To celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the British Association for International and Comparative Education (BAICE), the Centre for Comparative and International Research in Education (CIRE) at the School of Education, University of Bristol, hosted a one-day symposium where diverse perspectives on sustainability, peace and education were presented. The symposium was very well attended, lively and intellectually challenging in nature, with participants contributing diverse disciplinary perspectives and specialist expertise. Underpinning the different sessions running throughout the day a core argument emerged that acknowledged and addressed the place and influence of complexity in both education and development.
The symposium, generously funded by BAICE, was also an occasion to re-launch CIRE as the centre builds upon past achievements to advance new multidisciplinary approaches to comparative and international research and prioritise the role of quality education in promoting sustainable and peaceful development worldwide. The event was opened by Professor Michael Crossley, President of BAICE and former Director of CIRE, Professor Qing Gu, University of Nottingham and Chair of BAICE, and Dr Angeline M Barrett the current CIRE Director.
The day’s activities began with an excellent and engaging video/Skype, Keynote Presentation delivered from Providence University in Taichung, Taiwan, by Arjen Wals, Professor of Transformative Learning for Socio-Ecological Sustainability at Wageningen University in The Netherlands. According to Wals the times we now live in are characterized by high levels of complexity and uncertainty. This led to an exploration of appropriate ways of teaching and engaging learners while addressing such challenges. Professor Wals identifies four critical competences that need to be enhanced through education: learning to know, learning to critique, learning to make change and learning to care. He then introduced these as sustain-abilities, related to capabilities such as asking critical questions, reflecting upon contemporary issues from different perspectives and the development of leadership, compassion and empathy.
The idea of being disruptive, in the way street artist whose art interrupts people’s unconscious daily walks, ran throughout Wals’ presentation. In the same vein, Dr Hilary Cremin, from the University of Cambridge, who researches peace education and conflict transformation acknowledged the value of art as an open methodological attitude that could feed discussion about peace education. Based on Dietrich’s (2012) five families of peace, Cremin’s transrational peace education means a pedagogy that: develops curious, confident, wise, compassionate and knowledgeable learners; is aware that learning is always situated, contingent and relational; and enables learners to achieve wisdom through investigation, practice, reflection, and integrates body, mind, heart and spirit.
The afternoon Keynote, delivered by Professor Leon Tikly, drew upon his research in Rwanda and addressed the relationship between unsustainable development, inequalities and postcolonial conditions. Here it was argued that to play a key role and not be complicit in reproducing inequality, education systems need to expand the capabilities of all learners and so become inclusive, relevant and democratic. He highlighted the agency of teachers, learners, policy makers, parents and researchers in achieving this.
Interactive sessions throughout the day
Four main themes were addressed during the interactive break-out sessions led by speakers from different parts of the world. Within the ‘Education, inequalities and sustainability’ theme, Daniel Capistrano (visiting research fellow at the University of Bristol from National Institute for Educational Research and Studies (INEP), Brazil) presented work on the silences associated with equity indicators. Dr Keith Holmes (Programme Specialist in Unesco) analysed the policy implications of a ‘lifelong learning’ approach to the development of inclusive and equitable education systems; and Professor Sheila Trahar and Dr. Sue Timmis, University of Bristol, reflected on the early lessons emerging from their collaborative research on Southern African rural students’ journeys through higher education.
Key issues relating to sustainable peace were explored through presentations on research undertaken in Colombia (Ariel Sanchez Meertens, Universidad Nacional de Colombia and Centro de Memoria, Paz y Reconciliacion, Bogota) and South Africa (Abigail Branford, University of Oxford). New insights on how peace education could be addressed theoretically and methodologically were considered by Stephanie Bengtsson (Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Human Capital, Vienna), Basma Hajir (University of Cambridge), Elisabeth Maber (University of Cambridge), Goya Vasquez Wilson (University of Bristol) and Lindsey Horner (Bath Spa University). Paul Vare (University of Gloucestershire) also drew upon an EU-funded project that developed a framework to enhance twelve competences for sustainable development across the next generation of educators.
The significance of dialogue
The final plenary took the form of an interactive and engaging panel discussion based around questions inspired by the day and raised by participants. In a closing word of thanks, Professor Lalage Bown, University of Glasgow, reflected upon more than 30 years’ experience in adult education in Africa and UK. She emphasised one of the key messages of the day: the significance of dialogue. Looking ahead she asked how we can generate more interaction between those working in peace education and education for a sustainable development; how community education could build stronger bonds with lifelong learning that takes place beyond the school classroom; and how conversations between different fields, themes and spaces can be promoted within the multidisciplinary field of comparative and international education.