2015 Conference Sub-themes

At the 2015 conference, we will be debating some of the critical questions about learning and sustainable futures. The sub-themes take the form of questions, each with a corresponding ‘handle’ for ease of communication. These handles, or short titles, are indicated by the bold words in each of the full questions. You may use the links to navigate quickly down the page.

In the promotion of sustainable futures:

In the promotion of sustainable futures, whose learning for whose development should be prioritised?

UKFIET 2015 Conference

The proposed Sustainable Development Goal for education (Goal 4) calls for ‘inclusive and equitable quality education’ and the promotion of ‘lifelong learning opportunities for all’.  It embraces all sectors of education from early childhood, primary and secondary education, to TVET, higher education and lifelong education.

Educational expansion in many developing countries has clearly improved access. Yet recent debates have pointed out the apparent negative consequences of rapid educational expansion.  This is especially pertinent for quality and learning outcomes.  In many contexts, the benefits of improvements in educational opportunities, including economic, health-related and social benefits among others, have not accrued equally across social groups.  This raises important questions of equity and inclusivity, which are the focus of this theme.

Sustainable educational development requires both that quality improvements be made and that their benefits, especially in terms of life-chances, be widely shared.  This poses a complex set of tensions and trade-offs for policy makers and practitioners especially in contexts where resources are limited.

Questions arise for the fields of research, policy and practice.  These include questions regarding understandings of equity, equality and inclusivity and their inter-relationships.  This sub-theme examines the tensions and potential trade-offs facing policymakers and practitioners in enabling sustainable learning for all in a post-2015 phase of development.

With these issues in mind, this sub-theme seeks to address the following and related questions:

  • What are the tensions and relationships between educational expansion, quality, equity and inclusivity? What challenges do these present for policy and practice?  How can they be managed?
  • What conceptualisations of equality, equity and inclusivity need to be unpacked or problematized to allow for greater sustainable learning?
  • How can countries close learning gaps between social groups of all ages while achieving learning gains for all?
  • What are the potential benefits and pitfalls of the use of targets and indicators with respect to marginalised groups?
  • What approaches to sustainable learning can ensure better life chances for all, including gainful employment in all sectors from the informal to the knowledge economy?

This Sub-theme is convened by:

In the promotion of sustainable futures, what learning values and curricula should be emphasised?

valuesLearning in support of sustainable futures is argued to be transformative and holistic, based on ideas of social justice and reflecting concerns for well-being, the quality of the environment and economic vitality.  This should aim to ensure that all learners are equipped to make informed choices relevant to sustainable futures.  But these are complex issues with few certainties; what values are associated with ideas of social justice, how do these vary across contexts and how can we conceptualise learning about uncertainty within multiple learning pathways?  To be successful the aims of education will need to integrate and align with broader policies (cultural, economic, environmental and social)   for sustainable development.

Furthermore, in designing curricula for sustainable futures it will be important to consider local contexts to include attention to languages, cultures, histories and indigenous knowledges.  This will need to be balanced with global concerns to ensure that learners acquire knowledge and skills to function effectively in changing external conditions.

At the end of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development it is pertinent to reflect and consider what we have learnt about how education programmes might be re-orientated towards sustainable futures.  This sub-theme seeks to examine what and how understandings, skills and values of sustainable development have been integrated in aspects of education planning and delivery to improve the quality and relevance of education for all learners.

This sub-theme seeks to address the following and related questions:

  • What knowledge, skills and competencies do learners require to address contemporary challenges and to take action towards the creation of sustainable societies?
  • Which contemporary issues such as climate change, food security, biodiversity, water supply and citizenship can and should be integrated into programmes of formal, informal or non-formal learning to improve education quality and relevance?
  • What social, economic and political forces are shaping notions of a curriculum for sustainable futures?
  • How might teacher education be re-oriented to address the development of sustainable futures?
  • How can we understand the relationship between national policies on curricula and education which supports sustainable futures?

This Sub-theme is convened by:

In the promotion of sustainable futures, how can pedagogy and assessment support learning?

pedagogyThe ways in which learning happens and how it gets measured and assessed have become central concerns to education development policies and programmes. This is connected to on-going international debates about what constitutes ‘quality’ education, both in and beyond formal school settings, as well as how and to whom education should be accountable.

Diverse cultures and histories of pedagogy, as well as diverse practices and intentions of educators and reformers, have produced multiple understandings and processes of learning across the world. Growing interest in ‘life-long learning’ positions pedagogy as continually central to the social and economic life of individuals and society. Relatedly, new technologies have diversified how, where, and with whom learning takes place.  Research and policy have variously focused on the social, cognitive, economic, and political aspects of learning, with much disagreement about how learning ought to be conceived and facilitated in post-2015 development activity. Indeed, there remain difficult questions about the relationship between pedagogy, poverty, and social change. How might various perspectives on, and forms of, pedagogy work with, through, and against each other, and how do we harness the challenges that arise from these debates to support education for sustainable futures?

Indeed, practitioners and policy makers face a complex challenge, needing to respond to the diversity of learning processes in relation to both community needs and the priorities of international development agendas. This has been further complicated in recent years by the rise of international large-scale standardised assessment practices to measure and report on learning outcomes, usually to stakeholders of development who are external to local communities. What are the implications of different educational assessment practices for students, families, teachers, and other education stakeholders? How are international and regional evaluations of learning reshaping national and local systems of pedagogy and assessment? And, how do assessment agendas and practices relate to the ways in which learning itself is understood and supported?

The aim of this sub-theme is to debate the role and possibilities of pedagogy and assessment for imagining and working towards sustainable futures. Some key guiding questions for this sub-theme include:

  • What approaches to learning and teaching are consistent with the creation of sustainable futures, and who should define and control them?
  • What approaches to educational assessment are consistent with the creation of sustainable futures, and who should define and control them?
  • What assumptions and principles (political, social, economic, cognitive, etc) should underpin pedagogy and assessment for sustainable futures?
  • What impact are new developments in technology likely to have on pedagogy and assessment for sustainable futures?
  • What are the possibilities and limitations of ‘life-long learning’ for sustainable futures, including the transfer of in-school learning to out-of-school contexts? How might these possibilities and limitations be supported by – or hindered by – certain approaches to pedagogy and assessment?
  • What are the implications of international and regional evaluations of education for national and local modes of pedagogy and assessment?

This Sub-theme is convened by:

In the promotion of sustainable futures, what educational planning and resourcing systems are required?

plannedGovernments, and their constituent elements at national and sub-national levels, attempt to strategically plan and manage their resources efficiently for a variety of reasons. Some undertake such planning in order to ensure that complex policies are effectively and affordably implemented. These plans are then used as a vehicle to coordinate and align various stakeholder’s interests and interventions under a common framework. Others do so to enhance their ability to secure additional funding from bilateral and multilateral organisations. Few governments actively conduct planning alongside, or take into account, resources that might be available in the non-governmental sector.

The variety of reasons has understandably influenced decision makers’ efforts (and ownership) and in-turn the ability of their educational planning and resource systems to effectively translate intentions into results.  Existing donors are increasingly moving towards sustainable learning systems. Meanwhile, new sources of finance are becoming available such as philanthropic financing, PPPs, higher tax revenues, oil revenue (in some countries), and aid from non-traditional donors.  As new modes of educational planning and resourcing emerge, decision makers must reflect upon whether their current educational planning and resourcing systems are still relevant and fit for purpose.

With this as a backdrop, this sub-theme seeks to address the following and related questions:

  • Who should plan sustainable learning systems for the future? What might be the characteristics of such planning systems?
  • Who should resource sustainable learning systems for the future and by what mechanisms?
  • Is the current approach to educational planning and resource systems, as encouraged by multilateral donors, relevant to the Sustainable Development Goals agenda or is a new approach required?
  • What role can/should non-governmental players have in educational planning and resourcing? What are the capacity implications and/or constraints to their involvement?
  • Many governments have experimented with decentralisation but what are the results of this? Should there be more or less in the future?
  • Should donors actively reward or penalise governments’ performance in educational planning and resource management?

How can sectoral silos and disciplinary boundaries associated with the provisional Sustainable Development Goals be bridged in order for learning and education to contribute to other sectors of development? What are the planning and resourcing implications for such cross-sectoral work?

This Sub-theme is convened by:

In the promotion of sustainable futures, what types of evidence are needed to inform learning?

evidenceEvidence-based policy and programming is increasingly a common focus of governments, aid agencies and non-governmental organisations working in education and development. The emphasis upon ‘impact’ in research funding and academia has equally driven particular forms of research agendas that aim to build the evidence and knowledge base. Since 2000, global and national pictures of education have been built, across the life spans of learners, allowing for wide-ranging comparisons within and between countries. We are now generally able to say with confidence where and who learners are, and to reflect upon how and what they are learning. We can identify what remains to be done, who is being left behind, and ask questions of what works best in what contexts.

At a pivotal moment as we shift from the MDG to SDG framework, this sub-theme aims to pause and reflect upon evidence for learning, with two specific but interrelated aims. First, the sub-theme will look with a critical eye at the very idea of evidence, exploring different concepts of evidence and asking questions about the kinds of evidence that have become dominant, and why. Second, it will reflect upon what we know so far about learning for sustainable futures, and where some of the gaps might be, engaging with questions of how this knowledge has been produced.

Abstracts are invited which address the following questions:

  • What do we know about learning for sustainable futures, and where are the gaps in our knowledge? What relationships are there between what we know and particular forms of evidence and research?
  • How might we usefully conceptualise evidence that is linked to education but cuts across other sectors, connecting different aspects of development, rather than leaving them in silos?
  • What types of evidence about learning for sustainable futures are we simply not able to collect? Are certain aspects of learning incommensurable? Should less quantifiable forms of learning still be included in the development of policies and practices, and if so how?
  • What counts as ‘robust’ evidence and who decides this? To what extent can we pursue ‘scientific’ methods, such as randomised control trials and systematic reviews in relation to learning, and where are the limits? What is getting lost in our drive towards gold standards of knowledge production?
  • To what extent does funding influence researcher autonomy and the foci of research projects?  How do debates about funding and types of evidence inform our notions of what is possible, and indeed valuable to pursue?

This Sub-theme is convened by:

In the promotion of sustainable futures, what approaches to learning content, process and planning are needed to prepare for decent and sustainable work?

decentThe Sustainable Development Goals represent an important step forward in development thinking by bringing together sustainable development with poverty alleviation, inequality and technological change in a holistic account of how people’s lives can be enhanced. This vision reemphasises the central importance of work to development in a way that was lost in the MDGs. Such work should be decent and sustainable. It should contribute to incomes, productivity and competitiveness but also help in addressing issues of environmental degradation, safe sanitation and community development. However, work also contributes to human development, integrating people into society and furthering the development of their identities.

A return to the development centre stage of work means also a renewed appreciation of the importance of skills. Here, the SDGs are working in parallel with UNESCO’s development of a new global vision of skills for work and life, as expressed in the Shanghai Consensus of 2012 and the Revised Recommendation on Technical and Vocational Education and Training, which is due for approval in late 2015.
The Shanghai Consensus coined a new notion of transformative TVET; radically changed internally but also acting as a catalyst for wider sustainable development. However, work is required to develop the new concept further. As well as such theoretical work, there is a need for further exploration of promising practices that develop one or more aspect of a transformative vision for TVET. It will also be important to develop new models of evaluating TVET against the transformative agenda.

This sub-theme will be co-convened by UNESCO-UNEVOC and the Centre for International Education Research, University of Nottingham. It will be concerned with matters of theory, policy, practice and evaluation and will include policymakers, practitioners and researchers.
Proposals are invited which address the following questions:

  • What does a transformative approach mean in terms of TVET’s contribution to key issues such as sustainable development, human development, lifelong learning or innovation?
  • How can the transformative approach be reflected in new policies?
  • What promising practices in transforming TVET already exist and what is their potential for wider replication?
  • How can new evaluation approaches be used to support practical transformations at the institutional level?

This Sub-theme is convened by:

In the promotion of sustainable futures, how should international support and co-operation evolve in the next decade and beyond?

internationalThe international discourse on support for better learning opportunities and outcomes is moving well beyond analysing traditional sources of bilateral and multilateral aid. While these modes of support remain intact for a significant group of countries, particularly low income countries, new modes are emerging.  These include philanthropic financing, private sector consortiums and foundations, remittances from diaspora populations, new approaches to investing in education by countries such as China.  We are also seeing in-country ways of mobilising finance, privately, through CSOs and faith based bodies. This presents   a complex, sophisticated and sometimes unruly mix of players on the education stage.

The OECD-DAC donor and partner government aid effectiveness relationship which dominated the first decade of the 21st century has lost a good deal of traction, albeit that initiatives such as the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) work hard to cement and improve these relationships but alongside new partners.

With this as a backdrop, this sub-theme seeks to address the following and related questions:

  • What forms of leadership and types of international cooperation are (or would be) best suited to facilitate better education outcomes on a sustainable basis in diverse and often unpredictable contexts?
  • Will the long established UN bodies (including the World Bank) be able to provide principled, evidence based guidance and technical support that aids education reform and better practice?
  • Will the strong results based, accountability driven strategies of many DAC bilateral agencies prove workable in countries experiencing conflict, instability and uncertainty?
  • Within countries is it realistic to believe that so many diverse partners and agencies can work together in a coordinated way?
  • Has the aid effectiveness agenda in the education sector fallen off the shelf?  Can it, should it and will it be reignited?
  • Will the SDGs provide an operational framework for better educational practice?

This Sub-theme is convened by: