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Young people, “radicalization” and schooling October 26, 2015

Posted by Editor21C in Community Engagement, Directions in Education, Education Policy and Politics, Engaging Learning Environments, Secondary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
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from Carol Reid

The recent events in Parramatta and subsequent ‘threats’ on social media located at two south-western Sydney high schools has brought to the fore the role of schooling in developing and countering threats to social cohesion. This is not the first time that the relationship between schools and terrorism and crime have been raised and it is not just in this part of Sydney, which is home to the most diverse number of first and second generation immigrants in Sydney. For those of us who have worked in and with schools around these matters for a number of decades there is little surprise. Before discussing what might be done it is critical that we comprehend what hasn’t been done, or rather what has been erased.

In the culture wars over school curricula Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire argued that critical approaches in high schools were ideologically driven and took the place of what really ‘ought’ to be in the curriculum. Donnelly was the ‘non-ideological’ choice of government for interrupting what was seen as left-wing tendencies among teachers and reforming ‘tainted’ curricula. This article does not want to waste space recounting the debates as arguments can be found elsewhere, but it is important to outline what this has meant for schools and young people.

The attack on critical thinking skills (including critiques of government policy and our history) by conservative educationalists leads to schools becoming places where ‘touchy subjects’ can’t be raised. They are taboo in schools. This means that they find space in subterranean places. This happens in schools in part because that is where young people gather. Schools are therefore important sites for airing and challenging views, no matter how extreme. It is not surprising that fellow students of the Arthur Phillip High School student involved in the Parramatta shooting had not heard him mention anything untoward, nor is it surprising that he also silenced discussions of religion or appeared disinterested. This concealed two things – his own complicity with unspeakable texts, but more importantly the related silencing of different views of the world by conservative forces surrounding schooling.

If we are not blind we can take this opportunity to reconsider what schooling is and how marginalising some forms of critique only serves to deepen disaffection but more critically drives some young people to commit acts of terror. The new Turnbull government is beginning to soften the tone but often points to factors such as mental health issues, isolated young people or poor family relations as factors that leads to anti-social behaviour at school or by young people of school age. But this begs the question given all the mental health opportunities provided for young people. Assistance for this kind of anomie is off the radar. It cannot be spoken.

In the rest of this short article I would like to outline what might be done and in doing so stand in solidarity with commentators such as Yassar Morsi who said:

It maybe counterintuitive but the answer lays in less authority – a space for young Muslims to politically dissent in their own language, rather than more policing of their dissent. Less parenting, more growth and a space to criticise the west and Australia, without an Islamophobic or generational backlash and without the hysterical fear and suffocation that surrounds everything they do and say.

Indeed, the first response to the Parramatta shooting by the NSW State Government is to monitor more closely ‘prayer’ groups in schools and while not clearly stated, this appears to be only Muslim prayer groups. Dr Anne Aly – who works with Muslim youth and adults who are already radicalized – similarly argues for dialogue. But what can schools do? In the remainder of this article I provide an approach that builds on young people’s capacities to know, and to trust them to articulate this knowing and emerge with new understandings that enrich them, their peers and their teachers.

In late 2006 I was invited by Larissa Treskin, then the NSW Department of Education Liverpool Education Director of Schools, to consider a project working with public high schools in Liverpool on racism post-Cronulla riots. Apparently there were still simmering issues bundled up with everyday competitiveness by school boys about girls and turf; the usual spatial dynamics that have been around for a long time. Six high schools were approached and I invited two of my colleagues (Drs Les Vozzo and Debra Costley) to work with me on the project, which was funded by a competitive ‘Living in Harmony’ grant for 2007, managed by the then Department of Immigration and Citizenship (now the Department of Immigration and Border Protection) with a contribution by my university, now Western Sydney University (WSU).

The project began with selecting the age groups to be involved. Year 9 and 10 students (14 to 16 year olds) formed two groups. The first (47 in total) spent a full day at WSU where we discussed the media representation of young people involved in two riots – Macquarie Fields and Cronulla. We were careful to approach the issue as one where the construction of young people was at the heart of the matter and thus to evoke a sense of ‘needing to understand’ different perspectives from and about their own peers. The objective was to explore and document through youth voices the causes of youth tensions in a context of rapid social change. We provided them with workshops on how to interview, carry out focus groups and ethical research practice. We argued that the main concern was to understand racism – whether it was indeed an issue, thoughts about the Cronulla riot and whether another might occur.

At the end of the day’s workshop we all co-constructed five questions (eight teachers included) that would be covered in their research. The students then left and with their teachers developed plans to interview a group of students and teachers at another school after a pilot focus group at their own school and an interview practice with a teacher or two volunteers. They also interviewed community members such as parents and local business owners. Staff workshops were also held.

A second group of students worked with a theatre group led by Kaz Therese on a creative representation of the issues, and also findings from the first group’s investigations. The youth theatre group decided to use a narrative approach so that the students involved could use theatrical forms to narrate stories of migration, indigeneity and everyday teenage concerns, along with a song they developed around the rejection of racism. The production was called ‘Pieces of Harmony’ because the students felt that while harmony was a fair enough aim it was a little naïve, but that in the act of aiming for harmony a rapprochement could be attained in pieces of harmony. The performance was held at the Liverpool Catholic Club and was attended by community, parents and dignitaries with a DVD produced.

What happened to those doing the research? The students were slightly apprehensive; pleased they had got the questions agreed on before leaving the workshop, but feeling intimidated about talking to parents due to cultural mores about respect and obedience among many second generation students. So, we had a mock focus group to prepare them. Students interviewed 301 other students in total across the six schools. Initially they were concerned about going to other schools but the evaluation of the project revealed that collaboration with other schools was the aspect they enjoyed most.

Furthermore, when they were asked about what they had learned, the greatest number of comments related to how doing the research had shifted their thinking about issues of cultural difference, race and harmony. A number had held negative constructions of students from other schools based purely on ethnicity or reputation rather than knowledge of their perspectives. Other interesting results here include the relatively poor perception of parental support for young people. Students were also surprised by some of the attitudes of teachers. The young people involved in the research requested another full day workshop to discuss their findings and asked why there were no more opportunities for this kind of learning. The young people who were involved in the research found some startling facts about others, themselves and their teachers.

Some key community attitudes about young people and the project that emerged from the focus groups led by students were:

  • They felt there was a lot of diversity in their communities;
  • Dominance of a certain culture made others feel inferior to that group;
  • Kept referring back to just ‘youth’ rather than racism – i.e. not their problem in other words;
  • Families had different values and morals;
  • Indigenous parents particularly enjoyed the performances where students told their stories.

From the students’ perspective:

  • The project produced an overall shift in attitude towards students from other schools and cultures developed through an exploration of local and global issues;
  • They concluded that older students had more fixed views influenced by the media;
  • Younger students were less decided. Still testing out the possible ideas available;
  • Concluded that Year 7 and 8 is a good place to start as they haven’t formed opinions or stereotyped people.

The students found that teachers:

  • Held the basic idea that more diversity produces racism and that this is an area that needs some substantial work done with teachers;
  • Lifestyles did not include much mixing with diversity;
  • Were worried about Bebo – site of racist narratives.

To conclude, the outcomes of the project were that people were now more conscious that racism takes many forms and that it is not just young people but community, parents and teachers who are implicated in multiple ways. While this project was related to racism, it is the model of youth engagement in understanding the issues from their perspective and in their words that is central. Working in multimodal forms also makes different forms of expressing these understandings and perspectives available. The project also developed critical thinking capacities and provided knowledge about ethical research practices.

More could be done to make schools safe places for student discussion of current issues. While it may seem counter-intuitive from a conservative perspective – that ‘touchy subjects’ ought to be repressed because they are dangerous – not dealing with valid concerns that young people have, whether radicalization or other matters, means that it is hard to make schools relevant in the totality of their lives. Educationalists must be explaining and debating. It is fertile space for further research and community engagement.


Dr Carol Reid is an associate professor in the Centre for Educational Research and School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia.

There’s more to education than spelling and numbers November 4, 2014

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
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from Associate Professor Sue Roffey

Headlines in newspapers on a recent Monday morning said much of the curriculum review that has been welcomed across Australia. The removal of the four “general capabilities” from the curriculum is a travesty many are yet to recognise.

The four “general capabilities” are personal and social capability, critical and creative thinking, ethical understanding and intercultural understanding. Are thinking and creativity now considered irrelevant for education?

Research suggests these are critical skills for innovation, problem-solving, empathy, evaluation, knowledge application and mental health. These skills are also necessary for the promotion of a democratic society. Young people need to be able to think for themselves and make up their own minds about their values, who they become and what they do.

The reduced focus on personal and social capability also makes little sense.  Relationships are not the soft and fluffy end of education; they are the central plank of how we learn and how well we live our lives. They determine our ability to contribute to both the world of work and society.

Confederation of British Industry director-general John Cridland says that over half of British firms are concerned about the self-management and resilience of school leavers, who must be better prepared for life outside the school gates.

Eton College headmaster Tony Little has expressed concern over the narrowing of the curriculum:

A sharp focus on performance is a good thing, but there is a great deal more to an effective and good education than jostling for position in a league table … Most of us as parents want our children to become capable adults, able to look after themselves and their own families, but we want them to be good citizens, too.

The US Department of Defence funded research leading to the Wingspread Declaration on School Connections, a document highlighting the need for a sense of belonging for effective education.

There is now a raft of Australian and international evidence  for what constitutes authentic well-being for young people and how a focus on student well-being underpins universal learning outcomes, mental health for the vulnerable and pro-social behaviour. Healthy relationships with teachers, families and peers are integral to this.

Many of our young people are not learning the values and skills needed outside of school. Most teachers are doing a great job, despite the pressures on them to focus on test results. The evidence for the benefit of social and emotional learning in the curriculum is overwhelming. In the US a meta-analysis of 213 social and emotional learning programs showed that academic outcomes for participating students had an 11% improvement in academic skills compared to control groups.

It is hardly surprising that some of our most privileged and advantaged schools are taking student well-being – “learning to be” and “learning to live together” – seriously. Prestigious and successful schools such as Geelong Grammar, The Knox School and St Peters in Adelaide have a heavy focus on these attributes.

We need to go beyond the economic, rote-learning mindset, which is singularly concerned with the acquisition and regurgitation of facts. There is great concern that the race to the top in PISA rankings is undermining the education our children and our country really needs. What is the point of top marks in all subjects if you are unable to live a fulfilling life?

And what about valuing all of those children who are never going to be academic stars, but have other things to offer? Don’t they count?

Our education system is about the future of Australia, our democracy, our future mental health and our ability to contribute within our community. Relationships matter, resilience matters. Teachers, researchers and many parents know this, so why don’t the reviewers?

Sue Roffey is an adjunct associate professor in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She is also Chair of Wellbeing Australia and co Lead Convenor of the Student Wellbeing Action Network which is part of the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth. This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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.

A New National Curriculum Framework for Early Childhood: Risks or Opportunity? March 20, 2010

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Education Policy and Politics.
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From Associate Professor Christine Woodrow

The development and implementation of Australia’s first national framework for curriculum and pedagogy in early childhood settings: ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming : The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia” (EYLF), was launched in July 2009 for immediate implementation. This has been a significant early outcome from the Rudd government’s early childhood reform agenda. The development of this framework was perceived by many to present a unique opportunity for the creation of new discourses of early childhood, rich with ‘transformational possibilities’ (Sumsion et al 2009) and the articulation of a vision for the role of early childhood education in promoting social inclusion and equity. The compressed time frame for its development (nine months compared to the six years of development for the New Zealand early childhood curriculum Te Whariki) and the political compromises necessary to achieve quick consensus from the many stakeholders have undoubtedly truncated the opportunities for dialogue about what matters in early years education and limited the conceptual space for the creation of new discourses of early years education and the work of those undertaking its leadership. The account by Sumsion et al (2009) of some of the necessary compromises by the development team and the kinds of challenges to, and erasures from, early versions of the EYLF by risk-averse political gatekeepers provide sobering reading and salutary lessons about the political and contested nature of curriculum. They also provide telling insights into the significant challenges that must be overcome if the early childhood field is to advance robust new images of professional identity and early childhood leadership. For example, the reported institutional resistance to the use of the term ‘pedagogy’, explicitly chosen by the writers to communicate complex ideas involving the centrality of relationships and the importance of intentionality in teaching in early childhood contexts where this is not always visible, together with the censoring and erasure of reference to power relationships in play, could be read as maintaining the hegemony of childhood innocence and developmental frameworks. These frames have not been seen to be empowering to the profession in recent times and a robust critique exists to highlight their dangers in reinforcing care and nurturing dimensions and minimising the intellectual character of early childhood work. Conflicting images of the early childhood professional have emerged during the implementation of the government’s ‘new agenda’, that both constrain and expand possibilities for strengthening professional identities within the field. It is at least encouraging to see politicians locating early childhood provision within a ‘professional discourse’. Arguably, the activation of strong and effective field-based leadership will play a significant role in how these opportunities and challenges ultimately play out. As Osgood (2006), Miller (2008), and others have suggested, early years educators can ‘harness their own agency’ ( 2008: 260) and exert power over their professional identity and positioning to resist the disempowering potentials inherent in many policy discourses.
The new Early Years Learning Framework might be one such avenue for this assertion.

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