Taking up space in global education: Reflecting on how CIES has transformed RELI and how RELI has transformed CIES

By Nancy Palmer and Stephanie Gasior

As we approach this year’s Comparative and International Education Society conference, the team at Wellspring Philanthropic Fund took some time to reflect on what makes RELI’s participation so important and how the conference might support the network’s work .

Historically, CIES has been a space largely dominated by academics from the Global North. The few practitioner voices in the space mainly represented international nongovernmental organizations. The hegemony of a practice wherein Global North voices spoke on behalf of African and Global South “others” translated into a narrow and incomplete understanding of educational issues, trends, practices, and policies around the world.

Over the last few CIES convenings, the influence of RELI members and other Global South education actors at CIES has gradually increased, bringing invaluable experiences and expertise to the room and importantly positioning smaller, community-driven organizations as creators of knowledge and active participants in critical education dialogues, rather than passive recipients of information. The active participation of RELI members and other smaller organizations from around the world helps inform what our global education community should aspire to be: representative of all our communities and responsive to all the children we seek to serve.

The theme framing this year’s conference–“Illuminating the power of Idea/lism”–reflects the inflection point in which the education community finds itself and the key questions with which education players, globally, are contending:

“Why do we do things the way we do? What do we really want to accomplish? What would education look like if we took risks and dared to dream? How do we nurture our idealism in reality?”

These questions speak directly to RELI’s existence and vision to transform education systems so that we may better serve children, their families, and their communities. Now more than ever, the COVID-19 pandemic has reiterated the importance, of key actors in education systems playing their role in ensuring our children receive the quality education they deserve–and to which they have a right. 

RELI, as a community, has benefited greatly from engaging in CIES. Participating in the CIES conference helps RELI members tune into global conversations about practices in education to then determine what is relevant within the East African context, increase visibility of the network, and build RELI’s credibility as the go-to source for evidence on what approaches work in transforming education systems in East Africa and beyond. We have seen RELI members build relationships at CIES meetings that opened doors to Ministry meetings, new research partnerships, and new funders. Most importantly, however, RELI members participating in CIES define the conversation about the education practices and policies our children in East Africa deserve.

We are extremely proud of how RELI members have built such an intentional community that is deeply committed to improving children’s well-being and learning outcomes. Ultimately, as WPF, our expectations of RELI members for CIES are not important—what matters most to us is your expectations for yourselves. We hope you’ll take time to reflect on your own expectations for yourselves and each other for CIES 2022. What do you want out of this event? How do you want to inhabit this space? No matter your goals and expectations, we will be there to support and cheer you on!

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