CIES, or Comparative and International Education Society, was founded in 1956 to “foster cross-cultural understanding, scholarship, academic achievement and societal development through the international study of educational ideas, systems, and practices.” The CIES conference, held each year in a different location in North America, brings together people working in the education sector from across the world – teachers, students, representatives from NGOs and international organizations, donors and grantees, researchers, government functionaries. The conference typically has more than twenty sessions running in parallel at any given time. CIES 2016 offered incredible richness and variety, with more than 700 sessions spread over 5 days.
The People’s Action for Learning (PAL) network was also well represented at CIES, with participants from Uwezo and ASER Pakistan among others. Established only last year, this growing network currently comprises civil society groups from 13 countries across 3 continents that are implementing “citizen led assessments” (CLA) –household-based rapid assessments of children’s foundational skills that are modeled on ASER. It isn’t only in India that most children are in school but failing to learn even the basics. Civil society groups in all these countries have decided to implement CLAs in their own contexts, in order to generate evidence on scale about poor learning outcomes.
During CIES sessions ASER was mentioned by many people other than the Pratham and ASER team. Some of those who talked about our work were Pauline Rose at the University of Cambridge, Silvia Montoya from UNESCO and Patricia Scheid from the Hewlett Foundation. Seeing recognition on listeners’ faces when ASER is mentioned is always nice. But it is especially gratifying when people one has never met before tell you that they know your work and have used your tools: “Oh, you’re from ASER? We’ve used your tools in our project in xxxx country…!” I had several such conversations, and heard for the first time that ASER tools have been used in projects in Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria.
These are encouraging signs. Perhaps in the not too distant future we won’t have to experience the flip side of the coin – sitting through panels where presenters from developed countries discuss the problems of developing countries and claim to have all the solutions (if only their clients would cooperate and implement them properly). This, too, is part of the reality of CIES.