Can the Measurement of Learning Outcomes Lead to Quality Education for All?

By Pablo Zoido (former OECD), Michael Ward, Kelly Makowiecki, Lauren Miller, Catalina Covacevich (OECD)

OECDThis is one of the complex questions that kicked off last month’s, NORRAG-Brookings event, “Learning From Learning Assessments: The Politics and Policies of Attaining Quality Education”, which brought together targeted stakeholders with expertise in learning assessments, education policy-making and classroom experience.

Pablo Zoido on our team (until just recently) had the pleasure of participating in a plenary session discussion about how we move from theory to practice in using assessments models to improve education policy-making and delivery in a country. Representing the OECD, he shared our experience with the PISA for Development (PISA-D) initiative.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is the OECD’s triennial international survey which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students. PISA began in 2000, and as more middle-income and low-income countries took part in the assessment over the years, it became more and more pressing for PISA survey instruments, methods and analyses to be relevant and useful to a broad set of countries. PISA-D was thus initiated in 2013 to help middle-income and low-income countries maximise their use of PISA for monitoring progress towards nationally-set targets for improvement, for the analysis of student learning outcomes, particularly for vulnerable populations, for institutional capacity-building, and for tracking international educational targets in the UN-led Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for Education.

PISA-D participating countries include Cambodia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, Senegal and Zambia. Panama, a PISA 2018 participant, has also joined PISA-D for the out-of-school component and to benefit from the project’s capacity building activities. Why are these countries participating and what do they get out of it? The selection was demand driven and subject to countries having access to the necessary funds for ensuring successful participation – this often involved the support of a development partner. These countries have signed up to PISA test instruments that capture a wider range of performance levels and contextual questionnaires meant to effectively capture the diverse situations in their countries. PISA-D countries are also pioneering new methods and approaches to include out-of-school youth in the assessment.

PISA-D countries have joined the initiative because they recognize that PISA has the potential to serve as a powerful tool for policy making in their context. PISA assesses competences in reading, mathematics and science in a way that is not linked to the school curriculum. The assessment is designed to measure to what extent students at the end of compulsory education can apply their knowledge to real-life situations and be equipped for full participation in society. The information collected through background questionnaires also provides valuable context. The PISA-D survey will produce results that are on the same scale as the main PISA assessment, and help participating countries see where they stand in comparison to their regional and global peers, and to learn from each other’s experiences.

A crucial element of PISA-D is that countries receive support to build their capacity for carrying out and using the assessment. The OECD conducts a capacity needs analysis to determine the capacities that need to be strengthened in order to successfully manage a large-scale assessment. Then the organisation works with the country to establish a capacity building plan as well as a project implementation plan to ensure that the capacities are developed and the PISA-D national team is prepared to adhere to the assessment timeline and standards. The team members go through rigorous trainings on a variety of technical topics, such as sampling, translation/adaptation of survey instruments, data management, coding assessment responses, and data analysis. These activities help them implement the assessment successfully and fully benefit from their participation to strengthen national and regional evaluation efforts.

Another valuable feature of PISA-D is the peer-to-peer learning that takes place throughout all phases of the project, which include: i) design and planning; ii) technical development; iii) field trials and in-country data collection; iv) analysis and reporting; and, v) report production, dissemination and post-pilot governance. PISA-D countries enter a partnership with other PISA countries for peer learning and technical support. The main PISA national teams have valuable lessons to share with the newly appointed PISA-D national teams such as how to effectively engage with stakeholders, embed PISA in a broader national discussion of the value and standards of assessment, and prepare to report and disseminate the assessment results.

PISA countries like Brazil and Peru, which are also serving as peer-to-peer learning countries for PISA-D participating countries, have shown how valuable PISA can be by using the surveys to set quality-of-learning benchmarks and monitor progress against these over time. Their PISA results have shown that diverse countries have managed to raise the quality of educational outcomes substantially, despite starting from different points.

As the theory behind this collaborative effort is put into practice, we are seeing PISA-D countries giving new shape to national and international policy dialogues on how to improve the quality of education. After the field trial later this year, main survey data collection will take place in 2017, and the results will be reported in 2018, at which point the PISA-D countries will have data to help policy makers adjust current benchmarks and set new ones to monitor and gradually improve learning outcomes. It is already proving to be a very interesting process to watch as it develops from one phase to the next.

The UN-led SDG Education 2030 agenda emphasises the quality, equity, and measurement of learning outcomes for young children through to working adults. The challenge is to define global learning indicators that can be measured and tracked on a global scale over time, and the OECD’s PISA-D initiative is helping inform and support the SDG Education discussions and strategy. PISA is an invaluable tool for data collection, and as more and more countries use it to measure learning outcomes, we have the potential to make improvements to education systems worldwide and attain the goal of providing quality education for all.

Pablo Zoido was an analyst at the OECD until mid-July 2016, working on PISA for Development. He has since joined the Inter-American Development Bank. Email:

Michael Ward is in the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate. Email:

Kelly Makowiecki, Lauren Miller and Catalina Covacevich all work on PISA for Development at the OECD. Emails:;;

Other NORRAG Blogs about PISA for Development:

>> View full list of related NORRAG blogs about PISA, global governance, OECD, data.

Follow this blog by email, Facebook or via Twitter @NORRAG_NEWS

NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

International Geneva, Conflict and Peacebuilding: What Role for Education?

By Mario Novelli, University of Sussex & NORRAG[1]

UN GenevaWhen we think of ‘International Geneva’ we may reflect on the unique role that a range of Geneva-based International actors play in managing, resolving and overcoming wars and armed conflict. We think of UNHCR, ICRC; OCHA, OHCHR and a range of smaller NGOs, such as Geneva Call and the Small Arms Survey, that work on aspects of violence prevention, mediation, reduction and peacebuilding. Geneva is often seen as a hub, a place to go to learn about, to act on and engage with contemporary conflicts. Education, on the other hand, has less of a name in Geneva, and the major UN institutions working on education – UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Bank are all located far away in either Paris, New York or Washington or just have a small Geneva office.

As a result, most Geneva-based institutions working on conflict rarely engage in issues related to education and training, leaving that to other agencies, operating in different countries around the world. Similarly, the major education organisations often underplay the role and place of war, conflict and violence in their work and instead focus on issues of education’s relationship to equity, economic growth and productivity. This is a big knowledge and practice gap, particularly in relation to the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), where objectives such as SDG 4 (education), SDG 16 (Peace & Justice) and SDG 10 (Reducing Inequalities) overlap, at least implicity, in important ways, and we ignore these links at our peril.

In support of this argument I want to briefly make the case why education matters in relationship to war and peace. Firstly, to those groups and movements that take up armed struggle, educational demands are often at the centre of the debate. For example, this was true for the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone and is true for contemporary armed groups such as the Taliban in Afghanistan and Boko Haram in Nigeria – though for very different reasons. Recent attacks on education infrastructure and education communities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and many other parts of the world have highlighted this link. Education also matters to civilians caught up in wars, to refugees displaced by wars and to elites who seek to reproduce their power and social movements which seek to challenge them.

Education is also a key social service – a key responsibility of the state – and it matters how it is funded, organised, and how resources are distributed across the system. How this system is governed, managed, organised can make a difference as to whether the education system is part of the problem or part of the solution to contemporary conflicts. Furthermore, the neglect of social service provision (both education and health) in contemporary UN peacebuilding missions has been recognised as a weakness by the UN Peacebuilding Fund, which is seeking to expand investment in social services.

As a result, those agencies working in Geneva in, on, or around conflicts need to be functionally literate in education and its relationship to war and peace. This knowledge gap is itself an educational gap. Those that work in conflict resolution, peacemaking and peacebuilding are often trained in disciplines such as International Relations, Conflict Studies and International Politics where education rarely gets a mention either in course contents or the key journals. Similarly, those that work in the major education institutions, such as UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank are often trained either in Education Departments or Economics Departments and similarly are not exposed to debates and discussions around education’s relationship to war and peace.

Bridging that gap is a crucial task for Agenda 2030 and International Geneva may well be a good place to break down those silos. With the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation continuing to prioritise ‘education’ in its work, there is also a strong incentive to bridge the work on conflict that they are already well known for and link it to the work on education and training. This would require specialised courses and training for conflict specialists on education’s relationship to conflict and greater opportunities for knowledge exchange between conflict and education specialists that work in or on conflict affected contexts.

[1] This blog is a personal reflection from a presentation at ‘The Governance of Education and Training: Agenda 2030 and Beyond’, held in Geneva, June 23rd, 2016, and organized jointly by NORRAG and the Swiss Development Corporation (SDC).  This explored the place of education and training in work that ‘Geneva International’ plays in Conflict and Peacebuilding

Mario Novelli is Professor of the Political Economy of Education, and deputy director of the Centre for International Education, University of Sussex. He is also a “Scientific Advisor” to NORRAG. Email:

>> NORRAG online survey – help us improve what NORRAG can do for you

>> View NORRAG NEWS 53 on ‘Refugees, Displaced Persons and Education: New Challenges for Development and Policy’

 >> View all NORRAG NEWSBite Blogs on refugees/migration, conflict and Agenda 2030

Follow this blog by email, Facebook or via Twitter @NORRAG_NEWS

NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

ICTs in Technical and Vocational Skills Development: Reaching the Poorest Populations?

By Rao Bhavani and Ajay Balakrishnan, AMMACHI Labs, Amrita University, India

ammachilabs-for-norragDuring the last Tech4Dev Conference[1] NORRAG and AMMACHI Labs (Amrita University, India),[2] jointly conducted a workshop on “ICTs in TVSD[3] – Promises and Challenges for Inclusive Development Reaching the Poorest Populations”. This session built both on the international policy debate and evidence around the topic, as well as on the practical experience and insights gained in the Indian context by AMMACHI Labs.

To introduce the debate Joost Monks (NORRAG) provided a critical analysis of the promises and challenges of ICTs in TVSD for inclusive development. TVSD is making a comeback on the international development agenda. It has specific mentions in 4 of the 10 targets under the education Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, unlike the previous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) or Education for All (EFA) Goals.[4] The main related SDG target is to: ‘substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship’ – by 2030.

With growing youth bulges and unemployment, TVSD for youth integration and social inclusion of the poorest populations has become a major development strategy, especially over the last 10-15 years. Developments in ICT lead to new synergies between TVSD and ICT. The major promises of ICT in TVSD include enabling large scale access to TVSD, improving the quality of learning, and rethinking and enhancing the relevance of the TVSD curriculum.

However, there are important challenges, including the lack of access to electricity or internet as well as gender inequalities with respect to access to technology. Other issues include the qualifications of trainers, the low esteem associated with TVSD, a lack of jobs, lack of hands on practice, and a lack of certification and quality assurance mechanisms. At the same time, smart phone costs are declining with a projection of subscriptions to grow to 5.9 billion by 2020. This offers the potential of allowing growing access and connectivity to poor populations A huge amount of data is being created (e.g. 90% of data in the world has been created in last 2 years) which offers prospects of improved policy planning, provided there is sufficient capacity and political willingness to analyse and effectively use these data.  With the projection that 80% of the world’s population will be connected via at least one social media platform by 2020, ICTs are set to provide a major new playing field in TVSD. This leads to new questions of course:  Is technology really the easy part? Are ICTs in TVSD a hype? What is the right blend for pedagogy, program design and implementation if we build on ICTs?

To illustrate this debate, building on concrete examples and experience, Rao Bhavani (AMMACHI Labs) shared her experience with ICTs in delivering TVSD targeting marginalized populations in India. One of AMMACHI Lab’s key focus areas in India are initiatives to empower women in rural communities through TVSD and life skills. This includes a number of internationally recognized pioneering approaches and projects such as the Women Empowerment (WE) Project that aims to improve conditions for rural women in India through AMMACHI Labs’ innovative computerized vocational education and training (cVET) programs in combination with Life Enrichment Education (LEE) tailored to the needs of the community. The aim of this blended approach is to ensure students receive the technical knowledge required as well as the confidence and support to take the learned skills forward.

Under the Women Empowerment project (2012 – 2014), more than 3,000 women were empowered using this model across 22 villages in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Under the 101-village adoption project called Amrita SeRVe (2013 – current), the training model was scaled to 21 states across India training over 1,500 women in multiple vocational trades, including toilet building and tailoring. After the training, the students are encouraged to form micro finance self-help groups and seek employment or start their own micro business. AMMACHI Labs is also deploying these solutions in schools to blend TVSD with regular schooling. In alignment with the Government of India’s initiative “Make in India”, AMMACHI Labs is currently focusing on developing eLearning courses and simulators to help scale TVSD for the manufacturing sector.

AMMACHI Labs initiates engagement with the community through collaborative outreach programs which establish trust and awareness about important environmental and life issues. A conducive atmosphere for learning is first created through icebreaker activities, learning games and group exercises focusing on various issues. Participants work together to solve problems in their village using brainstorming, dialogue, role playing techniques, skill and capacity building and much more.

The lack of access to skilled trainers was tackled by AMMACHI Labs by re-defining the role of the teacher in vocational education.  A locally hired facilitator is introduced, who is trained in the AMMACHI Labs blended learning model. The facilitator mobilizes students and creates the learning environment. This leads to the provision of TVSD and LEE sessions through eLearning packages. A trained subject matter expert is brought in for hands on sessions on a need basis only, reducing their requirement by up to 60%.

Ajay Balakrishnan (AMMACHI Labs) then gave some insight on the technology solutions developed and implemented by AMMACHI Labs. These include eLearning content for over 11 TVSD courses developed for low literate users in regional languages, haptics simulators to provide hands on training and my Sangham portal (an online portal) to deliver the training on tablets, manage trainings and centres. Whatsapp, Aview (an online collaboration platform developed by Amrita University) and Facebook are used extensively by the facilitators and operations staff for monitoring and evaluation.  These technologies allow the team to troubleshoot challenges at the grassroots level, in real time. Moreover, this helps to constantly improve the services using the real-time data available.

In our opinion, the main takeaways for the reaching the poorest populations using ICT in TVSD are:

  • The need to redesign the learning environment, including for example by:
    • Finding the perfect blend of technology and traditional teaching to provide high quality TVSD training at scale and reach inaccessible populations
    • Redefining the role of the teacher to that of a mentor and a facilitator
    • Extending technology to include monitoring and evaluation to ensure quality feedback for continuous improvement
  • To understand the aspirations of the students and trainers and assist with setting goals and provide the necessary resources and support in meeting them
  • To couple relevant life skills training with vocational training programs
  • To ensure active engagement with all the stakeholders in a community in order to ensure social and economic sustainability.

[1]The Tech4Dev Conference is the biennial flagship event of the UNESCO Chair in Technologies for Development hosted by the Cooperation & Development Centre (CODEV) at the EcolePolytechniqueFédérale de Lausanne.

[2]Ammachi Labs is a research and development centre at Amrita University, India, focusing on the use of ICT in skill development.

[3]TVSD : Technical and Vocational Skills Development.

[4]The EFA Goals, of course, included a ‘life skills’ goal that was vaguely linked to TVSD.

Rao Bhavani is the Director of AMMACHI Labs, Amrita University, India. Email:

Ajay Balakrishnan heads content development at AMMACHI Labs, Amrita University, India. Email:

> View all NORRAG NEWSBite Blogs on TVET and Skills Development

Follow this blog by email, Facebook or via Twitter @NORRAG_NEWS

NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

“(Mis-)Educating the Ghettoes of our world” – is there a Collective Neglect of the Role of Education for Youth in Violent Cities Around the World?

By Mieke Lopes Cardozo, University of Amsterdam; Jovana Carapic, Small Arms Survey, Geneva; Joost Monks, NORRAG

Violent cities: the ghettoes of our world?

CVET_main_pictureThe world is less peaceful today than it was in 2008, is indicated by the results of the 2015 Global Peace Index. Regardless of the global, regional and local investments in humanitarian relief, peacekeeping missions and development aid, the world sees growing numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), increasing numbers of deaths from internal conflicts and devastating impacts of various forms of violence in cities around the globe. The nature of conflict and violence has also changed drastically over the past decades, with conflict becoming more localised and more violent deaths occurring in so-called non-conflict areas.

With the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – and specifically SDG 16 on “peaceful and inclusive societies” – there is a common consideration for an urgent need to address the cycles of conflict and violence by addressing the tools used to commit such acts, and strengthening political institutions aimed at dealing with them. Echoing this sense of urgency, the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen recently remarked in The Guardian how with the SDGs “the world has turned the mutual importance of peace and development into an agenda for action”. Disputing the idea that such a combined focus would give too much weight to “security” in the context of development work, Ploumen claims that: “bringing a development perspective to issues of conflict prevention and peace will allow us to focus better, and earlier, on emerging conflict and instability. […] Let’s show that we are serious about leaving no one behind. We cannot allow fragile and conflict-affected areas to become the ghettoes of our world.”

But who is living in these so-called “ghettoes of our world”? According to UN Habitat, the majority of the world’s population is currently living in urban centres, while simultaneously the world’s population is becoming younger than at any other point in history. This transition is however skewed: of the estimated 3.1 billion people that are under the age of 25, the majority (nearly 2.7 billion) are living in the rapidly growing cities of Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

At the same time, UNESCO’s 2012 Global Monitoring Report claims how a disproportionate proportion of youth are not found in the better-off neighbourhoods of the emerging metropolises, but live in the impoverished, unplanned, and often highly violent urban settlements (referred to as slums, favelas, or “ghettoes”). Here, disadvantaged (i.e. unemployed and un- or under-educated) urban youth are more likely to be both victims and perpetrators of urban violence.

Some nuance is indispensable here though: rather than simply equating cities with violence, urban violence manifests itself in many forms and needs to be seen as part of a continuum, one that goes from anomic violence (crime and delinquency) to urban warfare or insurgency (see for instance an interview with Dennis Rodgers, 2010, or the recent work of Carapic, 2015).

Youth as title character or supporting role?

Youth can be considered as (both passive and active) protagonists in the story of contemporary forms of armed conflict and urban violence. In addition, specifically with regard to conflict-affected contexts, such as Burundi, youth-related issues are moving into the spotlight for policy-makers, practitioners and scholars alike.

They all see a growing recognition and concern for, on the one hand, the challenges of a large, often under-educated and un(der)-employed and potentially ‘frustrated’ youth cohort in a demographic sense in conflict settings (see for instance Muggah in his TED talk of 2014), and, on the other hand, the potential of youth movement and ‘agency’ for peace, as was shown through the recent adoption of the UN Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security.

However, the presence of a large youth population in cities – and its propensity to form gangs – does not fully explain the complex dynamics of violence in urban settings. Specifically, this observation obscures the effect of socio-economic and political exclusion, the lack of educational and training opportunities, and for the most part the lack of substantial policy efforts to generate an educated and trained young population capable of obtaining employment (if jobs are available at all) and fostering generative civic engagement. All of these are crucial factors for understanding the link between youth and violence and (a lack of) social services and educational opportunities.

What education has got to do with it?

Briefly returning to Minister Ploumen’s call not to “leave no one behind” and let “fragile and conflict-affected areas become the ghettoes of our world”, research conducted as part of UNICEFs PBEA programme points with increasing certainty to the crucial and not-to-be-neglected role of social services – and particularly the role of education – in supporting SDG 16 of peaceful and inclusive societies.

In other words, SDG 16 – on peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development – can only be reached in close connection to and in collaboration with other SDGs, including (yet not limited to) those related to good health and well-being (#3), education (#4), gender equality (#5), employment and decent work for all (#8) and inclusive, safe and sustainable cities (#11).

In reflecting on how to overcome fragility and conflict around the globe, the World Bank Group’s president publicly mentioned how business as usual does not seem to deliver: “We now have to admit that the paradigms and frameworks that have guided our perspective on fragility and conflict may be less relevant than we had hoped.” Raising questions about the current approaches to human security and peace building are helpful, considering that dominant ways of thinking have largely been driven by a securitisation and good governance agenda (also called a liberal peace building thesis).

By under-valuing the role of social sectors to rebuild and transform sustainable and inclusive societies, these dominant approaches merely support negative rather than positive peace.

Recent research by The Research Consortium on Education and Peace building argues how in order to work towards positive peace, the root causes of insecurity, inequality and conflict need to be addressed, and that education governance, policy and practices can either make or break sustainable forms of peace building. The quality and availability of education can act as a mechanism for mitigating or sometimes fostering violence and conflict (and vice versa). Education in this sense can be a double-edged sword.

Research horizons

To date, there is little guidance (or evidence) on the kinds of formal and non-formal educational strategies national and metropolitan governments, school boards, youth movements and other civil society organisations and communities can (or should) develop and implement in order to respond to urban violence, by including various forms of education and training as part of a broader urban violence mitigation strategy.

NORRAG has conducted some seminal work in 2014 in the frame of the collaborative project on Educational Strategies for Dealing with Urban Violence that was launched in partnership with the American Institutes for Research (Washington D.C.) and Igarapé Institute (Rio de Janeiro). This project mapped education interventions – both formal and non-formal – to prevent and reduce violence in Brazil and South Africa. Its positive results enabled to put the topic of educational strategies for dealing with urban violence prominently on the international agenda and to contribute to fill a knowledge gap.

What is becoming clear is that education should not simply be about fostering human capital. If education’s role is to be taken seriously within the process of urbanization and societal transformation, we need to move beyond the simplistic view of education as only fostering ‘productive’ citizens and societies. While education carries the potential to break through patterns of class, gender, ethnic and other forms of marginalisation, we should also recognise the possible negative effects of education. Specifically, in combination with uneven urbanization, education – whether available or not – can lead to an increased sense of social exclusion among the urban youth, which, in turn, can foster violence in the city. Hence, while life in cities can increase proximity and access to education, there is a need to better take into consideration the possible negative effects of urbanization as well: the rapid influx of population leads to a shortage of (state-funded) schools and well-trained teachers and other educational staff; the expansion of cities leads to a strain on public institutions, as well as a fragmentation of urban space and ‘educational’ authority; and finally the undermining of more indigenous notions of education, which often involve or are derived from rural or indigenous forms of learning (see for instance the study of Qian and Anlei, 2014; or the work of Rodgers on Nicaragua, 2014).

These insights call for a more nuanced understanding of the complex realities of violence and conflict-affected urban areas, and how future generations can be better served and supported through meaningful, equitable and relevant educational opportunities. We argue how an expansive rather than narrow methodological ‘post-disciplinary’ framing is essential to explore these relationships between formal and non-formal educational processes, various forms of urban violence and the potential of youth agency in relation to peace (for more details and arguments, see the full NORRAG working paper of Carapic and Lopes Cardozo, 2016).

Peace building in the city – starting with youth

Mainstream peace building efforts rarely take into account urban politics and the inclusion of social sectors, and rather focus on establishing stable markets and security systems. Yet in a world where violence and conflict are increasingly taking place in urban centres, peace building efforts need to be rescaled to the city level in order to address the root causes that drive civic conflict. Considering the relative youthful majority of many of the more “violent” cities, there is an urgent need to address one of the root causes of exclusion, marginalisation and frustration: a lack of access to relevant and meaningful forms of education.

In addition, if civic conflict becomes the violent expression of grievances regarding the distribution of power and resources in the urban environment, then the primary aim of peace building in the city is to foster (non-violent) generative civic engagement or what Davies (2004) would call ‘positive (non-violent) conflict’ – i.e. to transform power relations in the urban environment by encouraging the wider socio-economic and political change that is demanded by younger (and older) generations. In other words, the work of Björkdahl (2013) shows how strategies to build peace need to be implemented in the political, social and physical space where civic conflict actually takes place and where the most pressing potential for building peace rests: the city. As argued by the Research Consortium on Education and Peace building (see Novelli, Lopes Cardozo & Smith, 2015), sustainable approaches to peace building need to be inclusive of education and other social sectors in order to better support young people in building more sustainable and peaceful lives. We cannot afford a collective neglect and lack of political support to ensure more equitable, relevant and supportive systems of education for youth – especially in what some have termed the ghettoes of our world – if we are serious about creating more peaceful futures.

Mieke Lopes Cardozo, (, University of Amsterdam

Jovana Carapic (, Small Arms Survey, Geneva

Joost Monks, NORRAG (

>> Working Paper: “Education, urban violence, and youth: exploring pathways or roadblocks for ‘peace’ in the city”, by Jovana Carapic and Mieke Lopes Cardozo (March 2016).

>> View all NORRAG NEWSBite Blogs on violence, conflict and Agenda 2030.

Follow this blog by email, Facebook or via Twitter @NORRAG_NEWS

NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Can African Universities Deliver Knowledge for ‘Transforming our World’ Without Decolonizing the Academy?

By Hanne Kirstine Adriansen, Aarhus University, Denmark.

unighanaIn the UN document of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, there are some eight mentions of ‘research’ in the text – most of which are clearly linked to higher education research. But the targets of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 do not mention the need to develop the capacity of higher education institutions to enable such research to take place.[1] Many have reflected on the massive investments needed for sub-Saharan Africa to reach the SDG 4. A blog posted on this Blog in April this year is a case in point. Here Birger Frederiksen argues that sub-Saharan Africa will need massively increased funding, compared to other regions, to reach the SDGs. While agreeing with the massive funding needed, I want to reflect on what is required in terms of the ‘politics of knowledge’.

Politics of knowledge. This Spring I have been intrigued to see the blossoming of academic conferences and journal articles discussing the politics of knowledge in Africa. A brief look at the history of African higher education will show that with colonialism, the vast majority of old African institutions, which had not already disappeared, were destroyed. Hence, while higher education in Africa is as old as the pyramids in Egypt, present day African universities have colonial roots, because the type of higher education seen on the continent today had its roots in colonial institutions. The question is whether African universities are still suffering from some sort of colonialization (of the mind)?

Decolonisation of the academy. With the increased optimism and self-awareness on the continent, sometimes labelled the African renaissance, we have seen a new consciousness about the historical roots of higher education and a subsequent call for decolonisation of the academy. Of course these tendencies were most strongly seen in post-apartheid South Africa with calls for Africanisation of curriculum, but similar tendencies are seen elsewhere on the continent. It also relates to the debate about the role of universities as local drivers for sustainable development vis-á-vis the increasing demands for internationalisation and competition in the global knowledge economy. Can a university both be locally relevant, focussing its teaching and research on local needs and at the same time participate in the global competition with increasing focus on standardisation? And what role does international collaboration play in all this?

Capacity building projects. Together with the new self-understanding on the African continent, the twenty-first century has seen a renewed interest in Africa from the rest of the world. During the past 20 years, universities have been recognised as a key driver for societal growth in the Global South and therefore international interest in universities and scientific knowledge has intensified in recent years. Aid agencies in the Global North, e.g. in Scandinavia, are among those currently working on new policies to strengthen research capacity in Africa, and therefore increasing assistance is given to this sector. Because the funding for research is very limited in African universities, they are quite reliant on external funding e.g. from development agencies via so-called capacity building projects. While many researchers from universities in the North and South are involved in these collaborative projects, we are usually involved as practitioners. Only rarely do we turn these collaborative projects into a research field and thereby study ourselves and our own practice in these projects. After having participated in a so-called capacity building project in Africa, I – together with some colleagues – became interested in understanding the geography and power of scientific knowledge, how this is negotiated through such capacity building projects, and not least we became interested in understanding whether such projects functioned as quality assurance or a type of neo-imperialism. Our research led us to conclude that capacity building and the tendency towards increased internationalisation of higher education can lead to what might be called ‘mono-cultures of the mind’ (by the Indian activist Vandana Shiva). Some of the dilemmas of capacity building projects are not due to North-South relations, but part of the wider geography and power of knowledge as seen in internationalisation of higher education where the Anglo-American world (including Australia) are the winners. By entering into the competition fetish, African universities may become globally competitive, but risk losing their local relevance in the process.

SDG 13 on climate change as an example. One of the pertinent problems on the African continent is climate change. It is mentioned in Agenda 2030 multiple times beyond the specific goal 13 (Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts). This is indeed a field that calls for ‘multi-cultures of the mind’ and contextualised understandings in order for locally relevant and suitable solutions to be developed. As the geographer David Livingstone has argued climate knowledge is not stable, secure or self-evident and therefore we need to inquire into the particular, the specific and the spatially located. Furthermore, we need to attend to human experiences of climate: ‘What climate means to people is conditioned by the places people occupy, the histories they share, the cultural values they absorb. Presumptions about what the idea of climate change must – or should – mean to people fall foul of precisely this careful interrogation of particularity’ (Livingstone, 2012: 92–93). The ability to attend to human experiences of climate (readers: insert other issues from the SDGs here) through inquiring into the particular, the specific and the spatially located is pertinent for African universities if they want to produce the research called for in the SDGs.

On the positive side. I’ll argue that collaborative projects such as capacity building programmes can be a means to assist African universities to produce contextualised knowledge and the projects can even lead to some sort of de-colonialization of the academy if they are based on long-term partnerships, a close understanding of historical, political and geographical context, and not least a common exploration of knowledge diversity.

[1] SDG4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

Hanne Kirstine Adriansen is an associate professor at Department of Education, Aarhus University in Denmark. Her research focuses on higher education and scientific knowledge production, including the internationalisation of higher education. Her most recent publication is Higher Education and Capacity Building in Africa: The Geography and Power of Knowledge under Changing Conditions. Email:

>> View all NORRAG NEWSBite Blogs on Agenda 2030

Follow this blog by email, Facebook or via Twitter @NORRAG_NEWS

NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Have Your Say about NORRAG

Slider_SurveyWe are pleased to invite you to complete our biennial online survey. The aim of this survey is to assess how NORRAG has performed from mid-2014 to mid-2016, and to help NORRAG improve its strategy for the years ahead.

Please answer as many sections as you are able using the following link:

You do not have to answer any question you do not wish to. The survey should take 10-15 minutes to fill in.

We thank you in advance for the time you are able to give to this exercise and for your valuable inputs.

Best wishes,

The NORRAG team

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Towards a Global Landscape of Inequality? The Afghans and the ‘Refugee Crisis’ in Europe

By Alessandro Monsutti, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva.

Twenty-five years after the fall of the Soviet Union, economic and social indicators show that we live in an increasingly inequitable world. Beside the series of conflicts ravaging the Middle East, the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ in Europe must be situated more broadly within this global landscape of exclusion.

NN53 front

The latest issue of NORRAG NEWS is now ONLINE (click image above)

In a report published in January 2016, Oxfam demonstrates that wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a tiny rich elite. According to the British nongovernmental organisation, 1% of people own more than the rest of humanity and 62 people hold the same as half the world. Beyond the wishful thinking of the Millennium Development Goals, these figures show that 25 years after the fall of the Soviet Union we live in an increasingly inequitable world.

Therefore, to speak of a “refugee crisis” in Europe obfuscates the deep processes that are at stake. Whether they are labelled “asylum seekers,” “refugees” or “economic migrants”, whether they flee from violence or poverty, from a war or a repressive government, how can we not situate the mass influx in Europe of people from the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa or elsewhere in this global landscape of inequality and exclusion?

Afghanistan has inherited the sad legacy of the Cold War. The communist coup in 1978, the Soviet invasion in 1979, the withdrawal of the Red Army in 1989, the fall of the Kabul regime in 1992, the emergence of the Taliban in 1994-95, the international intervention in reaction to the September 11 attacks and, finally, the partial withdrawal of the US-led coalition forces are the landmarks of an endless conflict. In 1990, Afghans were the largest displaced group falling under UNHCR’s mandate with more than 6 million persons. Today, they still constitute the second-largest refugee population after Syrians. In the 1980s, the vast majority of them went to Pakistan or Iran. However, the international geostrategic context has changed and these two countries are no longer willing to open their doors. In Afghanistan itself, the reduction of the foreign presence is the expression of a political and military deadlock rather than the successful outcome of reconstruction. Indicators do not announce any improvement. Firstly, the country is a demographic bomb: cities are saturated with the return of millions of refugees since 2001 and the high population growth while rural areas cannot absorb more people. Secondly, the economy related to the reconstruction effort and international presence collapsed after 2014. The withdrawal of the international community has left a vacuum for the emerging middle-class and young people that suddenly found themselves unemployed. Last but not least, the level of violence remains very high. During the last ten years, the country had the sad privilege of having been systematically ranked among the world’s five least peaceful countries by the Global Peace Index.

As they are no longer welcome in Pakistan and Iran, Afghans are forced to look for new destinations. After nearly forty years of war, all segments of the population have been affected by forced displacement. It is nonetheless possible to distinguish three main categories – or four depending on the way they are grouped – among the Afghans that have been coming to Europe in the last few years. The first category includes unaccompanied minors and young adults, mostly Hazaras from central Afghanistan. Being increasingly marginalised in Pakistan and Iran, where many of them have taken refuge, and considering that they have always been treated as second-class citizens by the Afghan state, they try their luck in Europe. Without money and network ties, they represent a particularly vulnerable population.

The second category is constituted by rural people from the South and East. They come from what is sometimes called the “Pashtun Belt,” a region where fighting rages between the government and the Taliban. They flee a conflict that they do not or no longer identify with and repeat that “this is not our war.” Most of them are men, aged from 20 to 40; they are poorly protected by the government and threatened with forced recruitment by the insurrection. They travel without their families and hope to bring their wife and children subsequently.

The third category is composed by urban dwellers whose way of life was linked to the international military or humanitarian presence: they were accountants, translators, drivers or guards for international or nongovernmental organisations, or government civil servants. They have lost their sources of income and fear that they will suffer revenge. Usually travelling as a family, they have money, which paradoxically makes them also vulnerable. Women – even sometimes families without men – are found mainly in this group, although the first two categories include more and more families too. The fourth category is actually a subcategory of the previous one: young urban people who benefited from training programmes proposed by foreign organisations.

These youngsters use social media and aim to live in a cosmopolitan, different and open world. But in Afghanistan, they are left facing a labour market unable to integrate them or fulfil their aspirations.

For all asylum seekers alike, the situation of the country of origin or first reception is not the only source of trauma. The journey itself, with its unforeseen traps and sufferings, as well as the reception conditions in Europe are equally so. For instance, crossing the sea is a heavy and at times tragic ordeal. In Lesbos, in a reception centre hardly different from a prison, I have met young people that kept saying, as if to convince themselves: “This is not Europe!” This denial sprang from the fact that the encountered reality did not correspond to their imaginary one, all the more so as they did not understand why they were subjected to exclusion and mistrust.

In short, there are no grounds for assuming that the flows of persons from Afghanistan – but also from Syria, Iraq, Eritrea or Sub-Saharan Africa – will recede. They result from global structural imbalances and it is misleading to distinguish between security, economic and demographic issues. Europe is ageing and in need of new blood. These migrants are young, motivated and willing to work and, as such, have much to offer. However, it would take political courage to declare this in the face of a mainly hostile public opinion in Europe – and we remain far from that.

Alessandro Monsutti is a Professor of Anthropology and Sociology of Development at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva. Email:

 This blog is based on an article that appeared in NORRAG NEWS 53.

 >> View the full list of articles in NN53 on ‘Refugees, Displaced Persons and Education: New Challenges for Development and Policy’

 >> View all NORRAG NEWSBite Blogs on refugees/migration, ODA  and Agenda 2030

Follow this blog by email, Facebook or via Twitter @NORRAG_NEWS

NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,500 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment