The 2023 Annual Meeting of the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES), held in Washington D.C. from February 18–22, welcomed a great showing of education stakeholders—from universities, research institutions, funders, implementing partners, to government representatives.

The Population Council and its Evidence for Gender and Education Resource (EGER) program hosted a panel discussion on the compounding effects of gender inequality in low- and middle-income countries, highlighting challenges and solutions drawn from 4 different studies in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, and Kenya.

A safe spaces education initiative for domestic workers and marginalized girls in Ethiopia reached thousands of girls and demonstrated meaningful impact on improved school reenrollment and learning outcomes. Analysis of COVID-19-related learning loss among adolescent girls in Kenya suggested that broad-based efforts like remote learning, while important and helpful in facilitating access to education, may not be sufficient for girls to overcome the compounding effects of gender-related vulnerabilities like early marriage and pregnancy. The study from India provided interesting insights on how programs designed for girls can also help boys, and opened the door to intriguing questions on what drives the differential impact between girls and boys. The Keeping Girls in School intervention in Bangladesh protected participants from learning loss not by its remedial tutoring, but by preventing school dropout and child marriage.

The energetic discussion following the presentations highlighted the importance of anchoring at the community level to reach marginalized groups, the value of working together with governments and policymakers, and exploring how to best support demand and uptake of evidence by key decision makers.

While the tremendous scale of the gathering at CIES 2023 presented a wide array of perspectives and themes, there were common threads throughout the conference that stood out as important considerations for the future in education research. Primary among these was stakeholders present at CIES echoing the centrality of local contexts and ensuring country ownership of education interventions and research.

In a similar vein, many participants spoke to long-term sustainability—with regards to interventions, investments, and best practices—raising the significant, yet challenging question of how we ensure positive outcomes and practices endure to make the systematic impact that we seek. Many also pointed to the issue of scalability and the nuance required to address it—how can we effectively scale best practices, when is it appropriate to do so, and how do we do it?

A focus on equity and inclusion resonated prominently throughout the conference, including broader considerations for intersectionality and marginalized groups. Yet, there seemed to be a comparatively limited focus on taking a gender lens to education systems or educational outcomes. Given the compounding effects of gender-related vulnerabilities as well as barriers to education, we must not lose sight of the need for a gender lens on education in terms of access, content, and outcomes.