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Dynamics and Dilemmas within the Education in Displacement ecosystem

The purpose of this research was to dive deeply into the dynamics of the Education in Displacement (EiD) ecosystem. It set out to build a foundation towards a better understanding of the “state” of this ecosystem, and how change occurs within it, at present. While this piece of research is situated within and commissioned under Porticus’ All Eyes on Learning (AEoL) programme, the issues and ideas explored here are likely to have wide interest and appeal beyond the programme’s immediate stakeholders.

Despite a shared and concerted effort on the part of many to improve learning opportunities and outcomes for displaced learners, there is an acute sense across the EiD community that we may be making little headway towards this goal. This community increasingly acknowledges that we are working in a complex ecosystem which is interconnected and interdependent on a range of elements within and outside the purview of education actors alone. We are also recognising that oftentimes our actions function in unintended and non-linear ways. Importantly, and made abundantly clear in the current global pandemic, is the acknowledgement that this ecosystem is not fixed, but is constantly evolving and adapting in light of, or despite, the chaos. And perhaps most significantly, the problems we are trying to address are in fact “wicked problems” – intractable, multidimensional, dynamic across time and context, and deeply interrelated with these very systems – and will rarely be met with perfect solutions (Ramalingam, 2013). This does not imply that we stop trying to achieve change, but rather that we may need to adopt new approaches and understandings of the change process itself and grow our capacity to respond to yet unknown future challenges.

This research is based on 32 in-depth interviews which capture the perspectives of stakeholders, identified by Porticus to be at the very centre of the EiD ecosystem at present time. These perspectives were synthesised alongside a significant literature review of programmatic reports, research, tools, and cross-disciplinary academic literature (see Appendix A for a full description of methods). While the report set out with specific research questions that corresponded to elements of the AEoL programme, the depth and nature of discussions encountered pushed well beyond this.

The report is thus structured by key themes which speak to the above-mentioned necessary shifts in how we consider our field as a whole. In order to reflect the insight of research participants, direct quotes are included throughout this text. Based on the rich discussions that occurred during this research process, it became clear that the EiD ecosystem is characterised by much diversity and uncertainty, which presented a challenge in offering a straightforward description of its current “state”. Importantly, this diversity and uncertainty should not be interpreted as cause for alarm, but instead a nudge to reconceptualise and rethink how we consider and reflect on processes of change in the ecosystem.

In other words, simple solutions like more funding, more evidence, more political will, greater engagement of actors from the “local context,” or better evidence-based policy making are unlikely on their own to lead to change. Rather it is about developing and refining our thinking about how the sum of these actions, at various scales of the ecosystem, by different actors, and at varying time points might work more cohesively to institute transformation for learners in adversity.