Hi IEDPers! My name is Amy L., 2022 graduate of the IEDP Program. I completed my internship with the Early Childhood Education team at UNICEF Headquarters during my final semester and had the opportunity to extend the internship for three months post-graduating. The decision to extend was mostly due to circumstance; I happened to be moving back to New York City, where UNICEF HQ offices are, and there were a few projects I wanted to continue working on. My internship was hybrid, so I had a chance to work both online and in-person, and continued in-person after graduation. I recently closed out my time with UNICEF by attending a UNICEF-hosted panel event for the 77th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and would love to share some key takeaways and insights from the events and from my internship experience with you. UNGA was preceded by the Transforming Education Summit (TES), a three-day event convened by the Secretary-General in response to the global crisis in education to prioritize the discussion of education at UNGA, which I had the chance to attend too (more about that in another blog post!)
UNGA Panel – Investing in Early Childhood & Parenting in Emergencies
This year, for UNGA’s 77th session, my former colleagues at UNICEF hosted a panel event to highlight the need for investing in early childhood and parenting in emergency contexts. The panel of speakers included UNICEF, the Government of Jordan, The LEGO Foundation, Sesame Workshop, Associate Professor Andrés Moya, as well as Goodwill Ambassador Priyanka Chopra. The panelists spoke about support for caregivers, return on investing, and the need for swift action and tangible change.
As someone interested in EdTech, ECD, and public-private partnerships, I was thrilled to attend a panel that intersected these areas. The discussion was animated, and the speakers were united on one front: that investing in ECD and supporting parents in emergencies is crucial to building a better future. The diverse perspectives of the panelists merged to create nuanced insights and informed suggestions for next steps. The panelists agreed that for education in emergencies (EiE) to be successful, it requires all sectors to work together and collaborate on solutions, flexible funding that allows for funded projects to adapt their activities to situations on the ground, and for community voices to be centered in the discussion. There was also heavy emphasis on play as a tool for brain stimulation and trauma-healing for both children and caregivers. In discussing next steps in EiE, the panel also concurred that future interventions should prioritize equality by addressing the barriers that exist within EiE (such as language of instruction), focus on contextualization to specific issues faced by the communities, increase research and learning, and advocate for high impact return on investment in EiE.
I came away from the panel with my own set of takeaways.
- Emphasis on ROI – The panel was on investing, so it was expected that return on investment would be discussed. However, I was surprised at how much ROI was used as a primary motivating factor for investing in and advocating for ECD and EiE. Emphasizing financial incentive is a powerful tool in fundraising, even if you believe that money should not be the focus.
- Caregivers are key – The field of ECD/ECE is focusing more on caregivers’ wellbeing and mental health. I like that this new shift addresses the importance of psychological health and acknowledges that it can play a key factor in childhood development outcomes. It also gives space for the parents and caretakers of children to voice their needs and build their own capacity. There seems to be an overall shift in the field towards mental health and social-emotional learning in general.
- Adapt and innovate – It was mentioned throughout that the refugee crisis is growing. It is imperative that we are able to adapt to the changes in emergency contexts to effectively deliver crucial services. Sesame Workshop shared how they do this by using television media to deliver ECD/ECE content. They then further adapted their content to increase their reach through BRAC play labs. The panelists also talked about utilizing WhatsApp, phone calls, and low-tech battery powered devices as opportunities to explore. I think we will see technology (high tech or low tech) play a bigger role in service delivery to emergency contexts in the coming years.
- Play taking over – A strong recent trend present in the field of ECD and ECE is using play as a tool for learning and healing. UNICEF, LEGO, and Sesame Workshop have been major leaders of play-related interventions. CIES 2022 and TES also had heavy emphasis on play. It seems that play-based interventions are here to stay, now that the benefits of play have become more widely known.
My head was buzzing with questions at the end of the panel, but because the event only allowed for only a few questions from pre-selected audience members, I will pose my questions to the blog instead:
- For years we have talked about the importance of centering community voices in international development, yet it was brought up by the panelists as something that still needs work. Why do you think centering communities is such a struggle in international development? What do you think is preventing community voices, specifically in emergency contexts, from being heard?
- The panel cited tech innovation as an example of ECD/ECE services being adapted to fit emergency contexts. Can you think of where else adaptation might be needed in emergencies? Is placing tech innovations into low-resource areas even realistic?
- Some new trends I noticed throughout the events are EdTech, innovation, climate change, play, and mental health. What are some trends you notice? What trends do you predict we will see in the coming years?
My Internship Experience
I am very satisfied with my internship experience, but I also recognize that I was very lucky. I was placed into an organization I was interested in with a team that was tight-knit and invested in my success, I had in-person opportunities (which was rare for my pandemic-era cohort), and I was able to extend due to my living circumstance. While I understand that this does not reflect every internship experience, I will share the insights I gathered from my own experience.
- The internship you want might not be the internship you need. If you are like me (and many of my 2022 classmates), you were mentally building up your ideal internship experience long before the first day of classes. While interning for your dream organization would be wonderful, it’s important to keep in mind that the internship offers a unique experience for you to try out different potential career paths that you are not sure about. Take this as the time to figure out if you like working in-person or remotely, check out a field you are curious about, or explore a role that you never saw yourself doing. Your internship is not supposed to be your dream job, it’s supposed to be a stepping stone on your path to figuring out what you want to do (and what you don’t).
- Networking is just as important as work tasks. A common dissatisfaction you will hear about some internship experiences is that there wasn’t always work available for interns to do. However, remember that an internship is not a job, it is there for you to learn. And while doing work is one way to learn, connecting with others is just as valuable of a learning experience. If you find yourself with no tasks, see if you can use the time to stop by a colleague’s office and invite them to coffee (or shoot them a message on Teams, if you’re virtual). The conversations with those who have been in the field longer than you have will teach you just as much, if not more, than proofreading another slide deck. For me, the relationships I built at UNICEF were the highlight of my internship experience and are what allowed me to attend TES and UNGA.
- Leave room for change. The international educational development field is so broad and diverse, and there are so many possible paths you can take. Do not feel pressured to stick to one specialty or one path that you had previously envisioned for yourself. Allow your interests to grow and develop as you move through IEDP and through the internship. I came in with a tunnel vision goal of working in gender equality in education, and while that is still something I am interested in, I also found a new passion for early childhood learning and EdTech. I am sure my interests will continue to shift and deepen as I move through the first steps of my career. Give space to uncertainty, both in the internship and outside of it, and allow your path to change as you learn and grow.
Thank you for listening to my story about my internship journey and I look forward to connecting with you in the discussion section of this blog post. Please reach out if you have any specific questions about my IEDP journey, I’d love to chat!