The Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) brings together over 3000 researchers, students, scholars, and practitioners who share their interest in Comparative and International Education. As part of its structure, CIES has 35 Special Interest Groups (SIGs) which focus on a common interest, such as a specific region or field of study. SIGs are instrumental in advancing diversity within CIES and establishing connections among scholars with shared interests. Each SIG is led by a group of scholars who volunteer their time and work to create a platform for discussion and promote research on specific regions or topics.


In preparation for the CIES 2021 Annual Meeting, we met with five doctoral students in our program who currently hold leading roles in different SIGs.


Abbas Abbasov

Abbas is Co-Chair of the Eurasia SIG. A key part of his role in the Eurasia SIG involves getting people interested in topics related to Eurasia and collaborating with the organization of the annual conference. Abbas helps with the process of finding reviewers for CIES proposal submissions, managing the accepted submissions, and organizing them into thematic sessions. Abbas also works together with the other Eurasia SIG Committee members to maintain an online shared library based on post-Soviet Eurasian literature and send out announcements about events related to education in the region. 


Carine Verschueren

Carine is Program Chair for the Environmental and Sustainability Education (ESE) SIG. She decided to take a leadership role in the ESE because she wanted to help build a stronger network of active scholars who are interested in this field and because she was ready to bring new enthusiasm to the SIG. Carine has contributed to reinstituting awards, running workshops, creating newsletters, and building a website. She also participated in an initiative to create an institutional memory of the SIG by recording interviews with past leadership and has collaborated with reviewing submissions and organizing panels. As a scholar in ESE herself, participating in the SIG has given Carine “more than I expected I would find.”


Sumita Ambasta

Sumita is the Inaugural Chair of the Southeast Asia (SEA) SIG. She led the initiative to create the Southeast Asia SIG in collaboration with another two doctoral students in our program and one alum. Sumita realized this SIG was a much-needed interest group while taking a course on Southeast Asia and politics of knowledge. In Sumita’s words, “a lot of disciplinary, cutting-edge work has come out of Southeast Asia as a region. So, while everybody knows Benedict Anderson’s work, they do not know his work was in Indonesia, which is very interesting.” To Sumita, it is no wonder that remarkable scholarship has drawn on Southeast Asia, given its very rich history, biodiversity, and linguistic diversity.


Kevin Henderson

Kevin is Program Chair of the Southeast Asia (SEA) SIG. He is one of the founding members of this new SIG who worked closely with several others to “create a home for papers, roundtables, and sessions related to Southeast Asia.” Working with fellow SEA SIG founders, including doctoral students Sumita Ambasta and Kazuaki Iwabuchi, Kevin aided in drafting the initial SIG creation petition, defining the SIG’s purpose and academic emphasis, and charting out the geographical contours of the SIG. Kevin also worked to seek advice from external scholars who focus on the region, and to review, manage, and coordinate conference submissions for CIES 2021.


Romina Quezada Morales

Romina is Secretary for the Indigenous Knowledge and the Academy (IKA) SIG. Part of her motivation to take on this role was to “contribute to bring Latin American voices to the SIG.” Increasing the representation of Latin American scholars in the SIG was crucial because, as Romina explained, the IKA SIG “is always trying to have representatives from different places because Indigenous peoples are everywhere.” In her role as Secretary, Romina has helped put together bimonthly webinars featuring Indigenous scholars and Indigenous topics in education. She has also collaborated with planning seminars and events within the annual CIES conference that can help strengthen the collaboration and conversations across different SIGs.


Current Trends, Conversations, and Challenges

Taking on a leadership role in CIES SIGs, these five doctoral students have had a unique opportunity to engage in conversations about current trends in their specific fields of study. We asked them about some of the pressing issues, themes, and challenges that their SIGs face.


While the Indigenous Knowledge and the Academy SIG is primarily concerned with education, there is a growing interest in highlighting the role of scholars. As Romina explained, “this Indigenous knowledge does not necessarily have to do with education, but it is education because knowledge, when transmitted, is education.” Focusing on Indigenous knowledge, this SIG takes a broad approach to education. Bringing attention to Indigenous knowledge within CIES, the IKA SIG has contributed to highlighting the voices of Indigenous scholars and the importance of Indigenous education movements. In line with some Indigenous philosophies, they have also sought to emphasize the role of the elderly. However, this is not without its challenges. Romina shared two main challenges the SIG faces in bringing more Indigenous scholars to CIES and which SIG officers are seeking to address: the economic obstacles related to CIES costs and the language barrier that CIES meetings pose for some scholars.


Some of the issues that members of the Environmental and Sustainability Education SIG study include policy studies, pedagogy, case studies, and reflective practice. An important feature of the ESE SIG is that it is more than a topic: this SIG is actively seeking ways to make CIES more sustainable. As Carine explained, “the culture of environmentalism and sustainability is something we’d like to bring to the society (...) We're not only working on our own research with formal, informal education, different layers from policy to do praxis, but we're also trying to, within the society, to raise the question, how are we organized? How are we doing everything and is that sustainable as well?”


Some of the current trends in the Eurasia SIG include higher education, corruption and democratization in the region, and how education inequalities affect rural youth. But more broadly, one important discussion taking place right now is the name of the group. As Abbas explained, even though the SIG is named Eurasia, it is not concerned with the whole continent but with the former Soviet Union, post-socialist Eastern European countries, and some of the post-socialist or socialist Asian countries like Mongolia and North Korea. As Abbas explained, there have been conversations about the possibility of changing the name of the SIG as members are growing “critical of the name Eurasia because it's showing Russian imperialist interests.”


Despite being so new, the Southeast Asia SIG received a lot of attention for the upcoming CIES conference. As Kevin explained, “one of the wonderful things about the planned sessions for CIES is that we have papers which are exploring nearly every country in mainland Southeast Asia, and many of the countries in maritime.” In the upcoming annual conference, the Southeast Asia SIG will host panels on a range of topics, including digital spaces, academic integrity, and education access. Sumita reflected on the interesting pushback they got in creating this new SIG because there already exists a South Asia and an East Asia SIG. As she explained, a SIG focusing on Southeast Asia was still needed because “the historical contexts and the issues are very different (...) The Southeast Asia culture sits in the middle of the transit routes between India and China for 2000 years, so it has a highly interesting pre-colonial, colonial history. So whether it is Indigenous knowledge, whether it's colonial history, whether it is post-colonial, whether it's nationalism, whether it is, you know, socialism versus capitalism, whether it's trade, you name the theme, Southeast Asia is as rich as Europe in terms of studying these themes. That's why a lot of scholars of disciplines, whether it's politics, whether it's economics, whether it's anthropology, they flock to Southeast Asia.”


Contributing to CIES: Expectations and Motivations

As new scholars in Comparative and International Education, doctoral students bring fresh ideas to their respective SIGs and have high expectations for their role as SIG leaders. For example, Romina hopes to use the SIG as a space to emphasize the voices of Indigenous scholars and to strengthen and highlight this academic community. For Sumita, a lot of the research that Southeast Asian scholars have produced is still not widely read in the West, a phenomenon that she is certain will change. She hopes the SIG can contribute to this change. To Kevin, the main challenge for the Southeast Asia SIG is to stay current and to build a network of scholars and practitioners who can share their insights and collaborate with research centers and academic associations beyond CIES. 


Beyond academic expectations, Carine emphasized the advocacy element of her work in ESE. In her words, “I will continue to advocate with my research and try to bring this movement or make this movement stronger. And if I can play a small role in that through the SIG, by creating stronger and more open networks and very willing people to collaborate and exchange ideas and build on each other's research and working together and communicating to all the teachers and the students out there, I think, you know, we can actually make a small difference there.”


Similarly, Abbas expects “to use this platform to advocate for issues related to the post-Soviet region and be able to draw more attention to issues related to education in the former Soviet Union.” This research is key because “if you look at it as at the face value, you can group us [the Eurasia SIG] with regional SIGs because it is a regional SIG, but at the same time, (...) Soviet legacy has created this post-Soviet region. At least the educational systems that are very similar to each other. And I think that is something that makes us more than a region because there's something uniquely linking all of those countries.”


The future of Comparative and International Education

Each of the subfields in which these five SIG leaders are immersed brings more and better questions to CIE and pushes our field in new and exciting directions. Having had the opportunity to talk with these new scholars, we asked them where they saw the field going. For Kevin,“it will be interesting to see how systems of education and educational management within Southeast Asia will be explored academically, and how these will be compared to systems elsewhere in the world.”


Romina reflected on the multiple levels for comparison that can contribute to research in the field of CIE and the potential of focusing on Indigenous knowledge. She stressed the importance of creating a space for diverse voices in CIE: “I think Indigenous peoples have gained a voice. Everyday there are more Indigenous scholars and more people who pursue this field and who are not only interested in providing education but in giving them a voice within this dynamic. I do think the movement has grown (...) For 20 years we have been in this movement of bilingual intercultural education and Indigenous education, so it has definitely grown in Latin America and the goal is to support it.”


Abbas echoed this call: “I think in Comparative Education there needs to be more space for marginalized voices (...) There needs to be more and more of those voices and I feel like the field is moving more and more towards them (...) And then, in our smaller SIG, more ideas about marginalized youth, sexual harassment, sexual abuse and education, even those questions should be given more attention.”


Reflecting on current trends in the field of ESE, Carine explained that scholars and practitioners are focusing more and more on climate change education than on sustainability, in part because it is a more tangible focus. With climate change at the forefront of news and politics, there is hope that environmental and sustainability education will get increased attention. Sumita connected the challenge of sustainability to the possibilities for exchange among scholars. She highlighted that there is much to learn about the ways in which Southeast Asian countries are addressing questions of sustainability and education: “I think that comparative education learnings need to go both ways. That there are things that we all can learn from each other.”


Looking forward to CIES

These five doctoral students have volunteered their time and effort to add to ongoing conversations in the field and will certainly be at the forefront of Comparative and International Education for the upcoming years. These scholars’ contributions are crucial for their respective SIGs, the CIES community, and the broader fields of education. As Sumita put it, “I think people are asking deeper questions and, you know, our job as educators is always to ask better questions. Not give the right answers, but to ask better questions. So I think that CIES can do that.”


As for the motivation to volunteer, Carine explained: “I think part of it is doing service for CIES, for our department or students graduating from our department with Masters or Doctorates. This is our family, our academic family, and I think service to the family is a given at some point.”


By Paula Mantilla-Blanco