Educational Assessment and Inclusive Education

Producing Global Learning Metrics

UNESCO’s Futures of Education Report

Behind the Scenes: A Political Act

Tensions Implementing SDG4

Education for Peace and Human Rights

Learning from the Failure to Improve Literacy Worldwide



What role does higher education play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals?

My guest today is Tristan McCowan, author of the new book entitled Higher Education for and beyond the Sustainable Development Goals, which was published earlier this year. Tristan interrogates the idea of a so-called developmental university working towards the SGDs, identifying both positive and negative outcomes.

Tristan McCowan is a Professor of International Education at the Institute of Education, University College London. I spoke with Tristan in his office in London, which just so happens to be around the corner from mine. This is actually the first podcast that I’ve recorded at my new intuitional home at the Institute of Education. There’s a lot more to say about the future of FreshEd now that I live in London, but I’m going to wait until next year to tell you all about it. For now, enjoy our latest episode and stay tuned for our end of year show with Susan Robertson and Roger Dale, which will air next week.

Citation: McCowan, Tristan, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 184, podcast audio, December 9, 2019.

Will Brehm 1:39
Tristan McCowan, welcome to FreshEd.

Tristan McCowan 1:41
Thanks, Will. It is a great pleasure to be here.

Will Brehm 1:43
So, I want to start by talking a little bit about the SDGs, but specifically about higher education because this is something that might not get talked about as much as primary or secondary schooling. So where in the SDGs – in the Sustainable Development Goals – is higher education even mentioned?

Tristan McCowan 2:02
So, I think it is worth thinking about what comes before the SDGs to talk about how it does appear. And in the Millennium Development Goals that came before, there was a conspicuous absence of higher education there. So, the education goal was around primary education. I suppose higher education might be included in the requirement for gender equality that was also there, but it was absent in the education goal. And this was also indicative of a general neglect of higher education in the development community for some decades before. So, the inclusion of higher education in the SDGs marks something of a return – a rekindling of interest – in higher education generally in development. And there was a lot of discussion in the consultation around the creation of what was going to replace the MDGs about how higher education might be included in that. In the SDGs themselves, the most obvious inclusion of higher education is in how it appears as a target in itself. It appears along with vocational education, tertiary education, and a specific mention of university. So that is the access goal. It is not very demanding, in my view. It doesn’t require universal access or anything resembling that. What it requires is equal access, which, as we know from international law, is really around nondiscrimination. It is an important requirement, but it is not very demanding on this. But nevertheless, it is there. And I think it is very important that universities mentioned in terms of access, getting people into university or some form of higher education. But that is not the only way that it appears in the SDG. In the book, I distinguish between three different ways that it appears. So, there is that first one we have talked about, which is access, and then two others. The second is as part of the education system as a whole. And this relates to one of your previous podcasts that was talking about SDG 4.7 and the overarching aims of education in terms of promoting global citizenship, sustainable development itself. So higher education fits into that. It is part of the education system. And it might promote a lot of the goals that we would like to see in society. The third role for higher education is the one that the book focuses on mainly, and that is higher education as a driver for all of the goals. So, every one of the 17 goals in all different areas: environmental, health, poverty, and so forth require to some degree on universities in the broadest possible way, through its teaching, but also its research and community engagement and all of its functions.

Will Brehm 4:45
So I mean, in a way, what you’re saying is that universities have this massive role to play in the SDGs not simply as access not simply as being part of the education system to meet some of these very lofty goals of 4.7, which, as the previous podcasts have shown are very sort of diverse and complex ideas. But more importantly, and perhaps most importantly, this idea of higher education as being a driver of development. So, this is a pretty large role for education, for higher education. Can universities actually even fulfill this role, do you think?

Tristan McCowan 5:24
I think my answer to that is yes, but perhaps not in the way that might immediately be imagined. So, I think the potential of universities is extraordinary. And one of the arguments that I try to make in all different kinds of fora is that universities are essential for all countries and not just for the wealthy countries that we might imagine might afford it. Universities aren’t luxury; they are critical part of all countries, however impoverished they might be, however many challenges they might face. In fact, we might think of as being especially important in those. The teaching role of universities is crucial for forming professionals in a whole range of different areas, including the kinds of primary services that were focused on in the MDGs, but also in the SDGs, around education, health, and so forth. There is a much broader teaching role of universities as well for civic and personal benefits. There is the research role of universities, breakthroughs in health, the environment, all sorts of areas in which there are huge challenges facing humanity. And then the community engagement role where universities can apply that knowledge and also engage with the knowledge that communities have. So, the potential of universities is extraordinary. Whether they can fulfill that is a different matter, and that does depend on the level of quality that universities have, the resourcing that they have, how they are organized, the kinds of autonomy they have. So, it is not guaranteed. And I think, you know, the empirical research that we have… and we have fairly good research on some countries, less good on others. The research we have shows that they are sometimes able to do that. Sometimes they are able to do that in ways that we hadn’t actually imagined. In others, they struggle to. It is worth pointing out that in low-income countries, universities have roles that are not present in higher-income countries as providers of basic services often. So, communities will often use universities because they don’t have other spaces for meeting, for, you know, cultural pursuits. Even for things as basic as Internet access, and so forth. So, universities can play a really crucial role in all countries. The final point I’d make is that the role of universities as a driver perhaps is not as automatic or guaranteed as we might imagine, even when we might consider that to be a quality university. And that is because there is a level of unpredictability to all processes of learning and scholarship.

Will Brehm 8:01
So, what do you mean? Is there a downside, sometimes, to higher education?

Tristan McCowan 8:06
There certainly can be a downside. I mean, universities have not always had positive impacts on their societies through history. One of the downsides is in exacerbating inequalities in societies. So, while universities can certainly act as mechanisms for social mobility, they can also do the opposite. And in many points in history where access has been restricted to an elite, or for particular religious or language groups, or just for men, for example, it has actually made things worse rather than make things better. So, there is that element. Also, universities have been implicated in fostering of prejudice and xenophobia as all parts of the education system.

Will Brehm 8:51
Right. Okay. So you’re sort of taking this complex view, whether it’s good and bad, the development is not always this positive linear idea but can have a complex multitude of outcomes as a result of work in higher education, or any sector, I would imagine in education more broadly defined. So, I guess when we think about the university, what you are sort of saying is that not all universities are the same. There is a lot of potential in higher education, but what actually happens looks different in different contexts; the cultural context, the national context, whatever it is. So, when you think historically, then, how can we make sense of, you know, different types of universities? You know, maybe ideal types, not necessarily what actually exists. How can we start categorizing different types of universities?

Tristan McCowan 9:48
Thanks. It is a really important question, and one that’s not posed often enough, I think. And it is worth saying at the start that what we are seeing now across the world in higher education is much less diversity than there might have been. Historically there have been models of higher learning in many parts of the world – in India and China, in the Islamic world, in Mesoamerica. Other places as well that have been quite distinct. And many of those have been lost. In fact, most of them have been lost through history. We’ve seen a dominance of the European model of university from medieval Europe, which in its spreading around the world has gained new forms of diversity, but perhaps not as much as we might have wanted and still rooted in some very similar assumptions. So, there is a degree of homogeneity around the world, but what I argue is that universities have a kind of a mixing of different historical models within them. And as you say, they are partly ideal types and partly real historically. So, you have got the medieval institution, which was a community of scholars, a community of students, engaging and debate over authoritative texts. You have the Humboldtian model that emerges in the 19th century of the research university on the pursuit of truth and academic freedom and so forth. You have then got drives towards greater relevance of the university to society, and the land grant universities in the United States were very influential in this regard. Also moves in Latin America in the early 20th century towards democratization of the university space. And leading to what in Africa in the post Second World War period was called the “developmental university,” one that is tied very much to service to society. And then most recently, the emergence of the entrepreneurial or the enterprise university, one which is focused on income generation through selling of its services. So, we have got these different models, and I think we can see them all in our institutions. In some, you know, the entrepreneurial model is dominant. In others, we might see, you know, more of the Humboldtian model, but jostling for space, and of course, in the different actors that are engaged as well.

Will Brehm 12:07
You are thinking through this developmental university because it sort of links in with the SDGs. So, in what way do you see the developmental university? How do we think about that university, that type of university, if it truly does do service to society in the ideal that is written in the SDGs?

Tristan McCowan 12:31
Yeah, I mean I think if you look at the role that’s proposed for universities, it is something close to the developmental model: a university that has as its primary purpose serving society in an egalitarian mode, or perhaps beyond the egalitarian, actually focusing primarily on the most disadvantaged populations. By privileging those populations, reducing poverty and so forth, and dealing to a large extent with applied knowledge and an impact on nonacademic communities. And there is something of a contradiction there between the kinds of higher education that are promoted by many of the international agencies, which in many ways actually undermine that kind of developmental role of universities.

Will Brehm 13:13
How so?

Tristan McCowan 13:15
Particularly through a promotion of expansion at all costs. Now, there is a real need for expanding higher education. Access has grown rapidly over the last 20 years. But much of the expansion has taken place in very commercialized, for-profit sectors of higher education, or sometimes distance education with low quality, which has, while it has allowed more people to gain higher education diplomas, it has not necessarily allowed them the learning that will be meaningful in their lives, and certainly hasn’t promoted research and community engagement in the public interest. So, there have been dynamics in the growth of higher education sectors, which have brought some benefit for individuals, but without much of a contribution to the public good.

Will Brehm 14:04
So, given this sort of “massification” of higher education and how that might begin to challenge some of the value and the functions of the university, what sort of trends have you noticed worldwide? You know, let’s take a broad view here. Broadly speaking, what sort of major trends do you see in higher education today?

Tristan McCowan 14:24
Well, one of them I have touched on already, which is the move towards commercialization. Which is present in the astounding growth of the for-profit sector. And that is very evident in one of the countries that I work very closely with, which is Brazil, but you can also see it in many other parts of the world. But also, of course, there is a commercialization of public institutions through so-called cost-sharing policies, the charging of fees, and other forms of creeping privatization. Now commercialization is a term that encompasses a whole range of different activities which have different kinds of influence. And it is certainly, in an immediate sense, has assisted in allowing higher education systems to grow. So, it is complex. But if we are thinking about the SDGs, or about the public good more generally, there are some very worrying outcomes of that. Firstly, around the attaching of quality to price. So, as the system starts to marketize more, variable costs of courses will start to become attached either to quality or to prestige, which has worrying implications for equity. But also it makes it much harder for universities to engage in research in the public benefit, or community engagement in the public benefit, without some kind of a name to generate income from those communities; makes it much harder to fulfill the SDGs. So that is one of the big trends. A second trend is associated with the very often discussed international rankings in higher education. And one of the implications of those rankings is a privileging of a certain kind of university or a certain kind of university action. And I am not saying for a moment that the elite universities that do well in rankings are not benefiting the SDGs. Actually, I think they are with a lot of their work. But it is certainly not the only kind of institution that does that. And much of the work that is most beneficial for communities around the world is not valued by those rankings. Community engagement has almost no presence in the rankings. And an inclusive intake of students also is not valued through most of the rank.

Will Brehm 16:33
In your book, you point to this like unbelievable indicator or proxy for, I think its quality of teaching in these rankings, that is used. Can you explain what it is?

Tristan McCowan 16:44
Well, in the Shanghai ranking, the number of alumni with Nobel Prizes is taken as a proxy for quality, which is…

Will Brehm 16:52
That is crazy! I mean, so, these rankings then, the way they sort of measure this idea of quality across universities, can be pretty absurd, almost to the extreme sometimes.

Tristan McCowan 17:06
It is a small minority of all higher education institutions that are listed on international rankings at all. So, you could say, “Well, perhaps it’s irrelevant”. But actually, it does have an influence. Because even if most institutions don’t have a realistic chance of getting into the upper echelons, discursively, it does influence the way institutions see themselves. They start not to value the good work that they are doing. And they start to aspire towards work that perhaps isn’t in their best interest.

Will Brehm 17:33
I mean, we are sitting here at the Institute of Education, and out the front door, there is a big sign with the ranking on it. I mean, it is sort of, you know, it is the first thing you see when you walk into this building.

Tristan McCowan 17:46
Yeah, absolutely.

Will Brehm 17:48
So, one of the last trends that you write about in your book, you use the word “unbundling”. Can you explain what this is? I never really came across this term before.

Tristan McCowan 17:57
So, it is a term that comes from business originally. And it is the process of separating out products that had previously been sold together for commercial advantage, either for the producer or sometimes for the consumer. I suppose the most obvious example in contemporary times is low-cost airlines, where you are not tied into paying for your baggage or your seat or so forth; you can purchase things individually. In higher education, it is a very controversial process. It is quite incipient; we’re just seeing the earliest signs of it yet. But for example, the separation out of different parts of what we might have considered to be the bundle of higher education. Of instruction, assessment, research, extracurricular activities, and so forth. So, one way that this has manifested itself is in the provision of no-frills, what I call no-frills courses. Very basic provision, where you pay a lower cost, and you just have access to the basic instruction, and you have to pay extra if you want some other things

Will Brehm 19:01
Such as? Like access to the library?

Tristan McCowan 19:03
Well, I have never seen a case of no access at all to the library. But certainly, there is an example in the UK where you have very minimal access to university facilities beyond what you would basically need to do one’s course. You know, this does open the door to a kind of a segregation of lower and higher-income students.

Will Brehm 19:25
Of course. And where does the process end? Right, you almost can get to the point where you have to pay to use the bathroom.

Tristan McCowan 19:30
Absolutely, absolutely. I think it is very worrying. It is a seductive idea because it appears to be addressing the huge escalation of costs, particularly in the United States. And allowing more people into the higher education system. So, it is seductive in that sense, but it is very worrying because then you start to have a very hierarchical system, a stratified system, where disadvantaged students have access to less.

Will Brehm 19:54
Second class students. You know, these are pretty worrying trends. This idea of status, this idea of commodification and commercialization, and this idea of unbundling. So, do you think this idea of, you know, the developmental university, service to society, these sort of liberal democratic ideals. You know, what has to change so we can actually create universities that embrace those ideas rather than … or, you know. It seems as if some of these other ideas and trends you have been talking about sort of go against some of these developmental ideas.

Tristan McCowan 20:32
Well, I think we need two things. I think there does need to be state investment; there needs to be public investment and state support. But I wouldn’t want to say that all of initiative needs to come from the central state. I think we also need to create more opportunities for local innovation. So, in my work, I am very interested in and supportive of various grassroots initiatives in higher education. I think this is a really important part of the answer as well. And there are some great examples around the world of developmental institutions. They are fragile in many cases, but they are very inspiring. So, we have got University for Development Studies in Northern Ghana, which is a very interesting institution serving the arid regions of Northern Ghana, working in very innovative ways with integrated teaching and research and community engagement. There are the so-called “thematic” federal universities in Brazil, which were established over the last 15 years to promote different forms of international engagement and local development. They are fragile because, to a large extent, they just depend on the governments of their day. And in Brazil, you have had a very radical shift to the right and the consequent withdrawal of support from these institutions. You have also got challenges with innovative institutions starting to, you know, being pulled back to the conventional type over the years. So, there are challenges, but there are some inspiring examples that we can look to.

Will Brehm 22:01
I also think about some of these protests in Chile. I know it started recently with bus fare increase, but it sort of dovetailed with that longer student protests from 2013 that was very much against what we might call the “neoliberal university,” or whatever it might be. And even here in London, they only just had, in the UK, 60 universities went on strike for about eight days trying to really counter a lot of these same trends that you are talking about. So, there are these signs, it seems, of pushback. Now, will it actually result in any action, that’s another sort of question, I guess.

Tristan McCowan 22:41
Absolutely. I think there are mobilizations in different parts of the world. South Africa recently has had a huge student mobilization around decolonization, the curriculum, and also around fees. I think we look at Chile as a great example of a student mobilization, not only because of its massiveness, but also because, perhaps unusually, but very successfully, what started as a student mobilization started to bring other spheres of society on board. And also gained real endorsement from society and, you know, made things … you know, the government couldn’t ignore it anymore. So, I think it is a really successful example.

Will Brehm 23:20
You know, that actually makes me think of the Chicago teacher strikes in America, where it wasn’t higher education, but it was public school teachers going on strike, I think 2012/2013. And one of the reasons that they were successful, that many scholars point to, is precisely the same reason is that they had this broad coalition; it wasn’t just this narrow focus on teaching and learning, but it brought in all sectors of society, and it became such a massive movement that the government had to respond. And more importantly, a lot of the leaders from that strike ended up getting elected in many parts in Chicago. So, I mean, it seems like it is a bigger conversation on social mobilization and successful social mobilization.

Tristan McCowan 24:03
That is a really interesting example. And it also makes me think of, you know, these ideas of “post-truth” and “anti-experts” that were coming out in 2016, through Brexit and the election in the United States. And I think some politicians have tried to drive a wedge between universities and society by creating resentment. And I think it is a really important task that those involved in universities have is to try and communicate with society this shared enterprise to a large degree.

Will Brehm 24:32
Exactly. And to see it as a service to society. It is not just our own little siloed workspaces here. So, as great as that makes me feel: this idea of social mobilization and trying to change universities away from status competition, away from commodification, away from unbundling, I do wonder – and you point out in your book – that, you know, there’s a critique, as well, of that movement. Of, you know, promoting a university for liberal democracy, for furthering capitalism in many respects. So how can we even begin to think about post-development: a critique of development itself?

Tristan McCowan 25:14
So, this is why I ended up making the title “For and Beyond”, because it is very important to look beyond as well. And I see the SDGs as being important. I am not trivializing them, but they are an intermediate step. And I think ultimately, they are not going to solve all of the problems that the global community faces at the moment. As you say, the SDGs are rooted in liberal capitalist model, to a large extent, a modernization model. And there are some deep flaws in those, and indeed, you know, we can be very skeptical about whether a capitalist system can ever really achieve, you know, equality and sustainability in a global community. You know, some of the incentives for accumulation and profit that corporations have are precisely the problem that we have with the fossil fuel lobby and so forth. So, there are some real problems there. There’s another issue with the SDGs in the lack of attention to questions of identity, culture, language that leading into another issue that I think is important to a certain relation to higher education, which is around what Boaventura de Sousa Santos calls a dialogue of knowledges. So how can we think about epistemic pluralism? How can we think about not just mainstream Western academic knowledge, which is important. But how do we put that in dialogue with other forms of knowledge from different knowledge communities, from indigenous peoples, from diverse traditions around the world, which will inevitably enrich that knowledge. And this is a very important aspect of where we go with development and also where we go with higher education. And I think we need to think about two forms of creativity and imagination in the higher education space: one is around questioning the institutional forms that we are very familiar with. You know, we look at a university, and we assume that it’s going to have very particular kinds of structures and practices. And I think we need to open up our imagination, perhaps drawing on Ivan Illich’s ideas of deschooling to think about how our university might be otherwise. And then the second point around epistemic pluralism, around having different kinds of knowledge in the university, and drawing on the experiences. I’m familiar with experiences in Latin America, indigenous institutions around the continent, but there are some in other parts of the world as well, Swaraj University in India is an interesting example of how we can create universities in different ways. And if we need to go beyond the SDGs, we need to think about sustainable development. It is a different kind of university that’s going to help us achieve it.

Will Brehm 27:56
Tristan McCowan, thank you so much for joining FreshEd. It really was a pleasure talking today, and I look forward to your next book.

Tristan McCowan 28:02
Thank you very much.

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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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