IRE Call for Abstracts for Special Issue: Lifelong learning in emergencies: Pushing the epistemological boundaries


Given the increasing numbers of people affected by humanitarian crises, the right to lifelong learning for people in emergency contexts requires urgent attention. Emergencies caused by armed conflict and instability, disasters and hazards, pandemics and the effects of global climate change, disrupt education at every level.

Against the background of global commitments to the right to education, such as the Convention against Discrimination in Education, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4), and other United Nations human rights frameworks, such as the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, and the psychological and social importance of education for populations in crisis situations (Sinclair, 2007), the high numbers of children, youth and adults worldwide who have no access to education is concerning.

For example, only two-thirds of refugee children worldwide attend primary schools, 24 per cent of refugee children go to secondary school, and just 3 per cent of refugee youth have access to higher education, compared to 37 per cent globally and more than three-quarters in high-income countries (UNHCR, 2019). COVID-19 exacerbated this trend, leaving 1.3 billion learners out of school around the world at its height (UNESCO, 2022). Adults and youth are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and precarious work in such circumstances and miss out on education and training (UNESCO, 2018; UIL, 2019). Greater attention to lifelong learning policies in line with SDG 4 would increase the chances of displaced people achieving a self-sufficient and autonomous life (English & Mayo, 2019).

Over the past 20 years, significant efforts have been invested in highlighting the importance of providing education for displaced and refugee children and adults, evident in an increase in funding, policy work, and research (Shuayb and Crul 2020, Shuayb, 2022). Such efforts helped increase school enrolment among displaced and refugee children in primary schools from 30 per cent to 70 per cent in less than 20 years (UNHCR 2019). Networks such as Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), which currently brings together over 30 000 members, have contributed immensely to raising the education profile for refugee and displaced people. However, while lifelong learning continues to be a priority for affected communities, it receives comparatively little funding or policy attention.

The proliferation of the field was developed and shaped by humanitarian logic and agencies (INEE 2004, 2019). Despite these significant achievements, the field continues to be fraught with many tensions which have remained largely unexamined. Academics working closely with the network have thus far focused more on the provisions and implementations and have had little engagement with the field and its networks (Burde, 2017, Shuayb and Brun, forthcoming). In 2020, INEE celebrated its 20th anniversary, which was marked by a reflective report (INEE, 2020). While the report highlighted the increase in funding and enrolment, it also revealed a significant funding gap. However, the report did not tackle the conceptual, practical and relational dimensions within the education in emergencies (EIE) field and network. The sparsely available critique of the field has highlighted the tensions between the rational humanitarian underpinning of EIE (being short-term and concerned with the present) and the long-term and future-orientated logic of education (Brun and Shuayb 2020) and lifelong learning. However, the existing literature on EIE treats education as an unmitigated good and abstains from unpacking the constraints of education in the context of displacement, where the future is precarious, especially as most refugees are excluded from all the rights that come with education. As the unequal power dynamics within the field appear to reproduce colonial power structures in terms of how the field is perceived and orchestrated, calls to decolonise the field have also increased (Oddy, 2021, Abu Moghli, 2022, Shuayb and Brun, 2020). Knowledge production in this field continues to be dominated by scholars from the Global North publishing about the Global South. EIE knowledge production, management and orchestration appear to be dictated by colonisation agendas. However, despite the political nature and context in which EIE operates, the current rhetoric and practice of EIE have been largely a-political.  This special issue seeks to unpack and address the existing critique of EIE and further push for alternative theoretical and epistemological thinking on education in the context of conflict and displacement.

The International Review of Education (IRE) invites papers for a special issue on “Lifelong learning in emergencies: Pushing the epistemological boundaries” covering the following themes:

  • Power and politics within the EIE discourse, networks, programmes, partnerships and actors, with a focus on lifelong learning. 
  • The purpose and vision of EIE in the context of temporality and protracted conflict caused by wars, exploitation of resources, climate injustice and other causes of emergencies and conflicts. 
  • How to decolonise EIE rhetoric, practice, knowledge production, management and implementation? 
  • Critical approaches to the study of the practice and realities of education in emergencies (in terms of existing discourse, theories, projects and programmes, issues of funding, curricula and pedagogy, actors and frameworks and knowledge production)
  • Issues of EiE support and why it is limited to schooling while lifelong learning in emergencies continues to be a priority for affected communities
  • What are the main obstacles and/or main enablers to access, learning, and protection in lifelong learning in emergencies? 
  • Studies on the importance and potential of lifelong learning for the capacity of individuals, families and communities to contribute to personal and societal change and the rebuilding of conflict-ridden societies, with particular attention to the situation of marginalised populations.

Submissions are welcome that address all levels of education. We particularly encourage papers that focus on lifelong learning, non-formal and adult learning and education, community-based learning and citizenship. Both micro- and macro-level perspectives are welcome. We accept conceptual or empirical papers, with a preference for qualitative or mixed-methods studies. Submission can cover various geographical locations.

Abstracts for the special issue should be between 150 and 300 words and include the names and affiliations of the authors and a provisional title. Please submit abstracts by 17 April 2023 to the Executive Editor of IRE, Paul Stanistreet: [email protected]

Authors will receive notification whether their abstracts have been accepted by 16 June 2023. Manuscripts are due by 10 November 2023. This special issue is expected to be published in late 2024.

The International Review of Education – Journal of Lifelong Learning (IRE) is the longest-running international and comparative education journal in the world. Founded in 1931, the journal is inextricably linked with the history of the field. Since 1955, IRE has been under the aegis of UNESCO. While remaining independent, IRE is aligned with the mandate of UNESCO to promote international collaboration and peace. The journal is published by Springer. The editorial team of IRE is located in the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), and its work is supervised by an international editorial board.

Further information:



Burde, D., A. Kapit, R.L. Wahl, O. Given, M.I. Skarpeteig. 2017. Education in Emergencies: A review of Theories and Research. Review of Educational Research  8(3): 619 - 658.

English, L., & Mayo, P. (2019). Lifelong learning challenges: Responding to migration and the Sustainable Development Goals. International Review of Education, 65(2), 213–231.

Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE). (2004). Minimum standards for education in emergencies, chronic crises and early reconstruction. Paris: UNESCO.,  accessed 09122020

INEE. 2020. 20 years of INEE: Achievements and challenges in education in emergencies. New York: INEE, Accessed 280422.

Oddy, J. (2021), We Need To Start Talking About Race, Power, And Privilege In The Education In Emergencies Sector

Sinclair, M. (2007). Education in emergencies. Commonwealth Education Partnerships.

Shuayb, M. and Brun, C. (equal authorship), (Under Review), Twenty years of the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies: towards a new epistemology, editors Julia Paulson, Bilal Barakat, Michelle Bellino, Special Issue “:Broken mirrors: Reflexivity, relationships, and complicity in researching education in emergencies”, Globalisation, Societies and Education.

Brun, C & Shuayb, M. (equal authoriship) (2020). Exceptional and futureless humanitarian education in Lebanon: Prospects for shifting the lens. Refuge, 36(2)

Shuayb, M. & Crul, M, (2020) Reflection on Education of Refugee Children: Beyond Reification and Emergency, Refuge, 36(2)

UNESCO. (2022). What you need to know about education in emergencies.

UNESCO (2018). Global Education Monitoring Report 2019: Migration, displacement and education – building bridges, not walls. Paris: UNESCO.

UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) (2019). 4th Global report on adult learning and education (GRALE). Hamburg: UIL.

UNHCR (2019). Stepping up: Refugee education in crisis.