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Oxford Symposium for Comparative and International Education 

Exploring the Intersection(s) between Education, Uncertainty and the Changing Nature of Society

Department of Education and St. Antony's College | University of Oxford

In partnership with the Aga Khan Foundation and Global Centre for Pluralism


Oxford Symposium for Comparative and International Education 

Uncertainty, Society, and Education.

Department of Education and St. Antony's College | University of Oxford

In partnership with the Aga Khan Foundation and Global Centre for Pluralism

19th-20th June 2018

Political Uncertainties
Scientific, Environmental and Technological Uncertainties

What is the educational response to uncertainty in a changing society?

Children's Learning
School Leadership
Family Engagement
Community Involvement
Teacher Transformation
Policy and Governance
Higher Education and the World of Work
Primary & Secondary Education
Early Childhood Development

What is OXSCIE 2018?

Our Focus

The Centre for Comparative and International Education, in the Department of Education, University of Oxford, in partnership with the Aga Khan Foundation and the Global Centre for Pluralism announces its 2nd Oxford Symposium in Comparative and International Education (OXSCIE) from 19th-20th June 2018 at Keble College, Oxford. This year, we examine critically the complex intersections between education, uncertainty and the changing nature of society. 

The rapidly changing shape of the global political landscape has created for people everywhere uncertainties about their social, economic, demographic and climatological futures; and uncertainties about the future interact to change the nature of society, and threaten openness, pluralism and cohesion. Now seems a particularly important time to to ask what kind of society we want, and what role education might play in achieving it. 

The question for OXSCIE 2018, then, is ‘how can we, through education, best shape and sustain a society that is at once plural and cosmopolitan, prosperous and inclusive, fair and responsible, and cohesive?’ Moreover, how might we understand and document the social, cultural and economic pathways selected by young people and their families to navigate the changing nature of society?

OXSCIE 2018 invites 150 delegates from around the world to ask the 'big' questions about education and the future; about the kind of world we want, and in spite of contestation, how we might secure it.


But it is not answers we seek – for there appears to be too many. The purpose of OXSCIE is to sharpen the questions we ask of education in the face of global uncertainties and societies that seem evermore to be fraying at the margins.

Our Aims

The aims of OXSCIE 2018 are five-fold:

  • (1) To ask what role education might play in the face of ever changing external influences that threaten the nature of society and the shared futures of citizens;

  • (2) To ask what it is we might expect of teaching as poverty, inequality, prejudice, discrimination, and other forms of social and spatial divisions increase rather than recede in contemporary society;

  • (3) To ask, as modern economies and institutions lay waste to the learning poor, how we might better understand and document the transitional experiences of children and young people.


OXSCIE 2018 forms part of a larger programme of research on the relationship between uncertainty and education. And an important focus of the programme is the design of new empirical studies that enable us to document the cultural, social, and emotional pathways of young people throughout the first two decades of their lives. OXSCIE 2018 invites discussion and participation in the design of a new suite of longitudinal studies that follow and record the life worlds and life choices of children and young people from year 2020 to 2030. We invite delegates to engage in high-level round table discussions during OXSCIE to fulfill two final aims: 

  • (4) To explore and discuss the impact of uncertainty and the changing nature of society on children's lives and learning pathways during the first decade of life (0-10 years old)

  • (5) To explore and discuss the impact of uncertainty and the changing nature of society on children's lives and learning pathways during the second decade of life (11-20 years old). 

Our Format

Keynote speakers and plenary panels will focus on the following areas:


  1.  Re-Shaping Society: Education in Uncertainty

  2.  Shoring-Up Society: Teaching in Uncertainty

  3.  Navigating Society: Learning in Uncertainty 

  4.  Investing in Society: Responsibility in Uncertainty

Plenary sessions will be followed by high-level round table discussions that focus on:

  • Key intersections between education, uncertainty and the changing nature of society.

  • Impact of uncertainty/society on children's learning pathways during the 1st decade of life.

  • Impact of uncertainty/society on children's learning pathways during the 2nd decade of life.

The final plenary session will look at the role and responsibilities of philanthropy in education and society in how to build a coalition of partnerships to better understand, monitor and document the social, emotional, and cultural pathways of young people through education. 

Our Agenda, Delegates, Round Tables, and Essay Winners

OXSCIE 2018 will welcome delegates for a two day programme from the 19th-20th of June, 2018. Please click below to download various resources for OXSCIE 2018. 


Our aim is to build a new interdisciplinary intellectual framework that guides debate about the nature of education in an unpredictable world.
Our aim is to build a new interdisciplinary intellectual framework that guides debate about the nature of education in an unpredictable world.

Our Partnership

The Centre for Comparative and International Education, in the Department of Education at the University of Oxford partners with the Aga Khan Foundation and the Global Centre for Pluralism to make OXSCIE a success every year. OXSCIE 2018 appreciates the support from Dubai Cares, the Varkey Foundation and the Kays Foundation. 

We think it is important to study the concept of uncertainty – and its form politically, economically and socially. By its nature, uncertainty has no boundaries. Political, economic and social uncertainties are enmeshed with uncertainties about our relationship with our environment, our relationship with technologies and scientific discovery, and our interpersonal relationships.

The Centre for Comparative and International Education 

The Centre for Comparative and International Education at the University of Oxford is an internationally recognised interdisciplinary research centre dedicated to the study of educational systems around the world. Since its inception more than 20 years ago, the Centre has advanced public dialogue about the challenges to educational change, reform and reconstruction in low-and middle-income countries, and the crises and changing faces of educational systems in other parts of the world. To learn more click here. 

For more than 100 years, the AKDN  has worked to ensure that students of all ages have access to quality learning opportunities. The Network operates programs and institutions across more than 25 countries reaching millions of students. As one of AKDN’s five leading agencies in education, the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) works in partnership with governments, civil society, and school stakeholders to raise the quality of education systems for the most marginalized children, worldwide. To learn more click here

The Global Centre for Pluralism is an applied knowledge organization that facilitates dialogue, analysis and exchange about the building blocks of inclusive societies in which human differences are respected. Founded by His Highness the Aga Khan in partnership with the Government of Canada, the Centre is inspired by Canadian pluralism, which demonstrates what governments and citizens can achieve when human diversity is valued and recognized as a foundation for shared citizenship.  To learn more click here.


Each year, the OXSCIE organizing committee nominates 30 delegates from each of a number of constituencies with a stake in education: 

  • The Policy Community - Governments, NGOs, Civil Society Organizations, and Think Thanks

  • The Academia Community - Universities, Professors, Students, Researchers,

  • The Donor Community - Foundations, Bi-Lateral Donors, Multi-Lateral Donors, Individuals

  • The Practitioner Community - School Leaders, Teachers, Parents, Community, Students, Officials

  • The Public Scholar Community - Bloggers, Journalists, and Editors 


We believe that too often, education practitioners are excluded from policy discussions and that the directions for education are frequently set by pressing demands from education donors.


The current conceptual framework that guides the role, mission and direction of education is porous.


There is need for new intellectual leadership on the response of education to the persistent world crisis in education that invites underrepresented constituencies, and underrepresented geographies to new, inclusive, round tables to deliberate some of the most pressing issues of our time.






Education Policy
Education Donor 
Public Scholar

Conveners & Chairpersons


David Johnson

Oxford University

Jayne Barlow

Global Centre for Pluralism

Nafisa Shekhova

Aga Khan Foundation

Andrew Cunningham

Aga Khan Foundation


Ann Childs 

Oxford University

Kathy Sylva 

Oxford University

Khilen Nathwani

The Kays Foundation

Sehr Tejpar 

Aga Khan Foundation

Nada Al Hajjri

Dubai Cares 

Katie O'Brian

Global Centre for Pluralism

Sweta Shah

Aga Khan Foundation

Alice Cornish

Varkey Foundation

Jody Stephenson

Rockdale Foundation

Aqeela Datoo

Aga Khan Foundation

Matt Reed

Aga Khan Foundation

Tracey Evans

Aga Khan Foundation

Elizabeth Grant

Aga Khan Foundation

Nafisa Shekhova

Aga Khan Foundation

Jayne Barlow

Aga Khan Foundation

OXSCIE Coordinating Team

Gordana Kelava

OXSCIE Coordinator

Oxford University

Naseemah Mohammed

Research Assistant

Oxford University


OXSCIE 2018 will be hosted at the historic Keble College, Oxford University.  

Keble College was established at Oxford University in 1870. At present, Keble College hosts 433 undergraduate students and 246 graduate students. There are 50 Fellows who are members of its Governing Body, and they cover a huge variety of disciplines from Aegean Prehistory to Internet Governance. There are another seven Research and Career Development Fellows, and an essential supporting team of research-active College Lecturers. Keble College prides itself on long-standing traditions, but also like to think of themselves ourselves as a 'force for constructive change' in the University.

Delegates' Dinner

Delegates have a special opportunity to dine as VIP guests of OXSCIE and network with fellow delegates throughout the evening at the historic Keble College Dining Hall. 


The Hall, which was opened in 1878, is the longest in Oxford. The College founders aimed to create an institution where an Oxford education could be made available for 'gentlemen wishing to live economically'. One stipulation was that all meals would be taken in common in the dining-hall, eliminating the private entertaining in undergraduates' rooms that was a chief feature of social life in other colleges. OXSCIE delegates will be provided with a four-course meal. Dress code is Formal. 

Background Paper

The Manner of Education in Uncertainty and the Changing Nature of Society


by Dr. David Johnson

Director, Centre for Comparative and International Education

Department of Education

University of Oxford

“The world we seek is not a world where difference is erased, but where difference can be a powerful force for good, helping us to fashion a new sense of cooperation and coherence in our world, and to build together a better life for all.” (His Highness the Aga Khan)


As we look to maximise diversity - towards shaping societies that are prosperous, inclusive, and cohesive, this discussion paper asks what we might expect of education and schooling. But it is clear too that elsewhere, the alternative question is posed; that is, how education might be employed to shape a vision of society built on memories of ‘common heritage’ and ‘tradition’, and of national ‘ownership’ vested in a particular group. Education, it seems, sits at the confluence of two fast moving and swollen streams of political thought: progressivism that invites openness and diversity, and populism that invites a return to singularity and closed borders.

Consequently, the question about the manner of education in shaping plural and coherent societies is usefully understood against the backdrop of a radical reordering of international political relations, the impulsive nature of global economies, persistent problems of inequality, deprivation, prejudice and discrimination, and various forms of social and spatial division; all that have brought sharply to the fore, new and pressing, if contested questions about the kind of society we want to live in. 

Changing political and social influences invite uncertainties about the nature of society; and of our economic, demographic and climatological futures. Ambivalences and uncertainties about our personal futures rise as job security and the dignity of work decline; xenophobia and uncertainties about our social futures deepen as the class and poverty gaps widen and our daily newspaper headlines suggest that the neighbours next door are ‘immigrants’ who jump the queue for social services and welfare benefits; and insecurity and uncertainty about our cultural futures prevail as violent extremists working alone or in concert, unleash attacks on restaurants, street markets, shopping malls, sidewalks, schools and mosques.

These uncertainties threaten to change the meaning of pluralism, of productive diversity and of cohesion, by for example changing the importance people attach to nationality and other forms of identity; and by pitting different ties, allegiances and commitments against one another.

But it is the often publicly expressed sentiment after each reported incident of extremism, racism, or festering personal grievances ‘how could they have done this - they are British (or French, American, etc.,) born and educated’ that suggests that the education system has somehow failed, that compels us to examine more closely the relationship between education and society; to reflect on the tension between what we think is ultimately the philosophical ‘mission’ of education and on how this is to be realised – and by whom.

If it is at the door of the school that the blame for the fracturing of the political order and the fissures in social cohesion is placed, then we need to examine whether the answers are sufficient.

The immediate response, it seems, is thought to lie in curriculum and pedagogy. That is teaching learners to be ‘global citizens’ or ‘creative thinkers and problem solvers’; that teachers must be (or trained to be) ‘open minded’; that the curriculum must change so that it lays the basis for ‘intercultural understanding’ and for ‘pluralism’; or alternatively, as argued above, that the teaching of history and memory and ‘national values’ be further emphasised, sometimes in a narrowly disguised attempt to remake old certainties.


So it is timely to examine whether these ‘answers’ reflect the question – 'how can we, through education, best shape and sustain a society that is at once plural and cosmopolitan, prosperous and inclusive, fair and responsible, and cohesive?'

Critical in this is what we might expect of teachers; what is feasible and achievable as their functions are all the time more distributed between teaching the curriculum and contending with deprivation and emotional fragility as poverty deepens [1]; or monitoring and reporting officially on even young children’s propensity towards radicalisation as fears of extremism grow [2]; and growing expectations that they stand with their students at bus stops in London to prevent them from being drawn into gang fights as violence extends [3] .

A primary school head in Nottinghamshire was recently quoted as saying, "We are expected to be social workers, to be carers, doctors, we are expected to deal with every issue at the same time as doing all the other things that government wants us to do,” (Louise Regan, 2018)

The point is that it is important to temper our expectations of the possibilities of education to maximise diversity and build cohesion with the views of those who ‘work’ the system, or those who work within the system.

Indeed, now seems a particularly important time to get to grips with the question of how societies, that are constantly diversifying can also remain cohesive and stoic in the face of new external forces that threaten the shared futures of their citizens; to understand whether and how it will be possible to create and sustain societal cohesion in plural societies. And in this, what role can we expect education to play?

Education, we know has a crucial place in shaping society, but how that role is defined relies on a clear understanding of its continuities with other social structures and institutions, including business and industry. But the question, ‘how can we, through education, best shape and sustain a society that is at once plural and cosmopolitan, prosperous and inclusive, and  and cohesive?’ is too important to be left to only those working in education.

Building the cohesive society presupposes continuities between inclusive education and an inclusive economy that serves the general interest. But the fact is that in many societies only partial social and spatial interests are served, and far too much is left to chance. The economy lays waste to the ‘learning poor’ – those who for a wide variety of reasons do not learn, or do not know how to make the most of opportunities to learn. It would seem short sighted to think of education that maximises diversity in the classroom, but which is unable to extend itself into the workplace and broader economy. How then, might we open up a discussion about diverse and inclusive societies in which the continuities between education and employment are further examined?

The cohesive society is conscious of responsibility. But our times seem especially fragmented and self-serving with politics and institutions bent to special interests, and with social and cultural affiliations serving to bond rather than bridge groups. An understanding of the modes of social responsibility and its mechanisms is essential if we are to promote the general interest.


The cohesive society requires a shared understanding between people - of place, roles and relationships. Yet there are different visions, agreements or disagreements about the status of different identities, about justice, equality and human rights.

The nature and manner of education to maximising diversity and fostering cohesion cannot be determined in isolation of vigorous public discussion and debate amongst all who care about our futures; and it is particularly important to engage in a direct and sustained way with those that are involved in the delivery of education – in the academy, in colleges of education, in communities and in schools, so that they find voice and offer perspectives of what is realistic and achievable; and in so doing, begin to turn the tide on a growing tendency that places the responsibility for outcomes of uncertainty on the ‘failure’ of education.

These are sensitive times; times in which the role and mission of education are easily subverted if not understood; and weakened if what is expected of teachers and learners is misjudged or over inflated.


We very much look forward to exploring these questions (and more) about education, uncertainty and the changing nature of society during OXSCIE 2018. We look forward to hearing your contribution. 







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