The Comparative International Education Society (CIES) Conference 2017 in Atlanta, GA (March 6-9) featured many key sessions around issues related to education in crisis and conflict (EiCC). As graduate students in the field of EiCC attending our first CIES conference, we identified three key takeaways from various sessions, including conflict-related information and communications technologies (ICTs), quality data collection and management, and the utility of the “Communicating, Learning and Adapting” (CLA) framework.
Key Takeaway #1: Information and communications technologies (ICTs) can help to mitigate risk and provide important opportunities for education in conflict environments.
Implementation of conflict-sensitive ICT projects revealed how the use of mobile technology and tablets for students can work to combat social isolation among refugees and adolescents in crisis. In Turkey, youth otherwise alienated from traditional schooling environments gain access to education through these informal learning options and are protected from having to leave their homes to access education in potentially dangerous contexts. Additionally, mobile money programs for learning facilitators in Northern Nigeria secured safe transfer of payments. Tracking of book distribution via mobile technology provides more transparency to community.
Key Takeaway #2: There is a need to orient data collection and analysis to better understand multiple risks in conflict and crisis affected environments.
In addition to developing conflict-sensitive ICT projects, another key challenge that practitioners in EiCC face is better understanding how conflict and crisis affected environments feature multiple risks that interact with education. Quality data collection, management—but also analysis and synthesis—are not “ends in themselves” in EiCC. On a global level, better analyzing and synthesizing EiCC data enhances visibility and illuminates issues and creates greater awareness of the particular risk dynamics in EiCC—and identifies opportunities for action. On a programmatic level, quality data and insightful analysis enable decision makers and practitioners to see the ways to safeguard education investments and reduce risk, improve design, focus on priorities, and produce effective M&E. In order to facilitate a rapid understanding of these dynamic contexts, USAID ECCN is updating its Rapid Education and Risk Analysis (RERA) tool, integrating elements of education assessment, conflict analysis, disaster risk assessment and resilience analysis. The new RERA 2.0 Toolkit will be available to the USAID community this Spring, and will feature a new primary data collection tool.
Key Takeaway #3: Lastly, USAID’s “Communicating, Learning and Adapting” (CLA) Framework helps organizations to design, monitor, and evaluate sustainable programs in diverse contexts.
EiCC practitioners struggle to implement projects and monitoring and evaluation strategies that will work in varied, often unstable contexts. Many agencies now use an “adaptive management approach” which relies on greater on-the-ground involvement from stakeholders and includes regular feedback for ongoing reform. USAID’s CLA Framework helps organizations in this endeavor by making sure they are engaging with the correct people on the ground (collaborating), using evidence from multiple sources and reflecting on project implementation (learning), and, ultimately, using that evidence-gathering and reflection work to inform strategy (adapting).
The CIES presentation also presented a proposal to use computer simulation modeling to track institutional shifts toward the CLA framework. Innovative training workshops have used simulations to shift USAID EiCC project design toward the CLA framework.
Overall, the conference provided an ideal venue to discuss various challenges and opportunities facing the EiCC community, including the use of technology in crisis and conflict settings, effective data collection, and designing adaptable, contextually-relevant programs. As graduate students at our first CIES conference, we enjoyed having the opportunity to attend a wide variety of lectures on these topics. We also enjoyed meeting professionals working in all sectors of EiCC and making valuable networking connections, especially at the EiCC reception. The conference demonstrated to us that there are countless EiCC practitioners working tirelessly in a wide range of capacities to improve the lives of vulnerable children in crisis and conflict situations. We applaud them and look forward to joining them in their noble work upon graduation.