Advancing educational justice

Martha Matzke
This year's theme was particularly relevant to SIL’s work with marginalized non-dominant language communities.

(March 2017) The 61st Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) was held in Atlanta, USA from 5-9 March. This year’s event offered 600+ sessions and attracted over 3000 participants from more than 100 countries. As the world’s largest conference focusing on educational development, CIES brings together policy makers, education development agencies, education specialists, graduate students, researchers and professors from across the world.

The theme of the 2017 CIES conference was “Problematizing (In)Equality: The Promise of Comparative and International Education,” a theme particularly relevant to SIL International’s work with marginalised non-dominant language communities. 

Several of SIL’s language specialists contributed in the planning of the conference, chaired sessions and presented research focused on facilitating more effective implementation of language and education initiatives for non-dominant language communities.


  • Dr. Diane Dekker and Dr. Kimmo Kosonen were part of the Language Issues Special Interest Group Highlighted Session entitled “Problematizing Education Reform: Implementing Multilingual Education as Change from Above, from Below, from the Side — or a Combination?” Both Dr. Kosonen and Dr. Dekker spoke from their research in Asia on the challenges of moving from piloting or small-scale MLE to large-scale implementation in specific low- and middle-income contexts bringing about sustainable change in educational policy and practice.
  • Dr. Barbara Trudell introduced a panel discussion entitled, “Literacy in local-language contexts: helpful tools and useful lessons.” Two of the papers, delivered by Dr. Barbara Trudell and Dr. John Simpson from The British Council dealt with contexts in which the language of the community, and of the early learner, either lacks a standardized written form or is not seen to be relevant to literacy learning.
  • The third paper from Mr Rudy Klaas focussed on pedagogical materials that have been written in local languages of Africa. The author argued that cataloguing the existence of such materials is necessary but not sufficient, and that evaluations of the pedagogical effectiveness of such reading materials can and must be carried out in order to meet the goal of strengthening reading in local languages across the continent.
  • Dr. Mark Karan described a unique tool, A Guide for Planning the Future of Your Language, for determining the best domains of use of local languages, from the perspective of the community of speakers themselves. The paper described a process by which the community of language speakers can decide how they want their language to be used for learning and communication. Dr. Catherine Young served as the discussant for this session and chaired the lively question and answer session.
  • Dr. Joel Trudell delivered a paper entitled “Local knowledge, global knowledge: the role of mother tongue literacy for lifelong learning in rural African contexts” based on research that Joel and Dr. Ian Cheffy have conducted, sharing data relevant to the conference theme of inequality.
  • Eunice Kua delivered a paper in the Education, Conflict and Emergencies Special Interest Group entitled “Heritage-based literacy lessons: Implementing a mother tongue program for Darfur refugee children and adults in eastern Chad” sharing lessons learned from implementing a mother tongue literacy program for children in Darfur refugee camps in eastern Chad. This children’s program was part of a community-based mother tongue literacy initiative facilitated by a team from SIL Chad who were based in a village between two of the camps. With huge numbers of refugees around the world, many of whom come with limited educational backgrounds, this was a particularly important paper, reminding participants that we should consider ways to enact evidence-based practice around mother tongue-based literacy instruction for children and adults, particularly in response to refugees’ felt needs and motivation to maintain their culture and heritage through their written language.

Despite its size, complexity, depth and breadth CIES remains a friendly place for enriching scholarly and professional engagement – in considerable part due to its many Special Interest Groups (SIGs) which are geographically/regionally or thematically organized. Dr. Barbara Trudell chairs the Global Literacy SIG while Dr. Kimmo Kosonen serves as an advisor to the Language Issues SIG.

SIL serves language communities worldwide, building their capacity for sustainable language development, by means of research, translation, training and materials development. SIL has been an official NGO partner with UNESCO since 1993 and has had special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 1997 and is a founding member of Maaya, the World Network for Linguistic Diversity.


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