The Swedish school system – Its problems and possible solutions

The Swedish school system – Its problems and possible solutions

Gunner Iselau is the former Director of Education for the Swedish National Agency of Education. In this position, he has gained a meta-perspective of the Swedish school organisation and its problems. Colleagues in other countries often ask ‘How is it that Sweden’s school system, which has previously been a model for the rest of the world, has now become so problematic?’ 

In this video, Gunnar addresses this question and offers solutions to the 10 problems he identifies. He hopes that this will help educators and educational researchers around the world better understand the Swedish system, and compare it to their country’s educational system.

A transcript of his presentation can be found below the video. 

Video Transcript 

Hello. I’m Gunnar Iselau and I get a lot of questions from my international colleagues. Everyone starts in the same way. How is it that Sweden, which has had such a well-functioning school system, now has such a polarized and international questioned system? And that Sweden, which was at the top in terms of knowledge, now has fallen so low. And that’s Sweden which was the world’s best at helping those students in need, is now letting these students sink.

The summary of the questions is how it is that Sweden, which is so rich and has all the possibilities, has created a polarizing school system that threatens the entire base for its democracy?

The Swedish education system does not work as intended based on school laws and regulations for the school. Instead, every level of responsibility in practice interprets in their own way. Instead of enforcing the common rules, the result is a lottery both regarding equivalence and learning.

Which possibilities a student gets depends on the municipality, school, and teacher. What could it be due to? In various international contexts, I’ve presented the basic reasons that can explain why nothing happens despite a lot of efforts being made.

Colleagues from different countries who have heard me have now requested these reasons, so I will present the top 10 obstacles in about 20 minutes including possible solutions.

See this as a starting point for your reflections on the school situation in your own country to discover and avoid, and if necessary, improve.

And what do I base my experience on? I have served at the National Agency for Education’s evaluation department for a long time. There I have participated in and been responsible for evaluations, had dialogues with the Ministry of Education, within universities research, and recently been hired as an expert by authorities and municipalities. In this way, I’ve gained a meta-perspective on the situation for the Swedish education organization.

Everything I know we describe should be perceived as positive even if it’s negative. And to make it clear some descriptions are in black and white. To make a point what I am describing is the usual situation although there are of course exceptions, but they are just exceptions.

The first step is always to realize how it is in order to change – as in the emperor’s new clothes, if you read this story. All my points are in line with both Swedish laws and regulations, school research and evaluations of the Swedish school system. Some of my reports on this are available in English. Some are also for use by the OECD.

The basic question is why the Swedish schools’ equivalence and quality have declined despite all attempts to make them better. The efforts made over the past 25 years can be summed up by the fact that never have so many made so many efforts in Swedish schools at such an enormous cost, with so little efficiency. So, what is the problem with the Swedish school organization and how can it get better?

Here is a description in 10 points in about 20 minutes.

Number one. Levels of responsibility in the school system.

It’s a horizontal spinning system. The Swedish governance of the school is divided into different levels of responsibility. The National Ministry of Education has given the municipal assemblies the responsibility to organize their schools so that each principal can lead the school. So that each student achieves the national goals. So, it is three main levels. The national government, the municipal assemblies, and the school unit level.

The problem is that these levels are like different worlds. Each level works in its own way, according to its own perceptions of what to do. Not after the national mission. In an effort to improve, each different level does more of the same thing, which makes it worse. We can call this “horizontal spinning”. It is common for each level to shift its responsibility to the level below.

Finally, the responsibility for students’ learning has dropped to the student themselves. And when the student is in trouble, especially if he or she hasn’t parents who can help. No school organization wants to prevent students from learning.

Sweden does not want that either but still, it is what is happening. And how to fix this?

The first thing is to make sure that each level of responsibility does not decide for itself what to do or follow the municipal routine which often focuses on secondary tasks. Instead, the action of the levels must be based on the assignments in the national government documents. That is what the Swedish taxpayers pay for, and the students have the right to, and what the democratic society needs. Therefore, ensure that the upper level in the school organization acts so that the next level can fulfill – and really fulfills – its national mission. Otherwise, it will be as it is.

Number two. Knowledge goals.

They are lowered to suit a worse result. Only 80% of students reach the national goals each year. A situation that has been going on for several decades and which has been implicitly approved by the National Ministry of Education, and their supervisory authorities. This means that 20% of Swedish students have not been given the conditions they are entitled to. 20 000 students per year during each year.

The responsibility lies with the National Ministry of Education which has not clarified the municipal assembly’s responsibility to give each student equal opportunities to achieve the national goals.

The National Ministry of Education has, through its failure to enforce the Education Act in practice, accepted the municipal assembly’s own interpretations of the Education Act. Which is startling but has become normal. The rankings published by various interest organizations for teachers and employers have contributed to the maintaining of low goal fulfillment. The municipalities that are above the average in the measurements do nothing more. And those that are below do not consider themselves able to do anything. The years go by, and nothing happens.

How to fix this? According to the curriculum, the teaching is based on the students’ experiences and thinking. Not, as often can be, based on the teacher’s own experiences and thinking. What to do is simple and obvious. Just as national laws in Sweden ensure that everyone in traffic drives on the right side, so the National Ministry of Education must ensure that everyone complies with the Education Act.

This means that the curriculum’s goals and guidelines must guide the teaching.

Not the teachers’ different opinions on what to do. This will increase the conditions for the students learning.

Number three. Nationally governing.

It’s more to be governed, than governing. Instead of governing, the National Ministry of Education afterwards tries to support – with extra resources and targeted efforts – when the municipalities and schools prove not to work. The municipal assemblies and their economists are grateful when they do not have to take their given responsibility. These rescue efforts have been done for the past 20 years and did not even work from the beginning. But it has become an alibi for both the municipal assemblies and the national Ministry of Education that something is being done. And gives a deadline that is further ahead to wait and see. But it does not get better. And then try again in the same way with the same result. And it does not get any better.

That the Swedish schools inspectorate criticize the officials in the municipalities when something is wrong but spares the politically responsible. Then it’s difficult to get a change. The root cause is that the municipalities organization is Teflon coated. All attempts by the National Ministry of Education to do something that changed the municipalities routines slip away and disappear.

And how to fix this? The operation is simple. The National Ministry of Education requires the municipal assembly to comply with the Education Act. And in that way, make sure that every student gets the conditions to feel safe and learn. In addition, the national government should once again earmark the economic contributions for schools, and repay what the national government saved in the 1990s when they left it to the municipalities to take responsibility. In this way, both the municipal and the national bodies benefits as the need for money for plasters  – that is to say emergency measures – decreases.

Number four. The municipal assemblies’ governors.

“What? We?” Because the Swedish municipal assemblies have not seen or accepted their responsibility for each student, they have used money that could have created equivalence and quality in the school for other things. Then, it costs them many times as much to try to repair the damage that has occurred, to patch up the failed teaching.

Students who do not receive the opportunity cost a lot in extra support measures, as well as later in social expenses, labour market measures, and some unfortunately in prison care costs. It can be said that the sails that would be used to move the school ship forward must instead be used to seal the holes in the leaking school ship.

What will be the effect of the Swedish municipalities keeping a low teacher wage level for almost 30 years? Well, they have lost talented teachers who earn more in other professions. Instead, they often have teachers who could not be anything else. In addition, many of the teachers do not even have a teacher’s degree. And the question is – what does a teacher’s substandard teaching costs the students who do not get the opportunity to learn that they are entitled to? And what does it cost society?

When the municipality reduced teachers’ salaries and fewer people wanted to become teachers, the Swedish national ministry of education tried to help by lowering the admission requirements for teacher education. Double error. Poor competence of the teachers hardly benefits the students’ learning.

And how to fix this? The question is what is the best effect for the money invested in the school? Swedish and international reports are clear. The best financial outcome is to secure and, if necessary, increase the teachers’ competence to teach. Because Sweden has not invested in it so far, this is the biggest potential success factor in Swedish schools. A necessary premise is that the focus in the system must change. From focusing on the final result to ensuring the quality of the ongoing process – that is the teaching – which is what affects the result.

Number five. The Head of Education in the municipality.

They released the steering wheel. The responsible local politicians have officials who will organize the assignment, based on the resources provided. Responsible is the Head of the Education department in the municipal. That is the case in theory but not in practice. It is common for the Head of Education department in the municipal not to ensure that the principal performs – and can perform – his or her duties. The alibi is often that the principal says to the head of the administration, “I have a government assignment, so I take care of it myself”, and both execs then can do what they think is more important or easier. It becomes a win-win situation for them, but a losing situation for the students, who remain in their difficulties.

How to fix this? Yes, you will probably see the necessary action directly. It is that the municipal assembly places as the first requirement on its Head of Education to ensure that each principal can carry out – and carries out – his or her assignment. And it is to make sure that the teaching works for each teacher. Then the Head of Education has fulfilled their task. Perhaps the most important contribution as it also becomes a model for the principal’s approach to their teachers. 

Number six. Principals.

They hand over their pedagogical leadership to each teacher. In Sweden, there is often a division of property between the principal and the teachers. We teachers take care of the quality of teaching so you as a principal can take care of the rest. This makes life easier for the principal and for the teachers but not for the students. Because Swedish teachers are alone. No one follows how their teaching is conducted. Students in difficulty remain in difficulty. It should be noted that the principal in fact also commits misconduct. For the principles task in the curriculum is precisely to be a pedagogical leader. As this, the principal is responsible for following up on the teaching and evaluating school results in relation to the national goals and the knowledge requirements. The principal is also responsible for the results of the school. In Swedish schools, principals often do – or must do – other tasks than being pedagogical leaders. As a result, the situation is as it is. The same year to year.

And how to fix it? This is most important. It should not be a lottery what chance a student gets depending on the teacher’s skills. Therefore, the principal must ensure that each teacher has – or develops – three basic competencies according to school research. Relationship competencies, leadership competencies, and didactic competencies.

The view of a good teacher must be defined. It is not the one who gives high marks or leans his teaching toward a textbook. Nor it is to be able to motivate the already motivated students. What is the criterion for a good teacher? Well, it is to be able to motivate the unmotivated student. The day when this criteria becomes crucial in wage setting, then something happens in the Swedish schools.

Number seven. Quality assurance.

It’s fruit without seeds.

Each principal and each Swedish municipal assembly must, according to the Education Act, make an annual quality assurance to follow up and develop the education. But how is it in practice? It is not done – or it is made by each principal according to their own opinion, often focusing on what they have done but a little on what they have achieved. And no descriptions of problems or what to do about them. Or it is the management’s description, which often is overfilled with excel statistics that no one can interpret or interprets in different ways.

In summary, the Swedish quality work does not work. It has no core that builds the future and often no one but the author of the report cares. How do we know that Swedish quality assurance does not work? Well, then quality improvements would have made it better, right? But nothing has happened. The same situation year after year.

And how to fix this?

The starting point for evaluation should not be the staff’s image, but the students’ own descriptions of the situation. The current situation of their well-being and their learning. It is this image that governs their actions. So it is the student’s image that all improvement starts with, not the adults’ image of how they think the students feel.

Also, the focus must change from what has been achieved to what remains. Which should not be described as common as aggregated percentage. Instead, for each school, state the number of students who have not achieved the goals. This then becomes concrete both as a challenging starting point and to follow the effect of measures. It is the student’s image of their situation that constitutes the fruitful core. The one that is the common starting point at all levels of responsibility to coordinate and – if necessary – to improve.

Number eight. For-profit independent schools. A loss for all but one.

In Sweden, as the only country in the world, you can start a school that is paid for with tax money per pupil. And if there is money left over, take it out as a profit.

Will there be money left over? Certainly – if the owner reduces the cost through cheap premises, cheap staff, and selects students who are easy to teach, the owner gets a fat bank account somewhere. Results improve, the for-profit school’s students are given higher grades but have poorer knowledge than municipal ones when these are measured equally.

Freedom of choice is positive words but hides increased segregation by the fact that some schools attract certain students. The result, together with segregated residential areas, has been that Swedish schools have gone from mixed socio-economic school classes to schools being segregated depending on parents’ socio-economic status or religious affiliation. Add that to the National Agency for Education reports that the opportunity you as a student gets depends on peer influence. That is, how to succeed in achieving your goals depends on which schoolmates you have — this has dismantled the equation and well-being in the Swedish society. The misunderstanding of each other and thus the contradictions has increased – like the exclusions of students from school. For-profit independent schools and freedom of choice for some have thus eroded democracy in Swedish society.

And how to fix this? First, do not introduce profit in school activities. It’s not good for anyone except the owners’ bank accounts. If the municipal school does not work well, do not think that increased competition by giving profit to private school companies is the solution. Rather, improve the municipal school equally for all. Cheaper, and better. For if the National Ministry of Education and the municipality assemblies follow the guidelines set out in the national government documents and which I’ve tried to recall here, there is no reason to choose. Then all schools have the same quality. Then the students’ opportunities are not affected by where they live nor by the socio-economic or religious status of their parents.

Number nine. National tests. Something good that became bad.

In the 90s, national tests were introduced in Swedish schools. They were diagnostic. The teacher could compare the image of the student with the image from the national test and thereby get a second opinion for their assessment. According to the National Agency for Education, it should support the teacher to make assessments equally and fairly. Good, if it stopped at this. But the media and politicians began to take in results, rank schools, and see the tests as exams. Then things went crooked.

The results of the national tests were decisive for both the principal status and the teachers’ salary level. The national tests which could only measure paper pencil answers guided the teaching to a lower level. A situation that makes it easier for insecure teachers with a lower competence to be able to teach but disadvantages the students, especially those who have difficulty expressing themselves in text or have a bad day.

In addition, the teachers corrected the students’ answers themselves. Situations are described where the teacher regulates their salary and gives the school a higher ranking by correcting the students’ answers positively.

How to fix this.

Yes, diagnostic tests are good for the often lonely teachers’ assessment. It also concretizes the parts of the curriculum that are measured which is good. But avoid comparative rankings and these take over teachers grading responsibility, then everything fails. By returning to the function national tests should have – a second opinion for the teacher. The teacher’s professional status is increased. It also gives students a better chance of reaching all national goals, even those that cannot be measured with just paper and pencil.

Number 10. School research without practical effect.

Swedish school research is characterized by researchers making research to present their research reports to their research colleagues and thus make it clear. It’s often interesting reports, which then are read and discussed by their colleagues and superiors. But what about principals and teachers? Do they know? No. And if they come across them, do they feel that they can be used in their everyday school life? No.

So, even if Swedish school research highlights how the school should function, it has had no practical effect.

And what is needed to fix this? It’s just one thing. Introduce requirements for tested and repeated results by external parts -at the school level and teaching level – before a research report is approved. Then the results would have an effect in the Swedish schools.

This was 10 points that sum up Swedish school’s problems, but also shows how the problems can be solved, which is stated in the Education Act and in the curriculum, but are not followed so far.

So, really – it’s easy. Just to begin. The basic idea in these ten points is that if all levels of responsibility instead do as intended in the assignment, it’s more likely that the Swedish schools will reach what is intended – the same conditions for all students regardless of municipality, school, or teacher.

I hope these 10 points have stimulated you in your thinking, and how you experience your school organization.

 

Gunnar Iselau

Gunnar Iselau

Former Director of Education, the Swedish National Agency for Education, now developer of municipal school systems.

Gunnar Iselau is a former Director of Education, the Swedish National Agency for Education, and is now a developer of municipal school systems.

International observer IEA.

Website: sysko.se

Gently down the stream(ing): Can digital literacy help turn the tide on the climate crisis? 

Gently down the stream(ing): Can digital literacy help turn the tide on the climate crisis? 

The ubiquitous availability of digital content and web services has transformed the way we live, work, and learn (List et al., 2020). Technology provides us with tools to manage and accomplish work, content to entertain us, and applications to document, store and share our lives online. It is within this context that digital literacy features prominently in policy documentation and educational literature, recognising digital literacy as an essential skill for 21st-century living (Pérez-Escoda et al., 2019). However, as we stand on the precipice of climate disaster, is it time for digital literacy to focus its attention on the impact our increasing digital activity has on the environment?

Environmental impact of users’ digital lives

In education circles, conversations around the impact of educational technology on our environment have begun in earnest (Facer & Selwyn, 2021), however, this is less evident regarding the use of digital content and tools in our day-to-day lives. The usage of streaming services, for example, has soared in recent years and while providers such as Netflix have improved efficiencies in these services, their carbon footprint is still significant (Stephens et al., 2021).

Our music consumption habits have also shifted away from physical media, but overall greenhouse gas emissions from storing and distributing music online have doubled since 2000 (Brennan, 2019). Social media activity continues to increase at a remarkable pace, and a significant carbon cost (Perrin, 2015), and popular apps like TikTok and Reddit have a disproportionately large carbon footprint. Our regular scrolling of ‘news feeds’ contributes carbon emissions equivalent to a short light vehicle journey, per person, per day (Derudder, 2021).

This online activity, coupled with our desire to store data in the cloud, means data centres account for 1% of the global energy demand (Obringer et al., 2021). The continued desire for the latest phone is also costing more than our wallets, with the environmental impact of the device lifecycle being well documented (MacGilchrist et al., 2021). Current figures suggest that over half of consumers in many EU countries renew their devices every 18 – 24 months.

In our work environment, too, our digital impact must be acknowledged. While conferencing platforms such as Zoom come with great environmental benefits when compared with face-to-face meetings and conferences, further efficiencies can be achieved by challenging ‘camera on’ policies. A seemingly innocuous task like sending 65 text emails can cost as much carbon as a short car journey, and when factors such as attachments are considered, the cost is even higher (Duncan, 2022). This snapshot reveals just some of the impacts of our digital lives, some of which our students are unaware of.

Current focus of digital literacy and digital literacy frameworks

An acknowledgment of the need to develop our students’ digital literacy has existed since Gilster (1997) first coined the term and defined it as “the ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of [digital] sources”.

Definitions of digital literacy have remained remarkably consistent in the decades that followed, focusing on the ability to source, evaluate and use digital information. In recent years, there has been an increased emphasis on content creation and communicating using digital channels. However, academic definitions of digital literacy lack any real focus on the environmental cost of our digital activities. In fact, there is little evidence of this aspect of digital literacy being discussed in academic literature.

There are many digital literacy frameworks available to help academics and other users understand digital literacy and its competencies. Only the UNESCO and DigiComp frameworks refer to the environmental impact of technologies and their use, and this is nestled under the ’digital safety’ strand. The range of digital literacy frameworks (e.g. DigiComp, UNESCO, JISC) and volume of journal publications suggests that academics and policymakers are committed to the development of digital literacy, however, it appears that the impact of our digital lives on the environment has been largely left out of the debate. 

Shifting our focus

Calls for action to avert a climate catastrophe are becoming more strident. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report (2022) paints a very troubling picture regarding the widespread and severe impacts of climate change. We must act now. We must adapt our practices and become more sustainable in everything we do.

I believe we can refocus our attention on digital literacy to guide our students to being more critical users of technology and understanding its impact on our world. Using familiar language and strategies, we might encourage students to identify their current digital activities and analyse their carbon footprint, before evaluating areas where improvements can be made. Students could be encouraged to construct new meaning from their investigations by capturing trends associated with work, study and social practices, and communicating these findings with a wider audience.

This shift in focus is essentially a repurposing of what we already ask our students to do with regard to digital content, but targeted at addressing the authentic and urgent issue of climate change. While frameworks such as DigiComp and UNESCO should be commended for including environmental impact, further development of this area should be encouraged.

Digital literacy frameworks should provide a detailed scaffold which encourages a multidimensional understanding of digital tools, their impact on the environment, and consideration of actions that can be taken to affect change. Developing this aspect of digital literacy would increase students’ awareness of the ‘cost’ of technology and promote a more critical use of the tools and services they use in their day-to-day lives.

Conclusion

The coming years present major challenges for society to tackle the climate emergency. It is crucial that we shift our mindset and begin to understand the impact our actions have on the environment, and make the necessary changes to recalibrate our relationship with nature.

Changes are required in all aspects of our lives, from energy and waste, to the provision and rewilding of natural spaces. While a refocussing of digital literacy and digital competencies in this way is not the panacea to the situation, it can act as a move in the right direction, one more component of our lives where we begin to understand and address our toll on the environment.

The post is an abridged version of an article in the upcoming (October 2022) issue of the Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy

Key Messages

Society’s use of digital and online content is increasing

Digital literacy is recognised as a set of competencies for this digital world

Our day-to-day use of technology has an environmental impact

Digital literacy definitions and frameworks largely ignore the environmental impact

We should begin including environmental impact in our digital literacy definitions, frameworks, and discussions

Dr Peter Tiernan

Dr Peter Tiernan

Assistant Professor in Digital Learning and Research Convenor for the School of STEM Education, Innovation and Global Studies in the Institute of Education at Dublin City University.

Peter is an Assistant Professor in Digital Learning and Research Convenor for the School of STEM Education, Innovation and Global Studies in the Institute of Education at Dublin City University. He lectures in the areas of digital learning, digital literacy and entrepreneurship education. His current research focuses on digital literacy at post-primary and further education level as well as entrepreneurship education for third level lecturers and pre-service teachers.

Peter was shortlisted for the DCU President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in 2021.

Find Peter on Twitter.

References and Further Reading

A framework of pre-service teachers’ conceptions about digital literacy: Comparing the United States and Sweden https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0360131519303380

Dimensions of digital literacy based on five models of development (Pérez-Escoda et al., 2019) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/11356405.2019.1603274

Digital technology and the futures of education – towards ‘non-stupid’ optimism (Facer & Selwyn, 2021) https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000377071″>https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000377071

Carbon impact of video streaming (Stephens et al., 2021), https://prod-drupal-files.storage.googleapis.com/documents/resource/public/Carbon-impact-of-video-streaming.pdf

MUSIC CONSUMPTION HAS UNINTENDED ECONOMIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL COSTS (Brennan, 2019) https://www.gla.ac.uk/news/archiveofnews/2019/april/headline_643297_en.html

Social Media Usage: 2005-2015
65% of adults now use social networking sites – a nearly tenfold jump in the past decade (Perrin, 2015) https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2015/10/08/social-networking-usage-2005-2015/

What is the environmental footprint for social media applications? 2021 Edition (Derudder, 2021) https://greenspector.com/en/social-media-2021/

The overlooked environmental footprint of increasing Internet use (Olbringer et al., 2021) ​https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921344920307072?via%3Dihub

Shifting scales of research on learning, media and technology, (Mcgilchrist, et al, 2021) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17439884.2021.1994418

Text Messaging & Emails Generate Carbon Emissions (Carbon Footprint), (Duncan, 2021) https://8billiontrees.com/carbon-offsets-credits/reduce-carbon-footprint/texts-emails/

A Global Framework of Reference on Digital Literacy Skills for Indicator 4.4.2 http://uis.unesco.org/sites/default/files/documents/ip51-global-framework-reference-digital-literacy-skills-2018-en.pdf

Digicomp https://joint-research-centre.ec.europa.eu/digcomp_en

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report https://www.ipcc.ch

Featured Image Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

Networking for Global and Sustainability Education – UNESCO ASPnet in Estonia

Networking for Global and Sustainability Education – UNESCO ASPnet in Estonia

UNESCO is tasked to ensure that education serves the values of peace, human rights, freedom, justice and democracy, respect for diversity, and international solidarity as defined in the UN Charter and the Constitution of UNESCO. Since 1953, the organisation has offered schools in its member states the opportunity to apply to be part of the UNESCO Associated Schools Network (ASPnet), which supports the promotion of the UNESCO ideals. Today, the ASPnet connects more than 11,500 schools in 182 countries, and the current strategy aim for the network is to support Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and Global Citizenship Education (GCED). These are seen as the key instruments for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Target 4.7 with the aim of giving all learners the knowledge and skills to promote sustainable development (UNESCO, 2014).

The ASPnet has, throughout its existence, aimed to strengthen the horizontal links between schools through twinning and flagship projects which support the diffusion of participatory and critical enquiry pedagogies (Schweisfurth, 2005). The Baltic Sea Project (BSP) is one of the oldest flagship projects. Since 1989, it has united schools in the countries bordering the Baltic Sea to tackle regional environmental problems through education. Currently, in the nine participating countries, over 165 schools (mainly upper-secondary level) are involved in the BSP activities (BSP, 2022).

My research deals with the history and current state of these school networks in the context of Estonia and analyses how the process of tighter integration of the BSP network into the UNESCO ASPnet contributes to achieving a more holistic understanding of a sustainable future through enhanced cooperation between different subject teachers and civil society organisations (CSOs).

Revitalising the school network

The process of revitalising the school networks started in 2014, when the Estonian UNESCO National Commission gave the task of coordinating the networks to two separate CSOs that both work as resource centres for schools and teachers: the Tartu Environment Education Centre (TEEC) started coordinating the BSP network while NGO Mondo’s Global Education Centre restarted the UNESCO ASPnet. Both centres are highly valued actors in their respective fields in Estonia.

The integration process of the networks started in 2018 with first the CSOs coming together – the coordinator from TEEC took part in Mondo’s Global Education training with some key teachers from the BSP network and the integration proceeded with joint planning, events and new guidelines for schools. According to the renewed guidelines, all ASPnet schools are encouraged to include global and sustainability education into school development plans, school regulations, management style, and community participation. They are required to do a minimum of one international UNESCO project/campaign/program and two UN thematic days yearly.

ASPnet schools are also expected to mainstream ESD and GCED to curriculum, working plans and lessons and support cooperation between teachers. As a follow-up activity to strategy renewal, all BSP schools were awarded ASPnet membership.

Analysis of the ASP Network in Estonia

The main aim of my study was to analyse the institutional and ideational context of ESD, GCED and ASPnet in Estonia, questioning whether networking can support a more holistic, critical, and transformative GCED and ESD – dimensions which are seen as crucial in the academic literature (Bamber, 2019). I used mixed methods to gather data from the ASPnet teachers and Estonian education policymakers and experts.

A survey questionnaire was completed by 24 teachers in the network, and 20 teachers took part in a participatory workshop during the ASPnet Annual Conference. In addition, ten teachers, five policymakers and five experts and coordinators were interviewed online. A review of annual reports from schools, previous studies, and policy documents was also conducted.

Identifying silos 

The survey data, interviews and workshop conducted with the ASPnet teachers showed some silos between different subject teachers. While teachers of natural sciences (chemistry, physics, biology) linked global competence to environmental awareness, teachers of social sciences (civics, history, geography) and languages linked it to intercultural competence. While all teachers saw the need to encourage students’ critical thinking, social science teachers saw more value in introducing controversial topics to discussions as well as critical examination of topics such as capitalism, colonialism, and nationalism.

Silos also exist in an institutional context where different ministries support various aspects of Target 4.7: the Ministry of Environment supports environmental education and ESD while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs gives funding for GCED activities. At the same time, the joining of the networks and increased collaboration between different subject teachers has been useful in breaking down the silos and increasing cooperation. However, there is room for improvement in ASPnet at all levels, from the school to national and international levels. Activities often end up being one-off events without a profound impact on the school as a whole. Communication problems and lack of resources also hinder UNESCO ASPnet from reaching full capacity.

Opportunities and challenges

Since the restart of the network, several new educational institutions have applied to join the Estonian ASPnet (including pre-schools, primary schools, and secondary schools), which could be seen as a positive result of the new, more inclusive approach. At the beginning of 2022, the Estonian ASPnet included 60 educational institutions (7-8% of all schools in Estonia). Many schools have joined after their teachers participated in Mondo’s in-service training in GCED.

Being a member of ASPnet is seen to give prestige and legitimacy to the schools (especially in situations where schools need to compete for students), as well as more resources to work on global and sustainability education. The network coordinators motivate teachers to be active by offering recognition, awards and opportunities for student participation and their resources are appreciated by the participating teachers.

Looking at the overall context of GCED and ESD in Estonia, we can see both opportunities and challenges for the promotion of UNESCO values. The main challenges are related to the overall policy discourse, which emphasises neoliberal, nationalistic and security discourses with limited reference to global solidarity. Emphasis is on subjects tested in high-stakes exams and PISA. At the same time, the autonomy of schools and teachers gives opportunities to place more emphasis on ESD and GCED in schools where teachers are trained, resourced, and motivated. The curriculum encourages including these themes in a transversal manner, which supports the activities of ASPnet. Openness and expertise in digital learning are also assets (GENE, 2019).

The study concludes that the ideas around holistic, critical, and transformative dimensions of GCED present in academic literature need contextualising. The decolonisation discourse is becoming more prevalent in academic GCED literature, where it refers predominantly to Global North vs Global South relations, while ignoring the post-Soviet experience.

When asked about criticality, one of the Estonian teachers noted that:

“in school, we should talk more about colonialism as we were ourselves colonized only recently, but we should not be too critical of nationalism as we need to protect our minority language and culture”.

This shows how concepts like ‘colonialism’ and ‘nationalism’ can have different meanings and connotations in different contexts. The ‘west’ in this context is not a symbol of past and current injustices, but a symbol of democracy and human rights as opposed to Soviet and Russian authoritarianism and chauvinism.

 One of the biggest current challenges for the Estonian education sector is the war in Ukraine, the integration of Ukrainian refugees into Estonian schools*, continuing integration of the Russian-speaking minority into Estonian society, as well as fighting propaganda and hate speech. In this situation, GCED can have a key role to play in supporting peace, global solidarity, and human rights, but special emphasis needs to be put on critical media literacy.

 

* By the end of May 2022, Estonia received more than 40 000 refugees from Estonia (3% of the Estonian population), and thousands of refugee children need access to education in Estonia.

Key Messages

UNESCO school network in Estonia motivates a growing number of schools to work on global and sustainability issues

There are silos between natural and social science teachers as well as different ministries in their understanding and promotion of Global Citizenship Education (GCED) and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)

Networking between different subject teachers can lead to more holistic approach to teaching global challenges

Critical theory needs to be contextualised in the local history and experience

Johanna Helin

Johanna Helin

EdD candidate at OISE (University of Toronto)

Johanna Helin is an EdD candidate at OISE (University of Toronto) and carries out studies and evaluations through UbuntuEDU in Finland. She has many years of experience in Global Citizenship Education from Finland, Estonia and Canada. Her dissertation research is on global citizenship education and critical media literacy in selected ASPnet schools in different country contexts.

References and Further Reading

Baltic Sea Project website (accessed June 10, 2022): https://unesco-bsp.blogspot.com/ 

Bamber, P. (Ed.). (2019). Teacher Education for Sustainable Development and Global https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/oa-edit/10.4324/9780429427053/teacher-education-sustainable-development-global-citizenship-philip-bamber 

Citizenship: Critical Perspectives on Values, Curriculum and Assessment (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi-org.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/10.4324/9780429427053

 GENE – Global Education Network Europe (2019). The European Global Education Peer Review Process – National Report on Global Education in Estonia. Available at: https://www.gene.eu/peer-reviews

Schweisfurth, M. (2005). Learning to Live Together: A Review of UNESCO’s Associated Schools Project Network. International Review of Education / Internationale Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft, Vol. 51 Issue 2/3, p. 219-234. DOI: 10.1007/s11159-005-3579-9 https://research.birmingham.ac.uk/en/publications/learning-to-live-together-a-review-of-unescos-associated-schools- 

UNESCO (2003). UNESCO Associated School Project Network (ASPnet): historical review 1953-2003. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000130509?6=null&queryId=4f483e5c-0778-470e-9a63-5aaac01f9c13 

 UNESCO (2014b). ASPnet strategy for 2014-2021, Global network of schools addressing global challenges: building global citizenship and promoting sustainable development.Available at: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000231049?14=null&queryId=d968d1b3-3718-42c0-a1ea-8835499d4ccc 

 UNESCO (2018b). UNESCO Associated Schools Network: guide for national coordinators. UNESCO: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000261994

 UNESCO (2019a) UNESCO Associated Schools Network: guide for members. Available at: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000379707?4=null&queryId=3021db41-accf-4546-bf3f-12e6441595a9    

 

Socioeconomic School Segregation: Differences Between Countries

Socioeconomic School Segregation: Differences Between Countries

The segregation of students into different schools according to socioeconomic status, ethnicity and migration status is a substantial social problem in many countries. This can often lead to the provision of differing learning opportunities to students according to family background. School segregation can lead to national schooling systems strengthening intergenerational social inequalities. Such schooling systems present challenges to social cohesion and the individual development of students.

An outcome of socioeconomic school segregation is disparities between the socioeconomic composition of schools, or average school socioeconomic status, within national schooling systems. Researchers have found that socioeconomic school composition predicts achievement growth, university enrolment and social cohesion. International large-scale assessments such as the Programme for International Student Assessment have found that the relationship between school composition and academic achievement differs between countries. This suggests that policy differences between national schooling systems may predict international differences in the influence of school segregation on student learning.

Policy Settings Associated with Socioeconomic Compositional Effects

Research has associated tracking, academic selection, school competition and the private provision of schooling as potential causes of segregation, which in turn may predict international differences in compositional effects. Tracked schooling systems allocate students to curriculum streams that differ by emphasis on academic or vocational curriculum. Such systems tend to segregate students as academic schools are likely to enrol students from advantaged backgrounds, whereas vocational schools are likely to enrol students from disadvantaged families. This is unlike comprehensive schooling systems that offer a common academic and vocational curriculum across the majority of schools.

Academic selection also exists in some comprehensive schooling systems. In such systems, a minority of schools enrol the highest achievers in academic selection tests. Academic selection is associated with segregation as entry tests tend to favour students from advantaged family backgrounds, and advantaged families are more likely to pursue access to selective programs.

School competition or choice policies tend to segregate students as parents may seek to enrol their children in schools with peers of a similar social background, and higher-income families tend to have a greater capacity to exploit the benefits of school choice. Government subsidies to private schools may increase school choice to middle-class families, resulting in the socioeconomic residualisation of public schools.

Current research

International differences in school composition effects: PISA 2018 (Reading).

Our research examined these policy settings and found that tracking age, and the proportion of students attending public schools, partially explained differences in the socioeconomic compositional effect between developed countries (as defined by the United Nations). We found that countries that delayed the age at which tracking decisions are made, and those with a high proportion of students in public schools, tended to have lower school compositional effects.  

The compositional effect tended to be smallest among Nordic and Baltic countries, which also tend to delay tracking to post-compulsory school-age and have minimal private provision of schooling. Among English-speaking countries, all of which have comprehensive secondary schooling systems, those with higher proportions of private school enrolments had stronger compositional effects. For example, Australia has a high proportion of secondary school students enrolled in private schools. Australian private schools receive substantial public funding whilst still charging fees. Our research has associated this policy setting with higher levels of compositional effects compared to Canada and the US which have much lower rates of private school enrolment.

Tracked European schooling systems tended to have sizeable compositional effects, being up to five times the size of Nordic countries. The Netherlands exhibited the largest compositional effect, which was associated with a substantial proportion of students in private schools and a tracking age of 12. In general, among European countries, those with earlier ages at which students are tracked tend to have higher compositional effects.

Policy responses

A number of policy reforms are suggested by this research to minimise systemic segregational effects. Schooling systems that have increased the age at which tracking takes place have improved the equity of academic outcomes. Further progress could be made in European schooling systems to minimise the socioeconomic segregation of students into differing curriculum streams, such as delaying the age of track selection or ensuring each track enables access to university study. In regards to comprehensive education systems, a reversal of school-choice policies, particularly among English-speaking countries, may lower school segregation effects towards levels in Nordic countries.

Key Messages

  • The segregation of students into differing school types can lead to the provision of different learning opportunities.
  • Socioeconomic compositional effects vary between countries and are associated with a range of student outcomes.
  • Tracking, academic selection, school competition, and the private provision of schooling may explain international differences in the size of socioeconomic school compositional effects.
  • Our research found that tracking age, and the proportion of students in private schools, predicted international differences in compositional effects.
  • Compositional effects were lowest in Nordic and Baltic countries with no academic tracking and very small private school enrolment proportions.
  • European countries with early tracking ages tended to have the largest compositional effects
Michael Sciffer

Michael Sciffer

Ph.D. student at Murdoch University, Perth, Australia

Michael Sciffer is a Ph.D. student at Murdoch University. His research interests are school segregation, compositional effects, interactions between social contexts and school effectiveness and the appropriate specification of statistical models.

References and Further Reading

Alegre, M.À., & Ferrer, G. (2010), School regimes and education equity: Some insights based on PISA 2006. British Educational Research Journal, 36(3), 433-461. https://doi.org/10.1080/01411920902989193

Ball, S. J., Bowe, R., & Gewirtz, S. (1996) School choice, social class and distinction: the realization of social advantage in education, Journal of Education Policy, 11(1), 89-112, doi: 10.1080/0268093960110105 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0268093960110105 

Bonal, X., Zancajo, A., & Scandurra, R. (2019). Residential segregation and school segregation of foreign students in Barcelona. Urban Studies, 56(15), 3251–3273. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0042098019863662 

Brunello, G., & Checchi, D. (2007) Does school tracking affect equality of opportunity? New international evidence. Economic Policy, (22)52, 782–861. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0327.2007.00189.x

Chesters, J. (2019) Alleviating or exacerbating disadvantage: does school attended mediate the association between family background and educational attainment?, Journal of Education Policy, 34(3), 331-350, doi: 10.1080/02680939.2018.1488001 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02680939.2018.1488001?journalCode=tedp20 

Dustmann, C. (2004). Parental background, secondary school track choice, and wages, Oxford Economic Papers, 56(2), 209–230. https://econpapers.repec.org/article/oupoxecpp/v_3a56_3ay_3a2004_3ai_3a2_3ap_3a209-230.htm 

Jenkins, S. P., Micklewright, J. & Schnepf, S. V. (2008) Social segregation in secondary schools: how does England compare with other countries?, Oxford Review of Education, 34(1), 21-37, doi: 10.1080/03054980701542039 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03054980701542039 

Kristen, C. (2008). Primary school choice and ethnic school segregation in German elementary schools. European Sociological Review, (24)4, 495–510, https://doi.org/10.1093/esr/jcn015

Martinez-Garrido, C., Siddiqui, N., & Gorard, S. (2020). Longitudinal Study of School Segregation by Socioeconomic Level in the United Kingdom. REICE. Iberoamerican Journal on Quality, Effectiveness and Change in Education, 18(4), 123–141. https://dro.dur.ac.uk/31783/ 

Meghir, C., & Palme, M. (2005). “Educational Reform, Ability, and Family Background.” American Economic Review, 95(1), 414-424. doi: 10.1257/0002828053828671 https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/0002828053828671 

 Molina. A. & Lamb, S. (2022) School segregation, inequality and trust in institutions: evidence from Santiago, Comparative Education, 58(1), 72-90, doi: 10.1080/03050068.2021.1997025 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03050068.2021.1997025 

 OECD (2016), PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris, doi.org/10.1787/9789264266490-en. https://www.oecd.org/publications/pisa-2015-results-volume-i-9789264266490-en.htm 

 Rumberger, R.W., & Palardy. G.J. (2005). “Does Segregation Still Matter? The Impact of Student Composition on Academic Achievement in High School.” Teachers College Record 107(9), 1999-2045. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ718513 

 Saporito, S. (2003). Private Choices, Public Consequences: Magnet School Choice and Segregation by Race and Poverty. Social Problems, 50(2), 181–203. https://doi.org/10.1525/sp.2003.50.2.181

 Sciffer, M.G., Perry L.B., & McConney A. (2022). Does school socioeconomic composition matter more in some countries than others, and if so, why?, Comparative Education, 58(1), 37-51, doi: 10.1080/03050068.2021.2013045 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03050068.2021.2013045 

Walking together apart – how mobile material methods can help us think towards better educational futures

Walking together apart – how mobile material methods can help us think towards better educational futures

Whilst working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have been bound to our chairs and desks, suffering screen fatigue, isolation, and anxiety. In this context, an invitation to ‘get up and move’ enticed seven of us, all at different stages in our careers, to take part in a refreshing research opportunity. This blog offers some insights which emerged as we walked, talked, wrote, crafted, and immersed ourselves in walking as a methodological practice.

An invitation: ‘Get Up and Move’

Framed by the feminist approach of Collective Biography (Gannon and Davies, 2006), we shaped a practice of walking together-apart which involved us in walking in different geographical locations at more or less the same time in relation to an agreed aim. This helped us shape walking together-apart as a mode of knowledge-making that is relational, embodied, and collaborative, and that (we think) offers the means to think and work towards better, more hopeful educational futures.

Walking as method

Walking is an embodied, mobile, materialist research methodology which challenges the positioning of language and human interaction as the central feature in research (Taylor, 2020). It creates opportunities for research that is embodied, multi-sensory, emergent, relational, situated and bound to time, context, and location. Further, walking methodology reveals how geographies and histories are shaped by colonialist practices (Springgay and Truman, 2018).

In our Get Up and Move project, we experimented with paying attention to the places and spaces where we were walking. We adopted a materially engaged and situationally immersed research positionality, allied to Karen Barad’s feminist posthumanist orientation where ‘knowing does not come from standing at a distance and representing but rather from a direct material engagement with the world’ (Barad, 2007, p.49). This methodology involves a research orientation to the not-yet-known and to knowledge as a space of possibility.

Walking together-apart

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its toll as we process and experience the traumas of living with the virus and the uncertainty regarding potential new viral mutations, fluctuating infection rates, and accompanying new bodily practices of mask-wearing, and varying governmental and personal restrictions on social freedoms. Within these new and harsh conditions, the lockdowns imposed to slow down the spread of COVID-19 offered educational opportunities to connect online in new ways.  
Using a feminist posthumanist walking as methodology and Collective Biography approach, we engaged in a series of walkings, writings and reflections, creating and co-creating knowledge together-apart. Collective biography focuses on the collaborative production of written memories and a collective re-thinking and re-writing of meanings. It is a feminist method for moving beyond the individual towards a practice of co-authorship (Fairchild, 2021) in which research productions are collaboratively produced and ‘owned’.
Collaborative Biography challenges traditional individualistic social science approaches and privileges the moments as they happen. It encourages us to pay attention to the mundane, the micro, and that which is often taken for granted.

The walks

We enacted the methodology of walking together-apart in three walks: the first was in a familiar place which focused on noticing; the second was in an unfamiliar place and sought to attend to bodies and bodily sensings, and the third was at dawn focusing on the elements and atmosphere.

After each walk, we recorded individual stories in which we attended to embodied moments, collecting these in our ‘treasure chest’ (our shared online site). Later, together-apart in online group discussions, shared themes, and experiences emerged in a process of collective re-creation of memory and meaning. Through this iterative telling, listening, and writing process, particular things came to matter.

Data experimentations

Our ongoing encounters in researching our walking insights together-apart encouraged us to engage creatively with the data. Our treasure chest encompassed multiple forms of data – photographs, videos, written text, poems, sounds, and recordings of online conversations.

In a ‘first pass through the data’ we sifted through the folder, responding to what was there. Sharing these responses led to conversations that sprawled in unanticipated ways ranging from how our bodies meet the world – cold teeth, runny nose, wet socks – to big discussions about colonialism, misogyny, violence, and poverty.

As we continued thinking, writing, talking, and crafting, certain moments resonated, providing us with themed scents to pursue and paths to wander. Our knowledge-making was rhizomic, a botanic metaphor of a plant stem which creeps underground sending out roots and shoots, and which we use, following Deleuze and Guattari (1987), to describe the complex, nonlinear, erratic and nomadic nature of knowledge production.

Our experimentations in collaborative writing (Cranham et al., 2023, f.c.), string figuring and collage, and painting with data in hybrid classrooms were swept by the affective, exhilarating processes of becoming-we, leaving us joyfully animated in nurturing collaboration.

Insights for education

Walking as a methodological practice unveiled insights to knowledge-making in the following ways:

First, such approaches are slow. They require time and space to linger in the moment and to experience and learn with the world as it is encountered.

Second, the methodological practice of attentive noticing enables us to apprehend the significant role of the more-than-human (for example, objects, animals, nature). This displacement of human exceptionalism can be life-affirming and produce more generous and inclusive research and education practices.

Third, through an ethical process of care, trust, honesty, and open collaboration, ‘I’ became ‘we’, and ‘mine’ became ‘ours’, enabling knowledge creation beyond the individual. The knowledge that emerged was transversal, becoming an affective flow across the group, materialising in shared moments of laughter, insight, and silent musing.

 Fourth, embracing the unknown involved trusting something exciting would emerge and a willingness to take a risk. 

Fifth, creative open-ended methods disrupt current thinking and help recast what matters in education. They reject disciplinary boundaries and goal-oriented approaches, resisting current neoliberal practices that tend to promote individualised competitive practices over collaboration.

 

Walking and Collective Biography helped us envisage and enact more relational, embodied, collaborative, inclusive and joyful research practices – these, we think, can help inform better educational futures for students and staff.

Key Messages

The COVID-19 pandemic enabled using online spaces to connect and do research in new ways.

Walking as a methodology offers possibilities for research that is embodied and attends to both the human and nonhuman world.

Collaborative approaches have potential to disrupt neoliberal practices that promote individualised competitive practices that dominate the academy.

Such approaches are slow and require developing care-full relationships founded on trust and ethical engagement

Eliane Bastos

Eliane Bastos

PhD Researcher, University of Bath, Department of Education

Eliane is an Education PhD Researcher at the University of Bath (UK) interested in understanding how primary school children come to reflect their learning into the everyday through storying with objects, and how longitudinal ocean learning experiences may enable an ontological turn towards children’s understanding of the human-ocean relationship as human as ocean.

Eliane’s research is located within a relatively new field – Ocean Literacy, which is concerned with the understanding of the ocean’s influence on us and our influence on the ocean. She has been active as a practitioner in the field of ocean literacy for over 7 years working with partners in the UK and internationally to accelerate ocean literacy in society, including playing a key role as a founding member of the We Are Ocean collective and as a Board Member of the European Marine Science Educators Association.  

Hannah Hogarth

Hannah Hogarth

PhD Researcher, University of Bath, Department of Education

Hannah is a PhD researcher in the Department of Education, University of Bath. Her doctoral inquiry explores the relationship between childhoodnature encounters and play in an urban forest school.

Co-researching with young children alongside non-human nature, she is interested in finding ways to create knowledge collaboratively using creative, playful and embodied methods inspired by feminist, posthuman, relational and materialist approaches.

Carol Taylor

Carol Taylor

Professor of Higher Education and Gender

Carol is Professor of Higher Education and Gender in the Department of Education at the University of Bath where she is Director of Research and leads the Learning, Pedagogy and Diversity Research cluster.

Carol’s research focuses on the entangled relations of knowledge, power, gender, space and ethics in higher education and utilizes trans- and interdisciplinary posthumanist and feminist new materialist theories and methodologies.

She is currently co-leading a University of Bath Research Beacon Living Well Now and in 2050. Carol is co-editor of the journal Gender and Education, and a member of the Editorial Boards of Qualitative Research, Teaching in Higher Education, Critical Studies in Teaching and Learning and Journal of Posthumanism.

Carol’s latest books are Fairchild, N., Taylor, C.A., Benozzo, A., Carey, N., Koro, M., & Elmenhorst, C. (2022). Knowledge Production in Material Spaces: Disturbing Conferences and Composing Events. London: Routledge; Taylor, C. A., Ulmer, J., and Hughes, C. (Eds.) (2020) Transdisciplinary Feminist Research: Innovations in Theory, Method and Practice. London: Routledge; and Taylor, C. A. and Bayley, A. (Eds.) (2019) Posthumanism and Higher Education: Reimagining Pedagogy, Practice and Research. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 

Karen Barr

Karen Barr

PhD Researcher, University of Bath, Department of Education

Karen has taught at Sheffield Hallam University for 15 years, mainly on courses relating to education and early childhood.

She is studying for a PhD in Education at the University of Bath and the title of this research is ‘Affect and discursive-materiality in Early Childhood Studies placement assemblages’. This project considers placements as contingent and emergent assemblages of human-nonhuman forces; it explores the material aspects of placement contexts; how these material aspects come to matter discursively; and how affective forces influence students’ experiences.

Karen’s study takes up posthuman theory to investigate how placement works as a material-discursive affective assemblage and how that produces learning. Its aims are to contribute a novel way of considering placement and to make a methodological contribution through its creative research practices that attune to affective flows, rhythms, and momentary intensities, which often go unnoticed in learning events.

Elisabeth Barratt Hacking

Elisabeth Barratt Hacking

Deputy Head of Department / Senior Lecturer, University of Bath,

Elisabeth has published widely in the field of environmental education and global citizenship education. She has been involved in numerous educational research, evaluation and development projects relating to childhood and environment, education for sustainability and global citizenship education with nurseries, schools, children and young people, teachers and leaders. Much of this research has employed participatory methodologies in school contexts. 

Elisabeth is interested in advancing theory, policy and practice in the area of childhood and environment. With Amy Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles and Karen Malone, she has been instrumental in creating the new concept ‘childhoodnature’ through editing the international ‘Research Handbook on Childhoodnature: Assemblages of childhood and nature research’ (2020). Most recently, the new concept, ‘relational becoming’ (with Carol Taylor, 2020) brings together work in global citizenship, environmental education and childhoodnature to rethink education in a posthumanist frame, that is, beyond anthropocentric notions which privilege (powerful) human exceptionalism. 

Working with a group of interdisciplinary researchers, the ‘nature relations’ research group, Elisabeth is working on ways of embedding childhoodnature and Relational Becoming within climate change education in schools and early years settings.  She is also Co-investigator of a University of Bath interdisciplinary research Beacon: ‘Living Well now and by 2050.’  

Joy Cranham

Joy Cranham

PhD Researcher, University of Bath, Department of Education

Joy Cranham has over twenty years of experience in the Primary Education sector.  Her doctoral research in the Department of Education at the University of Bath focuses on preventative approaches to safeguarding.  The essence of her research is how families construct knowledge collaboratively, enabling greater criticality and confidence to discuss concerns about safety and risk.  Joy’s interest in collaborative writing simultaneously derives from her commitment to non-hierarchical educational practices and modes of knowledge productions
Sally-Jayne Hewlett

Sally-Jayne Hewlett

PhD Researcher, University of Bath, Department of Education

Sally-Jayne Hewlett has a background in working with young people aged 16-25 with learning difficulties and / or disabilities and specialist tutoring in higher education. She is currently completing doctoral research in the Department of Education at the University of Bath. Her research focus uses critical realist methodology to explore the invisible, hidden and complex realities of accessibility in higher education through the lens of academics. Collaborative writing simultaneously is congruent to Sally’s interest in innovative and accessible methodologies for knowledge production.  

References and Further Reading

Barad, K., 2007. Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham and London: Duke university press. Barad, K., 2007. Meeting the universe halfway 

Cranham et al., 2023 (f.c.). Not mine, not yours, but ours: Collaborative writing simultaneously together-apart. In Hughes, C, Taylor, C. A., Salazar Pérez & Ulmer, J. (Eds.) The Routledge International Handbook of Research and Methods in Transdisciplinary Feminism. London: Routledge.

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F., 1987. A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/a-thousand-plateaus

 Fairchild, N., 2021. Pedagogies of place-spaces: walking-with the post-professional, PRACTICE, DOI: 10.1080/25783858.2021.1968279 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/25783858.2021.1968279 

Gannon, S. and Davies, B., 2006. Doing collective biography: investigating the production of subjectivity. Maidenhead, England: Open university press. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-94-6091-615-1_10

Springgay, S. and Truman, S.E., 2018. Walking methodologies in a more-than-human world. Abingdon: Routledge. https://www.routledge.com/Walking-Methodologies-in-a-More-than-human-World-WalkingLab/Springgay-Truman/p/book/9780367264956 

Taylor, C. A., 2020. Walking as trans(disciplinary)mattering: A speculative musing on acts of feminist indiscipline. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/341470739_Walking_as_transdisciplinarymattering. In Taylor, C. A., Ulmer, J., and Hughes, C. (Eds.) (2020) Transdisciplinary Feminist Research: Innovations in Theory, Method and Practice. London: Routledge. pp. 4–15. https://www.routledge.com/Transdisciplinary-Feminist-Research-Innovations-in-Theory-Method-and-Practice/Taylor-Ulmer-Hughes/p/book/9780367500511 

Ukrainian Higher Education and the International Education Community in the Context of Russian Assault on Ukraine 

Ukrainian Higher Education and the International Education Community in the Context of Russian Assault on Ukraine 

On the 24th of February 2022, the world witnessed the most unexpected and unbelievable turn of events – a full-scale war in a country located in geographical Europe. Russian government and military, in cooperation with their partners in Belarus, launched a military assault on Ukraine’s infrastructure, civilians’ lives, freedoms, and sovereignty. Higher education (HE), along with other areas of life, has taken a backstage while people have been sheltering and/or fleeing to seek safety. Nevertheless, the backstage for Ukrainian wounded HE in these circumstances does not mean a full submergence by the war.

The number of damaged or destroyed educational establishments, including higher education institutions (HEIs), has been growing. Ukrainian academics and students are among those feeling the country seeking safety. Some students still hope there will be a chance to come back to their studies in Ukraine. Other members of the HE student community in Ukraine are staying, putting on a soldier’s uniform, and fighting for Ukraine. Some still manage to continue with their studies in various formats in the regions less affected by the war after the initial impact, as the Ukrainian government supports HEIs in ensuing uninterrupted payment of academics’ salaries.

The Ukrainian government and other HE stakeholders in Ukraine have been developing ways to support Ukrainian HE. For instance, on the 12th of March 2022, the Ukrainian Rectors’ Union supported the initiative of the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science: to cancel the requirement for final year upper-secondary school students to pass the final exams (State Final Attestation) as well as the External Education Assessment previously used to determine university entrance; to simplify the rules for applying for master’s degrees in 2022 and cancelling the final exam ‘Krok’ at medical universities; to give the right to HEIs to set the amount of tuition fees; to request that the government of Ukraine increases the number of students by 30% whose fees would be waived for 2022 start, particularly for prospective students from the most affected regions of Ukraine; to appeal to all universities to donate one day’s pro-rata salary of academics to supporting Ukrainian soldiers, etc.

Such measures are being actively discussed and further solutions are being negotiated at multiple meetings with various Ukrainian stakeholders and international guests. An example is the online Open Consultation on the 16th of May 2022 with presenters such as the rector from a Ukrainian university, the leader of the non-governmental organisation ‘Emotional Intelligence Institute’, the director of the Ukrainian Start-up Fund, and an Association Professor from Lithuania.

Ukrainian HEIs have received a lot of support from the international community that has been watching the impact of the war on Ukraine, including its HE sector. For example, following the bombing of Karazin University in Kharkiv in Ukraine on the 2nd of March 2022, universities from other countries (e.g., Austria, Italy, Spain, Cyprus, Slovakia, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Senegal, and Turkey) sent their letters of support to Karazin University, condemning Russia’s aggression.

In another example, the Estonian University of Tartu has generously offered mental health support to Ukrainian academics as well as support with applications for studies and academic jobs for Ukrainians. Similarly, Polish National Agency for Academic Exchanges (NAWA) has launched a program of support for Ukrainian undergraduate and postgraduate students to continue their studies in Poland free of charge between March and September 2022. Comparable conditions have been guaranteed to 51 Ukrainian researchers who are going to continue their work in Poland, supported by the Polish National Research Centre. These are a handful of examples to illustrate the measures that have been so generously developed by other countries to support the Ukrainian higher education community.

Such developments have been an expected chain reaction to other important milestones in the changing geopolitics of the international HE space. Early examples include:  the announcement of the European Commission on the 3rd of March 2022 about ceasing its cooperation with Russian entities in the area of education and research; on the 7th of March, Quacquarelli Symonds announced the plan to exclude Russian and Belarus HEIs from international university rankings; subsequently, the European Association for Quality Assurance in HE (ENQA) Board issued a statement on the 8th of March 2022 in response to the war about suspending the rights of their member and affiliate agencies in Russia. Organisations of different executive power in Ukraine and HEIs have also been actively pursuing justice in the face of the brute force of the invaders, holding consultations with multiple international organisations regarding breaking the ties with the aggressors in the area of HE. A couple of examples include appealing to the international-level coordinators of the European Education Research Association and the European Higher Education Area.

An appeal was made by the Ukrainian Education Research Association – the biggest and most influential national-level research organisation in Ukraine. It issued an open letter with a request for action to its sister organisations in the European Education Research Association (EERA) on the 4th of March 2022, following  EERA’s timely statement about condemning the war. In response, on the 13th of April 2022, EERA unanimously and unequivocally denounced the invasion of Ukraine, and announced a few generous ways of supporting educational research in Ukraine, such as cancelling the need for Ukraine to pay EERA membership fees, granting free entry to all Ukrainian researchers to the conferences organised by EERA, committing to continue working to develop funding opportunities for Ukrainian researchers, and more.

In another example, the Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine addressed the international Bologna Follow-up Group which coordinates the work of the European Higher Education Area on the 1st of March 2022 with a request for them to lobby for justice and break ties with Russia. A similar letter followed from the Ukrainian Education Research Association on the 28th of March 2022. European countries were divided in whether to break the ties with Russia in the area of research and education, including HE. This was because academic cooperation was still seen by some as a potential tool to save the lost diplomacy with Russia and override the disinformation campaign within the Russian borders. However, these optimistic voices were set aback by the statement made by Russia’s Rectors’ Union in early March, which openly supported Russia’s propaganda which masks the war under the disguise of ‘a special military operation’. In this statement, Russia’s Rectors’ Union maintains: ‘This is Russia’s decision to finally end the eight-year confrontation between Ukraine and Donbas, achieve the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine, and thereby protect itself from growing military threats’. This disgrace on behalf of Russian rectors is disheartening.

This could not have gone unnoticed by the international Bologna Follow-up Group which met on the 11-12th of April 2022 and issued a statement about suspending the memberships of Russia and Belarus in the European Higher Education Area. This membership suspension did not mean, however, burning all the bridges with Russia and Belarus since Bologna Follow-up Group has asked in the statement everyone affiliated with the EHEA to offer support and protection to those actively condemning the war at their own risk.

This description of the examples above of the apparent shift in the international geopolitics of HE and the national-level adjustments to the war in the Ukrainian HE sector suggests the onset of long-term changes and subsequent consequences for the structure of the Ukrainian HE, the HE of the countries that are hosting representatives of the Ukrainian HE community and helping them in other ways, and consequences for international cooperation in HE more broadly. These changes are emerging as an area which calls for academics to advocate for democracy and be at the forefront of the (re)production of knowledge and truth about HE in the dynamic context of the war.

Research into this area is needed for evidence-based policy-making to support the Herculean task of the Ukrainian HE community to handle the situation and preserve its identity. It is also essential for developing further the so-called ‘protective factors’ currently in place, illustrated above, such as the generous support of other countries and external organisations, policy adjustments both in Ukraine and abroad, and technological opportunities connecting people and enabling communication and joint decisions. Pathways should also be explored for mitigating possible risks resulting from the developments, such as a potential brain drain in Ukraine, the marginalisation of those from Ukraine who do not receive support or those abroad who cannot benefit from the opportunities that have now been channelled to tackle the consequences of the war, and the difficulty of promoting democracy through HE in the world which the war has changed.

Key Messages

There has been an apparent shift in the international geopolitics of HE and the national-level adjustments to the war in the Ukrainian HE sector.

These developments suggest the onset of long-term changes and subsequent consequences for the structure of the Ukrainian HE, the HE of the countries that are hosting representatives of the Ukrainian HE community and helping them in other ways, and consequences for international cooperation in HE more broadly.

These changes are emerging as an area which calls for academics to advocate for democracy and be at the forefront of the (re)production of knowledge and truth about HE in the dynamic context of the war.

Dr Iryna Kushnir

Dr Iryna Kushnir

Dr Iryna Kushnir is currently a Senior Lecturer in Education Studies at Nottingham Trent University. She previously worked at the University of Sheffield and the University of Edinburgh.

Dr Kushnir’s interdisciplinary research interests combine the following main areas: higher education, education policy, European integration, post-Soviet transition and migration. Her interdisciplinary approach has led to empirical and theoretical contributions, which reveal how education policy on the one hand and Europeanisation processes and post-Soviet transition on the other hand are interrelated and mutually shape one another.

Twitter: @IrynaKushnir7

Orcid: 0000-0003-0727-7208

University webpage: https://www.ntu.ac.uk/staff-profiles/education/iryna-kushnir

Gender and attainment in Northern Ireland: How can we understand the division?   

Gender and attainment in Northern Ireland: How can we understand the division?   

Post-primary attainment is commonly measured through GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) examinations which are completed in the final year of compulsory schooling in the UK at age 16. The GCSE attainment outcomes of pupils are annually reported in Northern Ireland by the Department of Education. They are presented according to school type (grammar schools which select pupils based on their academic ability on an entrance test (also known as the transfer test) or non-grammar schools which are not academically selective in their intake of pupils), socio-economic status (Free School Meal Eligibility) and gender. The gendered division in educational attainment in Northern Ireland continually receives policy attention, most recently from the Expert Panel on Educational Underachievement in Northern Ireland. This leaves the questions: what is the gender attainment divide, and how can we understand it?

What is the gender attainment divide?

Gender is an important determinant of attainment differences across the compulsory education system in the UK. Studies report the consistently higher performance of female pupils compared to males (Adcock et al., 2016; Department for Education, 2020; Cavaglia et al., 2020; Francis and Skelton, 2005; Gorard et al., 2001; Melhuish et al., 2013; Tinklin et al., 2001).

Northern Ireland reflects a similar trend to the rest of the UK, with females achieving higher GCSE attainment than males (Borooah and Knox, 2017; Department of Education, 2019; Gallagher and Smith, 2000; Shuttleworth, 1995). Most recently, in a newly published study we used a dataset in Northern Ireland that linked the 2011 Census with the School Leavers Survey and School Census for the first time.

The study explored how a pupil’s gender, religious affiliation, socio-economic status (measured by mothers’ and fathers’ education qualifications and occupational status, Free School Meal Eligibility, home ownership, property value, and the 2010 Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measure for income) and attended school (grammar or non-grammar) influenced their GCSE attainment.

We found that females had higher educational attainment as they achieved higher GCSE scores than males. The gendered effect on GCSE attainment was the joint second greatest effect (with mothers’ education) in our study. Although the gendered division of attainment outcomes is likely to emerge at an earlier stage of the compulsory education system in Northern Ireland, this is not possible to explore as there are no available individual-level attainment data prior to GCSE. Despite this limitation in the Northern Ireland context, an attainment difference according to gender is clear, which leaves the question: how can we understand this gendered divide?

How can we understand the gendered attainment divide?

An interdisciplinary framework consisting of Bourdieu’s theory of practice and Tajfel and Turner’s social identity theorycan help our understanding of the gendered attainment divide.

 Bourdieu’s (1986, 1984) writings predominantly focus on social status and how position affects an individual’s ability within the education system. His work on habitus, which can also be described as an individual’s dispositions or character, is relevant to understanding the gendered attainment division. Social identity theory developed by Tajfel and Turner (1979) can also aid our understanding of the gendered division in attainment as it outlines the process an individual is exposed to when forming an identity based on characteristics such as gender.

Habitus refers to an individual’s dispositions or character which organise and affect how they perceive the social world. Habitus reflects a degree of fluidity as it can change according to context, time and the social identity of an individual based on characteristics such as their gender. Habitus is therefore connected to social identity theory in a cyclical process where an individual’s identity influences their habitus, and vice versa.

Tajfel (1972) suggested that social identity was a result of the socialisation process, which provides an individual with the ability to identify with social groups they have a common characteristic with (for example, gender). The social identity process can result in individuals internalising behaviours associated with their gender, which can alter their habitus. This process, coupled with potential gendered socialisation experiences, could heighten habitus differences between males and females in settings such as schools. For example, an individual’s gendered identity and habitus may influence academic attitudes and expectations based on the norms and values of the affiliated social group, all of which can influence educational attainment and lead to a gendered division.

We must acknowledge that the cyclical process between habitus and social identity is not straightforward as more than one male and female social identity exists. For example, studies have reported multiple male social identities (also termed as masculinity) in educational settings (Connolly, 2006, 2004; Lyng, 2009; Travers, 2017). Lyng (2009)identified various masculinity types in schools, such as macho, geek, golden boy, and nerd. It could be argued that each of these identities has a varying influence on an individual’s habitus, which ultimately affects their educational attainment. For example, the identity of macho may have a greater negative influence on educational attainment compared to the identity of geek, which reflects a greater attachment to school. Femininity identities are also important to consider but are under-researched (Lyng, 2009).

Key Messages

  • A gendered attainment divide remains in Northern Ireland (and the wider UK).
  • Gender remains a key factor driving educational attainment differences between pupils (Early et al., 2022).
  • A dual framework of Bourdieu’s theory of practice, more specifically the concept of habitus, and Tajfel and Turner’s social identity theory can help our understanding of why a gendered attainment divide persists.
  • The social identity process can lead to individuals internalising behaviours associated with their gender, which can alter their habitus and affect their educational attainment outcomes.
Dr Erin Early

Dr Erin Early

Dr Erin Early, Research Fellow (CEPEO, IOE - UCL's Faculty of Education and Society)

Erin Early is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities at IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society. She was previously a Research Assistant at Queen’s University Belfast. Her background is Sociology and Criminology (BA Hons), Social Research Methods (MRes) and Education (PhD). Her research interests are centred around social inequalities, particularly in education and the family.

References and Further Reading

Adcock, A., Bolton, P. and Abreu, L. (2016). Educational performance of boys. London: House of Commons. Available at: https://dera.ioe.ac.uk/27199/1/CDP-2016-0151.pdf

Borooah, V.K. and Knox, C. (2017). Inequality, segregation and poor performance: the education system in Northern Ireland. Educational Review, 69(3), pp.318-336. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/00131911.2016.1213225   

Bourdieu, P. (1986). ‘The forms of capital’, in Richardson, J. (ed.) Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. Westport: Greenwood, pp. 241-258.

Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste (translated by Richard Nice). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

 Calvaglia, C., Machin, S., McNally, S. and Ruiz-Valenzuela, J. (2020). Gender, achievement, and subject choice in English education. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 36(4), pp.816-835. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/oxrep/graa050 

Connolly, P. (2004). Boys and Schooling in the Early Years. London: Routledge Falmer.

Connolly, P. (2006). The effects of social class and ethnicity on gender differences in GCSE attainment: a secondary analysis of the Youth Cohort Study of England and Wales 1997-2001. British Educational Research Journal, 32(1), pp.3-21. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/01411920500401963

Department for Education (2020). Key stage 4 performance, 2019 (revised). Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/863815/2019_KS4_revised_text.pdf 

Department of Education (2019). Year 12 and Year 14 Examination Performance at Post-Primary Schools in Northern Ireland 2018-19. Available at: https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/education/Revised%20-%20Year%2012%20and%20Year%2014%20Examination%20Performance%20at%20Post%20Primary%20schools%20in%20Northern%20Ireland%202018_19%20_%20Revised.pdf

Early, E., Miller, S., Dunne, L. and Moriarty, J. (2022). The Influence of Socio-Demographics and School Factors on GCSE Attainment: Results from the First Record Linkage Data in Northern Ireland. Oxford Review of Education (forthcoming). doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/03054985.2022.2035340

Francis, B. and Skelton, C. (2005). Reassessing Gender and Achievement: Questioning contemporary key debates. London: Routledge.

Gallagher, T. and Smith, A. (2000). The effects of the selective system of secondary education in Northern Ireland. Bangor: Department of Education. Available at: https://www.ulster.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/223409/2000_The_Effects_Of_The_Selective_System_Of_Secondary_Education_In_Northern_Ireland_Main_Report.pdf

Gorard, S., Rees, G., and Salisbury, J. (2001). Investigating patterns of differential attainment of boys and girls at school. British Educational Research Journal, 27(2), pp.125-139. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/01411920120037090

Islam, G. (2014). Social Identity Theory, in Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology, (ed. Teo, T.), pp. 1781-1783. New York: Springer. doi: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Gazi-Islam-2/publication/281208338_Social_Identity_Theory/links/55db57ec08ae9d6594935f59/Social-Identity-Theory.pdf

Lyng, S.T. (2009). Is there more to “antischoolishness” than masculinity? On multiple student styles, gender and educational self-exclusion in secondary school. Men and Masculinities. 11(4), pp.462-487. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1097184X06298780

Melhuish, E., Quinn. L., Sylva, K., Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I. and Taggart, B.(2013). Preschool affects longer term literacy and numeracy: results from a general population longitudinal study in Northern Ireland. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 24(2), pp.234-250. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/09243453.2012.749796

Power, E.M. (1999). An introduction to Pierre Bourdieu’s Key Theoretical Concepts. Journal for the Study of Food and Society. 3(1), pp.48-52. doi: https://doi.org/10.2752/152897999786690753

Shuttleworth, I. (1995) The Relationship between Social Deprivation, as Measured by Individual Free School Meal Eligibility, and Educational Attainment at GCSE in Northern Ireland: a preliminary investigation. British Educational Research Journal, 21(4), pp.487–504. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1501372

Tajfel, H. (1972). ‘Social categorization (English manuscript of ‘La categorisation Sociale’)’, in Moscovici, S. (ed). Introduction à la psychologie sociale (vol. 1). Paris: Larousse, pp. 272-302.

 Tajfel, H. and Turner, J.C. (1979). ‘An integrative theory of inter-group conflict’, in Austin, W.G. and Worchel, S. (eds.) The social psychology of inter-group relations. Belmont: Wadsworth, pp.33-47.

Tinklin, T., Croxford, L., Ducklin, A. and Frame, B. (2001). Gender and Pupil Performance in Scotland’s Schools. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh. Available at: https://www.ces.ed.ac.uk/old_site/PDF%20Files/Gender_Report.pdf

Travers, M.C. (2017). White working-class boys: teachers matter. London: UCL Institute of Education Press.

Harnessing Digital Technology as a Pedagogical Tool in Early Childhood Education

Harnessing Digital Technology as a Pedagogical Tool in Early Childhood Education

Children today are born into a world where digital technology is omnipresent and permeates all areas of their lives (O’Neill, 2018).  Yet one area which appears hesitant to embrace technology and harness the possibilities it can provide is the early childhood education sector (ECEC). 

Here in Ireland, the Department of Education and Skills (DES) has developed a digital strategy for primary and post-primary schools. This is fortified by a national support service which provides training and resources to support teachers in successfully incorporating technology in their educational practice. However, the DES has stopped short of recommendations for technology to enhance learning for children in ECEC and has instead recommended further research in this area (DES, 2020). 

Internationally, the European Commission has stated that 26 out of 38 countries included in their 2019 report are incorporating technology within their ECEC educational guidelines.  Ireland is not included in that list of 26 (European Commission, 2019).

From passive to active use of technology

Current research has found that young children are already proficient in digital technology use by the age of 3 years old (Marsh et al, 2015).  In addition, further research findings from the Growing up in Ireland longitudinal study report that technology is the most favoured form of play for 9-year-old children, more popular than reading a book or even playing with their friends (ESRI, 2021).

When considering technology, devices such as smartphones and tablets initially come to mind, but what if the foundations were laid at the ECEC stage for thinking about technology as much more than streaming animations, social media, and games?  An opportunity exists here for the introduction of technology as a developmentally appropriate pedagogical tool for ECEC children, many of whom are already technologically proficient, to open up the possibilities of technology for more than the aforementioned passive activities.  This knowledge could inform and expand children’s engagement with technology right through their educational lives.

Examples of active uses of technology

From an accessibility perspective, it is important to acknowledge that ECEC settings may have varying degrees of access to technology.  For example, access may be limited by resources, practitioner training, or funding, however, there are ways to incorporate technology which are both affordable and accessible and do not require a large investment.

Some simple methods for active uses of technology with ECEC children might include:

  • Examining bugs under a digital microscope.
  • Simple robotic sets.
  • Reflecting with children using photographs, video, and audio clips of them and their play.
  • Engaging with another setting as online “pen pals” via email or even video conferencing.
  • Invite parents who have an interesting job or story to tell into the setting via video conference.
  • Microphones for children to interview each other and listen back together.
  • Use an online tool such as Google Drawings to collaborate on artwork with family or with another setting.
  • Silent videos for children to narrate and act out.
  • Email and pictures from home – favourite food, my room, my favourite toy.
  • Search for recipes and order ingredients online, then cook together.

 

The future of technology in ECEC

Photo by Giu Vicente on Unsplash

But why stop there! Imagine the possibilities of the future and how they could have been so useful for children during the COVID-19 pandemic.  For example, so many children missed out on their final year in ECEC and the associated social and emotional preparation for their transition to primary education that would have been provided. 

What if augmented or virtual reality technology had been mainstream and accessible during that time.  Children could have engaged in a virtual walkthrough of their new primary school environment and had a meet and greet with their primary school teacher and even classmates. This may sound like a somewhat futuristic idea for ECEC, but who would have imagined 30 years ago the technologies which exist today? Such technologies may be expensive now, but like all new technology, surely they will become more affordable over time.

Moving forward, a 2021 report on the uses of technology in ECEC, both pre- and post-pandemic, has highlighted the need for policies and procedures to be developed to provide appropriate guidance for increased utilisation of technology within ECEC pedagogical practice (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 2021).  This is reflective of the current lack of direction on technology within the ECEC curriculum in Ireland’s Aistear curriculum and Síolta quality frameworks. Although notably, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) are currently engaged in a project to update the Aistear curriculum framework which will hopefully address this gap in an Irish context.  The OECD (2021) has also recommended the provision of practitioner training and the development of age-appropriate tools to further support the effective incorporation of technology in ECEC pedagogical practice. Of course, there are practical concerns that must be considered, such as ensuring that a balance is struck between engaging with technology for pedagogical use and avoiding an excess of screen time, as suggested by Finnish pedagogues (OECD, 2021). Additionally, we must ensure that the ECEC curriculum does not become dependent on technology so that those who do not have equitable access to technological tools are not disadvantaged. However, such issues further underpin the importance of developing and providing relevant training for ECEC professionals, appropriately embedding technology within the curriculum and quality frameworks, and considering the possibilities of technology in broader terms beyond merely smartphones, tablets, search engines, and streaming apps.

 

Paula Walshe

Paula Walshe

ECEC Trainer and FET Assessor

Paula Walshe is an ECEC trainer and placement assessor in the further education and training sector and a freelance writer. She currently holds a BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Education and will complete her studies for a Master’s Degree in Leadership for ECEC in 2022. Paula has extensive ECEC experience in both pedagogical practice and ECEC management. You can learn more about Paula’s work at her website (www.thedigitalearlychildhoodeducator.ie), where she writes a weekly blog on current topics in Early Childhood Education and Care in Ireland and provides useful professional and academic resources for students and professionals in this sector.

LinkedIn: Paula Walshe

Twitter: @digitalearlyed

Instagram: @digitalearlychildhoodeducator

Paula and an ECEC colleague have also established a Twitter page @ECEQualityIrl – a community of professionals sharing ideas and knowledge on all things quality, pedagogy, and professional practice in ECEC in Ireland.

References and Further Reading

Department of Education and Skills. (2019). Digital Learning Framework for Primary Schools. Dublin: Stationery Office. https://www.dlplanning.ie 

DES. (2017). Síolta the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education. Dublin: Early Years Education and Policy Unit. https://siolta.ie/manuals.php 

DES. (2020). Digital Learning 2020: Reporting on practice in Early Learning and Care, Primary and Post-Primary Contexts. Dublin: Stationery Office. https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/c0053-digital-learning-2020-reporting-on-practice-in-early-learning-and-care-primary-and-post-primary-contexts/ 

ESRI. (2021). Growing Up in Ireland, National Longitudinal Study of Children: The lives of 9 year olds of cohort ‘08. Dublin: ESRI. https://www.esri.ie/publications/growing-up-in-ireland-the-lives-of-9-year-olds-of-cohort-08 

European Commission. (2019). Key Data on Early Childhood Education and Care in Europe – Eurydice Report 2019. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. https://eacea.ec.europa.eu/national-policies/eurydice/content/key-data-early-childhood-education-and-care-europe-–-2019-edition_en 

Marsh, J. 2014. The Relationship Between Online and Offline Play: Friendship and Exclusion. In Children’s Games in the New Media Age, edited by A. Burn and C. Richards, 109–134. London: Ashgate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303572020_The_relationship_between_online_and_offline_play_friendship_and_exclusion

National Council for Curriculum Assessment. (2009). Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework. Dublin: NCCA. https://ncca.ie/media/4151/aistear_theearlychildhoodcurriculumframework.pdf 

O’Neill, S. (2018). Technology Use in Early Learning and Care: A Practice Dilemma. ChildLinks: Children and the Digital World, Barnardo’s, Issue 3, 2018. https://shop.barnardos.ie/products/ebook-childlinks-children-and-the-digital-world-issue-3-2018 

OECD. (2021). Using Digital Technologies for Early Education during COVID-19:  OECD report for the G20 2020 Education Working Group. Paris: OECD Publishing. https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/using-digital-technologies-for-early-education-during-covid-19_fe8d68ad-en