By: Paoloregel Samonte, UNU-IAS

Aimed at sharing research findings and experiences on contemporary educational issues in Asia and Africa, the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) hosted a joint symposium discussing “Sustainable and Inclusive System Models for Educational Improvement” in Tokyo, Japan on January 9.

The symposium comprised of 14 presentations on education-related research from 11 countries in Asia and Africa. The presentations were divided evenly into two major thematic groupings: issue-driven research and mission-oriented research. Some examples of the issue-driven research presented include the challenges and prospects of implementing inclusive education in primary schools for some of Kenya’s marginal populations and non-formal education policy for educationally-disadvantaged children in Uganda.

Meanwhile, mission-oriented research topics dealt with the implementation of peer tutoring method in rural Bangladesh, as well as the implementation of sustainable teaching interventions in improving Science education in South Africa, among others. This thematic group primarily aimed to report findings on the implementation of several “new quality education policies” in various Asian and African countries, and garner feedback and constructive criticisms from the researchers, students, and other relevant stakeholders participating in the activity.

Some UNU-IAS staff and Masters students, as well as a number of selected participants, facilitated and synthesized the discussions in the whole-day symposium. Some notable comments and suggestions from the discussants include the possible integration of the role of parents and other important institutions in inclusive and sustainable education studies, in contrast to solely focusing on teacher and student behaviour and interactions. The role of mass media and other soft powers, such as Hollywood and Bollywood, in creating public awareness was also emphasized.

Moreover, one discussant highlighted the possibility of translating these studies into communication materials that could easily be digested by the general public, such as infographics, brochures, and policy briefs, or other non-academic publications such as a coffee table book. Finally, one strong recommendation asserts the importance of developing scaling up and scaling out strategies for the studies to benefit more people. These suggestions were taken positively by the participants, who would have to make some revisions on their research based on the feedback from the symposium.

Group picture after the symposium

Ms. Hyeonju Ryu, a research assistant at UNU-IAS and one of the symposium’s discussants, considered the event an excellent learning opportunity for someone like her who is rather new to the concept of sustainable and inclusive education. Ryu particularly mentioned how a session about educating children with disabilities reminded her of previous experiences studying with such classmates. She was further able to make important connections between her experiences growing up and being educated in South Korea, to that of education in some African countries, pointing out how “[it] was very interesting that we do share some common problems even though we are so far away from each other.”

Similarly, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Aznan Che Ahmad, a participant who presented his research on inclusivity and student outcomes in Special Education in Malaysia, thought that the symposium was a viable platform for networking and knowledge-sharing among teachers and educational researchers from around the world. He acknowledged the important perspectives that the symposium added to his understanding of the subject matter, mentioning that “[it is good] to know what is really happening in other countries such as Uganda or Indonesia, which you could not get from the media, the newspapers.”

The event was a fruit of two separate projects, the first of which was the “Development of the Inclusive Education System Model for Learning Improvement in Developing Countries” conducted in April 2015. Funded by the grant for global sustainability, the project was a joint initiative by the UNU-IAS, the Center for the Study of International Cooperation in Education (CICE), Hiroshima University, and the Ministry of Education, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) Japan with an overall goal of pursuing educational research and policy implementation collaboration among Japanese universities, Asian and African universities, central or local governments in those countries, schools, and communities towards educational development.

The second project, started in April 2017, was on “Formulating and Strengthening Cooperative Communities for Non-Cognitive Learning Skill Development in Primary and Secondary Education in Asian Countries”, implemented by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), CICE, and MEXT Japan through the Official Development Assistance (ODA) grants.