In conversation with shortlisted applicants from the E-Cubed fund’s final call

Research and Evidence


The 2017-2021 Evidence for Education in Emergencies (E-Cubed) Research fund aimed at strengthening the evidence base in EiE, by supporting the generation of contextually relevant and usable research, and disseminating global public goods. This blog is a conversation with Michelle J. Bellino and Maxie Gluckman and showcases their shortlisted research proposal from the final call for proposals conducted in 2021, which was not funded due to the early conclusion of the E-Cubed fund. The proposal, “Llegadxs and retornadxs (Arrivals and returnees): Navigating education here now, there and then”, aims to trace the educational experiences of school-age children and youth in transit from Honduras, their country of origin, through Mexico, and while seeking asylum in the US.

This ‘in conversation with’ blog is based on questions shared with the applicants in late 2023.

For more information on INEE’s work on EiE data and evidence visit: 

INEE: Introduce yourself and your work in EiE

Michelle J. Bellino - I am an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan, in the Marsal Family School of Education. I study education and youth civic development in contexts impacted by armed conflict, displacement, and migration. I’m interested in how young people’s experiences with violence, asylum, and peace and justice processes influence their relationship to schools and society. And I think about each of these experiences as educational in and of themselves, recognizing that young people are continuously learning– especially about rights, membership, and belonging, even through challenging and exclusionary experiences. I think that last theme resonates well with the work that Maxie and I proposed. 

Maxie Gluckman- I’m a Youth Technical Advisor at IREX, a non-profit committed to global development and education. Throughout my professional history as an educator, teacher trainer, program designer, and MERL specialist, I have focused on uplifting the voice of marginalized and disenfranchised populations such as children, adolescents, refugees, migrants, and women, through critical participatory inquiry and research. I’m interested in ensuring the solutions for community advancement are developed with those they intend to serve, and believe foregrounding their funds of knowledge and asset-based approaches to collaboration are crucial.

INEE: Give us a brief description of your E-Cubed proposal

Our proposal was titled, “Llegadxs and retornadxs (Arrivals and returnees): Navigating education here now, there and then”. As we conceived it, the study centers on the educational experiences of secondary school-age youth in transit from Honduras, their country of origin, through Mexico, and while seeking asylum in the US, accounting for multiple settings in which young people access or seek access to basic education. With growing numbers of school-age young people in transit within the Central America-U.S. nexus, we saw – and continue to see – this study as an opportunity to add empirical breadth and contextual and geographic diversity to the field of EiE. We purposely brought the US context into the EiE frame, because these young people are not only circulating within and across US borders, but we also know that US decisions and policies powerfully influence this movement, and can decisively determine whether, how long, and the circumstances under which they might be permitted to stay. 

Our goal continues to be a richer understanding of migrant youths’ experiences within and across multiple borders. To do that, we believe we need to study how national educational systems in Honduras, Mexico, and the US respond to young people’s increased experiences with migration and forced displacement, as well as voluntary and forced return. Our hope is that a better understanding of migrant experiences with education in contexts of origin, destination, and transit will inform policy and practice better suited to meet the needs of young people whose emergency contexts both necessitate and are characterized by ongoing movement.

INEE: Why do you feel this area of research is important?

We know that we are in a time of unprecedented global displacement, yet many of the young people who this study would focus on would not qualify as refugees or even asylum-seekers. Yet they are fleeing contexts of violence, poverty, structural inequity, and environmental precarity – the drivers for their transborder movement are real, multiple, and intersecting. Meanwhile, their transborder movement is consequential for their education. 

Educational research often positions schools as key sites for migrants’ “integration” and interaction with the state, but this framing can presume that migrants are staying in place. We think less often about schools as key sites that migrants interact with in transit, or as sites in their country of origin that they continue to have relationships with after emigrating. Youth experiences in and across the Central America-US nexus have remained virtually invisible in educational research, though the movement of young people across multiple borders is a critical part of the story and of growing global importance. Nearly one-quarter of Hondurans who migrate with the US as an intended final destination are school-aged children and youth. Nearly a quarter of migrants who are “returned” to Honduras are school-age children and adolescents. In the face of massive, cross-border movement, including im/migration, voluntary, and forced “return,” our study seeks to understand the role that educators and schools play in shaping young people’s understanding of migration and in upholding migrant youths’ right to education while in transit.   

INEE: Tell us a little bit more about the context and what methods you had planned on using. 

We proposed a multi-sited, comparative case study design that draws on ethnographic methods to trace the educational experiences of school-age children and youth in transit from Honduras their country of origin, through Mexico, and while seeking asylum in the US. The study involves focal families and individual youth, moving within and across three national school systems, accounting for multiple settings in which young people have accessed or sought access to basic education. This was a complicated design decision for us, and one we discussed at length. Given the research questions, we knew we had to look within and across the three national contexts, so an ideal design would follow the same focal actors across each of the three national contexts. However, this is not feasible logistically and could pose challenges to the security of families, researchers, and other stakeholders involved. We instead proposed approximating this movement by rooting ourselves in each educational context and actively selecting participants who have had transborder experiences or were in the process of planning for them.  

INEE: What were you hoping to achieve through the research?

Our hope was that this study would allow us to better understand the experiences of transborder migrant young people and the different kinds of educational experiences they have as they cross multiple borders. One element of this was intended to be descriptive, in that we wanted to map the barriers and facilitators of access to formal schooling for migrant young people at various points in their migratory trajectory, in addition to the strategies families develop in order to secure access and continuity. In entering various school spaces, embedded in different national systems, we anticipated a range of everyday discourses and practices inside of school systems. Our goal here was to link these practices and discourses to young people’s attitudes and perspectives on identity, citizenship, and transborder movement. 

Furthermore, we wanted to understand how young people experience schooling as they move through distinct systems, interact with national curriculum and language of instruction, engage in different cultures of schooling, and as their schooling and asylum processes evolve. Once embedded in a more secure setting, to what extent are young people able to draw on previous learning? Are previous credentials recognized? Can we pinpoint particular curricular gaps or misalignment in knowledge and skills? Bringing these all together, we wanted to create a holistic portrait of what transborder schooling entails. Additionally, this multisited design would also facilitate interesting comparative questions about different policies and practices in schools, aimed at upholding migrants’ rights to education. 

INEE: How were you hoping your research would support EiE thought, theory, and/or practice?

Practically speaking, we hoped that the data could inform policy aimed at improving educational inclusion and minimizing disruptions for migrant young people. We also hope to inform instructional practices that humanize and destigmatize portrayals of migrants and migration, and to critically examine legislation and policy contexts that drive and govern movement. Like other researchers working to center youth perspectives, we also want to emphasize the linguistic, cultural, and sociopolitical resources that young people carry with them through these transborder experiences. We want to recognize how young people learn through border-crossing– they learn about states and state power, they learn about legal systems and bureaucracy, they learn about the gaps between human rights ideals and everyday practices, and they learn about identity, membership, and belonging. And no matter what borders we meet young people within, they are carrying that learning forward. 

INEE: There has been a gap between when you submitted your proposal and now, is there anything you would change about the proposal and research if it were to start today?

We’re actively searching for alternative sources of funding, as we aim to strengthen our theoretical, methodological, and practical rationales for this work. And we’re analyzing data that we have previously collected with focal migrant youth and families as they continue to learn in school and move their asylum cases forward here in the US. We’re also trying to maintain our relationships with young people and their families, who continue to experience a lot of uncertainty. We are ready and motivated, pending securing the necessary and timely funding. 

INEE: Finally, what does good EiE evidence look like to you?

We believe that we have to actively resist the underlying positivist tendencies that shape all research, including EiE. Why do we so often hear qualitative data reduced to “stories,” while numbers are seen as “the data”? For real people – the young people and their families crossing borders to flee violence and seek safer and more stable economic and educational opportunities; for the teachers who are working within systems that penalize them for “losing students” to outward migration; and for advocates who ensure that schools uphold the right to education despite lack of citizenship status – these stories matter, and they are evidence of the everyday struggles that young people, families, and educators navigate.   

Good EiE evidence centers marginalized and disenfranchised voices in efforts to generate new knowledge and to improve or transform educational settings and systems. Good EiE evidence places value on equity, inclusion, and repair, alongside access and quality. Good EiE evidence is generated through reciprocal, sustainable relationships with communities, with participatory approaches and opportunities for co-constructing knowledge. Good EiE evidence should also account for the US (and other countries and global networks), which we often treat as separate from EiE contexts, despite that US actions and legacies of imperialism, foreign intervention and militarism, environmental consumption, and policies about who is worthy of belonging where have long shaped the precarity embedded in them.