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Promoting access to quality, safe, and relevant education for all persons affected by crisis

Interview with Sarah Dryden-Peterson and Rebecca Winthrop

24 October 2013

Sarah Dryden-Peterson is co-chair of the INEE Working Group on Education and Fragility and Assistant Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her work focuses on issues such as the role of social institutions in immigrant/refugee integration, the connections between education and family livelihoods, and transnational institution-building. Her work is situated in conflict and post-conflict settings in sub-Saharan Africa and with African Diaspora communities in the United States and Canada.

Rebecca Winthrop is Director of the Center for Universal Education and a Senior Fellow of Global Economy and Development at The Brookings Institution, and represents the agency in the INEE Working Group on Education and Fragility. She works to promote access to quality education for young people in developing countries. She advises governments, foundations, and corporations on education and development issues, and provides guidance to a number of important education policy actors, including the UN and World Bank.

Please describe your current work or your agency’s activities on education and fragility.

Sarah Dryden-Peterson: I teach a graduate-level course on “Education and Armed Conflict” at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The class is made up of about 45 students in the International Education Policy program, and one of the goals of this class is to train the next generation of professionals in the field. Students are exposed to the critical issues in education and conflict, and are given an opportunity to collaborate with UNHCR field offices to see how the UNHCR education strategy is being implemented on the ground. I also have a research program which looks into concepts such as diaspora as actors in post-conflict educational reconstruction and borderless education. This includes questions on curriculum, language, and teaching and learning in classrooms for children in uncertain and often transnational situations.

Rebecca Winthrop: My current work is at the policy level, which involves high-level policy advising particularly at the global level, but also at the country level and ultimately at the school level. We produce research that is presented in ways that policy makers can understand by helping set the agenda, shaping the debate on issues, highlighting evidence they may have missed, and assisting in designing policy. We also organize many public forums and private convening, and connect actors with each other.

Rebecca, you recently co-authored a paper entitled A New Agenda for Education in Fragile States. What main takeaways do you hope readers get from it?

RW: This paper is an agenda setting piece and meant for people who are new to the field of education and fragility. For example, donors who are not familiar with the field will contact us to help them get up to speed on the topic and this paper gives them the comprehensive introduction they need. The main takeaway from the paper is that education and fragility plays a crucial role in big development goals such as economic development, peace and stability, etc.

The secondary audience of this paper are those who work in the field to help push them in several directions. It is time to scale up the attention to education and fragility issues outside our field. We need other communities to pay attention to education and fragility, such as the peacebuilding, development, and humanitarian sectors and get support from them on the ground.

Sarah, what career/professional advice you give to your students who want to become practitioners in the field of education and fragility?

SDP: One of the big pieces of advice I give my students is to not to think of the field of education and fragility in isolation but as connected to the larger field of educational development. For example, just because they cannot find research on teacher training in a fragile state, does not mean we do not have a lot of evidence about what constitutes effective teacher training. While understanding that interventions need to be different in conflict settings, we need to be able to learn comparatively across different contexts and use our knowledge from other settings to try and answer questions we face.

Another piece of advice I give my students, for when they do find themselves in the field, is to be humble, so they will not arrive in situations believing that their visions are better. They should have the ability to listen and learn, but at the same ask questions, be engaged in the dialogue, and take action.


What do you think are the main priorities for the international community to help ensure children in refugee camps and in conflict afflicted and fragile states can have access to quality education, such as in Syria?

SDP: The main priorities include placing the education of children in refugee settings as well as in internally displaced people (IDP) settings on agendas. Education has been missing in the debate and there’s little action on that issue from the international community. Talking to Syrian families both in and out of Syria, all of them said that education is their number one priority, and they want access to education for their children because they believe education enables them to hold on to the idea of having a future even in an uncertain present. Access is definitely an issue inside Syria, but for those gaining access in places outside Syria, quality of education is also an issue because the curriculum and language can be different, which present barriers to learning.

RW: In addition, the shift to access plus learning debates are happening in the education field at large, but these debates need to be contextualized as well, especially for each fragile or conflict setting. INEE already has plenty of tools and program strategies on how to do this; what we need now is more action and more timely data that can help better inform and influence policy and interventions.

What do you think are the current challenges and opportunities in the field of education and fragility? What do think are the top priorities for education and fragility in the Post-2015 agenda?

SDP: A top priority and challenge is raising awareness about the education issues that children in conflict and fragile states face, which are similar for children in other places but on a very different scale. It must be framed in such a way that equity and access to quality education are ensured for children globally. It is particularly a challenge at the high policy level to give focused attention to education for children in conflict and fragile states while at the same time not letting this field or group of children be marginalized by addressing them separately.

RW: When it comes to the post-2015 MDGs, attention to fragile states is going to be one of the major features.  How can we as a global community advance human development and environmental sustainability in contexts of fragility?  This is a major issue all sectors are dealing with, including, but not limited to education.  I think that attention to fragility will be a cross-cutting issue and strategically we should align with the rest of the education community and press for a stand-alone education goal.  Within that goal we should make the case for why education in emergencies and fragility should be part of the goal (perhaps through a focus on equity outcomes).  We should not spend time asking for a stand-alone education and fragility goal, that would be highly un-strategic.

What are your expectations/visions for the Working Group in its 2013-2014 extension year?

SDP: One of the most exciting momentums that have come out from the Working Group in the last two years is the work done on conflict sensitive education and the development of the INEE Conflict Sensitive Education Pack. In the next year, we would like to see these tools put to use and gather evidence on how they actually work in practice.

This interview was conducted by Marianne Baesa, Communications Intern for the INEE Working Group on Education and Fragility.

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