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

Linking Academic Programs to Practitioners and Policy Makers and the Associated Challenges

by Allison Anderson, SIPA- Columbia University, USA

I teach a graduate seminar on Critical Challenges and Opportunities in Education in Emergencies through to Recovery at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) each year and one of the most challenging aspects is linking students, in the context of their research and analysis papers, to practitioners and policy makers.

The class, which is a short 8-week practicum, focuses on teaching students to understand education programs as part of a short-term response to humanitarian needs during conflict and natural disasters and long-term risk reduction, peace building and sustainable development efforts. As such, the class strives to provide knowledge necessary for graduate students who plan to work as practitioners in humanitarian and development organizations or government institutions.  The INEE Minimum Standards are used as the guiding tool for the class, and many other INEE tools are also reviewed and discussed.

The class combines readings, lectures, in-class discussion and group work, presentations by guest speakers, and individual research, analysis and writing to elucidate the challenges inherent to the availability and provision of quality education in emergencies. The main assignment of the class is a research and analysis paper (approximately 6-10 pages), reviewing and critically analyzing information pertaining to an education in emergencies topic.  I work in advance of the class to identify topics that practitioners and organizations want researched, so that each student’s paper will actually be used by an education in emergencies practitioner or policy makers. In addition, I identify a research liaison for each paper topic, so that students can meet with/ talk with a practitioner or policy maker about their paper during the research and writing process and also make connections in this field.

However, it is always challenging to identify research questions and the parameters of such research that can accommodate the short time frame of the class while still allowing students to get to the answers that practitioners and policy makers are interested in. It is also challenging to identify research liaisons for each question who will have the time to respond to students, given practitioners and policy-makers already over-loaded schedules.

To stimulate discussion on this front, including how we can better link to INEE’s work and use the network’s mechanisms, I have posed a number of questions below about which I would be interested in learning from the experiences of INEE members:

1. What successful processes have you used for identifying relevant paper topics and responsive research liaisons?

2. There is an INEE academic space on the INEE website that provides an opportunity for academics to share their work with INEE members as well as the broader community working in the education in emergencies and post-crisis reconstruction field where students can post papers. In my mind, this is a fantastic idea, but I wish the INEE academic space were more up-to-date and interactive. I’m also not sure how often INEE members visit this space. How can this space be better organized and used?

3. Given that INEE is often called upon by a wide range of stakeholders to identify research priorities and to advise on how to respond to research gaps, the network created an INEE Strategic Research Agenda (SRA). However, it isn’t clear to me how to use the INEE Strategic Research agenda – are the questions updated? At the moment, there are only questions available related the INEE Minimum Standards. Are there other questions for students to consider? Are papers that respond to the questions posted? Are there methodological guidelines for desktop research in line with the SRA that I can share with my students?

4. How can professors like myself use the INEE listserv to support quality and relevant academic research projects? Should and can the INEE Secretariat collect a list of questions from INEE members at the outset of each year that would inform courses like my own?


Allison Anderson is a Fellow with the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, leading their post-2015 agenda work and researching the role of quality education in responding to climate change, building resilience and promoting sustainable development. Formerly the Director of the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), Ms. Anderson is also an Adjunct Professor on Critical Challenges and Opportunities in Education in Emergencies through to Recovery at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.


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