it is supporting a pedagogy. So that when you open the textbook as a teacher, you can see how this could be taught. And this is how teachers across the world, in contexts where they have a chance to choose their textbooks, that’s how they evaluate a textbook. They pick up a textbook; they open it up and say, “Oh yeah, I can see how this would work in the classroom”. And they’re not only looking at the language level and the quality of illustrations, but they’re looking at how the learning will flow out of the way it’s presented in the materials. So that is what we’re trying to do in an appropriate way for the context that we’re working in.

Will Brehm 24:17
And have you found any challenges? I mean it seems like, you know, here’s a group of foreign experts coming into a country and saying, “Based on these globally circulating policies and ideas, this is the more appropriate way to design a textbook, or have teachers’ pedagogy implemented in a classroom. So, in a sense, there must be challenges. It must be deeply political since education is a deeply political process, particularly at the national level. And if textbooks are being centrally created, even more so. So, I just wonder: have governments been open and receptive to some of these ideas that have been sort of externally brought into some of these countries?

Andy Smart 25:05
So, I think that’s a really important question, Will. And people working in this sector need to proceed with humility. We need to recognize that we’re coming from outside. We don’t bring answers; we bring different ways of thinking. And we proceed through partnership, collaboration, discussion, etc. On the other hand, I would say that even if we might talk about something that looks like the global North on the one hand, the global South on the other hand, each of those communities represents a wide range of different perspectives. So, when we are talking to partners in government, there are going to be people with very different ideas. There are going to be policymakers; there are going to be curriculum directors; there are going to be curriculum writers, textbook writers, teachers. There are not going to be teachers in urban areas and rural areas who are going to have quite different ways of thinking and doing things. So, we have to reflect, as far as possible, a huge range of perspectives and needs. I’ll give an example: So, sometimes, you know, I’m sitting in the office of a curriculum directorate in a particular low-middle income country, and looking at what role experienced teachers are playing in the process of contributing to textbook development, or textbook evaluation so that the materials that are being provided actually are fit for purpose and they’ve been designed with teachers’ needs in mind. And quite often, you get a bit of pushback in those curriculum directorates because they’re often quite senior people, they’ve had strong academic backgrounds, they’re in very comfortable government jobs. And they’re not thinking necessarily about how the teacher in the rural areas thinks about things, and they’re not necessarily valuing how those teachers in rural areas think about things, and maybe just don’t trust the teachers to make good decisions; they don’t trust the teachers’ judgments. And I think that’s part of the issue. So I think, yes, we need to be humble about what we define as our own expertise and experience, but we also need to ensure that the different voices are brought into that conversation at every point, and not just at the sort of high level, policy discussion level. You know, at every point in the chain, which takes us into the classroom in the rural and semi-rural areas of the country.

Will Brehm 27:25
I guess, you know, this idea that there’s all these different voices, and there’s sort of this political process that goes into the creation, the reform of textbooks, of teacher training, of all different aspects of the education system, it would also necessarily mean that the measurement of these, you know, outcomes of academic and non-academic skills would sort of go through this same political process, and then therefore be different in each country. And then the question that I have then is: How then do you begin to think about measurement of social and emotional learning on a global level that is comparable if these measurement indicators are being sort of debated within each nation with a different set of politic?

Andy Smart 28:08
Yeah, I think that is fundamental. And that for us is a really testing question within NISSEM, because to some extent, we are really still trying to develop what you might call “proof of concept”. And by “proof”, we normally expect to see evidence, not just sort of argumentation. So, evidence and measurements, I think we need to think about it in different ways. So, what some people expect from measurement is something more related to accountability. What other people expect from measurement is more related to evidence that you can build on in order to improve what you’re doing. So, I think this takes us back to, to some extent, the way that measurement and assessment are used in classrooms. You know, there is the idea of summative and formative assessment, and I think when we’re thinking about measurement of the impact of social emotional learning, we have to think about it, to some extent, in that same sort of way. So, measurement for learning how to do things better as planners, as policymakers, as curriculum specialists. Yes, I think it’s very possible to create a system for measuring something that is culturally, rather, let’s say, contextualized, but conforms to good practices in terms of reliability and validity, and is a combination of different measurement instruments. So, to some extent, observation. To some extent, self-reporting. To some extent, testing. So, I think that’s all very possible because that’s intensive and quite expensive, and has to be done on a sampling basis. Then, the other kind of measurement, which sometimes what comes to mind in some discussions, is measurements as system-wide accountability, and being treated in the same way that academic learning outcomes would be measured, which, you know, allows you to say whether the system as a whole is benefiting from the inputs that you’re providing. And I think that’s more problematic, and I think that takes us back a little bit to what we were saying earlier, which is the relationship between academic learning and social emotional learning. That the social emotional learning supports the academic learning, but at the same time, it has its own clear validity. It is not there simply to provide a platform for academic learning, that it has its own purpose, that’s part of the purpose of education. And so when we’re measuring the academic outcomes, to some extent, we’re measuring the impact of the social emotional learning, but at the same time, for us at least in NISSEM, we would like to be able to do more to show proof of concept, and to show through more intensive, more diverse measuring processes and instruments, that providing social emotional learning inputs really can make a difference. Not only to the academic learning outcomes but also to long-term engagement with learning, to produce lifelong learners, not learners who are simply able to pass the end-of-month or end-of-term or end-of-year exams.

Will Brehm 31:32
And do you think this will all be possible in the next ten years?

Andy Smart 31:35
Define “this”, Will.

Will Brehm 31:39
I guess, you know, what NISSEM is sort of, you know, this proof of concept is step one, but obviously, moving forward is that there would be some system-level reforms happening in line with SDG 4.7. And, you know, the goals are concluding in 2030. You know, it doesn’t seem like that long for the type and extent of change that is being discussed.

Andy Smart 32:05
Yes. Huge challenge. What I would say is this: that we sense that there is an enormous receptivity to these ideas at the level of policy strategy, both in the global North and, as far as we can see, in the global South. We were encouraged by the responses that we were getting in presenting the global briefs at the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education recently. So, to some extent, that part, we feel that there is an acknowledgement these are important issues that could make a difference. How do we turn this into a proof of concept? How do we embed what we want to do in the textbooks and curricula of the countries that we are concerned about? I guess “One by one” is the answer to that. So, what we are looking to do is to show, in small number of countries, that here is a different way of doing things. Here is some of the evidence that shows it appears to be working – obviously, the timescale is very short. And then to expand from there. If we were able to achieve a number of changes in terms of textbooks and curriculum in a large number of countries within the next ten years, and the momentum is clearly moving in the right direction, and those who have adopted this approach are able to show that is making a difference to them, and to impress those who have not yet adopted the approach, I would say that would be tremendous progress. And obviously, our part is just a tiny part in the overall drive to achieve as much as possible under the SDGs in this very short time.

Will Brehm 33:59
Well, Andy Smart, thank you so much for joining FreshEd. It really was a pleasure of talking today.

Andy Smart 34:03
Will, the pleasure was all mine. I really enjoyed that. Thank you.

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What are the possible futures presupposed within the organization of refugee education worldwide? Do the understood purposes of refugee education align at the global, national and school levels?

My guest today is Sarah Dryden-Peterson, an Associate Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who has been researching refugee education for 15 years. Together with Elizabeth Adelman, Michelle Bellino, and Vidur Chopra, she has recently co-authored an article for the journal Sociology of Education that looks at the purposes of refugee education today. Sarah and her colleagues argue that quality refugee education must further a sense of belongingness.

Citation: Dryden-Peterson, Sarah, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 181, podcast audio, November 18, 2019.

Will Brehm 2:30
Sarah Dryden-Peterson, welcome back to FreshEd.

Sarah Dryden-Peterson 2:33
Thanks so much, Will. It is great to be on your show.

Will Brehm 2:36
So, there has been a lot of talk about futures lately. We actually recently did a whole show on UNESCO’s new project on “The Futures of Education: Learning to Become,” this new idea that they’re promoting. So, when it comes to refugees, and particularly refugee education, how can we even start thinking about the idea of futures?

Sarah Dryden-Peterson 2:59
It is such a great question, and really one that preoccupies our work. I love the show that you did with Noah Sobe, and I am really excited about this commission’s work. And it does, like you’re saying, really resonate with the work that we’ve been doing on futures within refugee education. I was thinking about it, and the last time I was on your show, we were talking about unknowable futures and this uncertainty that is embedded within the experience of being a refugee. And I think, like UNESCO’s project, our work has really tried to embrace this uncertainty of futures and think about ways in which education can contribute to future making despite the uncertainty. I do think that within refugee education, there are some quite specific parameters that are important to keep in mind when we think about the futures for which education prepares young people. Particularly because most national education systems quite explicitly prepare young people for a future that is connected to that nation-state. So, national governments invest in education with the promise of returns of economic growth and social and civic development really to accrue to that nation-state. But, of course, refugees are, by definition, non-citizens. And so, the specificity of their futures, especially in terms of their physical location and where within a nation-state they might be, is uncertain and unpredictable. And so, my co-authors and I – Elizabeth Adelman, Michelle Bellino, and Vidur Chopra – we really in this paper try to think about four possible futures for refugees: a future of resettlement; a future of return; a future of integration; and a future of transnationalism. We observe that how children, families, and teachers, as well as others involved in education, really think about the purposes of refugee education in terms of the future that they imagine. And the kinds of refugee education they design really depend on those futures.

Will Brehm 5:00
So, what sort of purposes of refugee education do these different futures presuppose, in a sense? I mean, these different imaginations of where refugees will end up in the future would, I guess, determine how we then or a nation-state or an NGO or whatever, organizes education for refugees?

Sarah Dryden-Peterson 5:25
That is right. And so, in this 14-country study, we see different nation-states orienting refugee education in different ways, depending on the dominant view of what the future might be. So in a situation where the future is imagined as resettlement – meaning to a distant, usually high-income country – refugee education usually takes place such that refugee young people are able to develop some skills that would be transferable to a new context, and develop language skills that would be useful in that new context. But of course, the future of resettlement is quite small and unlikely for most refugees, with only 1% of refugees having that kind of opportunity open to them. So, there’s really quite a limited amount of refugee education that focuses on that future.

Will Brehm 6:17
So, this would be something like a refugee that, you know, leaves a particular country for whatever reason, and claims refugee status, but then ends up getting resettled in a third country. And the idea would be that that person then lives there for the rest of their life and becomes a citizen.

Sarah Dryden-Peterson 6:38
That is right and becomes a citizen and has that different certainty about what the future would be in resettlement because of that pathway to citizenship.

Will Brehm 6:47
But this is a very, as you said, small percentage of refugees actually have this future possibility of resettlement. So, what about return, the future of return?

Sarah Dryden-Peterson 6:56
So, a future of return has really been, in many ways, the dominant way of thinking about what refugee education is for, what the purposes of refugee education are over historical time, with this idea that, really, most refugee young people and their families would look for a future of return if that future of return were possible. But I think what is different right now and is important as we think about refugee education is that so many of the conflicts that young people are fleeing are protracted. So that a refugee young person living in exile can expect to live outside their country of origin for an average of 10 to 25 years, which is very different than it was in the 1990s. So, this future of return, while desirable in many ways, is often unlikely. Yet, preparing for a future of return often requires quite different kind of education than would preparing for a future of integration, for example. So if a refugee were to be certain of a future return to a country of origin, it would be quite clear what language of instruction would be useful, the kind of credentials that could transfer to that country of origin system, and there would be the potential for more continuity, again with that certainty of the possibility.

Will Brehm 8:19
But it is not that certain. I mean, 10 to 25 years, this is incredible, right. So you can be a child and basically have your entire childhood in a third country, where, you know, you are being educated, in a way, to go back to a country that you have no connection to by that point, after 25 years.

Sarah Dryden-Peterson 8:38
That is right. That is right. So, we talk about this future of return. But the reality for many young people, even if they were to return, it is actually not a return. It is a journey to a place where they have never lived themselves because of this protracted nature of being displaced and living as a refugee.

Will Brehm 8:58
So, integration becomes perhaps a future that is more realistic.

Sarah Dryden-Peterson 9:03
So that’s been a real shift within thinking on refugee education within the past ten years or so, with this idea that if the reality of exile is at least medium-term, but often long-term, that thinking about education that prepares young people for a future within the host country is an important way in which education could help prepare young people for a future. So, a future of integration would involve enabling labor market participation and a sense of belonging through the kinds of education that are available. And this idea of permanence, so that a future would be built together with nationals and in that place. One of the distinctions I think we try to make in this paper that’s important when thinking about policy, too, is that the idea of inclusion and the idea of integration are really being used quite differently within discussions on refugee education. So “inclusion” could be temporary and really could be just about structures of access to school. So, including refugees within a school. But “integration” really implies a much longer-term commitment to this idea of building a future together and to social belonging, which is the crux of this paper.

Will Brehm 10:22
Right. So, okay, so, there’s refugees are being included in national systems of education, but not necessarily integrated into those systems.

Sarah Dryden-Peterson 10:33
That is right. That’s what we really find in this paper: that there has been widespread movement toward including refugees in national education systems over the past six or seven years, and yet that inclusion does not necessarily mean the social process of integration and working toward a sense of belonging.

Will Brehm 10:55
And so, you also have this other idea, what you call in the paper “transnationalism” and this future of transnationalism. Can you explain what that is, and how some refugee education, the purpose of refugee education, presupposes this idea of transnationalism?

Sarah Dryden-Peterson 11:13
This future of transnationalism really comes out of what we hear from refugee young people in particular. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has long defined what they call three durable solutions, which are, in fact, somewhat like thinking about the futures, which are these futures of resettlement, return, and integration that we’ve just talked about. But we find that most refugee young people really imagine a future of what we call “transnationalism” that’s not geographically bounded, and that where, in fact, opportunities might be created through mobility rather than limited through mobility and through borders, which is often the experience of refugees. And I think part of this idea of needing to conceptualize a future of transnationalism stems from the uncertainty of any of these other futures and entails some need to think about flexibility and adaptability within refugee education, as well as some of the structural dimensions of national education systems that, in fact, are not transnational, and really do provide certification and provide content-specific education that is what young refugees find often only relevant within a particular nation-state.

Will Brehm 12:29
So, when it comes to these different purposes of education, and that obviously then gets translated into particular policies and practices of education, of refugee education, you know, I guess, who’s deciding? You know, what are the actors, who are the actors involved in different cases, say at the global level, deciding how we should even imagine a future of refugees and then translate that into policy and practice? So, who, in other words, are the actors, sort of thinking through some of these issues?

Sarah Dryden-Peterson 13:03
We have really tried to structure this paper – and I think this is important methodologically – as a vertical analysis. So looking at actors at a global level, at a national level, at a local level, and really trying to tease out some of the differences in the way that the purposes of refugee education are viewed at these different levels. So at a global level, there are multiple actors involved in refugee education, including UN agencies like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and UNICEF, as well as Education Cannot Wait, a host of international NGOs that have a long history of working on refugee education, as well as bilateral donors that are committed to funding refugee education either through some of these multilaterals and NGOs or in direct funding to nation-states. And I think for all of these organizations, increasingly it is becoming evident the need to work in collaboration across the kind of organization, which is not always the norm in humanitarian situations. But as we see this movement toward including refugees in national education systems, this real shift toward a longer-term thinking and toward development, and the kinds of collaborations that are needed in that kind of setting.

Will Brehm 14:19
Okay, so that is the global level. What about at the different national levels in these different countries? How is refugee education being imagined, and you know, the future of refugees being imagined?

Sarah Dryden-Peterson 14:31
At the national level, we really see this policy of inclusion looking quite different in different contexts. And I think for this particular refugee education policy of inclusion, it was really designed to be adapted to national contexts. And as a result, we see different kinds of models of inclusion developing. So, in Malaysia and Bangladesh, for example, we really don’t see inclusion taking place. Governments have not adopted a policy of inclusion, so that refugees and nationals attend separate schools, and refugee education is in these particular cases quite informal, with lack of certainty around what certification options might be. But in other countries, we’ve seen a real rapid uptake of this policy of inclusion since the first UNHCR strategy in 2012 put it forward. So in places where refugees live in camp settings, such as in Kenya, we see an inclusion model developed where refugees use the Kenyan curriculum and use English and Kiswahili as the languages of instruction, even though refugee and national children are isolated from each other because geographically they live in different spaces within the country. So, they don’t attend school together, but there are structural elements of inclusion in terms of curriculum and certification. Yet other places, like in the example of Lebanon, we see a model of inclusion that involves refugee children attending the same physical schools as nationals with many of the same teachers. They use the same curriculum, the Lebanese national curriculum, Lebanese national examination system, but at a different time of day in a double shift. So Lebanese students come to school in the morning, and refugees in the afternoon. It is only in few places, and not consistent across national contexts, that we see refugees and nationals actually attending school together at the same time. And usually, that is in urban areas where there may be smaller populations of refugees or long-standing populations that are quite integrated with national populations.

Will Brehm 16:40
So in a sense, using these two examples that you provided: Lebanon, in a way, would be more closely connected to this idea of a future of integration, whereas in Kenya, it’s much more about a future of inclusion; or you know, it’s not necessarily really integration since, you said, they’re in two different physical spaces.

Sarah Dryden-Peterson 17:01
And I think this is a really open question within refugee education of what can enable integration and not just inclusion. So even in the case of Lebanon, there is quite substantial separation between national students who attend school in the morning and refugees who come in the afternoon. In our work there, particularly with grade nine students, we see a lack of relationships, a lack of possibility for relationships to develop between refugee students and national students. There is a short gap in the middle of the day so that, physically, the students don’t cross paths within the schools. And quite a tight sense of the school really belonging to the national students, and the refugee students just being there in the afternoon to have some opportunity for learning. But as one of our participants said, no opportunity to become established. And I think that, again, it provides this example of where inclusion can be a strategy towards providing access to education and can provide this access to the structures of what a quality education might involve. But very little focus on what it means to develop relationships across long-time residents and refugees and this process of social integration and belonging.

Will Brehm 18:22
Right. So, one of the main purposes of education being this idea of social cohesion. Not only preparing someone for the labor market but actually being connected to some national society or even local society. And so, it does bring up a very interesting point about what is even the meaning of quality education when it comes to refugee education.

Sarah Dryden-Peterson 18:46
I think that is right. And you mentioned both labor market participation and social cohesion here. And across our 14-country study, we really hear these dimensions of education being described at almost all levels by teachers, by students, by families, by international organization actors, as real purposes of education. And yet real tensions in refugee education as to whether it is even possible to think about those dimensions of quality. So, in most places, refugees don’t have the right to work. So, this idea of education as a preparation for labor market participation is not guaranteed. And what we often see is young people very cognizant of this disconnect between what they’re being asked to do in school, how they imagine that preparation will assist them in building a livelihood, and yet knowing what the laws are in place that will prevent that from happening. And also, in terms of social cohesion, in many places, including most nation-states that host refugees, there are long histories of conflict and divisions so that social cohesion, as it is taught, particularly within national curriculum and within national education systems, is often about a fairly tight, standard view of what national unity might look like. And that often can be quite politically, ethnically, linguistically exclusive, not only for refugees who can’t see themselves within that national narrative but also of marginalized national students. And there’s also this idea that refugees, particularly in places that continue to experience conflict and division, might disrupt very fragile social cohesion, which can result in even more forceful standardizing of curriculum for the sake of control and legitimate goals of preserving unity, when it is fragile that way.

Will Brehm 20:50
Is there a good example of a particular country where that phenomenon is found?

Sarah Dryden-Peterson 20:55
We do see this in our ongoing work in Lebanon now. And I think that this idea that refugee education is often situated within marginalized national populations is really important as we think about the idea of quality. And I think, in particular, it points to areas within national education that are often overlooked. And the kind of possibility of imagining any of these futures that we’re talking about when access to poor quality schooling is the norm. So in Lebanon, for example, refugees have access to the second shift that I was describing in public schools, but only 30% of national students attend public schools, and those with other options will choose other options outside of these public schools. And so, there’s already this sense that a future of integration would be a future of integration into an education system and into a level of society that is not desirable by nationals and is also not something that refugees are looking for.

Will Brehm 22:04
And so, they would continue to be marginalized, even if integrated?

Sarah Dryden-Peterson 22:08
In many of the places where refugees are included in national schools, in fact, what we find in most places, is that the quality of education is not high for nationals either. And so while the promise of including refugees in national education systems often comes back to this idea that it might be of higher quality within an already established system with trained teachers, with a sequenced curriculum, that the particular places in which refugees are being included are often within countries that struggle broadly to provide quality education, or within regions of countries, or areas of cities, where the quality of schooling is unequal and in fact, poor quality schooling that refugees are not seeking out either.

Will Brehm 22:53
So, I mean, it seems as if you are beginning to differentiate the idea of “integration”, which, sort of, on the surface sounds quite good. But actually, it’s more … and I think you use this term before in our conversation: of “belongingness”. So, you know, what is this difference between belongingness and integration?

Sarah Dryden-Peterson 23:12
I think this really is at the crux of what we get at in this paper. And I think that what we see in the model of including refugees within national education systems is a very important focus on the structures of inclusion. So, as I was saying, the teachers, the curriculum, the certification, but much less focus on what these relational elements of a longer-term integration would mean. And I think it’s important to distinguish here: in almost no cases do we hear from the various actors involved in refugee education that long-term permanent integration is the goal. Even though we know that crises are protracted, in the end, most refugee young people would elect to pursue a future of return or a future of transnationalism. And yet wanting to keep open this possibility of being able to be an active, productive contributor to the society in which they live, which for the immediate term, is a country of exile. So, this idea of belonging really comes back to these relational dimensions: the opportunity to build relationships, to build understanding across lines of difference. And I think that the models of inclusion that we have found within most countries simply don’t even allow the contact among young people to foster this kind of relational dimensions. And even when they do, in cases where refugees and nationals attend schools together, there’s often very little focus within curriculum and pedagogy on these dimensions of relationship that might allow for working through some of the conflicts or the perceived threats that may or may not exist, but when you don’t have that opportunity to know someone as an individual are very hard to overcome.

Will Brehm 25:07
Is there any example where, you know, refugee education was actually able to create such a sense of belongingness?

Sarah Dryden-Peterson 25:16
It’s been hard for us to find large-scale examples of this kind of relational integration and belonging. But this idea of belonging has emerged as so important from the work that we’ve been doing that it’s a real focus of our current work. And right now, we’re launching a project that we’re calling the Together Project and studying individual schools in multiple national contexts with large refugee populations that we’re finding to be extraordinarily successful at building welcoming communities among long-time residents and newcomers. And it’s really our hope in this project to be able to identify some of the pedagogies and the processes – these real “how” questions, not the “what” questions – of what schools, teachers, students, families are doing to actively build communities in which there’s a sense of welcome. And I think that this is even more important to me because what we hear from young people and from teachers in all of these national context in which we’ve been working is that they’re looking for ideas of how to do this. It is not a sense of not finding belonging and not finding people who are seeking out the mechanisms to create that. In fact, it would be the number one request that we would hear from teachers, are for sharing ideas about how they could better do their work to create this kind of inclusive communities. So, hoping that through this project, we might be able to identify ways in which there are possibilities within schools that everyone could imagine a future, even if those futures are divergent. Coming back to this idea that it is not just one future, but maybe multiple futures pursued within any form of education.

Will Brehm 27:01
It’s really quite fascinating. I mean, it does remind me of some of the work of Benedict Anderson and really pushing issues of imagined communities a bit further. It’s imagined future communities that are, you know, in many ways, diverse and transnational. And it really sort of is this new idea, I think, that has to be sort of theorized and, you know, researched quite heavily.

Sarah Dryden-Peterson 27:26
I think that is right. And it brings me back to thinking about the history of refugee education to in the post-war, and particularly through the 60s and 70s, refugee education was really a very localized endeavor. So communities creating their own schools to educate refugees, often with this real sense of self-determination, because many refugees were in exile due to independence struggles, and a very clear sense that the future for which refugees were being prepared would be to return to a country of origin and take up leadership roles in a post-independence place. And we saw a lot of transnationalism at that time too, which I think is resurfacing as really critical as we think about what these imagined communities are that may actually look quite different from what we see now, and how education can, in fact, attempt to remake these kinds of communities and allow individuals to imagine what they might look like. And hopefully, over the long run, break down some of the structural barriers, particularly around abilities to migrate and abilities to work and to actually tangibly take up the rights that we think of as universal to be able to pursue these futures.

Will Brehm 28:48
And so, you know, given your research and your analysis of the history plus this Together Project that you’re beginning to work on, you know, what sort of policy proposals have you and your team sort of begun to think about, or realize, are really important for successful refugee education that sort of does contribute to this idea of belongingness?

Sarah Dryden-Peterson 29:15
I think what comes out of our work is the real need to focus on more of the relational dimensions of education. So, making sure that we do think about quality not just as that form of access to a national system, but what actually happens in classrooms in terms of curriculum, in terms of pedagogy. And the new UNHCR strategy, Inclusion 2030, really advocates for this shift in thinking more about the daily teaching and learning that goes on. But they’re very hard challenges, as we all know, and particularly within national education systems that struggle to meet the needs of national students. And I think what comes out for us quite heavily is this is a real collective challenge. That, in fact, when we think about the purposes of refugee education, what we expose are areas in which the global movement to provide quality education for all, in fact, has obviously left out many national students. And the places in which refugees are attempting to access education are also places where nationals don’t have access to that kind of a quality education. So, thinking about refugee education not in isolation, but as the real collective challenge of ensuring that all marginalized young people have access to a quality education. And one of the initiatives that we’re launching, connected to this, is called refugee REACH: research, education, and action for change and hope. This is an initiative of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and we’re really trying to think about ways to connect researchers, policymakers, and educators in collective thinking about quality education and building welcoming communities in settings of migration and displacement. We’ll be launching this initiative next month to coincide with the Global Refugee Forum, and one of the elements of it that I’m particularly excited about is a series of virtual conversations on some of these critical dilemmas in refugee education, research, in policy, and in practice that we’ve been talking about today. My hope is really that collectively, through these ongoing conversations, that we can develop ways to educate so education doesn’t stand in the way of refugees’ futures, but instead can create concrete spaces for weaving together the success of all of our futures.

Will Brehm 31:40
Well, Sarah Dryden-Peterson, thank you so much for joining FreshEd again. Best of luck in the conference next month, and please come back on and share some of these… the learning that happens with these different projects that you have going on. So, thank you very much again for joining.

Sarah Dryden-Peterson 31:56
Thanks so much, Will.

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