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.

Do current curricula hinder student understanding of complex global water systems?

Do current curricula hinder student understanding of complex global water systems?

Every day, we use water – either direct or hidden – from the moment we wake up until we go back to sleep. Water has multiple values and meanings in our communities, reflected in our languages and traditions in many spiritual, cultural, and emotional forms.1  Even though we appreciate the importance of water for life, the pressure that we put on water resources and aquatic ecosystems continues to threaten the future of our planet.2,3

We learn/teach about water as a concept from early childhood years to the end of high school. Water is considered as an important concept providing a basis for understanding of:

  •  weather and climate4
  • complexity of life and interconnectedness of the earth systems5
  • sustaining cities and ecosystems6
  • effects of water use on the environment7, economy8,9, and society10 such as water pollution, human health, food security, energy supplies, and climate change11.

Yet, we are not very good at understanding its working mechanism, engaging with water systems sustainably, or equipping educators with the necessary knowledge and skills to teach the dynamic, complex, ambiguous, and interconnected nature of water systems.

Researchers working on water concepts in science education (as well as environmental and sustainability education in general) have been providing powerful arguments about the dysfunctionality of current curricular practices that embrace a reductionist approach rather than a holistic approach to the natural systems. Current depictions of the water cycle in curricula usually focus on the phase change of water on Earth which hinders students from developing a holistic understanding of the issue, and limits progress towards the achievement of sustainable development goals including water and natural systems.

In this blog, I intend to summarise the arguments about the possible reasons students fail to develop a sound understanding of water system(s), and recap how to support middle school students’ learning based on both existing literature and our own research findings.

Students’ conceptions of the water system are generally composed of factual knowledge.

From the beginning of the integration of water into education in the 1960s,12 educational studies have consistently revealed that students have been developing only a rudimentary understanding of water and water-related concepts13,14.  

Some of the reviews in the literature reported that most elementary and middle school students have a naïve and fragmented factual conception of water-related subjects which solely require memorization.15,16 Thus, the water cycle becomes one of the challenging concepts to be fully grasped by the students in a middle school context.17 Several studies indicated that even though students can draw a water cycle which looks quite similar to the textbooks’ diagram and explain how water cycles, they fail to provide a scientifically correct answer to explain the procedures within the cycle.18,19

Research in Türkiye

In our research, we aimed to see if there are any similar patterns in a Turkish context and improve students’ understanding of water systems by examining their background. We collected data from the students who completed middle school, through conception tests (short, informal, targeted tests that are administered to help instructors gauge whether students understand key concepts), drawing tasks, and semi-structured interviews. We administered a concept inventory to a sample of 358 eighth-grade students from both rural and urban areas in five schools located in four different districts of Ankara, the capital city of Türkiye. Among them, six students were interviewed to gain a deeper understanding of their conceptions of water systems.

In terms of possessing factual knowledge, our research findings were compatible with the literature. For example, every interviewee stated that water cycles on Earth, listed the components and processes, and drew a cycle similar to their textbook, but they had limited answers about the processes in the water cycle. During the interview, we asked follow-up questions to understand the level of their procedural knowledge.

Even though they explained that water cycles on Earth using examples (factual knowledge), when we asked them if there is any starting/ending point of the water cycle, some of them said, “Yes”. Even if they said, “No”, they failed to provide a comprehensive answer for how it cycles. Further, some of the participants offered alternative conceptions such as “When water is absorbed by the soil, it is not involved within the cycle anymore”, and “Polluted water does not cycle anymore.” These responses might indicate that despite having the factual knowledge of ‘water cycles on Earth’, they still do have adequate procedural knowledge to explain how water cycles.

Students are often not able to transfer their knowledge from one context to another.

Another common finding in the literature was that even in the same course, students tend to learn things as “silo concepts”.20Students are taught about the law of conservation and mixture separation techniques in an elementary science course. In the same course, they also learn the basics of the water cycle. However, some evidence suggests that they have some difficulties integrating these concepts into explaining the water cycle.21,22

In our research, when we asked the participants, ‘What happens to polluted water in the water cycle?’, only a few students could transfer their knowledge on mixture separation to the water cycle context. Among the incorrect responses, there were some alternative conceptions such as, “Polluted water turns into acid rain”, or “Polluted water evaporates, and polluted rains make us sick”. In other words, most of the students failed to identify that (1) polluted water is a mixture, (2) evaporation is one of the separation techniques that water evaporates and pollutants remain, and (3) polluted water does not evaporate.

Curricular practices do not encourage viewing of the interactions among water systems.

Studies related to water-related subjects in education reported that curricular practices as well as science textbooks do not coherently link the interactions between water and other systems such as biosphere and anthroposphere.23,24,25  Not surprisingly, students have disconnected conceptions about the water cycle and its interactions with the other systems. These detached conceptions became evident in students’ drawings and statements pertaining to water systems.26,27 When students are asked to draw a water cycle, they usually tend to draw it without bio-spheric components.28,29 Similarly, when they are asked to draw or explain where the water comes from to their homes and where it goes after using it, they fail to fully explain the interactions between their residential area and the water system.30,31 It is argued that this disconnected nature of the curriculum has the potential to hinder students in developing a sound understanding of the water systems and their multiple interactions.32,33,34

The elementary science curriculum context, where our research was carried out, covers water-related concepts from 3rd to 8th grade with no explanation of these interactions. The curriculum involves water as a non-living substance, the percentage of water in our bodies, the importance of efficient water use, wastewater management, groundwater resources, surface water resources, phases of water, water pollution, water cycle, weather, and climate35 but it does not foster a holistic understanding of the interactions among these systems. Thus, participants of this study were expected to have a detached understanding of the interaction of these systems when they completed their middle school degree. Consistent with the literature, a few participants included bio-spheric components but none of them included human-engineered water systems in their drawings.

Students are not aware of their indirect water use, leading to underestimating their water footprint.

In addition to our direct use of water, we use water when we buy a product, use energy, and eat foods which is called indirect use of water. Our water footprint indicates how much water we use in our daily lives.36 To ensure the sustainability of global water systems on Earth, monitoring water consumption behaviour is considered essential but the concept of indirect use of water is not fully reflected in curricula, although some efforts are being made to increase awareness of this issue.37

Evidence suggests that middle school students are not aware of their indirect water use. 38,39,40 These studies report that primary and secondary students are not fully aware of their water consumption pattern, their self-report strategies are limited to their direct use of water, such as turning off the tap while brushing their teeth or taking a shower quickly, which are common suggestions in current textbooks.41 They think they use water efficiently, but this might not be an accurate assessment42,43 because most of them fail to share their strategies for reducing indirect water use, such as changing their shopping habits or eating less meat. This lack of knowledge of indirect water use also contributes to the inability to see the interactions between personal water consumption habits, local, and global water issues. In our study, the participants believed that they use water efficiently but when examples were requested of their efficient water use strategies, they provided examples of how to monitor their direct use of water in their daily lives, which was comparable with the previous studies.44 ,45,46

What teachers can do to improve students’ understanding of water systems

Students tend to explain phenomena based on either their formal educational background or daily life observations, which creates both challenges and opportunities for education policymakers and educators. Recommended within the literature are some extracurricular activities for teachers such as providing real-life experiences47,48,49, tailoring the human effect to the water cycle951, linking conceptual knowledge and practical experiences52,53, showing alternative models54,55 to enhance primary and secondary students learning’ on the complex nature of water systems.

Key Messages

  • Students need support to understand water as a system on Earth.
  • Students may struggle to grasp the dynamic and complex interactions among (in)direct water use, local, and global water issues.
  • We are failing to teach young people how water systems work, how we engage and affect those systems, and how we ensure the sustainability of these systems.
  • Revising current curricular practices and building capacity for teachers is critical in order to enhance students’ procedural knowledge and nurture their conception of systems.
Dr Sinem Demirci

Dr Sinem Demirci

Lecturer in the Statistics Department at California Polytechnic State University

Sinem Demirci is a Full-time Lecturer in the Statistics Department at California Polytechnic State University. Before joining Cal Poly, Sinem worked as a Postdoctoral Visiting Researcher and Lecturer at the Department of Statistical Science at University College London. She received her PhD (2021) in elementary (science) education, MS (2018) in Statistics, MS (2014) in elementary science and mathematics education and BS (2011) in elementary science education from Middle East Technical
University, The Republic of Türkiye. Sinem is a teacher educator whose interdisciplinary research interests include Statistics & Data Science Education and Environmental & Sustainability Education.

This blog is based on the literature review and pilot study conducted during Dr. Demirci’s dissertation, which was also featured in her ECER presentation.

For more information about Dr. Demirci’s research interests,

Personal Website:



Other blog posts on similar topics:

References and Further Reading

[1], [6], [11] United Nations (2018). Value Water.

[2] Ripple, W. J., Wolf, C., Newsome, T. M., Galetti, M., Alamgir, M., Crist, E., … & 15,364 Scientist Signatories from 184 Countries. (2017). World scientists’ warning to humanity: a second notice. BioScience67(12), 1026-1028.

[3] Ripple, W. J., Wolf, C., Newsome, T. M., Barnard, P., Moomaw, W. R., & Grandcolas, P. (2019). World scientists’ warning of a climate emergency. BioScience.

[4] Sadler, T. D., Nguyen, H., & Lankford, D. (2017). Water systems understandings: a framework for designing instruction and considering what learners know about water. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water4(1), e1178.

[5], [17] Brody, M. J. (1993). Student Understanding of Water and Water Resources: A Review of the Literature. the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, (s. 1-18). Atlanta. Retrieved April 2019, 2020 from 

[7], [22], [53] Österlind, K., & Haldén, O. (2007). Linking theory to practice: a case study of pupils’ course work on freshwater pollution. International Research in Geographical & Environmental Education, 16(1), 73-89. doi:10.2167/irg207.0

[8], [10], [41], [44] Wood, G. V. (2014). Water literacy and citizenship: education for sustainable domestic water use in the East Midlands. [Doctoral dissertation, University of Nottingham].

[9], [50] DeLorme, D. E., Hagen, S. C., & Stout, J. I. (2003). Consumers’ Perspectives on water issues: directions for educational campaigns. The Journal of Environmental Education, 34(2), 28-35.

[12] Ewing, M. S., & Mills, T. J. (1994). Water literacy in college freshmen: Could a cognitive imagery strategy improve understanding? The Journal of Environmental Education, 25(4), 36-40.

[13] Ben-Zvi-Assaraf, O., & Orion, N. (2005a, March). Development of system thinking skills in the context of earth system education. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42(5), 518-560. doi:10.1002/tea.20061

[14], [20], [21], [24], [30], [34], [54] Covitt, B. A., Gunckel, K. L., & Anderson, C. L. (2009). Students’ developing understanding of water in environmental systems. The Journal of Environmental Education, 40(3), 37-51. doi:10.3200/JOEE.40.3.37-51

[15], [26] Dickerson, D., & Dawkins, K. (2004). Eighth grade students’ understandings of groundwater. Journal of Geoscience Education, 52(2), 178-181. doi:10.5408/1089-9995-52.2.178

[16] Havu-Nuutinen, S., Kärkkäinen, S., & Keinonen, T. (2011). Primary school pupils’ perceptions of water in the context of STS study approach. International Journal of Environmental & Science Education, 6(4), 321-339.

[18], [23], [27], [28] Shepardson, D. P., Wee, B., Priddy, M., Schellenberger, L., & Harbor, J. (2007). What is a watershed? implications of student conceptions for environmental science education and the national science education standards. Science Education, 91(4), 554-578. doi:10.1002/sce.20206

[19] Forbes, C. T., Zangori, L., & Schwarz, C. V. (2015). Empirical Validation of integrated learning performances for hydrologic phenomena: 3rd-grade students’ model-driven explanation-construction. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 52(7), 895-921. doi:10.1002/tea.21226

[25], [33] Shepardson, D. P., Wee, B., Pridy, M., Schellenberger, L., & Harbor, J. (2009). Water transformation and storage in the mountains and at the coast: midwest students’ disconnected conceptions of the hydrologic cycle. International Journal of Science Education, 31(11), 1447-1471.

[29], [31], [49] Gunckel, K. L., Covitt, B. A., Salinas, I., & Anderson, C. L. (2012). A learning progression for water in socio-ecological systems. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 49(7), 843-868. doi:10.1002/tea.21024 

[32] Ben-Zvi Assaraf, O., Eshach, H., Orion, N., & Alamour, Y. (2012). Cultural differences and students’ spontaneous models of the water cycle: a case study of Jewish and Bedouin children in Israel. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 7(2), 451-477.

[35] Ministry of National Education [MoNE]. (2018). İlköğretim fen bilgisi dersi öğretim programı 3-8. sınıflar. Retrieved from 

[36] Water Footprint Network (2023). What is a water footprint?

[37] United Nations (2023). UN 2023 Water Conference.

[38], [40], [46] Benninghaus, J. C., Kremer, K., & Sprenger, S. (2018). Assessing high-school students’ conceptions of global water consumption and sustainability. International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, 27(3), 250-266.

[39], [45] Fremerey, C., Liefländer, A. K., & Bogner, F. X. (2014). Conceptions about drinking water of 10 th graders and undergraduates. Journal of Water Resource and Protection6(12), 1112.

[42] Venckute, M., Silva, M. M., & Figueiredo, M. (2017). Education as a tool to reduce the water footprint of young people. Millenium, 2(4), 101-111.

[43], [47] Amahmid, O., El Guamri, Y., Yazidi, M., Razoki, B., Kaid Rassou, K., Rakibi, Y., … & El Ouardi, T. (2019). Water education in school curricula: Impact on children knowledge, attitudes and behaviours towards water use. International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education28(3), 178-193.

[48] Endreny, A. H. (2010). Urban 5th graders conceptions during a place‐based inquiry unit on watersheds. Journal of Research in Science Teaching: The Official Journal of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching47(5), 501-517.

[51] Ben-Zvi-Assarf, O., & Orion, N. (2005b, September). A study of junior high students’ perceptions of the water cycle. Journal of Geoscience Education, 53(4), 366-373.

[52] Jacobson, M. J., & Wilensky, U. (2006). Complex systems in education: Scientific and educational importance and implications for the learning sciences. The Journal of the learning sciences15(1), 11-34.

[55] Duffy, D. L. F. (2012). The nature and role of physical models in enhancing sixth grade students’ mental models of groundwater and groundwater processes. [Doctoral dissertation, Old Dominion University]. Old Dominion University Theses, United States.

Using ChatGPT in an educational technology course for maths teacher candidates

Using ChatGPT in an educational technology course for maths teacher candidates

There has been a lot of discussion in educational research circles about the use of AI in education, in particular, ChatGPT. We asked doctoral research assistant, Bengi Birgili to tell us about how she is using (and teaching the use of) ChatGPT in the classroom. Dr Birgili introduced a fully flipped university context from the view of a researcher instructor. In this post, she explains how she and her students used ChatGPT in an instructional technology course offered in the Spring 2023 semester. This blog post includes not only her ideas and experiences but also those of 30 pre-service teachers studying in the mathematics education department in the faculty of education in Istanbul, Türkiye.

I have been teaching an educational sciences course at the intersection of Instructional Design and Instructional Technologies and Materials Design (EDS 206) at the Department of Mathematics Education (Grade 5-8), MEF University, Istanbul, Türkiye for 2 years. MEF University is known as the first fully flipped university in the world. You can find out more about the course at the end of this blog post.

This semester, additionally, we had a new visitor to this course. ChatGPT! Yes. Let’s share our experiences in this course.


Using ChatGPT in an educational technology course

I heard that ChatGPT, developed by Artificial Intelligence Developer Open AI, was released as a prototype on November 30th, 2022. I noticed that it attracted people’s attention in a short period of time with its detailed justifications and understandable answers in many fields of information. Many instructional technologists, educational scientists, and even linguists from Türkiye have started using it. It has become popular in our country as well as all over the world.

As a Ph.D. holder of educational sciences and a mathematics teacher; based on my limited experience, I can describe ChatGPT as a companion. Although the database has kept its information until the last updated date, it provides us with companionship in terms of sharing basic,  responding fact-based prompts, and comprehensive information. Users must, of course, be aware of the issues that have been raised about the accuracy of the AI too (or see the impact of AI for more information).

Despite this caveat, when I look at it from the perspective of an educator, I believe that teacher candidates can benefit from ChatGPT, when used for the right purposes.

In the EDS 206 course, I demonstrated ChatGPT for a week. Then, I allowed the teacher candidates to experience it for themselves. Some of them asked ChatGPT to talk about common misconceptions made by middle school students in fractions in mathematics, and some of them asked for sample questions of their lesson plan preparation. While discovering ChatGPT, they also learned new instructional design models. They put into practice what they learned in our course while interacting with it. For the accuracy of the information, they had to compare what they learned in the course with the information provided by ChatGPT. At this level, they also started to use their high-level cognitive skills. In their article writing assignments, they were free to use ChatGPT, as long as they referenced appropriately.

To sum up, by following the correct instructions, we teacher educators, can admit ChatGPT as a mentor somewhere in a teacher education program. Nevertheless, it should be used as a means, not an end.

Students’ experiences using ChatGPT

After the ChatGPT experience, I asked my students: “Can you share with me in a paragraph your first experience with ChatGPT in the EDS 206 course, and explain whether it is useful and how your learning experiences in the faculty can get benefit from it?” I made a thematic analysis of their general ideas and initial thoughts. According to the findings of the thematic analysis, I inferenced the following categories.

  1. Junior-year teacher candidates, studying in the faculty of education and a flipped university, were introduced to ChatGPT for the first time in this course. They were aware that ChatGPT is an up-to-date, innovative, and popular AI-based tool and they gained the specific awareness.

“I think #ChatGPT is a nice artificial intelligence application for people who are researchers and curious. As a teacher candidate, I was introduced to ChatGPT for the first time in EDS206 class and I saw the benefits of the application. During the lesson, my group mates and I experienced that ChatGPT can translate between languages, solve mathematical equations, and offer various suggestions on the subject….”

“I was introduced to the ChatGPT application in the EDS 206 course. In the lesson, we sought an answer to the question of how to use the ChatGPT application in education. We asked the ChatGPT application to develop a training model.”

  1. All of them found ChatGPT useful for their learning. They see it as a privileged step of being an innovative teacher. When they asked questions regarding maths education, lesson planning, teaching methods etc, ChatGPT provided them with creative and useful examples. For instance:

“…We got surprising results. We discussed these results in class. I think the answers will be useful and effective. I think the most useful feature of the ChatGPT application is that it gives creative and useful examples for desired situations….”

“…While we were experiencing ChatGPT, when we asked “What is the most appropriate teaching model that can be applied on the subject of fractions in mathematics?”, it brought out various models. Although the question we asked was very specific, it brought out more than one model and, most importantly, it explained the focus points of these models with them….”

“…. I wanted to develop a material on “Factors and Multiples” within the scope of the EDS206 course. I wanted to add examples from daily life to my material. I asked ChatGPT to provide me with examples, and source books/sites on this subject. I was redirected to many pages. When we want to make a study by analyzing many sources in education and synthesizing these sources; I can say that ChatGPT is very useful to work step by step.…” (Female, senior year teacher candidate)


  1. Almost all of the teacher candidates emphasized that ChatGPT encouraged them to use higher-order thinking skills. For example, they stated that they used cognitive skills such as analysis, synthesis, interpretation, and discussion together in the flipped class.

“….When we want to make a study by analyzing many sources in education and synthesizing these sources, I can say that ChatGPT is very useful to work step by step. On the other hand, I can say that it provides ease of learning and analyzing many pieces of literature for students. I can say that individuals who will produce a new study will have the chance to design a roadmap for basic errors, to access the materials to be used here, and to design a synthesized version of many sources if they wish. For this reason, I can say that it also provides a lot of convenience in the production of new works.”

“…. When we further advanced our question and asked it to choose one of these models and create a lesson plan that suited us, its answer really impressed me. Determining the necessary materials, which sections we will divide the lesson into, how many minutes these sections will take, and what we will do in them were explained in detail…

  1. On the other hand, only a few of them asserted the possible negative aspects of ChatGPT. Since it depends on machine learning and Artificial Intelligence, the accuracy and validity of the information given by ChatGPT must be tested and controlled from other scientific sources.

“…. Thanks to the information data in ChatGPT, it is a very useful application that allows us to save time by extracting logical answers in the context of cause and effect. If I take a negative aspect, it should not be forgotten that this is an artificial intelligence, if important information research is being conducted, ChatGPT’s responses should definitely be verified with other sources.” (Female, senior year teacher candidate)

Final thoughts

Last but not least, according to my short-term and unique experience regarding ChatGPT, I feel that the contribution of ChatGPT to teacher education is emerging. However, ethical issues should always keep the minds occupied. While discussing the benefits, the critical points and probable negative aspects should be paid attention by the instructors and teacher candidates. We think that ChatGPT will continue to be like a companion that provides motivation during individual learning or unguided instruction, and saves time  – as long as it comes from the primary right academic source.

Key Messages

  • Teacher candidates can benefit from ChatGPT, when used for the right purposes
  • Teaching students reported that they found ChatGPT useful for learning, and saw it as evidence of being an innovative teacher
  • ChatGPT encouraged teacher candidates to use higher order thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, interpretation, and discussion
  • Students should be aware of the limitations of tools such as AI and the importance of verifying the information provided with other sources
  • The use of AI tools in teacher education is still emerging, and critical points should be considered by instructors and teacher candidates

References and Further Reading

About the educational science course

The educational sciences course sits at the intersection of Instructional Design and Instructional Technologies and Materials Design (EDS 206) at the Department of Mathematics Education (Grade 5-8), MEF University, Istanbul, Türkiye.

Upon successful completion of this course, students [aka teacher candidates]  are expected to be able to:

  1. explore various ways of thinking about the use of technology in education
  2. demonstrate how to use a variety of multimedia tools to enrich learning opportunities
  3.  identify appropriate teaching methods and electronic media to support objective-based lessons
  4. design learning experiences that engage learners in individual and collaborative learning activities
  5. create electronic multimedia to support specific learning objectives
  6. use technology to represent topics or concepts in a static or interactive format.

I have been offering the course with an active learning environment both in COVID-19 pandemic times and now in a hybrid format. Teacher candidates apply what they have learned about weekly instructional technological tools, participate in pre-class/individual space and in-class/group space experiences, share their experiences and thoughts during flipped class activities, sometimes evaluate themselves, collaborate, and reflect while learning instructional design theories and practicum with material design.

 At the beginning of the semester, the teacher candidates are assigned middle school mathematics content from the national mathematics education curriculum. They learn to design digital materials in order to improve their digital competencies. For example,, Kahoot, Desmos, Geogebra. They prepare teaching materials for 6th grade students using the digital tools they learn about in the EDS206 related to the mathematics topic they were assigned. However, they design not only independent teaching and learning materials, but also instructional design models and so learn to integrate their digital materials into their ID models.

For more information about EDS 206 please do not hesitate to contact me.

On AI and accuracy 

The field of Artificial Intelligence is changing rapidly, and it can be difficult to keep up with the current situation. Here are some articles that we found when this blog post was published.

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about OpenAI’s GPT-4 tool

ChatGPT and facts (January 2023)

The impact of AI on content accuracy (October 2023)

ChatGPT accuracy getting worse (June 2023) 


Dr Bengi Birgili

Dr Bengi Birgili

Research Assistant in the Mathematics Education Department at MEF University, Istanbul.

Dr Bengi Birgili is a research assistant in the Mathematics Education Department at MEF University, Istanbul. She experienced in research at the University of Vienna. In 2022, she received her PhD from the Department of Educational Sciences Curriculum and Instruction Program at Middle East Technical University (METU), Ankara. Her research interests focus on curriculum development and evaluation, instructional design, in-class assessment. She received the Emerging Researchers Bursary Winners award at ECER 2017 for her paper titled “A Metacognitive Perspective to Open-Ended Questions vs. Multiple-Choice.”

In 2020, a co-authored research became one of the 4 accepted studies among Early-Career Scholars awarded by the International Testing Commission (ITC) Young Scholar Committee in the UK [Postponed to 2021 Colloquium due to COVID-19].

In Jan 2020, she completed the Elements of AI certification offered by the University of Helsinki.


Twitter: @bengibirgili




Other blog posts on similar topics:

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:



Other blog posts on similar topics:

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.

Beyond Research: The transformative power of the Emerging Researcher’s Conference

Beyond Research: The transformative power of the Emerging Researcher’s Conference

EERA’s Best Paper Award is part of EERA’s strategy to promote emerging researchers and support high-quality research in the field of education. The award is specifically designed to motivate young researchers to turn their conference presentations into full papers suitable for publication in research journals.

We asked the winner of the EERA Best Paper Award, Aigul Rakisheva, to tell us about presenting her research at ERC 2022, the invitation to participate in the Best Paper Award (BPA), and the effect it had on her career and her life.

Participation in ERC 2022

The process of writing the manuscript began long before the competition. Initially, I prepared an application to participate in the conference, which resulted in two blind peer-review feedback. I am thankful for the feedback from the peer reviewers, which proved to be instrumental in effectively preparing my presentation. The feedback primarily focused on clarifying aspects of the research methodology, the conceptual framework, and adding a final section that highlights the significance of my work in the European context. While the overall feedback did not require significant changes to my work, it provided essential guidance as I continued to develop the paper based on my research.

Subsequently, I presented my research at the ERC 2022 conference. The disparity in educational outcomes between urban and rural students remains a pressing challenge not only in my home country but also in various regions, including Europe. The study aimed to explore the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in addressing this issue. By investigating the 2018 PISA data, the research sought to identify how ICT impacts Kazakhstani students’ academic performance in Reading, Math, and Science, potentially bridging the urban-rural education gap. This research adopted a fully quantitative approach, utilizing data from the 2018 PISA assessment, which includes a diverse sample of Kazakhstani students from both urban and rural schools. The statistical analysis revealed that access to ICT resources in schools is vital in improving students’ learning outcomes. Additionally, students’ interest in ICT and their perceived competence in using ICT are significant factors contributing to their academic success.

An invitation to participate in the Best Paper Award

About a month after presenting my work, I received a call inviting me to participate in the Best Paper Award (BPA) competition. Initially, I felt concerned that my manuscript was not fully prepared, and I doubted if I could meet the short time frame and the rigorous review process. However, after careful consideration, I realized that participating in the competition would be beneficial for several reasons. Firstly, the set time frame would motivate me to expedite the completion of my manuscript. The additional expert review would be invaluable in improving my paper, making it more robust and suitable for submission to a reputable journal for consideration.

Additionally, selected authors can submit their work published in the international peer-reviewed European Educational Research Journal (EERJ) and Studia Paedagogica journals which I believe to be a great opportunity. These platforms offer scholars an excellent opportunity to share their findings on local or national European studies, further amplifying the impact and relevance of their research within the scholarly community.

The process

Participation in the competition involves a months-long journey, during which emerging scholars tirelessly work on their articles, adhering to deadlines. During this process, I sought formative feedback, further enhancing my work and providing clear direction for improvement. I also engaged in discussions with my co-author Dr. O. Toskovic, which proved immensely beneficial in refining my ideas, strengthening my arguments, and ultimately producing a more polished and impactful paper. The iterative nature of incorporating feedback has been crucial not only for my paper but in my growth as a researcher and has allowed me to continually strive for improvement.

Winning the Best Paper Award

Winning the Best Paper Award increased the visibility of the study within the academic community. This award not only acknowledged the significance of our work but also drew attention from researchers and other emerging scholars. This recognition has paved the way for further dissemination and opportunities for my research to make a broader impact.

I encourage future participants in the Best Paper Award to embrace the spirit of competition and rise above any self-doubt that may hinder their progress. While it is natural to have uncertainties about the quality of the work, remember that what truly matters is the invaluable feedback you receive and how you utilize it to fuel continuous improvement. Embarking on the journey toward excellence entails an unwavering commitment to growth and lifelong learning.

Key Messages

  • Engaging with ERGs/ERCs provides valuable networking and collaborative opportunities with fellow researchers and education experts.
  • Participating in ERGs/ERCs can enhance the visibility of researchers’ work, potentially leading to broader dissemination and increased recognition.
  • Involvement in ERGs/ERCs cultivates better communication skills and boosts emerging researchers’ confidence as they interact with peers and present their work to diverse audiences.
  • ERGs/ERCs create a nurturing environment that encourages constructive feedback, paving the way for ongoing research enhancement and continuous improvement.

Read more

Aigul Rakisheva

Aigul Rakisheva

Third-year Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, USA

Aigul Rakisheva is a third-year Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, USA.

She is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership Department with Global Studies in Education concentration. Aigul is actively engaged in research and teaching activities at UIUC.Her research focuses on Virtual Exchange, Information and Communication Technologies, and Initial Teacher Education, contributing to various research projects in these areas.

 For more information about Aigul’s academic work and research interests, please visit her university researcher profile:


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

Other blog posts on similar topics:

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


The UK Sustainability and Climate Change policy paper – An analysis

The UK Sustainability and Climate Change policy paper – An analysis

In April 2022, the UK Department for Education (DfE) published a policy paper laying out a strategy for the education and children’s services systems on the topic of sustainability and climate change. Dr Athanasia Chatzifotiou, Senior Lecturer at the University of Sunderland in the UK took a closer look at the policy paper to help us understand its provisions and proposals.

Key Messages

  • The Strategy identifies the importance of sustainability and climate change aiming to reach teachers and other professionals engaged in a variety of children’s service systems.
  • The Strategy has limitations that emanate from the language used and its actual content that is not presented in a clear and coherent manner for different stakeholders.
  • The Strategy acknowledges the DfE’s role in sustainability, and it promotes mainly knowledge on its environmental aspect (e.g. focus on biodiversity, outdoor/nature knowledge, etc.). The social aspects of sustainability are hardly addressed, and the economic ones are presented as job opportunities.
  • The Strategy takes into consideration important policies, and national and international initiatives but it fails to show how these can inform the action areas and initiatives that drive the Strategy.
  • The Strategy does not enable practitioners to facilitate a thorough climate and sustainability education where both socio-economic and socio-scientific issues can be taken into consideration.

The Strategy

The policy paper Sustainability and climate change: a strategy for the education and children’s services systems (referred to as the Strategy onwards) should be welcomed. It had been missing from the wider political and educational context (Greer, King and Glackin, 2021).

The Strategy identifies the importance of sustainability and climate change and is aimed at teachers and other professionals engaged in a variety of children’s service systems. Aside from the positive note upon its entry, however, the Strategy has limitations. These limitations emanate from the language used and its actual content that is not coherently presented for different stakeholders (e.g. teachers, civil servants etc.). For instance, the vision presented aims to make the UK ‘…the world-leading education sector in sustainability and climate change by 2030’, but the Strategy applies to England only. This rhetoric is accompanied by principles (e.g. ‘..we will seek opportunities to work with others… Evidence will be at the heart of our activity… we will make the greatest impact. We will adopt a systems-based approach…’, etc.) that are hard to argue against, but it is also hard to see how these aims will be achieved. These limitations are discussed below in relation to the general provisions the Strategy makes and to climate education in particular.

The Strategy’s provisions

The Strategy acknowledges the DfE’s important role in all aspects of sustainability. It highlights the overall aim of reducing our environmental footprints in accordance with achieving Net Zero. Net Zero is the ‘umbrella’ UK policy for decarbonising all sectors of the UK economy by 2050.  However, there is a focus on environmental sustainability that creates a disequilibrium among the social, economic and environmental aspects. This also favours the country’s economic goals rather than its educational or environmental ones (Dunlop and Rushton, 2022).

While the Strategy acknowledges the DfE’s role in sustainability, its focus centres upon knowledge (e.g. biodiversity, outdoor/nature knowledge, etc.). Rushton and Dunlop (2022, p.3) identified a similar issue arguing that the Strategy: “…is on learning more about…not empowering young people to act for the environment or challenging the root cause of climate change.” This is evident in the Strategy’s identified Action areas (five in total) and initiatives (three in total).

The Actions are:

1) Climate Education,

2) Green Skills and careers,

3) Education Estate and Digital Infrastructure,

4) Operations and Supply Chains and

5) International


The initiatives are:

1) the National Education Nature Park (a virtual nature park)

2) the Climate Leaders Award (similar to other awards like the John Muir Award, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, etc.)

3) Sustainability Leadership (noting support from senior management leadership).

Within the above, the social aspects of sustainability are barely identified, and the economic ones are presented as job opportunities. For instance, the Action area ‘Green skills and jobs’ highlights only the potential number of green jobs that will be created and nothing more; the Action area ‘Education Estate and digital technology’ contains information around heating solutions, water scarcity, etc. that links them to school buildings without clearly showing the role of teachers and children in these. 

Even though the Strategy takes into consideration important policies, national and international initiatives (e.g. the United Nations’17 Sustainable Development Goals and UNESCO’s ‘Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), the Paris Agreement and Glasgow Climate Pact, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child (UNCRC), the UK Climate Change Act (2008), etc.), it fails to show how these can inform the action areas and initiatives that drive the strategy. An example of such failure can be seen with the initiative National Education Nature Park. The focus seems to be mostly on environmental knowledge (e.g. ‘deliver improvements in biodiversity, contribute to the implementation of the nature recovery network, etc.); a ‘trend’ that shows in other counties as well (Monroe, Plate, Oxarart, Bowers and Chaves, 2019). Nowhere is visible how the 17 SD goals or the Convention on Children’s Rights can inform the above in a manner that professionals can make a change. The focus on environmental knowledge is prevalent throughout the Strategy including climate education.

Action Area 1 – Climate Education

I want to focus on Climate Education (Action Area 1) because the proposals are for children to learn about nature, the cause and impact of climate change and the importance of sustainability. These suggestions reflect once more an approach to ‘learning about’ rather than empowering action. Admittedly, the latter is much more difficult to achieve, especially in an educational context where mainly discipline and conformity are promoted amongst pupils.

The Strategy highlights particular National Curriculum subjects (e.g. science, geography, etc.) that can promote such learning from early years onwards. It highlights the GCSEs (General Certificate for Secondary Education) in design and technology, food preparation and nutrition, and economics as topics that can further enhance the importance of learning about sustainability while at the same time, it announces a new natural history GCSE by 2025 for ‘deeper knowledge of the natural world’.

This interest in knowledge is further enhanced by the proposed annual Climate Literacy Survey from 2022 to benchmark progress in improving the climate knowledge of school leavers. Knowledge is important, but Rushton and Dunlop (2022) identified that teachers and students alike were asking for more critical thinking, doing research, taking action, communicating and networking with others. Knowledge alone does not necessarily lead to environmental action (Skamp, Boyes and Stannistreet, 2009). Still, the Strategy sees science knowledge as most fitting for climate education. This is reflected in science teachers’ Continuing Personal Development (CPD) and on developing a Primary Science Model Curriculum to include ‘an emphasis on nature to ensure all children understand the world’.

This ‘knowledge overload’ manifests itself in the implicit alignment that the Strategy brings between Climate Education and Education for Sustainable Development. However, throughout the Strategy there is neither a clear distinction between the two nor any links made for teachers to see how they relate to each other.

Climate change and political impartiality

Finally, and most disappointingly, the section on Climate Education closes with a message on political impartiality.

The message, amongst other things, says: “Teaching about climate change, and the scientific facts and evidence behind this, does not constitute teaching about a political issue and schools do not need to present misinformation or unsubstantiated claims to provide balance.” 

Climate education is a socio-scientific issue (Henderson, Long, Berger, Russell, and Drewes, 2017) and as such it carries socio-political dimensions. A systematic review of effective education strategies in climate change education highlighted a distinction between ‘just the facts’(that is, ‘learning about’) and ‘also the actions’ approaches which refer to an apolitical and a political approach to the issue of climate change education (Monroe, 2019).

When priority is given to ‘just the facts’, then the socioeconomic dimensions of climate and sustainability education – which are explicitly included in the United Nations Sustainable Goals – are compromised. Scholars like Gayford and Dillon (1995) have clearly shown since the ‘90s the dilemmas and difficulties that teachers face when teaching environmental issues precisely because they span through all domains (social, economic, physical). There needs to be a balance between the scientific information and the value-laden nature of climate and sustainability education. This kind of balance is missing from the said Strategy.


The Strategy has given schools an opportunity to consider their sustainability and climate education approaches. In a way, it is contributing towards ‘spreading the word’ on the importance of educating and acting upon environmental and climate issues. Acquiring scientific knowledge about these issues is paramount; but also of paramount importance are the socio-economic dimensions of these issues.

Other blog posts on similar topics:

Dr Athanasia Chatzifotiou

Dr Athanasia Chatzifotiou

Senior Lecturer, University of Sunderland, UK

Athanasia Chatzifotiou gained her Ph.D. from Durham University in the UK. She examined primary school teachers’ knowledge and awareness of environmental education in two European countries, namely England and Greece. Her subsequent work addressed issues concerning the status of education for sustainable development in the National Curriculum in England and Greece, policy initiatives in England, the Eco-school approach in early years and primary schools, etc. She teaches in the BA Hons Childhood Studies degree at Sunderland University where she is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Sciences.


References and further reading

Department for Education, (2022). Policy paper: Sustainability and climate change: a strategy for the education and children’s services systems. Retrieved from:

Dunlop, L. and Rushton, A.C. (2022). Putting climate change at the heart of education: Is England’s strategy a placebo for policy? British Education Research Journal

Dunlop, L. and Rushton, A. C. (2022). Five ways the new sustainability and climate change strategy for schools on Englabd doesn’t match up to what young people actually want. The Conversation, [Accessed 5/4/2023]

Gayford, C. and Dillo, P. (1995). Policy and the practices of environmental education in England: a dilemma for teachers. Environmental Education Research, v.1, p.173-183.

Greer, K. King, H. and Glackin, M. (2021). The ‘web of conditions’ governing England’s climate change education policy landscape, Journal of Education Policy, DOI: 10.1080/02680939.2021.1967454

Henderson, J. Long, D. Berger, P. Russell, C. and Drewes, A. (2017). Expanding the foundation: climate change and opportunities for educational research. Educational Studies, v.53, n.4, p.412-425. DOI: 10.1080/00131946.2017.1335640

 Monroe, M. Plate, R. Oxarart, A. Bowers, A. and Chaves, W. (2019). Identifying effective climate change education strategies: a systematic review of the research, Environmental Education Research, 25:6, 791-812, DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2017.1360842

 Skamp, K. Boyes, E. Stannistreet, M. (2009). Global warming responses at the primary secondary students’ beliefs and willingness to act. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, v. 25, p.15-30