UNESCO Institutes make strong showing at CIES 2016 conference

11 March 2016

The UNESCO Institutes were well represented at the 60th annual Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) conference, one of the year’s biggest education events. The International Bureau for Education (IBE), the International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP), the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) held numerous panels during the conference in Vancouver, Canada, from March 6-10, 2016.

The CIES conference brought together some 2,700 education professionals and academics to exchange comparative, cross-cultural and international perspectives on the latest trends, issues and policies in education. With the new Sustainable Development Goals calling on countries to achieve 12 years of quality education for all by 2030, the Institutes brought a wealth of expertise to the table.

IBE-UNESCO, a global center of excellence in curriculum, organized and chaired a Highlighted Session on Re-positioning Curriculum in the Global Dialogue on Lifelong Learning and Sustainable Development. It proved one of the most successful sessions of the conference, with standing room only.  The panel and the audience discussed the crucial role and potential of curriculum in the global development dialogue. It also highlighted the power of curriculum to give effect to national and global aspirational statements on the role of education in holistic development. The panel drew on extensive personal and professional experience of leading scholars in the field, and their substantial contributions to thinking and writing about curriculum, learning and development.


IBE-UNESCO, represented by Amapola Alama (programme specialist), also participated in a panel entitled “How do we define, teach, and assess reading?: Looking back and moving forward”. The panel discussed IBE-UNESCO’s three-year (2013-2016) project, ‘Improving Learning Outcomes in Early Grade Reading: Integration of Curriculum, Teaching, Learning Materials, and Assessment'. Joined by two consultants from the US and a researcher from South America, Alama explained how this capacity-building project aims to support the Ministries of Education in Burkina Faso, Niger and Senegal in addressing the challenges of quality and effective early reading instruction and acquisition through enabling the development and implementation of a more effective reading curriculum.


IIEP-UNESCO organized a series of five panels on a range of topics including crisis-sensitive educational planning, the use of learning assessment data for policy and planning in Asia, and internal quality assurance in higher education. Two additional sessions were dedicated to education financing, an area key to meeting the new education-related SDG (goal four).

An IIEP panel first discussed the role of school grant policies – whereby local schools receive funding directly from the government – in contributing to improved access, equity and quality. The audience was eager to hear lessons from this extensive research project that has included over 200 schools in 14 countries. A second session revolved around the ongoing collaborative project being led by UIS, IIEP and the IIEP/Pôle de Dakar on National Education Accounts. This project aims to improve national reporting systems on education finance flows to enable policy-makers to improve education spending and better plan for and monitor the education 2030 agenda.

UIL was well represented at CIES 2016. Director Arne Carlsen chaired a session on Globalization and Education. The focus of the session was to look critically at global goals including the SDGs and to imagine ways forward. He also served as discussant on a series of papers given on ‘Education for All, UNESCO and the Future of Global Monitoring: Critical perspectives and professional influences’.   Programme staff Ulrike Hanemann and Cassandra Scarpino presented on their LitBase compilation, Learning Families: Promising Experiences in Literacy Teaching and Learning from the Global South. This presentation is the culmination of an extensive process of developing and sharing cases on literacy among families in Member States.

Participants were extremely interested in learning about the new initiatives and approaches needed to monitor SDG 4, as presented by the UIS in a series of eight workshops and panel discussions. With the mandate to coordinate the development of the new global education measurement agenda, the UIS focused on three critical areas at CIES: equity, finance and learning outcomes. Following a workshop on a range of inequality measures using different data sources, the UIS led discussions of a global roadmap to better measure equity in education in different areas.

After leading a high-level panel on education finance with the IIEP, the UIS focused on learning outcomes, another key priority of SDG 4. The event presented recommendations from “Understanding What Works in Oral Reading Assessments”, a collaborative effort led by the UIS with organizations actively financing, designing and implementing oral reading assessments. Over the course of 20 months, more than 50 collaborators from 30 organizations have shared first-hand experiences in more than 60 countries to identify good practices in the design, implementation and use of such assessments.

The CIES Conference also held the special session, Meet the Editors, bringing together editors of leading journals in comparative and international education and development.  IBE-UNESCO presented the new editorial direction of Prospects – a comparative journal of curriculum, learning and assessment. Prospects attracted much attention from scholars wishing to publish in the journal, both in this session and in the conference generally. Stephen Roche, Executive Editor of UIL’s International Review of Education (IRE), presented the journal’s recent change of focus. He also coordinated the launch of the latest issue of IRE, entitled Rediscovering the Ubuntu Paradigm in Education, which emerged from the 2015 CIES Conference in Washington D.C.

Looking to the past for answers to the future was also a dominant theme this year at CIES, where the special focus was on “Six Decades of Comparative and International Education: Taking Stock and Looking Forward.” A special panel also revisited C.E. Beeby’s seminal book, The Quality of Education in Developing Countries, fifty years after its publication.

A renowned educationalist from New Zealand, Beeby inspired many of the first educational planners working to improve education in developing countries and played a key role in the establishment of IIEP and served for ten years as editor of its flagship series the Fundamentals of Educational Planning. The panel gave present members of the community of comparative and international educators an opportunity to continue Beeby’s quest to create contemporary responses to some of the biggest questions around educational quality and effectiveness.