by Claire Miller
When you have a problem that needs to be addressed, one of the first options you consider is to ask an expert. Trying to decide between wallpapering the living room vs. repainting it? You head to the closest home improvement store and ask the staff about the pros and cons of each.
But what if you could bring together experts in a variety of fields to offer their unique perspectives on an issue?
This was the main idea behind Blurring Boundaries: An International Educational Development Conference, a two-day event sponsored by the College of Education, the United Nations Academic Impact, Seoul National University and the Committee on Teaching about the United Nations (CTAUN).
The conference invited representatives from international organizations and universities from across the world to come to Atlanta April 10-11, 2012, and bring their research and experiences to bear on educational issues educators face today.
“We need to leverage our resources and space with our international partners to do a better job of serving educational needs globally,” said Randy Kamphaus, COE dean, during the opening session on April 10.
The Blurring Boundaries Conference featured panel discussions on topics ranging from physical health and educational development to the role of schools of education as change agents and the impact of mental health issues and trauma on education.
Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi and past-chancellor of the Durban University of Technology, led a plenary session on peace education, discussing the benefits of teaching about notable peacemakers rather than focusing on wars and violence in history classes.
She urged educators to come to a consensus on how we define peace, what content can be used in peace education courses and how to teach it – both in traditional and nontraditional settings – so that citizens grow up with a thorough knowledge of how peaceful interactions can make a difference.
“Education happens at various levels – in schools, in organizations, in informal settings and social structures,” she said. “These structures are, however, themselves influenced by local, national and international formations. We therefore need to have strategies to transform society at all these levels, as we transform education.”
College and schools of education can be instrumental in making changes in the way educators teach the most basic concepts. Donna Coch, associate professor and chair of the Department of Education at Dartmouth College, spoke about the National Reading Panel’s Five Pillars of Reading Instruction, and the need for educators and teacher preparation programs need to deepen their understanding of how children learn to read.
“We know from the National Reading Panel that there are evidenced-based practices for teaching an alphabetical language such as English. A lot of these skills are difficult to teach, and that’s where the teacher education piece comes in,” Coch said. “We need to deepen our understanding of the Five Pillars of Reading but also expand our understanding of what happens when children begin to read.”
The conference’s opening reception, held at the Carter Presidential Center, featured Anne-Marie Carlson and Carolyn Donovan, CTAUN’s chair and vice-chair, and Gillian Sorensen, senior advisor for the United Nations Foundation, to discuss their respective organizations’ work in the field of education.
Though the conference provided an avenue for discussing educational issues at all levels, Ramu Damodaran, deputy director for partnerships and public engagement in the United Nation’s Department of Public Information, noted that the conversations at the conference were one part of an ongoing effort to address methods for educational development – methods that may take decades to take root but are nevertheless important to work toward.
“The answers to which you’re working today might not happen in your lifetime, but that doesn’t make working toward them any less valid,” Damodaran said.
To view pictures from the conference, click here.