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Critical Work in Critical Regions: Work in Crisis Countries and Creating the Field of Education in Emergencies

Tue, April 16, 5:00 to 6:30pm, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Atrium (Level 2), Waterfront D


Don Adams’ international work in crisis countries not only helped found the field of development education, but was a forerunner of today’s field of education in emergencies. His early work in South Korea after the war, for example, helped the government re-establish its ministry of education with a focus on education that was tightly integrated into broader conceptions of economic, political and social development. Building on growing research on human capital, it shifted away from post-WWII Marshall plans for development that focused heavily on investing in infrastructure. He mentored the next generation of education leaders so they have the knowledge and skills needed for acquiring greater investment in education to sustain economic and social development (Adams & Gottlieb, 1991). We see this investing in development education in Iraq and Afghanistan today.

In order to achieve these goals, he and others, eventually at the University of Pittsburgh, shifted the field of comparative education toward both international and development education. Early important work in comparative education tended toward research into descriptive analyses of national education systems, situated in complex contexts. The University of Pittsburgh’s International Development Education Program (IDEP) faculty took a very different turn. They went out into the field, working shoulder-to-shoulder with governments and aid agencies to plan and build educational systems and institutions. Don’s work was not always without risk. For example, he worked in Yemen during their civil war. He worked in Pakistan, both with the government’s efforts to accommodate Afghan refugees, and in poorer, complex areas such as Baluchistan. Many of these efforts, while rewarding, were also politically sensitive. This complicated his publishing agenda, but he never allowed his academic career to intrude on what he ethically considered to be useful work.

Instead, he turned to his policy and planning research. This allowed him to generalize his experience, without sacrificing sensitive field work. For example, his earlier work in Latin America allowed him to theorize about planning for development education. This theorizing helped him develop solid ground for future work, not only in crises countries, but in more stable countries, particularly in Asia.

I will show how Don Adams’ early work and his scholarship is reflected in the work of contemporary development agencies and their contractors, philanthropic organizations and the research so many of us do and teach in the field of education in emergencies. Without the strong roots Adams has established, our work would not be sustainable.