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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.


From Reports to Reality: Peeking Behind the Doors of Development Institutions

By CEID Blogger, on 17 June 2024

By Mathieu Pezeril & Elisa Valentin,

MA Educational Planning, Economics and International Development

“12-year old Emma whining about homework and thinking how she would change Vietnam’s national curriculum to make it less boring (disclaimer: I was objectively very young to be realistic about policy making), the same girl that only saw UNESCO on the news on that tiny telly, wouldn’t believe that one day she’d get to visit the UNESCO headquarters and hear from educational researchers on the projects for girls access to education. So yay!” 

 Emma Linh Do

As the days turn into months, September’s academic drizzle gives way to misty spring mornings, pregnant with research interests. Somewhere along the path, dotting the pages of our MA essays, some names join us as we explore the vast horizons of development evidence literature, familiar IGO silhouettes in the background of our scholarly journeys.

The seed of curiosity had been planted and we felt it was time we – members of the Education, Practice and Society department – took our Education out of the lecture halls directly to its Practice in the larger Society, and got acquainted first-hand with these major stakeholders shaping our field of work and inquiry.

Our group of students from the Educational Planning, Economics and International Development MA programme (EPEID), set out for Paris in the last days of May on a cycle of discussions and visits to large IGOs working on Development and Educational Planning projects. Born out of students’ initiative, the trip met with a welcoming network of institutional staff and IOE alumni, with the generous support of department professors Ben Alcott and Caine Rolleston. Participants aimed at gaining a finer understanding of the inner workings of these institutions at the forefront of policy shaping, and the scope of their mandates, while distinguishing between their individual approaches and gathering insights on the current priorities, rationales and trends in education and development.

“I have always assumed all IGOs to be similar: big institutions, disconnected from what goes on in their countries of operation. I was gladly proven wrong. Not only does each organisation have its own unique culture and atmosphere, but every staff that we spoke to was very passionate and knowledgeable about the work they do and why they do it. It reminded me why I am doing this degree in the first place.” 

 Daline Ly

           Before even thematic engagement, our journey began with experiencing physically each institution as distinct organisms of work and life. Nestled in the calm suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt, OECD took us in at a pace, from one securitized gate to another, to a warm core of hospitable faces in the muted ambiance of slick open office spaces. Just beyond the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, surrounded with flags and 19th century architecture, laid the grand brutalist halls of the UNESCO Headquarters. We negotiated our way through a ballet of cultural booths, historical cabinets, a library and even a gift shop, as well as art donations from around the world – physical testimonies to both cultural cooperation and power dynamics – before reaching the sprawling office levels, and sipping on an ultimate coffee overlooking the ocean of Paris’ slate roofs, dormers and chimneys. Our circuit ended the next day in a homey building away from large boulevards. Sandwiched between school and historic townhouses, IIEP offered the scents of ubiquitous greenery across its corridors, library and training rooms, and the tranquillity of sector analyses and strategies hatching unpretentiously.

“The trip to Paris to visit OECD, UNESCO and IIEP was a great way to gain an insider’s perspective on the research and work being done at the organisations we have studied. In addition to learning about their programming, research topics, and methodology, we were able to gain insider perspectives on the working environment. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet those doing the day-to-day work to make education more equitable and gender transformative.”

Denise Worth

Sitting back down in the Eurostar, we left Paris with more information than our luggage or brain could hold, but a couple of cross-cutting takeaways stood out:

  • Through our conversations at the OECD and UNESCO, both gender teams highlighted the inclusion of a new focus of gender-equitable masculinities in projects. While this topic has been documented and discussed in university and research circles for a number of years, we found it fascinating to witness in real time the bridging role IGOs play in relaying academic advancements, in promoting and operationalising them so they may eventually seep into concrete interventions and receive funding. Internal leveraging and negotiating for innovation, a delicate yet integral part of the game of large international institutions’ decision-making process, may account for the delay, but their weighty and far-reaching voices are almost bound to guarantee large-scale effect.
  • The design of indicators equally caught our attention, as tools allowing not only to monitor and evaluate but also to uncover new angles and push evidence-based measures. The work of the various sections led us to reflect on how indexes (such as the SIGI for instance) are created, on the process of translating academic concepts and complex aspects of life into nuanced, relevant, measurable characteristics and trends used by planners and governments. We further contemplated their weight and appropriateness with regards to their role in informing educational planning which in turn feeds back into lives of students and teachers, into schools, in allowing for a trusted contextual understanding, an enriched intervention and policy design, and ultimately a transformative impact.


A few concluding words from the participants:

“It has been the privilege of our EPEID cohort to have such involved class representatives who have brought our experience at UCL to a new level. Learning about international development first-hand from past alumni in their professional contexts has been instrumental to frame what I learn during my masters within the real settings of UN agencies and the wider international scene I intend to collaborate with. A positively constructive experience.”

Luis Zafra Franco

“It was an excellent opportunity to learn outside the classroom and interact with current projects at OCDE, UNESCO and IIEP. Discussing with project leaders of those organisations creates concrete ideas about the working environment, challenges, and roles there. In general, it connects some dots that we have already discussed in class and helps us determine if we, as job seekers, envision working in these big organisations. I appreciate Elisa and Mathieu, our Reps, who organised and led this trip with the support of our professors. I strongly recommend all students of this programme to organise this trip every year.”

Bernardo Pereyra

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