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Oxford Symposium for Comparative and International Education 

Re-Examining the Mission of Education and the Meaning of Learning in an Uncertain World

Our Annual Convening of 150 World Leaders in Education

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

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

Political Uncertainties
Scientific, Environmental and Technological Uncertainties

What is the educational response to uncertainty?

Children's Learning
School Leadership
Family Engagement
Community Involvement
Teacher Transformation
Policy and Governance
Early Childhood Development
Primary & Secondary Education
Higher Education
Re-Examining our Lifelong Ladder of Formal and Informal Learning

Focus & Format


Every year, OXSCIE invites 150 global delegates to consider the features of uncertainty and debate the nature of the educational response to some of the most pressing concerns facing children, today.

Our aim is to build a new interdisciplinary intellectual framework that guides debate about the meaning of learning and mission of education in an uncertain and unpredictable world.  


Delegates hear from three keynote sessions on different dimensions of uncertainty. 


Each keynote and plenary session is followed by high-level Round Table discussions. These are led in discussion by three speakers whose ideas have been nominated by the OXSCIE organising committee.


Each round table addresses each of the dimensions of uncertainty in turn.

The round tables are asked to consider what we can reasonably expect from education in times of uncertainty and what this means, amongst others for:

  • Children's Learning

  • Teacher Transformation

  • Parental/Family Engagement

  • School Leadership

  • Community Involvement and

  • Education Systems, Policy and Governance.

Each Round Table consists of a mix of delegates from academic, policy and practitioners communities.

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.
Focus & Format
Why Education & Uncertainties

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, the Global Centre for Pluralism and the Varkey Foundation make OXSCIE a success every year.

We think it 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.

The Varkey Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation established to improve the standards of education for underprivileged children throughout the world.  Our mission is that every child should have a good teacher.  We do this through building teacher capacity, advocacy campaigns to promote excellence in teaching practice at the highest levels of policy making and providing grants to partner organisations that offer innovative solutions in support of our mission. To learn more click here.

Concept Note

Dr. David Johnson, Director of the Centre for Comparative Education, offers his thoughts on Education and Uncertainty

There is little doubt that the rise of populism in Europe, buoyed by the vote in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union and the election of the most recent American President has increased political unpredictability.  This in turn, has led to new economic uncertainties; and it is clear that in many countries the decline of inclusive economic growth coupled with the growth of inequalities has given rise to other uncertainties:

Personal uncertainties and ambivalences as job security and the declining dignity of work; social uncertainties as the class gap widens and the neighbours next door are identified as ‘immigrants’ who jump the queue for social services and welfare benefits; cultural uncertainties as violent extremists working alone or in concert unleash attacks on restaurants, street markets, shopping malls, schools and mosques; personal and moral uncertainties as more and frequent evidence of historical and contemporary cases of child abuse, ‘grooming’, and the modern slave trade becomes evident; uncertainties about the advances in technology as smart phones and other devices are used to bully, harass, entice and embarrass rather than for social and scientific advancement.

But it is the fact that each reported incidence of ‘home grown terrorism’, cultural intolerance or even broadly, the rise of populism is attributed to the failure of the educational system that compels us to pause to examine more closely the relationship between education and social and political uncertainty. It is important to reflect upon the tension between what we think to be a widely shared worldview of the ultimate philosophical ‘mission’ of education and more contentious perspectives on how this is to be realised.

There are for example strongly held views that it is at the door of the school that we must place the blame for the fracturing of the political order and the fissures in social cohesion; and that the answers lie in teaching learners to be ‘global citizens’ or ‘creative thinkers and problem solvers’, that teachers must be (trained to be) ‘open minded’ and that the curriculum must change so that it lays the basis for ‘peace building’ and for ‘pluralism’.

But, there are equally strong arguments for educational systems to teach national values, or in some countries to concentrate what little time teachers have on a narrow curriculum – or as some might have it, like soldiers on a battle field, on the ‘last’ problem; that is that teachers are deployed to deal with the immediate presenting ‘battle’ – to ensure that students read better, or read more; become skilled users of scientific or computer equipment; or that they compose poetry and learn to play the flute.

Both sets of arguments are clearly important and it is a matter of concern that they have recently been posed as contesting and opposite ‘educational’ responses to broader political, economic and social uncertainties.

For us it is timely to interrogate both these positions in a more rigorous manner. It is important to temper strongly held political and philosophical beliefs of the advocates for change, with the views of those who ‘work’ the system, or those who work within the system.


We are keen to hear your views and what you think ought to constitute the educational response to dimensions of uncertainty and unpredictability moving forward.

Concept Note

Caroline Arnold, Global Director of Education for the Aga Khan Foundation, offers her thoughts on Education and Uncertainty

Children and adults alike, in every country, need to develop multiple skills during the course of their lives to survive and thrive. The old certainties no longer exist. As economies change fast, how do we learn to adapt? As technology develops at pace, how do we learn to interact with screens and new media in socially, politically and economically productive ways? How has the rise of populism increased political unpredictability? As societies become increasingly diverse and pressured how do we learn to live together and to recognize that diversity as a blessing rather than a threat? Finally, as environmental pressures take hold further, how do we learn to live in more sustainable ways?

In the current highly fragile and often already fractured climate, is it not all the more important to be giving attention to education’s broader concerns?  Are children being equipped with the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values to interact effectively with their world and contribute to their families, communities and the wider society?

According to His Highness the Aga Khan, 'Pluralist societies are not accidents of history. They are a product of enlightened education and continuous investment'.                

It was the failure of school systems around the world to enable children to become successful learners which was the impetus for efforts to provide systematic attention to enable all children to gain basic skills. Over recent years, there has been a frenetic sense of urgency to improve learning outcomes. While critical the concerns arise over the narrowness of the way these outcomes are being defined. Are we looking only at the scores on academic tests in school? Are we caring about what we measure rather than measuring what we care about? Is valid knowledge becoming defined by what is assessed and what is not assessed is not valued?  Almlund, Duckworth, Heckman and Kautz (2011) remind us that such tests are not all that predictive of later life outcomes. It’s a broader set of “personal qualities” (Duckworth and Yager, 2015) that longitudinal research demonstrates powerfully predict academic, economic, social, psychological, and physical well-being.


Key skills and characteristics which are needed in addition to numeracy and literacy are adaptability, innovation, teamwork, problem solving and communication as well as responsible citizenship, empathy and pluralism. Employers have long been clear about the need for such characteristics. It is time that education worldwide caught up!

As the Ahmedabad Plan of Action (UNESCO, 2016 ) states, ‘Dominant education systems have tended to impose a narrow conception of rationality at the expense of emotional understanding, learning acquired through experience and traditional [and new] knowledge systems. Education must [therefore] be re-conceived in a way that allows space for diverse ways of knowing and new ways of being’.

We are thrilled to be partnering with the University of Oxford and look forward to new, wide-ranging, and inclusive conversations that highlight how and why education, even in times of uncertainty, remains the enabling right to improving the quality of life for all.  


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

  • Networked Communities- 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.


Organising Committee

Considering OXSCIE's interest in addressing the educational response to uncertainty across the from early childhood through primary and secondary education to higher education and beyond, OXSCIE's inaugural organizing committee reflects academic experts with deep experience and long-standing thought leadership  across the ladder of lifelong learning. 


Dr. David Johnson

Oxford University

Caroline Arnold

Aga Khan Foundation

Andrew Cunningham

Aga Khan Foundation

Committee Members

Prof. Kathy Sylva

Oxford University

Dr. Ann Childs

Oxford University

Jayne Barlow

Global Centre for Pluralism

Nafisa Shekhova

Aga Khan Foundation

Naseemah Mohamed

Oxford University

Ashmita Randhawa

Oxford University






Education Policy
Education Donor 
Public Scholar


OXSCIE Delegates will engage in debate and dialogue within the historic walls Oxford University.

The specific venue for OXSCIE 2018 will be announced soon. Please check back with us! 

The Venue for OXSCIE 2017 was at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford. 

In 1878 LMH was founded and changed Oxford University for ever. It opened up Oxford to women for the first time. They were pioneers and broke boundaries, going on to lead remarkable lives, such 

Eglantyne Jebb (History 1895) who became a school teacher and then created one of the greatest humanitarian ventures of the twentieth century. She founded Save The Children Fund in 1919 to attend to the numbers of children whose lives had been devastated by the First World War. She also drew up the Declaration of the Rights of the child, which was adopted by the League of Nations in 1926 and subsequently by the United Nations.

In those days, women were not allowed to graduate from the Oxford University and so took a steamboat to Dublin and collected their degrees from Trinity College Dublin. That changed in 1920 when they were made full members of Oxford University and in 1979 LMH men were admitted to the College, 100 years since the first group of students arrived.


Delegates' Dinner

Delegates are invited to an Evening Formal Dinner at the famous Ashmolean Museum in Oxford University ( 

The Ashmolean Museum is the world's first university museum. Its first building was erected in 1678 to house the cabinet of curiosities that Elias Ashmole gave to the University of Oxford in 1677. 

Highlights of the Ashmolean's collection include:

Delegates have a special opportunity to dine as VIP guests of OXSCIE and network with fellow delegates throughout the evening. 

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