Resisting the marginalisation of children’s right to play

Resisting the marginalisation of children’s right to play

Why have we, as educators, accepted that play now occupies the margins of early childhood education and care? Whilst a long tradition of international research positions play as essential to early learning (Wood, 2015), tensions remain with play being foregrounded in classroom life. But can – and should – educators subvert the marginalisation of play in early childhood and care (ECEC)? It is one question that has provoked the recent scholarship on the resistance practices of educators. Dr Jo Albin-Clark and Dr Nathan Archer share their research and thoughts on the marginalisation of play in education.

Play in the current context

Over time, as researchers in ECEC, we have found that play seems to have slipped down the agenda in the push for formalised learning in countries such as England, as accountability bodies frame teaching within standards agendas that can sideline child-initiated play (Wood, 2019). Play seems to occupy a contested curriculum space (Fairchild and Kay, 2021, p. 1). Yet play is not just under erosion in school life, the pull of structured time and the chasing of high achievements reaches into family life (Sahlberg and Doyle, 2019). The result is the withholding of play from children (Murray et al., 2019).  

But play is much more than educational experiences. It is deeply associated with childhood itself. The entitlement to play is part of Article 31 of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights OHCHR, 1989). Significantly, the right to play is an innovative component that acts as a gateway to other rights related to health and broader development (Davey and Lundy, 2011). Even though play is strongly associated with many domains of learning and development, it is not always taken seriously and because of that the status of play has suffered (Brooker and Woodhead, 2013).

Resistance practices

Play is a matter of social justice (Souto-Manning, 2017), and, for that reason, needs policymakers and educators to protect children’s entitlement to play, including through resistance to its marginalisation. As such, a growing body of literature in early childhood education (Moss 2019; Archer and Albin Clark 2022) focuses on the multiple manifestations of these resistances by educators.  Much of this resistance scholarship takes an explicit social justice position, with reconceptualist writers having increasingly called for greater advocacy and social activism in terms of both policy and practice (e.g., Bloch et al., 2018). Research reveals how the scope and scale of this resistance and activism varies from micro resistances to collective action. Nonetheless, both small and large-scale actions can produce sites for hopeful and flourishing pedagogies that can shift from marginalisation to more active politicised resistance.  

Resistance stories

Building on this prior work, we came together as researchers with two cases from separate studies (Albin-Clark, 2018; 2022; Archer, 2020; 2021). What is common to both case studies is a shared interest in how ECEC educators make sense of their experiences and enact forms of resistance. Through the stories of two early childhood educators working in England, we identified their commitment to ‘being the right thing’ and ‘doing the right thing’, foregrounding play in their practice as a matter of social justice. As such, both educators resisted and subverted pressures, scrutiny, and colleague expectations to make play happen, and demonstrate how play is implicated with concerns of justice (Nicholson and Wisneski, 2017).

Call to arms

In conclusion, we need to further problematise the implications and risks of mobilising play (Shimpi and Nicholson, 2014). Making play happen requires a critical awareness of the relationship between rights and play agendas and the tensions involved navigating the value of play in the complexity of ECEC (Wong, 2013). Saying ‘no’ to play’s marginalisation brings teachers into a professionalism founded on resistance (Fenech et al. 2010).

 Now is the time to acknowledge and amplify resistances that promote the right to play. But for educators there are risks of being labelled a ‘disobedient’ professional (Leafgren, 2018). In promoting play, it can mean thinking carefully about how curriculum content is framed (Wood and Hedges, 2016). Moreover, children’s access to and entitlement to play is positioned as a moral imperative by both educators in our studies, which suggests how seriously the right to play is positioned (Nicholson and Wisneski, 2017; Wood, 2007). Social justice needs serious play.


Key Messages

  • Play has an essential role in children’s educational lives and matters to their childhood.
  • Play and educational justice are related concepts.
  • There are both implications and risks in marginalising children’s right to play.
  • The increasing formalisation of education for our youngest children needs scrutiny.
  • Making play happen in educational practice might need forms of resistance.
Dr Jo Albin-Clark

Dr Jo Albin-Clark

Senior Lecturer Early Education

Dr. Jo Albin-Clark is a senior lecturer in early education at Edge Hill University. Following a teaching career in nursery and primary schools, Jo has undertaken a number of roles in teaching, advising and research in early childhood education. She completed a doctorate at the University of Sheffield in 2019 exploring documentation practices through posthuman and feminist materialist theories in early childhood education. Her research interests include observation and documentation practices and methodological collaboration and research creation through posthuman lenses. Throughout her work, teachers’ embodied experiences of resistances to dominant discourses has been a central thread. 

Dr Nathan Archer

Dr Nathan Archer

Researcher at Leeds Beckett University

Dr Nathan Archer is a researcher at Leeds Beckett University. Originally qualified as a Montessori teacher, Nathan has worked in practice, policy and research in early childhood education for twenty-five years. He gained a PhD from University of Sheffield in 2020 and has undertaken policy analysis with Sutton Trust, Nuffield Foundation and University of Leeds. He continues to research early childhood workforce policy, and the resistance and activism of early childhood educators. Nathan is Associate Editor of Journal of Early Childhood Research.  


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References and Further Reading

Albin-Clark, J. (2018). ‘I felt uncomfortable because I know what it can be’: The emotional geographies and implicit activisms of reflexive practices for early childhood teachers. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 21(1), 20-32. https://doi:10.1177/1463949118805126

 Albin-Clark, J.  (2022). The right to play: Are young children free to determine their own actions?

 Albin-Clark, J. & Archer, N. 2023, “Playing social justice: How do early childhood teachers enact the right to play through resistance and subversion? ” Prism: Casting new light on learning, practice and theory, 5 (2), 1-22.

 Archer, N. (2020). Borderland narratives: Agency and activism of early childhood educators [Doctoral dissertation, University of Sheffield].

 Archer, N.  (2021). ‘I have this subversive curriculum underneath’: Narratives of micro resistance in early childhood education. Journal of Early Childhood Research https://doi:10.1177/1476718X211059907 

 Archer, N. & Albin-Clark, J. (2022, July 20). Telling stories that need telling: A dialogue on resistance in early childhood education. FORUM for Promoting 3-19 Comprehensive Education, 64 (2)

 Bloch, M. N., Swadener, B. B., & Cannella, G. S. (Eds.). (2018). Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education and Care-a Reader: Critical Questions, New Imaginaries & Social Activism. Oxford: Peter Lang.

 Brooker, L., & Woodhead, M. (2013). The right to play. early childhood in focus, 9. The Open University with the support of Bernard van Leer Foundation

 Davey, C., & Lundy, L. (2011). Towards greater recognition of the right to play: An analysis of article 31 of the UNCRC. Children & Society, 25(1), 3-14. https://doi:10.1111/j.1099-0860.2009.00256.x

 Fairchild, N., & Kay, L. (2021, November 26). The early years foundation stage: Challenges and opportunities. BERA blog.

 Fenech, M., Sumsion, J., & Shepherd, W. (2010). Promoting early childhood teacher professionalism in the Australian context : The place of resistance. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 11(1), 89-105. https://doi:10.2304/ciec.2010.11.1.89 

 Leafgren, S. (2018). The disobedient professional: Applying a nomadic imagination toward radical non-compliance. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 19(2), 187-198. https://doi:10.1177/1463949118779217 

 Moss, P. (2019). Alternative narratives in early childhood. Abingdon: Routledge

 Murray, J., Smith, K., &Swadener, B. (2019). The Routledge international handbook of young children’s rights Abingdon: Routledge. https://doi:10.4324/9780367142025 

 Nicholson, J., &Wisneski, D. (2017). Introduction. Early Child Development and Care, 187(5-6), 788-797. https://doi:10.1080/03004430.2016.1268534 

 Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, (OHCHR). (1989, November 20). United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)

 Sahlberg, P., & Doyle, W. (2019). Let the children play. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 Shimpi, P., & Nicholson, J. (2014). Using cross-cultural, intergenerational play narratives to explore issues of social justice and equity in discourse on children’s play. Early Child Development and Care, 184(5), 719-732. https://doi:10.1080/03004430.2013.813847 

 Souto-Manning, M. (2017). Is play a privilege or a right? and what’s our responsibility? on the role of play for equity in early childhood education. Early Child Development and Care, 187(5-6), 785-787. https://doi:10.1080/03004430.2016.1266588

 Wong, S. (2013). A ‘Humanitarian Idea’: using a historical lens to reflect on social justice in early childhood education and care. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood14(4), 311-323.

 Wood, E. (2007). New directions in play: consensus or collision? Education 3-13, 35(4), 309-320. https://doi:10.1080/03004270701602426 

 Wood, E. (2015). The capture of play within policy discourses: A critical analysis of the UK frameworks for early childhood education. In J.L. Roopnarine, M.Patte, J.E. Johnson & D. Kuschner (Eds.), International perspectives on children’s play (pp. 187-198). Buckingham: Open University Press.

 Wood, E. and Hedges, H., 2016. Curriculum in early childhood education: Critical questions about content, coherence, and control. The curriculum journal, 27(3), pp.387-405.

The importance of diversity training for educators in predominately white places

The importance of diversity training for educators in predominately white places

The state of future education as a discipline will be possibly influenced by the importance it places on a conceptual, curricular, and pedagogical need to shift the emphasis toward transformative classrooms working for positive change through cultural diversity (Banks, 2020). Awareness of issues around race equality, inclusive growth, and community cohesion has heightened following George Floyd’s killing in the USA in 2020, and the Black Lives Matter Movement. This increasing awareness is particularly pertinent in Britain in areas of historically low ethnic diversity which have lately experienced a rise in ethnic minority populations, and where inclusive growth is a challenge.

The Research

My research explores the understanding and experiences of multiculturalism of students, parents and educators in four mainstream primary schools situated in the predominantly White South-West England. I adopted a qualitative case study methodology framed by a sociocultural theoretical framework (Vygotsky, 1978). Data were collected through semi-structured interviews with adult participants, observation of students’ classroom activities, and documentary analysis of classroom and corridor displays.

The interviews had questions around books and topics reflecting multiculturalism. In the height of COVID-19, the classroom and corridor displays were photographed to see whether the school ethos and atmosphere reflect multiculturalism.

Background – Diversity, Curriculum and Education Inspectorate

Although 33.5% of the school population includes ethnically diverse children, out of 6478 children’s books published in Britain in 2019, 10.5% featured characters belonging to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities; of these, only 5% had a main character who belonged to the communities mentioned (Wood, 2019). The education inspectorate, Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills or in short, Ofsted (2019:11,12) is vocal about ensuring “inclusive education and training to all”, and extending the Curriculum beyond the academic and technical domains for students’ broader development, and creation of understanding, and appreciation of cultural diversity. However, race equality and community cohesion, which could help in the students’ broader development, do not constitute Ofsted’s school inspection criteria (Rhamie, 2014).  


My research findings suggest participants’ eagerness for more ethnically diverse content incorporated in teaching and learning. However, schools are considerably dependent on, and somewhat confined by, the knowledge-focused Primary National Curriculum in England for which efforts towards a multicultural reflection are less noticeable. The absence of culturally diverse content in the school Curriculum highlighted by the 1985 Swann Report and the 2007 Ajegbo Report makes England’s primary National Curriculum look like a “Brexit policy three decades before Brexit”  (Moncrieffe et al., 2020:20). The situation emphasizes the need to start afresh. The starting point may be to get thinking and acting while doing Curriculum making (Priestley et al., 2021). This is because Curriculum thinking  is at the heart of education practice today (Poutney and Yang, 2021).

Implications – Curriculum thinking and teacher training

The educators as Curriculum framers play a significant part in Curriculum thinking and delivery where the task design is crucial, and where the educators can place equal importance on the interwoven elements of “how”, “what” and “why” the task is taught (Moncrieffe et al., 2020:16-17). The educators need to build confidence in encouraging difficult conversations around racism, fear, indifference, and ignorance breaking the stereotypical barriers. This would help equip the students with the necessary creative skills so that they learn, grow and foster as responsible citizens in this changing complex world (Deng, 2022) with an apt cognition of a multicultural Britain. But how can they train students without the required training in the specific area?

Lander’s research (2014) showed that trainee educators in predominantly White areas often run the risk of sharing confined perspectives while educating children. I agree with Lander that no matter the geographical location, school educators can be equipped with the necessary culturally responsive initial training, and continuous professional development, with a focus on race-centric and multiculturally responsive education (ibid).   This may aid in the reduction of employees’ unconscious bias for which the CRE (2021)  recommended training and routine skills assistance. This becomes distinctly pertinent to avoid horrific cases of racism in the future like the one in Hackney, London where a Black teenager referred to as Child Q was wrongly suspected of cannabis possession, and strip-searched during her period, risking deep serious consequences for the child (FordRojas, 2022 ).

Having competent culturally responsive educators in 21st century classrooms may have important positive effects like boosted self-esteem, improved academic achievement, and greater engagement and well-being of students from ethnically diverse communities, which, in turn, have implications for fostering nurturing inclusive classrooms and school environments.

Key Messages

  • There is often a misconception that only schools with high ethnic minority populations or those situated in multicultural places need multicultural awareness.
  • Race equality and cultural awareness are essential topics amidst racist incidents in multicultural schools at the heart of London
  • These topics are equally important in predominantly White places in Britain, especially in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, the BLM movement, and post-Brexit rises in racist and xenophobic attacks.
  • School curriculum and atmosphere need to offer race sensitive multicultural reflection in these places.
  • Practitioners need training and preparedness to equip them with relevant knowledge, skills, and confidence.
Suparna Bagchi

Suparna Bagchi

Final year doctoral student in Plymouth Institute of Education, University of Plymouth, UK

Suparna Bagchi is a final-year doctoral student at the Plymouth Institute of Education, University of Plymouth. She worked there as a Doctoral Teaching Assistant from 2019 to 2022. Suparna’s doctoral research explores perceptions of multiculturalism in mainstream primary schools in South West England. With a research interest in race, equity and social justice, Suparna is a member of various race equality associations both inside and outside the University.

Suparna is a dignity and respect ambassador and student representative of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) at Plymouth University. In 2022, Suparna received EDI Award from Plymouth University coming among the top three students. Suparna is a trained Compassionate Community Ambassador, mentor of the UNO-recognised Virtues Project, a certified Community Champion and trained Hinduism Faith Speaker. Suparna appears regularly on BBC Radio Devon as a guest speaker. Suparna has made academic presentations nationally and internationally.

Twitter handle:



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References and Further Reading

Banks, J. A. (2020). Diversity, transformative knowledge, and civic education: Selected essays. Routledge.

Deng, Z. (2022). Powerful knowledge, educational potential and knowledge-rich curriculum: pushing the boundaries. Journal of Curriculum Studies54(5), 599-617.

FordRojas, J.P. (2022). Child Q report: Met Police culture ‘under scrutiny again’ after case of schoolgirl strip-searched by officers, says policing minister. Sky News. 13 April.

Lander, V. (2014). Initial teacher education: The practice of whiteness. In R. Race. and V. Lander (Eds.), Advancing race and ethnicity in education, (pp. 93-110). Palgrave Macmillan.

Moncrieffe, M., Race, R., Harris, R., Chetty, D., Riaz, N., Ayling, P., Arphattananon, T., Nasilbullov, K., Kopylova, N. and Steinburg, S. (2020). Decolonising the curriculum. Research Intelligence142, 9-27. British Educational Research Association.

Ofsted. (2019). The education inspection framework. Draft for Consultation–January 2019.

Plymouth Report. (2019). Plymouth: Plymouth City Council.

Pountney, R. and Yang, W. (2021). International perspectives on the curriculum Implications for teachers & schools. BERA Research Intelligence, 148, pp. 15

Priestley, M., Alvunger, D., Philippou, S., and Soini, T. (2021). Curriculum making across European nations. BERA Research Intelligence,148, 16-17.

Rhamie, J. (2014). Resilience, the black child and the Coalition Government. In .R Race, and V. Lander (Eds.), Advancing Race and Ethnicity in Education (pp. 230-249. Palgrave Macmillan.

Sewell, T., Aderin-Pocock, M., Chughtai, A., Fraser, K., Khalid, N., Moyo, D., … and  Shah, S. (2021). Commission on race and ethnic disparities: The report. Commission on Race, Ethnic Disparities.

Vygotsky, L. S., and Cole, M. (1978). Mind in society: Development of higher psychological processes. Harvard university press.

Wood, H. (2019). New CLPE report into kids books warns over simplified depictions of BAME characters. The Bookseller.

The perceptions of minoritized pupils on student-teacher relationships

The perceptions of minoritized pupils on student-teacher relationships

At ECER 2023 in Glasgow, Julia Steenwegen from the University of Antwerp will present her research about the minoritized students, and their perceptions of the student-teacher relationships in mainstream and supplementary schools. We asked Julia to give us an overview of her research, and the implications for minoritzed students in Belgium, and beyond.

Student reflections

This is the response of a pupil when asked about the differences between her supplementary school and her Flemish mainstream school as part of a project investigating minoritized pupils’ views on the relationship to their teachers.

Some background – Minority students in Flanders, Belgium

Against a backdrop of persistent inequality in education throughout Europe, and in Flanders specifically, studies find that there is a gap not only in academic achievements between minoritized pupils and their peers, but also in the quality of student teacher relationships. The student-teacher relationship is of crucial importance to students’ educational pathways, yet teachers indicate feeling ill-prepared in teaching the diversity of their classrooms [1]. Students with a migration background tend to evaluate the relationship to their teachers as not as positive as their majority peers [2].

Other research has shown that some teachers hold ethnic prejudice towards their minority students  [3], this is particularly worrisome as only a very small percentage of teachers in Flanders have a migrant background [4]. The difference in ethno-cultural background – called Ethnic incongruence [5] – between teachers and students in mainstream schools is often hypothesized as an explanation for the different evaluation of student-teacher relationships. What is currently missing from the research is the perception of those minoritized pupils.


Our research methods

Supplementary schools pose a unique vantage point from which to study minoritized pupils’ views on the student-teacher relationship.  They are educational spaces [5] organized by minoritized communities to support their youth, usually take place during the weekend, and they often focus on teaching heritage language and culture. These schools are widespread, with as many as 45% of pupils in Flanders attending them at some point, as a yet unpublished paper by Coudenys and colleagues shows. That makes them particularly interesting to study in light of this project. After all, contrary to the mainstream Flemish schools in which most teachers are of white majority backgrounds, teachers in the supplementary school tend to share their pupils’ migrant backgrounds.

 Pupils attending both mainstream schools and supplementary schools are in an exclusive position to compare two different settings and reflect on what is constructive to a strong relationship, in their experience. To this end, we conducted group interviews with 29 minoritized pupils in two supplementary schools. The pupils were between 9 and 12 years old and voluntarily decided to take part in the interviews, either alone or with a friend.

Our findings

To our surprise, we find that throughout all these interviews, in which the pupils recount and reflect on their relationship to their teachers in the mainstream Flemish school as well as in the supplementary school, not one of the pupils points towards the ethno-cultural background of the teachers. Rather, they give a nuanced depiction of their relationships in each context both on an academic and an emotional level. This is in line with other research [6] suggesting that children do not rely on ethnic categories to organize their world.

 On an emotional level, the pupils indicate that they find the teachers in the mainstream Flemish schools to be less available to them overall. The children point towards factors such as class size to make sense of this lack of availability. Many of the pupils describe situations in which the teacher did not intervene in fights or altercations in the classroom, negatively impacting the quality of the relationship. The children are especially grateful to those teachers that show an interest in their cultural backgrounds. Some pupils remember teachers who asked about their supplementary schools fondly, while acknowledging that such interest is rare.

 While there is not always a clear-cut difference in the pupils’ perception of the teachers from one context to the next, they do almost uniformly declare a difference in the support they receive academically. The pupils report that they are reluctant to ask their mainstream teachers for help because they expect to be turned down. The children relate how they keep their questions to themselves, and then ask their teachers in supplementary school to explain to them at the weekend.

Implications for practice, beyond Belgium

We conclude by highlighting some important implications of our findings. Importantly, there is ample research [7] that emphasizes the importance of diversity in teacher staff in terms of countering prejudice, academic expectations, role models and more. The findings of this project do not seek to diminish that importance. Rather, in a reality of ethnic incongruence in student-teacher relationships we make some suggestions to better support pupils of minoritized backgrounds. First, pupils appreciate curiosity from their teachers. Interest in their cultural backgrounds and, relatedly, asking questions about their experience in the supplementary school is clearly beneficial. Second, the pupils were very perceptive of the pressure their teachers experience, and therefore they found them less approachable. And third, there are ample resources available in the supplementary schools. There could be much gained from a meaningful exchange between these different educational contexts.

Key Messages

  • Supplementary schools pose an interesting vantage point from which to study the perspectives of minoritized pupils.
  • We study the student-teacher relationship from an academic and an affective dimension.
  • Pupils describe that they feel better emotionally supported by their teachers in the mainstream school when they show an interest and open attitude towards their ethno-cultural background.
Julia Steenwegen

Julia Steenwegen

PhD Researcher

With past experience as a primary school teacher, Julia’s research focus is on inequality in education. Her main focus is on the resources in children’s networks that provide support in their educational pathways.

Orcid: 0000-0001-6743-9788

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References and Further Reading

[1] Berkovich, I., & Benoliel, P. (2020). Marketing teacher quality: Critical discourse analysis of OECD documents on effective teaching and TALIS. Critical Studies in Education, 61(4), 496-511.

[2] Agirdag, O., Van Houtte, M., & Van Avermaet, P. (2012). Ethnic school segregation and self-esteem: The role of teacher–pupil relationships. Urban Education, 47(6), 1135-1159.

[3] Van den Bergh, L., Denessen, E., Hornstra, L., Voeten, M., & Holland, R. W. (2010). The implicit prejudiced attitudes of teachers: Relations to teacher expectations and the ethnic achievement gap. American Educational Research Journal, 47(2), 497-527.

[4] Nulmeting herkomst leerkrachten in het Vlaamse onderwijs

[5] Thijs, J., Westhof, S., & Koomen, H. (2012). Ethnic incongruence and the student–teacher relationship: The perspective of ethnic majority teachers. Journal of school psychology, 50(2), 257-273.

[6] Steenwegen, J., Clycq, N., & Vanhoof, J. (2022). How and why minoritised communities self-organise education: a review study. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 1-19.

[7] Sedano, L. J. (2012). On the irrelevance of ethnicity in children’s organization of their social world. Childhood, 19(3), 375-388.

[8] Goldhaber, D., Theobald, R., & Tien, C. (2019). Why we need a diverse teacher workforce. Phi Delta Kappan, 100(5), 25-30.

Using nonviolence to reconceptualize inclusive education in the Global South

Using nonviolence to reconceptualize inclusive education in the Global South

My doctoral research has been exploring how developing a philosophy of nonviolence can help offset discrimination and exclusion in Chile, a country that has attempted to tackle the issue of inclusiveness through a Global North narrative that has focused primarily on disability and special needs. This blog post explores how nonviolence education can promote a sense of equality and inclusion not purely from such perspective, as has been the norm for the last two decades, but from one anchored in an understanding of cultural, economic, sexual, and ethnic diversity.

Previous assumptions on inclusivity

The very nature of my research project has inclusiveness at its core; not exclusively as a method often and primarily focused on students with special needs, but as a way to experience human relations rooted in an equitable view of others. It involved reading and discussing nonviolent perspectives in education, engaging in weekly contemplative practices such as developing empathy and practicing compassion, and peer-teaching. Participants were all pre-service teachers from Chile, a nation that in the last 4 years has been beset by social violence, much of which spilled over into educational establishments.

These participants’ previous assumptions on what inclusiveness is ranged from “I thought inclusiveness was only a way to adapt materials for special-needs students”, to “I used to think about inclusiveness from a technical perspective rather than understanding what makes a person different from another, or singular”, to “I used to believe inclusiveness was about including other people, but now I understand it as being aware of their differences, acknowledging and appreciating them”

This somewhat incomplete understanding of inclusiveness is hardly surprising, if one is to look at two factors. The first is the definitions and principles of inclusive education we find in research done by Chilean scholars and Chilean government documents; for while it is true that Law 20.845 on Inclusive Education from 2016 seeks the “elimination of discrimination and the approach to diversity”[1], it is also acknowledged that these efforts have focused on and been prompted by widening access primarily to people with disabilities. A report from the National Disability Agency states that inclusive education has been “driven towards the social participation of people with disabilities, their families and civil society, in order to implement the changes demanded by students and our society” (p.1). Research by Chilean scholars in this area (Iturra-Gonzalez, 2019; Manghi et al., 2020; Martinez and Rosas, 2022) on the other hand, tends to use the terms “inclusive education” and “education for students with special needs” interchangeably. There is, as I mentioned, a second factor that shapes this view of inclusiveness: a close inspection of available research done in Chilean education reveals that it draws heavily and almost exclusively on studies and sources from the Global North on this issue, and this is problematic: such research has in fact for decades focused almost exclusively on disability rather than on a holistic approach.

[1] In Spanish in the original: “eliminación de la discriminación y el abordaje de la diversidad”, translation by me.

An argument for what inclusive education should mean today

Given the above, I argue that the idea of inclusiveness I have described is both inaccurate and incomplete, and it is here that nonviolence educational philosophy brings a more holistic understanding of what inclusiveness should look like. To begin with, Judith Butler (2020) has argued that all lives have equal worth; violence in any dimension arises when we see others’ lives as having less worth. Inclusiveness from a nonviolent perspective comprises everyone who has been historically marginalized, excluded, and discriminated against. In other words, whose lives have been socially and culturally devalued. This is where we can establish a link to non-Western traditions (i.e., Ubuntu, BuenVivir, Buddhism, and yoga), which were explored during the study. What these traditions have in common is that they promote a sense of a mutually bound existence regardless of our faith, gender, ethnicity, beliefs, modes of life, ability, literacy or education.

When defining ubuntu, for instance, Desmond Tutu (1999) explains:

“A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are” (p.29)


He further adds that the ultimate goal of ubuntu is to achieve social harmony through shared human participation, and that in the end, we can only be human beings through other human beings; therefore, committing an act of violence against someone is an action of dehumanizing both the victim and ourselves.

 These were concepts that were missing from the participants’ original interpretation of inclusiveness, and why they were exposed to these ideas early on in the project; for instance, one of the earliest assignments for participants was to watch a short video on the meaning of inclusiveness in education by Indian scholar Sadhguru. His vision, which I share, is that inclusiveness is not “an idea or a campaign”, but an individual experience of connecting to other human beings, and of bringing this connection into the whole range of activities we engage in, be it educational, economic or spiritual, in order to flourish. One participant explains:

“I really liked what Sadhguru mentioned in his speech about inclusiveness in education, “Survival cannot happen without inclusiveness”, as I think this is a point that many people tend to forget. For me, inclusiveness is about integrating different people into a group. However, this integration should not only be to include or accept a person into this group, this action also serves to see other people as equals” – P24

Perhaps the most important insight participants expressed concerned a paradigmatic shift that moved from an individualistic mindset to a more collective one, as can be seen from the observations below:

“I noticed the sense of community in which I work with others as “we”, but also as my own growth as an individual. Western people, on the other hand, are taught that the only thing that matters is the “ego”, ourselves, everything that surrounds us, we own it” – P1


“I am part of a network that should be constructed with love, understanding, and diversity. We are part of the same whole in humankind, but we are diverse. It is this diversity that configures this classroom. I am because you are: I wouldn’t be a teacher without the students and vice-versa”– P10


“In Indigenous knowledge, we are devoted to help others not for the sake of our own benefit but, more profound, for the sake of our humanity” – P20


“It is the relationship with others that makes us human. The interactions with people that surround us is what allows to be fulfilled, we thrive in communities but we also see our humanity when we come in contact with those towards whom we direct it” – P2

These insights speak of several dimensions worth highlighting; the first is the impact of Western epistemologies in creating an individual viewed as separate from other human beings, and which directly contradicts what an inclusive environment should be. Secondly, they emphasize the fact that human beings are in fact interdependent and not the participants of what Butler calls ‘the fantasy of our self-sufficiency’ (2020). They also speak of the realization of what non-Western wisdom traditions offer in this context: a philosophy that proposes a manner in which we as humankind should be living: not for ourselves but for each other. As this participant notes:

“Fostering this idea that we depend on our peers to learn is a big step in starting to create a non-violent environment. Stop competing, include those who have different ideas, want the success of my classmates for the good of everyone. These are ideas that the new generations will acquire and gradually reform the worldview of society”. – P5


In conclusion, what participants’ insights show is how the nonviolent perspectives offered throughout the project indeed helped them reconceptualize their conception of inclusiveness to one that encompasses the full diversity of our human experience, rather than a method focused on disability alone as an exclusionary/inclusionary dimension. Several of the realizations and comments offered here speak of an appreciation of individual differences, while at the same time embracing inclusiveness as a guiding moral value that recognizes our shared humanity.

I would also argue that this kind of inclusiveness constitutes the strongest form of opposition against any kind of Othering, and that to cultivate that, to generate the kind of love that Garvey (1923) suggested should infuse education so that it could ‘soften the ills of the world’ (p.17), we need to learn to see others not as Others but through an empathetic lens that rehumanizes everyone regardless of our differences. This in the end is the contribution that non-Western epistemologies can make in the formulation of a nonviolent pedagogical framework.

Key Messages

  • We need to review how we view ‘inclusion’ from primarily focusing on students with special needs
  • Inclusion must be anchored in an understanding of cultural, economic, sexual, and ethnic diversity
  • Non-violent education can promote such a sense of equality and inclusion
  • It is important to decolonial perspectives on inclusiveness 
Gaston Bacquet

Gaston Bacquet

Associate Tutor / 3rd-year PhD student

Gaston Bacquet is a 3rd-year PhD student at the University of Glasgow. His research attempts to bring decolonial perspectives on nonviolence to teacher training within the Global South; said research draws from indigenous wisdom traditions such as ubuntu and Buen Vivir, as well as Eastern philosophy, and it aims at using the philosophy of nonviolence as a means to promote inclusiveness in all its dimensions. He also works as an associate tutor at Glasgow, where he teaches Qualitative Research Methods, Modern Educational Thought and supervises postgraduate students in the Educational Studies and TESOL programs. He is a guest lecturer for Education and Violence in the Education and Sustainable Development Master’s Program.

Research Gate link:


Staff profile:


Other blog posts on similar topics:

References and Further Reading

Brito-Rodriguez, S., Basualto-Porra, L., Posada-Lecompte, M. (2021). Perceptions of Gender Violence, Discrimination, and Exclusion among University Students. Revista Interdisciplinaria de Estudios de Genero de El Colegio de Mexico. Retrieved here:

Butler, J. (2020). The Force of Nonviolence: An Ethico-Political Bind. Verso 

Garvey, M. (1923) In Amy Jacques-Garvey (Ed.) Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, vol. 1.Atheneum.

Iturra Gonzalez, P. (2019). Dilemas de la educación inclusiva de Chile actual. Revista Educacion Las Americas8, 1-13. 

Manghi, .D., Bustos Ibarra, A., Conejeros Solar, M.Aranda Godoy, I., Vega Cordova, V., Diaz Soto, K. (2020). Comprender la educación inclusiva chilena: Panorama de políticas e investigación educativa. Cadernos de Pesquisas 50(175), 114-134. 

Martinez, C. & Rosas, R. (2022). Students with special educational needs and educational inclusion in Chile: Progress and challenges. Revista MedicaClinica Las Condes 33(5), 512 – 519. 

Rojas, M.T., Astudillo, P. and Catalan, M. (2020). Report: Diversidad y Educacion Sexual en Chile: Identidad sexual (LGBT+) e inclusion escolar en Chile. UNICEF. Retrieved at:

Ryoo, J,, Crawford, J.,Moreno, D. & McClaren, P. (2009), Critical Spiritual Pedagogy: Reclaiming Humanity through a Pedagogy of Integrity, Community, and Love, Power and Education 1(1), 132-148

Tutu, D. (1999). No Future Without Forgiveness. Image Books


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

Other blog posts on similar topics:

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): 

Bamber, P. (Ed.). (2019). Teacher Education for Sustainable Development and Global 

Citizenship: Critical Perspectives on Values, Curriculum and Assessment (1st ed.). Routledge.

 GENE – Global Education Network Europe (2019). The European Global Education Peer Review Process – National Report on Global Education in Estonia. Available at:

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 

UNESCO (2003). UNESCO Associated School Project Network (ASPnet): historical review 1953-2003. 

 UNESCO (2014b). ASPnet strategy for 2014-2021, Global network of schools addressing global challenges: building global citizenship and promoting sustainable development.Available at: 

 UNESCO (2018b). UNESCO Associated Schools Network: guide for national coordinators. UNESCO:

 UNESCO (2019a) UNESCO Associated Schools Network: guide for members. Available at:    


Equity in Education during COVID-19 and the Danger of “Microwave Equity”

Equity in Education during COVID-19 and the Danger of “Microwave Equity”

The last two years have been quite challenging for the world and for educators. First, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world for a while, and many learning institutions were closed as a result of the pandemic.[1] At the same time, the increasing strength of the anti-racism movement from the United States and across the world has highlighted the importance of equity, inclusion, and equality in education in such a time as this. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent school closure globally led to 1.6 billion children[2]missing out on education, which has further amplified the inequalities inherent in many education systems. In many regions around the world, for example, in Europe, groups affected by the COVID-19 pandemic on education may include students of minority migrant background, new language learners, disabled students, and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and others (LGBTQ+) students. My PhD research study on developing culturally inclusive teaching and learning environments in Ireland, funded by the Irish Research Council postgraduate scholarship and Galway Doctoral Research scholarship programmes, has caused me to reflect deeply on the concepts of equity, inclusion, and equality in education. Furthermore, my research and work with student-teachers, teachers, parents of minority migrant backgrounds, in Ireland and beyond, has further revealed the importance of an understanding that is all the more urgent in the context of the inequalities that will exasperate equitable and quality education for all learners in the era of COVID-19.

What is the difference between equality and equity?

The image to the left is a graphical representation of equality, while the image to the right represents equity 
Image credit: Maryam Abdul-Kareem


It is quite challenging to unpack the concepts of equality and equity in education, particularly the differences between these two concepts. It is critical for teachers to know the differences between these two concepts to ensure equitable learning for all students, especially in a time of crisis.

In the left image, everyone is provided with equal support to watch the football game. In the right image, everyone is equipped with differential supports that allow equitable access to the game.

It should be noted that understanding the differences between equity and equality is not straightforward. It is layered with many complexities. Therefore, the above image provides a basic representation of the differences between equity and equality.

In summary, equity is based on needs, that is, responding to students’ individual or specific needs in our classrooms to ensure quality teaching and learning. In contrast, equality is based on fairness, which means being fair to all, without acknowledging the additional challenges faced by some.

UN Sustainability Goals and

the importance of equity and inclusion in education

Many education systems around the world are concerned with the issues of equity and inclusion in policy and practice. However, more work needs to be done in developing and implementing equity and inclusion policies and practices in education, particularly in the current COVID-19 crisis. Equity can be explained as providing students with personalised support that overcomes potential hurdles such as poverty and minoritised cultural backgrounds.[3]While inclusion in education implies that all students, irrespective of their socio-economic backgrounds or disabilities, are accepted and fully catered to in mainstream school environments. In other words, ‘inclusion is about all students belonging’ in a classroom.[4] The concepts of equity and inclusion in education are not new. Global educational goals have long sought to advance the principles of equity and inclusion in education systems internationally. For example, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 requires countries worldwide to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030. The SDGs were passed in 2015 by United Nations member states as a holistic approach to ensure that countries around the world achieve equitable and sustainable development in different sectors of society by 2030. [5] However, recent reports by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) tasked with tracking the world’s progress in achieving SDG 4 presented that it is unlikely for the world to meet the targets of SDG 4 by 2030.[6]Unfortunately, the current humanitarian emergency of COVID-19 has further validated the reality of the findings of this new report on the impact of the pandemic in achieving the SDGs[7]

The role of teachers in addressing equity and inclusion in their classrooms

Moving forward, teachers can begin to address equity and inclusion in education with support from other educational stakeholders to ensure equitable learning for all students and developing peer accountability systems. Secondly, teachers can build better working relationships with students and their guardians/parents. Third, they can commit to continuous professional development programmes. Finally, teachers can promote equity and inclusion in their classrooms during this COVID-19 pandemic and beyond by constantly checking ‘whether what they are doing enables or empowers the students to help improve them.’[8]

Avoiding the quick fix of ‘Microwave Equity’

Cornelius Minor, a US-based educator, coined the term ‘Microwave Equity,’ which means teachers and educators attempting to achieve equity quickly or overnight. Instead, he warns, the work on equity in education takes time and patience. In his book, We Got This, Minor argued that to be equitable and inclusive, teachers need to intentionally listen to kids in achieving equity in the classroom, decentralise power by empowering students’ voices, and do the self-work without blaming students.

The push to introduce more equity in education is badly needed, but it comes at a time when teachers are already facing significant challenges and additional responsibilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Equity and the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic

Teachers are crucial to achieving equity and inclusion in education, and the current crisis has further affected teaching and learning. The pandemic has denied millions of learners access to equitable and quality education.[9] Teachers, to a large extent, are critical stakeholders in helping to manage the crisis. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has further changed the nature of teachers’ work, e.g., many teachers were expected to switch to online teaching quickly. The burden of additional responsibilities placed on teachers in a crisis is not new. Research has shown that all humanitarian emergencies have affected teachers’ work. For example, in post-conflict Liberia, teachers’ responsibilities included serving as second parents, humanitarians, role models, parents, counsellors, guardians, unifiers, and psychologists to help students affected with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). [10] From the case of Liberia and in similar contexts, teachers can be adequately supported and performance improved when education stakeholders possess a deep understanding of the factors that limit their capacity to function effectively.[11] Therefore, placing the responsibility for achieving equity and inclusion solely on teachers is problematic. Educational stakeholders and the entire education system must be involved to make equitable and quality learning for all students a reality, even in the current era of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, school leaders in the United Kingdom took proactive steps and initiatives to provide support for teachers and promote sustainable good practices during the global pandemic. The research study finds that school leaders developed effective and pragmatic approaches to engage other stakeholders such as parents, pupils and policymakers, allowing learning to continue during the pandemic.[12] It is hoped that more attention will be given to having discussions on what equity and inclusion in education really mean in different contexts and levels of education. For example, regional educational research associations such as European Educational Research Association (EERA)  can engage existing platforms such as the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) conferences, within their network for educational researchers to continue to engage in discussion and research on issues of equity and inclusion in European education systems and globally. This knowledge and understanding will undoubtedly help concerned educational stakeholders working on equity and inclusion in education to address the challenges of ensuring an even playing field for all learners.

Other blog posts on similar topics:

Seun B. Adebayo

Seun B. Adebayo

PhD Researcher, Research Supervisor, Teaching Assistant, NUI Galway

Seun B. Adebayo is currently a PhD Researcher, Research Supervisor and Teaching Assistant at the School of Education, National University of Ireland Galway, Ireland (NUI Galway). His PhD study explores developing culturally inclusive teaching and learning environments in Irish schools.

Aside from his research study, Seun organises workshops on culturally responsive pedagogies for student-teachers at NUI Galway.

His research interests include education policy, teacher education and professional development, culturally responsive pedagogy, equity and inclusion in education, progressive education reforms, practitioner/action research, education in conflict/post-conflict contexts, and quality education.

Seun has extensive work and research experiences with Aflatoun International, UNESCO HQ., UNESCO Office in Monrovia (Liberia), the European Research Council Executive Agency of the European Commission, the UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti, VSO International, Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), Education Development Trust and UNDP in New York.



Google Scholar:

References and Further Reading

[1] UNESCO (2021). Education: From disruption to recovery. 

[2] Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel (2022). Prioritizing learning during COVID-19. 

[3] Waterford (2020). Why Understanding Equity vs Equality in Schools Can Help You Create an Inclusive Classroom. 

[4] Giardina (2019). What does an inclusive classroom look like? 


[6] UNESCO (2020). Inclusion and education: ALL MEANS ALL. Global Education Monitoring Report. 

[7] Shulla, K. (2021). The COVID-19 pandemic and the achievement of the SDGs. 

[8] Adebayo and Chinhanu (2020).  Ubuntu in Education: Towards equitable teaching and learning for all in the era of SDG 4. NORRAG. 

[9] Moss and Bradley (2021). Education in a Post-COVID World: Creating more Resilient Education Systems. 

[10] Adebayo S.B. (2019). Emerging perspectives of teacher agency in a post-conflict setting: The case of Liberia. Teaching and Teacher Education. 

[11]Tao, S. (2013). Why are teachers absent? Utilising the Capability Approach and Critical Realism to explain teacher performance in Tanzania. International Journal of Educational Development, 33 (1): 2-14 

[12]Beauchamp, G., Hulme, M., Clarke, L., Hamilton, L., & Harvey, J. A. (2021). ‘People miss people’: A study of school leadership and management in the four nations of the United Kingdom in the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Educational Management Administration & Leadership49(3), 375-392. 

Developing a Classroom Tool to Promote Critical Perspectives on ‘Single Stories’

Developing a Classroom Tool to Promote Critical Perspectives on ‘Single Stories’

EERA is delighted and honoured to be partnering with the Global Educational Network in Europe (GENE) to make significant research funds available to our members to further research the area of global education. We asked the recipients of the Global Education Award 2020/21 to share their research with the broader EERA community.  

In 2009, the Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, delivered a Ted Talk about what she called The Danger of a Single Story. Adichie’s central theme is that how stories are told, who tells them, when and how, is ‘really dependent on power’. She illustrates this by drawing on her own experiences of being subjected to single stories about Africa as a place of ‘catastrophe’ and juxtaposing this with examples of the single stories she has held about others.

So that is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.

Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, 2009

Adichie’s talk was translated into 45 languages and clearly resonated deeply with many people. In common with other educators with an interest in facilitating Global Citizenship Education (GCE), we (the two researchers) found it useful to use The Danger of a Single Story as a stimulus for conversations about challenging prejudice and stereotypes.

We became interested in how this could be supported by developing a tool for exploring global issues critically from different perspectives on how the world is. Building on previous research on teachers’ experiences with GCE (Franch, 2020), we were influenced by Vanessa Andreotti’s (2010) ideas on developing critical literacy to pluralize ways of knowing, and possibilities for thinking and practice. Andreotti’s ideas have also been significant in developing GCE as a form of critical pedagogy; influencing our use of the term ‘critical GCE’ here (Blackmore, 2014).

Whilst ideas about critical GCE are generally familiar to those working in the field, we were aware of concerns about the lack of opportunities for teachers to engage with these in practice (Blackmore, 2014; Pashby and Sund, in Bourn, ed. 2020). For instance, we knew The Danger of a Single Story might be popular with teachers, but we were less clear about whether and how far they might use it to promote critical GCE. We aimed to develop a tool to support the use of Adichie’s talk, which could be explored with teachers. As educators based in Italy and the UK, we were also interested in comparing responses between two different European contexts.

Developing the ‘Single Story’ tool

To begin developing the tool, we drew on existing ideas and frameworks developed with similar aims in mind. These ranged from tools like the Development Compass Rose and Andreotti’s (2006) framework for distinguishing between ‘soft’ and ‘critical’ GCE, to more recent work on applying her HEADS UP tool in classrooms, developed into a resource for teachers. Whilst acknowledging these developments, and not wanting to ‘reinvent the wheel’, we felt there was space for a tool which could support responses to Adichie’s Single Story specifically.

We devised a series of six themes or ‘lenses’ through which different questions could be applied to any issue identified as a Single Story. This might be represented by an image, text, film clip, or even an object.

For instance, Adichie’s example of the single story of Africa might be represented by an image typically used by organisations seeking donations for development projects (see image below from Radi-Aid).

“The frequent portrayal of Africa as a continent in need prompted sadness among the respondents in the study, which was carried out in collaboration with the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK.

Such campaigns often depict black children in need, and several of the respondents wished that these stories could be complemented by showing children of other colors or backgrounds, or black doctors, professors or aid workers. They would like to see portrayals of people with agency in their own situations and results of their accomplishments.”  — RADI-AID

Photo: Edward Echwalu
Design: Click Design. For RADI-AID
Having drafted the tool, the next step was to pilot it with teachers in Italy and the UK via online webinars. To prepare teachers, we encouraged them to complete an Identity Starburst from a template provided. During the webinars, stimuli such as images and ‘values cards’ were used in conjunction with activities and reflective questions to facilitate a participatory process.  Activities encouraged individual reflection on themes of identity and perceptions of self and others, before inviting teachers to respond to Adichie’s talk, identify their own ‘single stories’ and use the tool to analyse them. This process attempted to strike a balance between the need to produce research outcomes and empowering teachers to co-construct the tool with us as researchers (Bullivant, Ayre and Smith, 2022).

Reflections on Teachers’ Responses, the Tool, and Issues of Power

Our comparative analysis found some differences, influenced partly by the way in which GCE has evolved in each country, as well as differing cultural, social, and political factors and histories.  UK teachers were more likely to have encountered Adichie’s talk and were more familiar with the enquiry-based and participatory activities used in webinars. This reflects the influence of critical and postcolonial discourses towards a more critical form of GCE in the UK (Bullivant, 2020). In contrast, Italian teachers’ experience has been grounded primarily in intercultural education (Franch, 2020). Whilst topical events and issues unique to each country shaped the kinds of single stories shared by teachers to some extent, these were often part of over-arching themes common to both contexts.  For example, discussions of single stories in the Brexit debate in the UK overlapped with themes of identity, migration, and populism in Italy. Beyond this, a number of other common themes emerged: 

  • Teachers in both contexts welcomed the space to share and reflect on complex issues, and experiment with the tool. They shared ideas about how they might use the tool in practice, including adaptations for different age groups.
  • The concept of single stories resonated with teachers’ experiences personally and in their teaching with young people. They reflected on the responsibility of schools and available resources in perpetuating the ‘single story of progress’ about “developed” and “underdeveloped” countries (Andreotti, 2015).
  • When reflecting on their own identities and the way in which single stories originate and persist, many teachers tended to remain at the level of superficial analysis of factors shaping identity and perceptions of self and others, rather than more critical analysis of the roots and power dynamics influencing these.


These themes support our rationale for developing the tool in the first place, especially the resonance found between the concept of single stories and teachers’ experiences and reflections on the inadequacy of existing resources to challenge these. They also informed ideas for developing it going forward. These include straightforward adaptations to terminology to create versions for different age groups and the more complex need to draw teachers’ attention to their own positions and perspectives, and questions of power underpinning these.


Other blog posts on similar topics:

Dr Andrea Bullivant

Dr Andrea Bullivant

Dr Andrea Bullivant is employed by Liverpool World Centre and has facilitated Global Citizenship Education for twelve years. Her work has focused increasingly on bringing research and practice together to develop new understanding across the sector, to engage community partners and develop evaluation and research that can support practice outcomes and influence policy. She is the Director of TEESNet, a UK wide network promoting GCE and Education for Sustainable Development in Teacher Education. She currently co-chairs Our Shared World and is the lead evaluator for a number of UK based GCE projects.

Dr Sarah Franch

Dr Sarah Franch

Dr Sara Franch is an expert in international development cooperation and global citizenship education. She holds a PhD in pedagogy from the Free University of Bolzano and is involved in research and training on global citizenship. She currently works for a publisher and is responsible for developing products on pedagogical innovation.

GENE Awards

EERA is delighted and honoured to be partnering with the Global Educational Network in Europe (GENE) to make significant research funds available to our members to further research in the area of global education.

These research awards are funded by Global Education Network Europe (GENE), the European network of Ministries and Agencies with national responsibility for policymaking, funding, and support in the field of Global Education. For this reason, the subject area for research projects undertaken is that of Global Education.

The purpose of the award is to support quality research around the themes outlined here  – which have been identified as of interest to policymakers. Gathering of existing research, application of existing research from other areas of education to Global Education, follow-up studies, all are perfectly acceptable. It is not expected that the research has to draw policy conclusions – but to make available up-to-date, policy-relevant research from which policymaker can draw their own conclusions.

References and Further Reading

Andreotti, V. 2006 Soft versus Critical Global Citizenship Education. Policy and Practice – A Development Education Review. Centre for Global Education

Andreotti, V. 2010 Postcolonial and post-critical ‘global citizenship education’. In G. Elliott, C. Fourali & S. Issler (Eds.), Education and Social Change: Connecting Local and Global Perspectives (pp. 238-250). London: Continuum.

Andreotti, V. 2015 Global citizenship education otherwise: Pedagogical and theoretical insights. In A. Abdi, L. Schultz & T. Pillay (Eds.), Decolonizing Global Citizenship Education (pp. 221- 230). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. 

Blackmore, C. (2014) The Opportunities and Challenges for a Critical Global Citizenship Education in One English Secondary School. Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy University of Bath, Department of Education. April 2014

Bullivant, A., Ayre, J., and Smith, A. Facilitating the ‘Tipping Point’: Co-creating a manifesto for education for environmental sustainability. British Educational Research Association. Research Intelligence, Issue 150, Spring 2022

Bullivant, A. 2020. From Development Education to Global Learning: Exploring conceptualisations of theory and practice amongst practitioners in England. PhD Thesis. Lancaster University

Franch, S. 2020 Global citizenship education discourses in a province in northern Italy. International Journal of Development Education and Global Learning. Vol. 12(1):21-36.

Pashby, K and Sund, L. Critical GCE in the Era of SDG 4.7: Discussing HEADS UP with Secondary Teachers in England, Finland and Sweden. In Bourn, D (ed). (2020) The Bloomsbury Handbook of Global Education and Learning. Bloomsbury

Translating across words, paradigms, and traditions of education 

Translating across words, paradigms, and traditions of education 

EERA is delighted and honoured to be partnering with the Global Educational Network in Europe (GENE) to make significant research funds available to our members to further research the area of global education. We asked the recipients of the Global Education Award 2020/21 to share their research with the broader EERA community.  

 At the beginning of 2021, the two authors of this blog, along with Finnish colleagues Inkeri Rissanen and Katri Jokikokko, received a Global Education Award from the GENE network. With this award, they promised to do something they were all passionate about: Explore teacher students’ implicit knowledge in issues related to global education and consider how teachers’ beliefs might play out in their future work as teachers.

As we write this blog a year after receiving the award, we are deeply immersed in data analysis in Bamberg, Germany, where Mervi is visiting Susanne. While delving into the data, we try to see if we can find harmony within the diversity of Finnish and German teacher students’ thoughts. Yet we find that we must also create harmony in our research practices, translating not only data in three languages but also our own implicit understandings of the educational traditions and research paradigms we may take for granted.

In our research, 32 Finnish and 35 German preservice teachers discussed issues related to diversity, culture, and change. All of the students had participated in a course focusing on these issues, and we hoped this shared experience would re-activate their common orientations. The groups conversed in three languages, Finnish, English, German, depending on the language of instruction of their course.

 Our method, documentary analysis (Bohnsack, 2010), requires us not only to understand the literal meaning of words but go beyond it and understand the values behind words. This proved rather difficult to do in a group in which none of us spoke all three of the required languages. For less critical sections of the transcripts, we used transcription software. For crucial parts of our research, we hired professional translators. The software, trying to be helpful, created words that looked Finnish but made no sense. We were able to remove this nonsense with a lot of manual revision and discussions, but the trickier task was to translate the context-specific understanding behind the words.

Translation beyond words

Our analysis focused on concepts such as culture, diversity, or change, all loaded with meaning. For example, instead of translating the term diversity, Germans use the English word, but as a strictly normative concept, meaning plurality is a good thing. In Finnish, diversity can be translated as moninaisuus, but it has not yet found its way into natural everyday conversation. So, it is not surprising that it could rarely be found in the preservice teachers’ discussions. The fact that some terms are missing could be a methodological challenge: how can the students talk without these particular words? However, with the documentary method, it was not: after rounds and rounds of analysis and abduction, the discussions revealed the students’ orientations towards diversity without the word even being mentioned.

Translation beyond paradigms

The need to translate went beyond needing to agree on the literal meaning of words. We also had to translate our practices as researchers, making them compatible. Susanne works within a reconstructive paradigm, focusing on language. Mervi is most at home within participatory paradigms, with the analytical focus on practice. We soon found out that our attention points in the same direction, trying to find educational practices that can respond to the needs of the changing world; we just use slightly different lenses.

Translation beyond traditions of education

Finally, perhaps most interestingly, we translated our understandings across slightly different educational traditions. We share an interest in global education, but explicating what we mean by education, Bildung or kasvatus, was a fascinating task. The Finnish kasvatus and German Bildung are both complex terms describing educational processes and practices which are impossible to simply translate into English. We came to an agreement that Bildung is in line with our understanding of global education: it refers to the processes in which an individual acquires the needed skills and knowledge for individual growth and character formation (on an individual level), while also learning to be an active and critical member of their community (on a social level) to open up new possibilities for individual and shared lives (Kaukko, et al. 2020).

Experimenting with new research methods required us to problematise some of the ways of working we might take for granted. Multilinguality pushed us to scrutinise our understanding of some of the words we work with. Only working in and through English would have left some of the nuances in the shadows. All the steps pointed out very clearly that we need humans for all this as software cannot do this. Moreover, all these steps pushed us to consider the dimensions of global education in our own work. It is not enough to say that our research is framed within global education. We need to shape our research practices accordingly, so that we genuinely try to see the issues from another point of view.

A global education lens also requires us to reconsider our own responsibilities as researchers: What can we as educational researchers do to “open people’s eyes and minds to the realities of the world, and awaken them to bring about a world of greater justice, equity and human rights for all”? (Maastricht Global Education Declaration, 2002, see also 2018; Scheunpflug, 2021) A deeper understanding of the beliefs and orientations of preservice teachers, which could help us develop better, fairer, and more sustainable teacher education, is one way to pursue this.

Other blog posts on similar topics:

Blog Authors

Dr Mervi Kaukko

Dr Mervi Kaukko

Associate Professor in Multicultural Education, Tampere University, Finland

Dr Mervi Kaukko works as associate professor in multicultural education in Tampere University, Finland. She was previously a lecturer at Monash University, Australia and Oulu University, Finland. Her interests include global education, refugee/migration studies, participatory methodogies and practice theories.

Dr Susanne Timm

Dr Susanne Timm

Research Assistant, Otto-Friedrich-University, Bamberg

Dr Susanne Timm worked as a research assistant at the University in Göttingen, Frankfurt, Hamburg, and is currently at Otto-Friedrich-Universität in Bamberg. Her special interests are comparative and intercultural education. During the last years, Dr Timm has carried out a qualitative study on culture in teacher education while focusing more and more on global education.

GENE Awards

EERA is delighted and honoured to be partnering with the Global Educational Network in Europe (GENE) to make significant research funds available to our members to further research in the area of global education.

These research awards are funded by Global Education Network Europe (GENE), the European network of Ministries and Agencies with national responsibility for policymaking, funding, and support in the field of Global Education. For this reason, the subject area for research projects undertaken is that of Global Education.

The purpose of the award is to support quality research around the themes outlined here  – which have been identified as of interest to policymakers. Gathering of existing research, application of existing research from other areas of education to Global Education, follow-up studies, all are perfectly acceptable. It is not expected that the research has to draw policy conclusions – but to make available up-to-date, policy-relevant research from which policymaker can draw their own conclusions.

References and Further Reading

Bohnsack, R. (2010). Documentary method and group discussions. In R. Bohnsack, N. Pfaff, & W. Weller (eds.),Qualitative analysis and documentary method in international educational research (p. 99-124). Barbara Budrich.

Kaukko, M., Francisco, S., Mahon, K. (2020) Education in a world worth living in. In Mahon, K., Francisco, S., Edwards-Groves, C., Kaukko, M., Kemmis, S., and Kirsten P. (eds). Pedagogy, Education and Praxis in Critical Times. Springer, 1-13. 

Maastricht Global Education Declaration (2002) A European Strategy Framework for Improving and Increasing Global Education in Europe to the Year 2015. Dublin: GENE.

Scheunpflug, A. (2021). Global learning: Educational research in an emerging field. European Education Research Journal, 20(1), 3-13.