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Centre for Education and International Development (CEID), IOE


A forum for staff, students, alumni and guests to write about and around CEID's five thematic areas of engagement.


Alternative Histories of Education and International Development #001- Unterhalter & Oketch

By utnvmab, on 12 November 2020

Alternative Histories of Education and International Development: An Invitation 

by Elaine Unterhalter and Moses Oketch 

Like many who work in international development, we are acutely aware of the ways in which this field of policy, research and practice links with a colonial past which continues to resonate in the present. In CEID (Centre for Education and International Development) this is a history we feel we need to understand and critique, in order to support thinking better about education and a future which overturns colonial relationships of hierarchy, dispossession, exclusion and subordination.

The early links with colonialism at the Institution of Education (IoE) are clear and this is a history we need to acknowledge in order to think how to change our current forms of practice. IoE was initially founded in 1902 as the London Day Training College for teachers. In 1927 the Director accepted appointment to a body with clear links with a number of colonial projects, the British Advisory Committee on Native Education in Tropical Africa. As part of the work for this committee, he was invited by the Colonial Office to establish a course at IoE to prepare students for work as education officers in Africa, and to support missionaries preparing to work in teacher training colleges in what was then Tanganyika (now Tanzania). A Colonial Department was established at IoE in 1934, with a lecturer appointed to specialize in the comparative education of ‘primitive peoples’. Thus institutionally the teaching and research of IoE were clearly bound in with colonial education projects. In the 1950s there was a change of name, when the Colonial Department at IoE became the Department of Education in Tropical Areas (ETA). Only in 1973 was some distance from colonialism signaled in a new name, the Department of Education in Developing Countries (EDC). In 1995 this became the Department of Education and International Development (EID).

We launched CEID (Centre for Education and International Development) in 2017 with a specific commitment to investigate ‘education and international development, looking at the contribution of education to social justice, equalities, peacebuilding, health and wellbeing, migration, gender and women’s empowerment’. In our mission statement we wanted to orient our Centre away from some of the values and partnerships in its past. But we acknowledge making this kind of re-orientation a part of everyday practice takes much questioning, discussion, and new approaches to work. It is a task that involves scrutiny by us and many interlocutors of what and how we research and teach, the reasons for this, and an evaluation of what needs to change. We are aware of a need to reflect on the ways in which we engage in partnerships, and whose views we give weight to, where there are silences, and why.

Our past is not just a series of events in an earlier time, but a range of processes from which to learn. One part of that learning is to acknowledge that the history of education and international development is not a single story encapsulated in the events at IoE and linked with colonial narratives.  As a field of scholarship and pedagogic work this has been an area of considerable contestation and debate, but the voices of those who were not in power are rarely heard.  Much needs to be done to remedy this. We welcome a range of ways of documenting these processes and want to acknowledge some of the hidden histories and works by writers who are not widely known, who challenged colonial education initiatives and sought to link education and international development with a range of different values. Sometimes initiatives set up hybrid relationships, taking some elements from colonial education projects, and some from local settings, trying to push boundaries and establish alternative educational projects.  We want to consider what we can learn today for decolonial initiatives from the work of people who were dismissed as ‘primitive’ or ‘heathen’ or ‘troublemakers’ in the past.

As part of this process of critical reflection we are launching the CEID blog on Alternative Histories of Education and International Development. We warmly welcome blog posts on how some of the ideas in education and international development have evolved, changed and been contested in many parts of the world. There are relationships of education with a range of views of economics, politics, cultural and social processes, and many different histories of empires to document and learn from. Please get in touch with the blog editors if you have an idea you want to explore, a history you want to tell, or an implication you want us to note for current and future work. We know there is not a single story of education and international development, and we want to use the space CEID gives to give a wider range of accounts to build towards the values we outline in our mission and want to make substantive.

Elaine Unterhalter and Moses Oketch are Co-Directors of CEID  

Opinions expressed on the CEID Blog are only those of the author, not the Centre for Education and International Development or the UCL Institute of Education.

Want to publish a blog post in this series? Send a submission or idea to:  Mai Abu Moghli or Charlotte Nussey.


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