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School to university transitional experiences of refugee background students: A journey of uncertainty and complexity June 23, 2015

Posted by Editor21C in Education Policy and Politics, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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from Loshini Naidoo

 The blog is based on a 2012 OLT (Office of Learning and Teaching) funded project “supporting school-university partnerships for refugee students’ access and participation in tertiary education”. The views in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching.

 Australia has a long history of welcoming refugee communities into the broader social fabric and likewise of benefiting from the contributions made by these communities to Australian society. Refugee background students however represent a “high risk group which faces great challenges in terms of adaption to the school system, acculturation, social adaptation, English language learning, and eventual academic success” (Brown, Miller & Mitchell, 2006, p. 150). The adaptation to the new education system is further compounded for refugee background students by having spent prolonged periods of time living in refugee camps or in a transient existence (Naidoo, Wilkinson, Adoniou, Langat, Cunneen &bBolger , 2015; Ndhlovu, 2013).

Refugee background students, particularly those arriving from Africa, are a specific group with greater educational, welfare and support needs (Taylor, 2008). These include basic skills in reading and writing as well as the socialised reading and writing skills required to learn and communicate effectively. Thus, many refugee background students frequently find that they are expected to acquire social communication, academic writing and communication skills, while catching up to their native-speaking peers, who often themselves are still developing language competency (Naidoo et al. 2015).

Academic success and transition to university is dependent on the knowledge of engrained social norms that are often taken for granted (Trumbull and Rothstein-Fisch et al. 2014). ). No matter how natural they seem, these behaviours are culturally specific and must be actively learned by students (Nwosu and Barnes et al. 2014). Thus, many refugee background students who are not ‘fluent’ in the cultural practices of Australian higher education can often find the transition difficult (Naidoo et al., 2015).

The language challenges students face at university are connected to both their own English language proficiency, and also the very specific English language demands that university study and discipline specific study places upon them (Naidoo, et. al., 2015). University academic staff prioritise the dissemination of discipline based knowledge rather than language skills (Dunworth & Briguglio, 2011) and while academic staff are aware of the difficulties encountered by many international and some domestic students, they feel ill-equipped to provide English language support (Naidoo, et al, 2015).

Academic staff at university are concerned that generic learning support programs are inadequate to meet the specific language needs of refugee background students, and that scarcity of long term funding for specific programs limits their effectiveness (Naidoo, et al, 2015). A consequence of this outsourcing of academic language support is the disinvestment of responsibility by academics.

Alongside the need for explicit teaching of discipline specific content and language is the need to teach learning to learn cognitive and metacognitive strategies for the Australian university context. Cognitive strategies include understanding how to locate and select credible sources of information and metacognitive strategies include successfully planning assessment tasks that are appropriately structured to meet the needs of the discipline area (Hurst & Davison, 2005).

These culturally specific strategies are frequently taken-for-granted practices amongst university educators, and thus, form part of the ‘hidden’ curriculum. They present cultural challenges as what seems to be ‘everyday’ curriculum knowledge is actually part of cultural practice and is not necessarily known to English language learners.

Not having English language support that builds students’ capacity to engage fully within a discipline presents a distinct obstacle to academic achievement and the ability to manage the academic language registers of university (Naidoo, et. al., 2015). The current English language support strategies employed at universities are not directed at supporting the language acquisition journey of a student on a language learning progression, but rather with meeting more immediate needs around the submission of assignments.

The impact of an English language support program that transcends disciplines will create a new dialogical space to examine established power hierarchies and academic practices and will show institutional commitment to a more supportive, actively integrated language learning program at university that will enable diverse students to transition much more easily through university programs.



Brown, J., Miller, J., & Mitchell, J. (2006). Interrupted schooling and the acquisition of literacy: Experiences of Sudanese refugees in Victorian secondary schools. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 29(2), 150-162.

Dunworth, K., & Briguglio, C. (2011). Teaching students who have English as an additional language: A handbook for academic staff in higher education. Milperra, New South Wales: HERDSA.

Hurst D., & Davison C. (2005). ‘Collaboration on the curriculum: Focus on secondary ESL’, in Crandall J., & Kauffman D (ed.), Case Studies in TESOL: Teacher education for ESL and content area teachers, pp. 41–66. Alexandria: TESOL.

Naidoo, L., Wilkinson, J., Langat, K., Adoniou, M., Cunneen, R., & Bolger, D. (2015). Case Study Report: Supporting school-university pathways for refugee students’ access and participation in tertiary education

Ndhlovu, F. (2013). Language nesting, superdiversity and African diasporas in regional Australia. Australian Journal of Linguistics, 33(4), 436-338

Nwosu, O. C., Barnes, S. and L, R. 2014. Where ‘Difference is the Norm’: Exploring Refugee Student Ethnic Identity Development, Acculturation, and Agency at Shaw Academy. Journal of Refugee Studies, p. 050.

Taylor, S. (2008). Schooling and the settlement of refugee young people in Queensland: The challenges are massive. Social Alternatives, 27(3), 58-65.

Trumbull, E., Rothstein-Fisch, C. and Greenfield, P. 2014. Bridging Cultures in Our Schools:New Approaches That Work. [e-book] A WestEd Knowledge Brief.


Associate Professor Loshini Naidoo is an academic in the School of Education, and a senior researcher in the Centre for Educational Research , at the University of Western Sydney (UWS), Australia.

Should Australian schools look to Finland? April 7, 2015

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Education Policy and Politics, Social Justice and Equity through Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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From Benjamin Jones

In 1988 Prime Minister Bob Hawke opened the National Science and Technology Centre (now called Questacon) as part of the Bicentennial celebrations. Expecting a positive media story for the government, he was instead confronted by 200 protesters angry at budget cuts to science and education. Hawke conceded that the government needed to do more to ensure Australia becomes a ‘clever country’.

The ‘clever country’ has been embraced by subsequent leaders and in some ways, Australia has achieved this goal or at least is heading in the right direction. The proportion of Australians aged 25-64 years who hold a non-school qualification has increased from 46 percent in 1990 to 59 percent in 2006. Those with a bachelor degree or higher more than doubled from 10 to 24 percent over the same period.

Australia’s educational advancements have not been equitable with the primary winners being the non-Indigenous residents of major cities. While 56.9 percent of Australians in major cities hold a non-school qualification, this drops to 45 in outer regional areas and just 35.6 in very remote areas. This more than halves for Indigenous Australians at 14.5 percent. Even in major cities, the inequality is substantial with 37.8 percent of Indigenous Australians holding a non-school qualification compared to 57.1 percent of non-Indigenous people.

Like Australia, Finland also had an average performing education system in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Over a decade-long period, Finland transformed itself and since 2001 is has consistently ranked in the very top tier in all PISA assessments. According to an OECD report, Finland is now a ‘major international leader in education’. The crucial difference between Finland and Australia, however, is that the Finnish system has ‘remarkable consistency across schools’ and there is little variation between students from low and high socio-economic areas.

Educational theorist Pasi Sahlberg’s new work, Finnish Lessons, offers some insights into how Finland turned their education system around and how other nations might do the same. Firstly, Finland looked abroad for the best ideas and was flexible enough to adapt where better methods in other countries were producing better outcomes. Dovetailing this idea, however, is that Finland appropriated foreign ideas into a local setting. Good ideas were adapted and made Finnish.

The second key point is that Finland has a culture that respects teachers. Unlike Australia where some university chancellors want to do away with minimum requirements altogether, Finnish teachers must be high academic achievers and hold a Master’s degree. In return, teachers are well paid and resourced. In a recent TEDx talk, Sahlberg argues that Finland trusts the teaching profession and this trust is the foundational strength of the system. One of the ‘germs’ that is destroying modern schooling is the idea that schools and teachers must be regularly held accountable through standardised testing and inspections. He says the Finnish view is that, ‘accountability is something left when responsibility is taken away’. Teacher autonomy has been crucial in Finland’s success.

One final lesson for Australia is that the Finns do not have a two-tier system. Rather than a large disparity between wealthy private schools and an under-funded public sector, there is a strong cultural commitment to a large public system with high quality education offered to all. Australia, like the United States and many other nations has allowed education to become market-driven. Tertiary education in particular, is seen as a revenue-generating industry rather than a vital public asset. In Finland there is an inspiring, publicly supported, central vision of what good education should look like. This vision is linked to a commitment to social justice and equity for all regardless of wealth, gender or ability. As Sahlberg stressed to John Hattie when interviewed for The Conversation, ‘it’s an inclusive principle’.

In December 2011, the Gonski Review was released. The was the most comprehensive investigation into school funding for 40 years and it highlighted the gross inequalities in the Australian education system. The heart of the review was needs-based funding. In addition to a base level, schools would receive extra funding depending on size, location and students’ needs (factoring in social inequality). While the Gillard government negotiated six year funding deals with NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT and introduced a needs-based system, the incoming Abbott government has only guaranteed four years of funding. It has also rejected the needs-based system as too ‘complex’ prompting a strong reply from the eponymous author, David Gonski. The campaign continues.

There is much Australia can learn from Finland if it wants to also be a world leader in education. It is imperative, however, that we move beyond the empty slogans of ‘clever country’ and ‘education revolution’ and put in place systems that will allow all Australians to have access to high quality education. The challenge is also to change the culture of negativity and present a world class education system as a vital national goal. This is not only a matter of social justice, it also makes economic sense for a small but wealthy nation. The Brookings Institute has researched the vast economic advantages of education. If Australia is to maintain its prosperity into the future, we should look to the Finnish example and ensure our education system is not only high quality but fair.


Dr Benjamin T. Jones is an adjunct research fellow in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts, and a sessional tutor in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney. He is also a graduate teacher from UWS’s Master of Teaching (Secondary) program.


What needs to be done to position Australian students for this Asian century? May 20, 2013

Posted by christinefjohnston in Directions in Education, Education Policy and Politics.
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by Professor Michael Singh

Michael Singh’s look at the implications of the Asian century for Education in Australia offers a more extended blog than is usual. Enjoy!

Many Australians currently study one or more of the many Asian languages and cultures, either formally or informally as part of their family or job networks. However, there is a strong view that more Australians must study the languages and cultures of our neighbours. But why must they?

 Policy-makers claim that schools must help society gain the Asia-capabilities business needs through helping more Australian students learn Asian languages to get the better socioeconomic positions they deserve.

 The revitalisation of Asia and the growing global competition for high skilled jobs makes it more important than ever we provide a worldly education for our school students, including an education that looks at the world through Asian perspectives. Moreover, countries such as China are experiencing a renaissance as a global centre for knowledge production in key fields of innovation such as sustainability.  Much of this internationally important knowledge is being produced in Chinese.

 Seemingly, these are reasonable claims. However, they fail to speak directly to school children and their parents and teachers to persuade them on their terms for undertaking second language education. Policy-makers must recognise and directly engage the interests of learners and educators. Policy-makers must produce policies that explicitly address the reasons schools students from Kindergarten to Year 12 have for learning a second language, as much as the educational reasons for teaching languages.

 Is there a clear need for graduates to be able to speak Asian languages and work in Asia high on the list of priorities for business?

 Australian businesses need graduates willing and able to work in Asia. Accountants, architectures, lawyers and doctors as well as those working in property economics to business, engineering and biotechnology need to find ways to become familiar with Asia. The Australian Industry Group has found that businesses rate having senior staff capable of working cross-culturally in Asia very highly. They also rate having a strategy for Asian operations, strong local partnerships in Asia and knowledge of Asian business operations. The law firm King & Wood Mallesons has called for a national policy directed at promoting and supporting people-to-people exchanges in education and the professions. For business leaders the major challenge they face in engaging Asia more fully is attracting, retaining and leveraging “Asia-capable” talent. What kind of talent might that be?

 Writing in The Jakarta Post (02 November 2012), Dewi Anggraeni observes that the Australians desire to learn from Asian countries does not seem to be “motivated by the belief that they have some good things to teach Australia, but that Australia needs to know how they operate to avoid “pitfalls” in doing business with them, or in dealing in other matters, such as regional security. To think that countries in Asia are unable to sense this patronizing attitude is downright careless.”

 What is the current situation?

 The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (2008) identified as a major change in the world that is placing new demands on Australian teacher and school education, is that:

          India, China and other Asian nations are growing and their influence on the world is increasing. Australians need to become ‘Asia literate’, engaging and building strong relationships with Asia.

 Goal 2 of the Melbourne Declaration is, in part, that:

          All young Australians become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens [who] are able to relate to and communicate across cultures, especially the cultures and countries of Asia.

 In the Australian Curriculum the cross-curriculum priority of “Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia” will ensure that students learn about and recognise the diversity within and between the countries of the Asia region. They will develop knowledge and understanding of Asian societies, cultures, beliefs and environments, and  the  connections between the peoples of Asia, Australia, and the rest of the world. Asia literacy provides students with the skills to communicate and engage with the peoples of Asia so they can effectively live, work and learn in the region (ACARA).

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s guidelines for developing the Australian Languages Curriculum now make provision for first, background and second language learners.

Currently, it is Chinese-Australians – teachers and students – in senior secondary schools across the country who are now making a substantial contribution to securing Australia’s linguistic and intellectual engagement with speakers of Chinese within Australia, in China and around the world.

In addition, volunteer university graduates from China are supporting schools in Western Sydney in stimulating the learning of Chinese as a second language. With the support of these volunteers who are studying to be teacher-researchers, some 4,017 primary students and 1,358 secondary students in the Region’s schools are able to learn Chinese. This initiative is part of a 10 year industry/university training partnership established by the University of Western Sydney, the Ningbo Municipal Education Bureau in China and the New South Wales Department of Education and Communities.

A key implication of not carrying out this agenda is that it will exacerbate a situation in which Australian educational institutions have not produced a significant cohort of young Australians completing secondary education with deep knowledge of our region or high levels of proficiency in Asian languages. … the share of Australian students studying languages, including many Asian languages, is small and has fallen in recent times. (Australia in the Asian Century Implementation Task Force, 2012: 167, 168).

How might we now understand this “Asian Century”?

Some readers may remember when we studied the world through the lens of the British Empire, and then through an American lens. The idea of the “Asia Century” presents a new lens through which to look at the world. No matter what the crisis in Europe, the USA or Australia is, everything now seems to be linked to what is happening in Asia, more so than ever before. So increasing the depth and breadth of Australia’s intellectual engagement with a worldly Asia provides a lens through which to better understand the effects that China and India are having on Russia, Brazil and South Africa, and together what this means for Australia.

What does the “Asian Century” mean for languages education?

As we enter this Asian Century a deep engagement with multilingualism in general and a specific capacity in Asian languages are crucial for ever more Australians, to provide the grounds for collaborative knowledge production between Asia and Australia. However, it would be naïve to think this means ignoring other languages.

Among the impediments to the further development of languages education in Australia is the mistaken presumption that European languages are not being taught and used throughout Asia; this view limits Australia’s ability to meet the challenges of the changing multilingual landscape presented by this Asian Century.

It is significant for Australian languages education to know that China continues to teach a range of languages, including French, Spanish, Russian and Arabic. For example, since 2005, a further seventy-three higher education institutions in China have established French as a university major.

In recent years, bilateral trade and investment by Chinese enterprises in French-speaking Africa have increased rapidly. Learning French is integral to the ability of China to do business in Africa (Benin, Burkina-Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Gabon, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Senegal, and Togo), along with Europe (Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Monaco, Switzerland, as well as Canada) well as Haiti, Seychelles and Vanuatu. So if you speak Portuguese which is spoken in China’s Macau you speak an Asian language!

Making multilingualism constitutive of Australia’s education system in order to navigate the Asian Century means exerting pressures to permit variations in responses to, and engagement with whatever linguistic opportunities present themselves.

What language policies might work?

Key reasons for the failure of some previous language policies are the monolingual focus on linguistic differences and the insistence on teaching only the target language, ignoring learners’ first language. However, many Australian school students who are just beginning to learn a second language need a policy for programs that focuses on the social and linguistic similarities between English and particular Asian languages. This is an important education policy issue if beginning learners are to experience success and the rewards necessary to stimulate their desire for further language learning.

 Further, with over half a million local and international multilingual students in Australian higher education institutions, there needs to be formal recognition of their multilingual communicative capabilities. With over 150 different languages spoken by Australia’s higher education students, formal acknowledgement of their linguistic capabilities as part of higher education programs would provide a valued and valuable stimulus to second language learning. This policy would enhance Australia’s positioning in the global multilingual economies and knowledge networks.

 Where can we go from a history of failure?

One of the intractable educational problems is to make Asian languages learnable for beginning second language learners in English speaking Australia. This is a preferable focus to the insistence on Asian languages being difficult for them to acquire, and that they must be acquired by ignoring students’ first language.

There is a need for universities, education systems and schools – in Australia and throughout Asia – to collaborate in the education of teacher-researchers who are capable of investigating ways to make Asian languages learnable for second language learners in Australia. This means finding ways to make Asian languages part of the local everyday languages of Australian school communities. Little is known about how to make these languages learnable.

The Western Sydney/Ningbo teacher-researcher partnership is producing evidence-driven knowledge that can embed Asian languages into everyday school communities through teaching/learning strategies that build on students’ existing knowledge of English and spur their self-confidence for continued language learning.

Policy needs to support programs and pedagogies that stimulate the interests of beginners at all level of schooling, to engage their enthusiasms, and to reward them with successful language learning experiences.

 What are the challenges educators face in intellectually engaging more fully in Asia?

A major challenge Australian students face in learning to engage more thoughtfully with people in different parts of Asia is their chance to participate in second language education programs and pedagogies that make Asian languages learnable. Policy needs to support teacher-researchers in developing pedagogies that work to reduce the ‘costs’ for beginning learners of Asian language so as not to make it a difficult and unfulfilling experience.

A key challenge for educational institutions is to develop teaching/learning activities and forms of assessment that reward students’ multilingualism and promote post-monolingual education such as the following:

  • Translation and translations: the systematic use of translations to highlight similarities and/or differences in the meanings of concepts, metaphors and images about educational issues under study.
  • Using evidence of multilingual online communicative capabilities: multilingual transcripts from online communication and/or from recorded face-to-face communication.
  • Demonstrating linguistically alternative ways in which a text can be written: alternative ways in which a multilingual text could be written, a multilingual speech act could be realized, a multilingual description could be performed, a multilingual dialogue could be conducted and what the similarity/difference in meaning would be.
  • Juxtaposing multilingual texts with similar informational content: different styles or genres of multilingual texts (e.g. poetry, proverbs, riddles), and have students consider how different styles convey the same information, albeit with different meanings.
  • Analysing affective and stylistic responses to multilingual texts: for analysing their own affective and stylistic reactions to multilingual texts containing non-Western modes of critique (involving at least one language they do not read, including texts written by school children).

 What should be our goals for institutionalising language education across the educational system?

To institutionalise language education across the educational system, innovative research-oriented school-engaged teacher-researcher education should aim for:

  • collaboration among Australia’s Federal and State/Territory Government agencies, Australian universities, local education authorities and clusters of primary and secondary schools which commit to a 12 year program
  • making the second language learning of students the primary focus of the education of teacher-researchers through education system/school/ university partnerships
  • directly engaging with educational concepts in the target Asian language as part of the education of language teacher-researchers
  • disseminating the evidence-driven knowledge generated by these teacher-researchers of their interventions in English and the target Asian language
  • assessing the education of these teacher-researchers in terms of its direct impact on school students’ second language learning and the students’ desire to continue studying the language to the end of Year 12
  • a scholarship program for local and international teacher-researchers that ensures the best graduates are registrable as teachers and secure full-time employment in Australian schools.

 What needs to be done to offer Asian languages, widely, economically and effectively?

Together education systems, schools and universities – in Australia and from across Asia – need to collaborate in delivering on the large-scale, long-term investment policy-makers promise to provide, and to do so through practical, on-the-job partnerships that educate teacher-researchers.

Teacher-research will provide a firm base for second language education in Australian schools and inspire the confidence of children, parents, teachers – and policy-makers.

This requires a teacher accreditation system that registers the graduates of such research-oriented, school engaged teacher education programs for employment in all States and Territories of Australia.

Michael Singh is a Professor in the Centre for Educational Research, School of Education at the University of Western Sydney 

Teaching Chinese with Australian characteristics October 7, 2012

Posted by Editor21C in Education Policy and Politics, Primary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
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from Professor Michael Singh

In 2012 it is Chinese-Australians – teachers and students – in senior secondary schools across the country who are now making a substantial contribution to securing Australia’s linguistic and intellectual engagements with speakers of Chinese (Mandarin or Han Yu) within Australia and around the world.

Clearly, Australia’s non-discriminatory immigration program is very effective in building this nation’s multilingual assets and providing Australians with the basis for connecting with a world in which multilingualism is the norm.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott recognise the importance of having second language learners in Australia to study Chinese, Indonesian, Korean and Japanese. Both leaders see it as important for the prospects of Australia in what is called the ”Asian Century.”

Wisely, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s (ACARA) guidelines for developing the Australian Languages Curriculum make provision for first, background and second language learners. As an important policy framework, this gives all Australian students a chance to do well.

The Western Sydney Region of the New South Wales Department of Education and Communities is successfully stimulating the learning of Chinese among some five thousand primary and second school students who are learning it as a second language.

Volunteer university graduates from Ningbo (China) work with classroom teachers as teacher-researchers to investigate ways to make Chinese learnable for second language learners in Australia.

The Ningbo Volunteers are also studying research degrees in the Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney. Through these studies they are investigating a number of intractable educational problems.

Sino-Australian teacher - researcher education: Networking   international learning & bilingual communicative capabilities

Sino-Australian teacher – researcher education: Networking  
international learning & bilingual communicative capabilities

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is studying ways of making Chinese learnable for second language learners in Australia, rather than insisting that it is difficult for second language learners to acquire Chinese. So, the Volunteers are studying ways of teaching Chinese with Australian characteristics to children just beginning to learn this second language.

They have shown that second language learners need programs and pedagogies that stimulate their interests, engage their enthusiasms, and reward them with successful language learning experiences.

Likewise, their research findings indicate that children, parents and teachers must recognise that second language education is about learners, parents and teachers, and that they must have their reasons for learning a second language recognised and directly engaged within the teaching/learning process.

A key finding from their studies is that for beginners, a focus on the social and linguistic similarities between English and Chinese is more successful and rewarding than a focus on linguistics and emphasising differences. This has led the Volunteers to engage in the research-based development of pedagogies that work to reduce the ‘cost’ for beginners of learning Chinese as a second language; not making it a difficult and unrewarding experience.

Second languages education is being further stimulated through research into the formal recognition of the Ningbo Volunteers’ bilingual communicative competence in the University of Western Sydney.

With some 150 languages spoken by Australia’s university students, formal acknowledgement of student-teachers’ linguistic capabilities as part of Australian teacher education programs would provide an added stimulus to second language learning.

This research is also contributing to a better understanding of the historical alternations that have affected the local/global flows of languages and knowledge. Such knowledge is necessary for explaining the renaissance of China as a global centre for knowledge production – knowledge that is being produced in Han zi.

Together this teacher-research is providing a firm base for second language education in Australian schools and is inspiring much confidence.

Over the past three years this research has contributed original knowledge about the characteristics of programs and pedagogies that make Chinese learnable, and provided really useful ideas to help schools and universities to collaborate in delivering on the large-scale, long-term investment policy-makers promise to provide.

Michael Singh is a Professor of Education in the School of Education’s Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney, Australia.

Elect my candidate – honouring reasoning and intellectual agency October 25, 2010

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Education Policy and Politics, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
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From Professor Michael Singh

In his first post on 21st Century Learning, Michael Singh reflects upon and celebrates the intellectual and moral gains made through educational research and writing over the past decades as captured in contemporary educational literature, and through this signals the constancy of values that will continue to be critical for the effectiveness of 21st century schools.


This evening I wish to nominate my candidate for this election.

In doing so, I wish to begin by presenting to you the evidence that is necessary for you to make an informed decision, before casting your vote – for what you value and have reason to value.

In terms of leadership my candidate has worked long and hard over the decades – and is not just driven by the electoral cycle.

Perhaps my candidate’s greatest achievement has been in enhancing the interests of Indigenous Australians.

From the days of Charles Perkins’ ‘freedom rides’ and the 1967 referendum in support of Indigenous citizenship, my candidate has made it customary to acknowledge this country as Indigenous lands, to acknowledge the Indigenous ancestors of these lands and to acknowledge the continuing presence of Indigenous peoples.

This evening we honour the rich collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia in the work of Margaret Somerville and Tony Perkins.

In Singing the Coast (Aboriginal Studies Press, 2010) we see the immersion of non-Indigenous Australians in the struggles of Indigenous Australians over place, identity and knowledge.

Since at least the 1960s my candidate has also done much to advance the struggles of immigrants to Australia.

The Child Migrant Education Program was among those important achievements in the field of English language education.

Moreover, in the 1970s, with the end of the Franco-American neo-colonial war against the peoples of Viet Nam my candidate secured the undoing of White Australia politics.

Phan Le Ha and her colleague are carrying forward the multilingual and multicultural education agenda in their work Multilevel and Diverse Classrooms (2010).

That an Australian university can now honour a Vietnamese scholar, and count her as one of our own says much about the direction of change being pursued by my candidate.

With a nation-wide program that led to the establishment of preschools in the 1970s my candidate has done much to advance the interests of young children and their parents, especially their mothers.

In a field where economics and neuroscience are key drivers of policy-makers’ decisions, Marilyn Fleer and her colleagues are doing much to demonstrate the need for educational knowledge that builds the capacity of early childhood workers.

Moreover, through their work in Early Childhood Curriculum (2010), and Early Learning and Development (2010) they are contributing to the transnational flow of Russian knowledge into the Anglophone West.

My candidate for this election has done much to promote the intersection of race, class and gender, supporting the women’s liberation and anti-racist movements.

This evening Cynthia Joseph and her colleague are to be honoured for their important work, Black and Postcolonial Feminisms in New Times (2010).

With the mounting concerns about this dangerous and endangered world, my candidate for this election has done much to move forward the struggles against the exploitation of water.

This evening we honour the contribution of Brian Wathhcow in The Song of the Wounded River (2010) for his revelations about the damaged done to Australia’s greatest, but most fragile river.

My candidate has always been concerned about alienation, and especially about ways of generating higher-order knowledge – theory – from engagement with the struggles of those experiencing alienation.

On this occasion we honour the contribution of David Zyngier, Engaging Pedagogies and Pedagogues (2010) for his investigations into the politics of dis-engagement, the alienation that leaves students at schools ‘at risk.’

My candidate has been most concerned about identifying and working with those forces that can bring forward long-term change.

While workers are no longer the beginning and end of these struggles, work, workplaces and workers are integral to my candidate’s interests.

This evening we honour the contribution of Terri Seddon and colleagues in Learning and Work and the Politics of Working Life (2010) for their investigation into the changes in work and education, and the importance of debate and dissent to both.

Likewise we pay tribute to Deanna de Zilwa for her analysis in Academic Units in a Complex, Campaign World (2010) of the adaptation and resistance by academics’ work units to the new forms of government and market regulation that directs their operations.

Central to my candidate’s efforts to bring about change has been the human reasoning and intellectual agency involved in acquiring and producing knowledge.

That teachers’ knowledge is recognised and acknowledged in John Loughran’s What Expert Teacher Do (2010) is a wonderful achievement to be celebrated for expanding educational research beyond the boundaries of empirical concerns about practice.

This then is the evidence – and the values – that I have offer you in support of my candidate.

My candidate for this election has done much to keep the excesses of power inequalities at bay – often through the work of scholars such as these – scholars who have used the powers of human reason and intellectual agency to make visible forms of power that are otherwise obscured.

When it comes to dealing with concentrations of power; when it comes to re/asserting meaningful control over peoples’ lives; when it comes to giving direction and pace to change – my candidate stands for each new generation carving out its own path – its own vision – its own language – its own lexicon of critique.

Therefore, when voting in this or any election, I give you my number one candidate – democracy.

Some may mock my support for democracy as an over-indulgence.

Bt it is the power of the people to bring forward the forces that can effect the direction of the historical changes documented in this research that makes democracy worth voting for – every time.

This democratic impulse claims intellectual status and the authority of research-based knowledge for the underrepresented and marginalised in the everyday life of this nation.

It is the power of the people to monitor, mediate and mitigate the concentrations of unaccountable power documented in this research that makes it possible for the people to assert meaningful control over their lives.


Michael Singh is Professor in Education and leads the Work Knowledge Democracy research program in the Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. This blog post is an excerpt from an address he gave before the recent Federal election in Australia. Michael delivered this address at the Research Expo, Faculty of Education, Monash University Melbourne, on August 16, 2010, where he was invited to celebrate recent research achievements in Education at Monash.

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