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What are the big questions in equity in education right now? October 15, 2014

Posted by Editor21C in Social Justice and Equity through Education.
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from Associate Professor Susanne Gannon

One year after an important Equity in Education symposium at UWS  raised this question, a new scholarly book has been published with an international publisher. Contemporary Issues of Equity in Education (Cambridge Scholars Press, Oct. 2014) includes research from scholars in Queensland, NSW and Victoria encompassing primary, secondary and tertiary sectors of education.

According to the editors – Associate Professor Susanne Gannon and Professor Wayne Sawyer of the Centre for Educational Research at UWS – education is one of the “great social justice projects of modern democracy”. They suggest that high quality education must be underpinned by “equity principles” including “access to good schools, challenging and engaging curriculum, committed teaching and engaged learning and appropriate resourcing”. However, they argue, these principles are “currently under assault” from a wide range of directions. The chapters in the book demonstrate some of the ways that researchers are exploring these dilemmas.

Chapters address a wide range of issues including international league tables and testing regimes and their impacts; everyday language and literacy practices of multilingual children; sexuality education in PDHPE curriculum; the assets, resources and experiences of refugee students in schools and universities; high demand pedagogies in low SES schools across diverse curriculum areas; the use of technology for community building; young people’s aspirations and anxieties about their futures; the impacts of increased school leaving ages on young people in single sex, ethnically diverse schools; innovative teacher education for high poverty contexts; beginning teacher experiences in the profession and suggestions for the redesign of secondary schools. 1

Participatory and collaborative research that has been co-designed and conducted with teachers, schools and education systems features throughout the book, with one of the chapters directly addressing the complexities and rewards of ‘teacher-as-researcher’. Throughout the book teachers are understood as intellectual workers, who have much more to offer educational debates than the low-level compliance required by externally designed and imposed assessment and curriculum regimes.

As well as reporting on current research into educational equity, the symposium and book also identified areas that require prioritising in future research. For example, at the upper end of secondary schooling we need to know much more about issues pertaining to school retention and transitions to post-school contexts including further study, training and work. How are these experienced by young people, what are their particular needs and how well are these understood by educational and employment sectors in volatile labour markets? How are senior schooling curriculum and opportunities serving the needs of young people and building and extending on the ‘funds of knowledge’ that they bring with them to school and to the work place? In teacher education, we need to understand how tertiary courses can balance disciplinary expertise with social justice imperatives that ensure beginning teachers are willing and able to support quality outcomes for students from diverse backgrounds and experiences. How might we develop beginning teachers’ capacities to understand and undertake research in collaboration with experienced colleagues and mentors?

More broadly, research agendas need to focus on unpacking the complex factors that contribute to the persistence of educational inequality in Australia and to better understand how schools and teachers can intervene to improve educational engagement and success for young people, their families and their communities. Future networks and activities will respond to these areas of concern. The first of these is the upcoming Equity! Now more than Ever!” conference run by the Centre for Professional Learning/ NSW Teachers Federation, and the University of Western Sydney, on Nov 7th.

The book Contemporary Issues in Equity in Education can be ordered from the publisher online  where you can also access an excerpt comprising the Editorial and the first chapter ‘Equity in Australian Schooling: The absent Presence of Socioeconomic Factors’ by Professor Bob Lingard and Dr Sam Sellar of the University of Queensland.

 

1. Note that, as well as those already named, authors include Robert Stevens, Carol Reid, Jacqueline D’Warte, Margaret Somerville, Tania Ferfolja, Jacqueline Ullman, Florence McCarthy, Margaret Vickers, Katina Zammit, Loshini Naidoo, Jo Lampert, Bruce Burnett, Eve Mayes, Leonie Arthur, Joanne Orlando, Anne Power, Lew Zipin and Iris Dumenden. You can find details of their chapters in the Extract available on the CSP website link above.

 

Susanne Gannon is an associate professor and ‘Equity’ research theme leader in the Centre for Educational Research and the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia.

 

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