A postcard from this year’s Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference

By Will Smith, Senior policy analyst at the GEM Report

cies 3The most unique aspect of the Comparative and International Education Society Annual (CIES) conference is the convergence of the global education community into a single location. It is a tremendous opportunity to learn about key trends in the field and, most importantly, exchange ideas with some of the best thought leaders in this space.

The 62nd CIES conference, held in Mexico City, saw a focus on South-North dialogue and South-South collaboration, and an ambition to expand awareness of and engagement with the voices and actors that have historically been marginalized in education research and institutions.

I represented the GEM Report team at this year’s conference participating in several workshops, consultations and panels on topics ranging from accountability, privatization, inclusion, and gender over the week-long event.

Sunday 25 March

Sundays’ pre-conference workshop, co-convened by the GEM Report, the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Open Society Foundations and the Right to Education Initiative, examined the growing phenomenon of privatization in education, in particular in the Global South. It highlighted the need for governments to develop capacities to monitor schools in keeping pace with education expansion, diversification and the increased emphasis on accountability.

“Regulations need to be in place before allowing new or fast expansion of education diversification, and equity considerations need to be kept in mind” remarked one participant during the discussion.

Monday 26 March

We are just about starting to develop our ideas about the 2020 GEM Report on inclusion so I went to a few sessions on inclusive education. Christopher Johnstone of the University of Minnesota is completing a systematic review of inclusive development and the Education Equity Initiative is examining inclusive education policy across 11 countries. To share your views on inclusion and contribute to the design of the 2020 Report sign up for the GEM Report’s newsalerts to find out more about consultations taking place online and in your region.

Tuesday 27 March

review coverWe launched our 2018 Gender Review, which shows we are still far from achieving gender parity in education despite considerable progress over the past decade. We were fortunate to convene a great panel including Nora Fyles from the United Nations Girls Education Initiative, Elaine Unterhalter for UCL Institute of Education, and Julia Dicum from Global Affairs Canada. The conversation focused on accountability for gender equality in education and how governments and the international community can strengthen their efforts in that direction. Questions from the floor highlighted the need for long term planning and sustainable interventions to address systemic barriers preventing girls from realizing their right to education and the importance of ensuring that national partners and community organizations remain at the heart of projects to address gender inequality.

Wednesday 28 March

The day kicked off with a lively discussion with representatives from CIES’s Inclusive Education Special Interest Group. The group represents inclusive education experts from several countries including Japan, Egypt, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and Denmark. The group shared their ideas of possible issues and entry points for the 2020 GEM Report on inclusion, including how the report could highlight successes in the field and set the agenda for a reconceptualization of inclusive education to encompass all learners and not just those with special needs. A follow-up webinar was scheduled to continue the conversation and streamline inputs for the development of the 2020 Report.

cies 2The main event of the day was the presentation of the 2017/8 GEM Report on accountability in education. Over 100 academics packed the hall to listen to inputs from panelists including Keith Lewin from the University of Sussex, Raphaelle Martinez from the Global Partnership for Education, Noah Sobe from Loyola University Chicago (and current CIES President) and Sylvia Schmelkes from Mexico’s National Institution for Education and Evaluation (and GEM Report Advisory Board member).

The discussion highlighted ways in which academics and policy makers have responded to the report and its recommendations, with GPE sharing how they are applying GEM Report recommendations, including clarifying the mandate of local education groups to ensure more inclusive participation with actors that have clear lines of responsibility.

The audience joined the report’s questioning of performance-based accountability, especially for teachers, and of results-based financing approaches, which could have detrimental effects, as they focus on outcomes largely beyond individuals’ and institutions’ control – an issue also raised in a recent GEM Report policy paper.

Thursday 29 March

On the final day for CIES 2018 I presented on accountability for school-related gender-based violence, as part of a panel on lessons and promising approaches. I was joined on the panel by Katharina Anton-Erxleben from Raising Voices Uganda, Freya Johnson Ross from UCL’s Institute of Education, and Sujata Bordoloi from UNGEI.

Questions focused on who, if anyone among the multiple stakeholders, is ultimately responsible for stopping school-related gender-based violence. There were also questions about the importance of addressing norms in the community and of looking into online violence, such as bullying in social media.

My favourite takeaway from the discussion was the observation that “changing norms and changing culture has to start with teacher training”. Indeed, for any program to succeed, teachers need to know how to engage with gender issues and address the unequal treatment of girls and boys. Training should equip teachers with skills to deliver curriculum approaches that promote the knowledge, attitudes and skills for preventing and responding to school-related violence.


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