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OISE professor Karen Mundy appointed to the UNESCO International Commission on the Futures of Education 

October 1, 2019

By Vesna Bajic


Dr. Karen Mundy, Professor in the Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education, has been appointed to the UNESCO International Commission on the Futures of Education. Launched on September 26 at the 74th United Nations General Assembly in New York, the initiative aims to re-imagine how knowledge and learning can shape the futures of humanity in a context of increasing complexity, uncertainty and precarity.

The Commission is made up of leading figures from academia, business, civil society, education, science and technology. Chaired by Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde, the Commission will prepare a global report on the future of education for release in 2021.

Mundy, an expert in international and comparative education, has held several leadership positions at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, including Canada Research Chair in Global Governance and Comparative Education and Associate Dean of Research and Innovation. Earlier this year, she spearheaded the development of the Doctor of Education (EdD) in International Educational Leadership and Policy program OISE.

Mundy’s research focuses on the global politics and policy implications of “education for all,” educational policy and reform in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the role of civil society organizations in educational change.

From 2014 to 2018, she served as Chief Technical Officer at the Global Partnership for Education and led the development of its 2015-2020 Strategic Plan, Gender Equality Strategy, Results Framework, and Monitoring and Evaluation Strategy.

Vesna Bajic spoke with Mundy to learn more about her recent appointment.

Why is the establishment of the UNESCO commission important?

The United Nation Educational Scientific and Cultural Organizations has as its mandate ensuring that education is available for all, and sees education as forming the foundation for peace. Every quarter of a century or, so since UNESCO's formation after World War II, the organization has invited a high-level commission to take stock of major challenges in education and the ways in which education can help ensure a secure, peaceful and just world. Those challenges are becoming ever more complex in the 21st century – between climate change, technological disruption, and the breakdown of the liberal post-WWII world order. This is an important opportunity to see whether education systems are doing their part to help us to respond effectively to these challenges.

As an education expert who has advised many international organizations and governments, and who has worked in Africa and South Asia, how does your research inform practice?

Much of my research has studied the role played by international organizations in ensuring the fundamental right to education; the evolution of educational system reform in East and Southern Africa; and the effects of the engagement of civil society in ensuring accountability education.

I’ve also evaluated many different types of education programs and projects, ranging in focus from UNICEF work on early childhood education and improving teaching; to the achievement of gender and other forms of equity; to effective reform of entire education systems and their financing and allocation of resources.   
One of the terrific things about working across these different topics has been that I’ve seen educational change from the vantage of different actors and institutions – and had an opportunity to integrate research and evidence into advising educational actors at these different scales.

Over the years I’ve become more and more convinced that we’ve been too slow in using what we know about the science of human development to inform the kinds of learning systems we invest in. If we want to tackle the challenges of our rapidly changing common futures, we are going to have to think harder about how to move beyond a hopeful set of putative commitments to equitable access to quality education. We are going to have to focus on implementation, and think about how to ramp up investment both earlier in the lifespan (early childhood) and for in youth and adult learners. Both groups play fundamental roles in defining our futures.