During the week of March 8th, 2014, the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) conference brought together numerous different international organizations, scholars, practitioners, and students from all over the world in Washington, DC. This year’s theme for the CIES conference was “Ubuntu! Imagining a Humanist Education Globally”, which focused on using education as a means for inclusiveness, equality, and social transformation.
At CIES, prominent and well-reputable UNESCO Chairs formed two feature panels to discuss UNESCO’s roles in confronting local and global challenges, including but not limited to politics, economics, science, culture, education, literacy, and the arts. The UNESCO Chairs considered questions of how UNESCO can retain its function as a guiding light, a facilitator of dialogue, a source of information, and a defender of human rights and dignity going forward. The panelists shared their critical, multi-disciplinary perspectives on possible scenarios for UNESCO in the rest of the 21st Century, from such viewpoints as governance, conflict management, the marginalized, urban and rural communities, global citizenship, literacy, gender equity, education for development and conflict.
The first panel, titled “UNESCO at CIES: Possible futures, a dialogue with UNESCO Chairs: Panel I: Post 2015 Reflections”, took place on Wednesday, March 11th and focused on the topic of prospects and landscape post 2015. This panel featured the work of: (1) Dr. Mark Bray, UNESCO Chair in Comparative Education at the University of Hong Kong and Director of the Comparative Education Research Centre (CERC), (2) Dr. Dan Wagner, UNESCO Chair in Learning and Literacy, Director of the International Literacy Institute, and Director of International Educational Development Program (IEDP) at the University of Pennsylvania, and (3) Dr. Phyllis Magrab, UNESCO Chair in Education for All and Director of the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development. Dr. Mark Bray discussed issues of quality and equity in the post-2015 agenda for education. Dr. Dan Wagner examined in detail UNESCO’s role in promoting literacy in the past, present, and future. Dr. Phyllis Magrab discussed early childhood development, gender, and literacy in the post-2015 agenda. The chairs for this panel were Bernhard Streitwieser and James Williams from George Washington University, and the discussants for the panel were Aaron Benavot from the Education for All Global Monitoring Report and Mark Mason from the UNESCO International Bureau of Education.
The second panel, titled “UNESCO at CIES: Possible futures, a dialogue with UNESCO Chairs: Panel II: Reflections on Global Citizenship Education”, took place on Wednesday, March 11th and focused on the topic of global citizenship education. This panel featured the work of: (1) Dr. Carlos Torres, UNESCO Chair on Global Learning and Global Citizenship Education at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Director of the UCLA Paulo Freire Institute, (2) Dr. Mark Brennan, UNESCO Chair in Rural Community, Leadership, and Youth and Professor at Penn State, (3) Dr. Patrick Dolan, UNESCO Chair in Children, Youth, and Civic Engagement, Director of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Center, and Academic Director of the Masters in Lifecourse Studies at the National University of Ireland in Galway, (4) Dr. Alan Smith, UNESCO Chair in Pluralism, Human Rights, and Democracy and Director of the UNESCO Center School of Education at the University of Ulster, and (5) Dr. James Williams, UNESCO Chair in International Education for Development and Director of the International Education Program at George Washington University. Dr. Carlos Torres examined global citizenship education and UNESCO’s role after 2015. Dr. Mark Brennan and Dr. Patrick Dolan discussed how to create stable, civil, and just societies through the global network of UNESCO Chairs. Dr. Alan Smith explored new challenges for the role of UNESCO in peace building in the modern world. Dr. James Williams discussed global citizenship and the need to belong. The chair for this panel was Dr. Laura Engel from George Washington University and the discussants were George Papagiannis from UNESCO and Mary Futrell from George Washington University.
Overall, UNESCO played a very important role at CIES by bringing together UNESCO Chairs from across the globes to discuss important current educational issues and UNESCO’s roles in overcoming some of the challenges described in both panel discussions. All of the panelists addressed educational needs and raised awareness of UNESCO’s role in the post-2015 agenda. In addition, the UNESCO Chairs also did a great job of linking their work back to the conference theme of “Ubuntu”. As such, UNESCO continues to fight for a humanist education globally by focusing on using education as a means of promoting equality, justice, inclusiveness, and social transformation and change.