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05 Dec 2023
13:00 - 14:30 CET

Event Highlights - Launch of NSI 09: Foundational Learning: Current Debates and Praxes

Wednesday 24 January 2024

13:00 to 14:30 CET 


On Wednesday, 24 January 2024, on International Day of Education, NORRAG launched its ninth NORRAG Special Issue publication entitled Foundational Learning: Current Debates and Praxes.

At the start of the launch event, Chanwoong Baek, NORRAG’s Academic Director, welcomed everyone and opened with a presentation of NORRAG’s work on Education and the SDGs and the NSI series. The NORRAG Special Issues aim to expand the debate and foster dialogue among global and national education policy stakeholders, bridge the gap between theory and practice, and stimulate new research, advocacy, and policy innovation in international education development.

Then, Hugh McLean, Senior Advisor at NORRAG and editor of this special issue, took the floor. He pointed out that debate about foundational learning tends to be polarized and unproductive on the international scene while it remains non-reflective on the grounds. He also noted that foundational learning propels us to reconsider our assumptions about learning because they are generative, collaborative, continuous, and many others. He shared that foundational learning is fundamental in all pedagogy. Hugh also reviewed this issue’s parts, listing how the different contributions are interlinked.

The first author’s presentation of the NIS 09, Anurag Shukla, Director and Co-founder Localism, and Director (Education) of Brat Education Trust, shared his some insights. The chapter he contributed is entitled Reimagining Foundational Learning in India: Challenges and Prospects for Equitable Implementation. He draws on India`s educational landscape to explore foundational learning and its impact on India’s 2020 educational policy. He noted that the policy’s lack of clarity on foundational learning is a key challenge. He presented that this compromises the quality of education and creates an inequitable learning environment due to the dominance of government schools that serve students focusing on basic literacy and numeracy. He concluded that for NIPUN Bharat’s mission to succeed, challenges like resource allocation, teacher training, program design, and inclusivity must be addressed to lay a robust foundation for children’s education.

The second presentation focused on the chapter Lost in PISA-lation: the Limits of Measuring Gender and Poverty and was presented by Özgenur Korlu, Policy Analyst, Egitim Reformu Girisimi. Özgenur spoke on the limitations of large-scale assessments like PISA in addressing complex issues of gender and poverty in education. She highlighted that there is a critical oversight in its gender-focused analysis where measurement of gender equality in education has originally remained on parity in performance. She said this does not consider complex social and educational factors or structural and societal pressures that shape the learning environment. She also highlighted that PISA is homogenising diverse systems without considering the nuanced inequalities it aims to address. She calls for re-evaluating the interpretation and measurement of gender and poverty inequalities.

Following this, Adam Roberti, the Executive Director of Xavier Cortada Foundation, presented his chapter on Foundational Learning and Socially Engaged Art in an Era of Overlapping Environmental Crises. He based his presentation on the works of renowned Cuban-American artist Xavier Cortada with his Reclamation project and the Underwater Homeowners Association, using art to educate people to create and inspire a generation of environmental stewards. He said that these initiatives highlighted the intersection of socially engaged art and foundational learning by demonstrating how participatory-driven and experiential learning can cultivate individuals with ecologically aware worldviews and instil foundational skills like curiosity and self-efficacy.

The fourth presentation by Rita Potyguara and Renata Montechiare from the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences – Flacso, Brasil, was related to the chapter entitled The Maria Venâncio Indigenous School of the Tremembé of Almofala, Intercultural Basic Education and the Fight for Indigenous Land. The speakers shared insights on indigenous researchers of rural education. They mentioned a project mapping Quilombola schools in a border region developed by the communities themselves and reflecting the impact on community experiences. They highlighted that it values and legitimizes the Tremembé ethnic group, creating an opportunity for the community to have a public space of connection and bond. The speakers also touched on how Tremembé have been able to include their history and culture in the basic education curriculum.

For the fifth part of the presentation, Christina T. Kwauk, Director of Kwauk and Associates, talked about Climate Action and Climate Justice: Foundational Learning in the Climate Crisis. Christina based her presentation on young activists who demonstrate the capacity to act and seek climate justice, which is foundational to learning in a world gripped by climate emergencies. She spoke on how climate education and justice are foundational learning pillars. She highlighted that learning is like nurturing a seed with sparked curiosity and care for nature. Christina  also said  the pillar of foundational learning involves understanding the root cause of climate change and its impacts on the most vulnerable in society. She, therefore, calls on decision-makers to adopt a new green learning agenda that redefines education.

Keri Facer, Professor of Educational and Social Futures in the School of Education, University of Bristol, was the discussant for this event. She began by highlighting the insightful presentation by the speakers, pointing out the wide range of ideas shared on foundational learning. She based her discussion on two fundamental transformations, including a rapidly and disruptive warming world and technologies resulting in more profound uncertainties. Keri shared some foundational questions about the meaning of humans within a world of machines exploring our history and reversing it. She discussed that these are the fundamentals of numeracy and literacy that students need. She highlighted that foundational learning is part of a long revolution. She then mentioned that key foundational learning should assist each child in understanding capabilities and limitations and what they could contribute to the world.

The launch was concluded by Chanwoong Baek, who thanked the participants for the questions shared during the event. He also thanked the speakers, authors and editor for their work on this publication, now available for consultation.


NSI 09: Foundational Learning: Current Debates and Praxes

NORRAG Special Issue 09, edited by Hugh McLean, explores the redoubled emphasis on foundational learning, and the framing of “relevance” as standing in tension with basic literacy and numeracy, that has emerged at this midway point to Agenda 2030. How do we think about foundational learning in ways that really make sense in 2024, in the world we see around us? Ideas about what is foundational in education have always resided in contested terrain. The current debate, on the surface, perhaps, tends to polarise around those who believe foundational learning should involve only literacy and numeracy and those who believe it must involve other foundational skills and content as well. In reality, the debate is as complex as it is crucial: it reflects financing decisions and constraints, policy priorities and planning within education systems; it embraces many encompassing questions about the purposes of education and the nature of the social compacts we construct to deliver equity and quality in education; it is fundamentally about pedagogy and how pedagogy is understood.


  • Opening: Chanwoong Baek, Academic Director, NORRAG, Assistant Professor, Geneva Graduate Institute, Switzerland
  • Introduction by the Editor: Hugh McLean, Senior Advisor, NORRAG, Kazakhstan
  • Chapter presentations :
    • Anurag Shukla, Director and Co-founder Localism, and Director (Education) – Brhat Education Trust, India
    • Özgenur Korlu, Policy Analyst, Eğitim Reformu Girişimi, Türkiye
    • Adam Roberti, Executive Director, Xavier Cortada Foundation, US
    • Rita Potyguara, Indigenous Potyguara of Ceará, Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte. Director of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences – Flacso, Brazil
      and Renata Montechiare, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Researcher at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences – Flacso, Brazil
    • Christina T. Kwauk, Director, Kwauk and Associates
  • Discussant: Keri Facer, Professor of Educational and Social Futures in the School of Education, University of Bristol
  • Q&A and closing

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