By Kelsey Sherbondy | Paris, France
I couldn’t possibly say anything to describe Paris that hasn’t already been said, so allow me to borrow the words of author and one-time editor of The New Yorker, James Thurber, to paint a picture of my placement: “The whole of Paris is a vast university of art, literature and music… it is worth anyone’s while to dally here for years. Paris is a seminar, a post-graduate course in everything.”
As a graduate student and GW UNESCO Fellow, I feel grateful to be spending the summer expanding my knowledge of the field of international education in a city that boasts such a hugely diverse population, countless international organizations, top universities, as well as world-class museums and cultural institutes. It also just so happens to be a personal favorite.
Paris is in fact the headquarters of UNESCO, which is situated on the Place de Fontenoy on the city’s Left Bank i.e. south of the River Seine. But opposite Fontenoy, across the Champ-de-Mars, past the Eiffel Tower, over the Seine, and just beyond the Trocadéro, Paris hosts another UNESCO office: The International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP). IIEP is a specialized arm of UNESCO’s education sector, and the Category 1 Institute where I am privileged to be carrying out my fellowship.
IIEP was founded in 1963—about 20 years after UNESCO itself—as UNESCO members recognized a need created by the fact that most newly independent nations had been left to operate without educational managers from their former colonial systems. IIEP has since been charged with the task of building capacity among educational planners and managers in ministries of education around the world. Today, it carries out this mission via offices in Paris, Buenos Aires, and Dakar through research, technical cooperation, knowledge sharing, and a variety of online and in-person training and learning opportunities, the cornerstone of which is the rigorous, nine-month Advanced Training Programme (ATP). Just last week, IIEP awarded the latest ATP graduates with certificates of completion, adding to the thousands the Institute has already trained in the management and analysis of education systems. (Look for me to the left with the pictured ATP graduates and IIEP staff!)
My primary project as a GW UNESCO Fellow at IIEP is another training offering, namely, the IIEP Summer School. Each year, IIEP implements a three-week training program for educational managers, offered in part online and in Paris, and organized around a particular theme. As an organization, UNESCO’s priorities are Africa and gender equality, and so it is in this context that the 2017 Summer School curriculum will focus on “Policy, Planning and Leadership for Sustainable Educational Development.” Additionally, the program will be restricted only to female educational planners for the first time. I am thrilled, honored, and humbled to have the opportunity to contribute to the professional development of as many as 35 women working toward the improvement of education in their home countries. Thus far, I’ve assisted in the process of developing the leadership skills portion of the training, compiled course readings and materials, and contributed to the design of introductory exercises for the program. I look forward to continuing my work on the Summer School and welcoming the trainees to the office at the end of August.
As I focus in on my summer projects and research, I remember, too, that I’m working in the context of some particularly interesting transitions. At IIEP, the current Medium-Term Strategy is concluding, and the development of priorities that will guide the Institute for the next several years is underway. UNESCO itself seeks to elect the next Director-General at the end of this year, and in France, a new government led by the country’s youngest ever president, Emmanuel Macron, has just taken shape. Without a doubt, it’s an exciting time to be enrolled in Thurber’s “seminar.”
Interested in knowing more about what goes on at IIEP? Join me at an event taking place in the Paris office this week via webcast! On Tuesday, 11 July, my IIEP colleagues will host the next in a series of Strategic Debates on the topic of “Privatization or public investment in education?” Learn more and register to watch the live stream online.
Kelsey is a candidate for a master’s degree in international education, focusing on international higher education capacity building and cooperation. Connect with Kelsey on LinkedIn to continue the conversation about her fellowship.