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May 10, 2017

CES PG Conference 2017: Education in a Changing World Theme

The political, theological, social, economic, cultural and technological landscapes of the world continue to ride the consistent, constant wave of change, which over the past few decades have led to globalisation and much diverse societies, identities and cultural integration.


Globalisation and the European Union

Globalisation was a buzzword back when I first started college in the late 90s / early 2000s and I remember reading reams of papers about this concept in relation to businesses, business computing, the European Union and the European Union agenda that focussed on technological changes within EU member states, the potential negative and positive influence of these changes on business processes (production, marketing, etc) within EU member states, and the integration of processes across EU member states. Much like the concept of the European Union however, Globalisation has its benefits and also its criticisms. Many questions have been asked to what extent wildly differing cultures, economies and societies can really fully integrate and function, and to what extent integration should occur. Even with our neighbouring European countries: whilst we might be geographically neighbours, we differ so widely socially, politically and economically that it’s arguably fair to ask these questions. As I intend on avoiding political engagement with this blog (admittedly given the context of the theme of the conference this has been difficult to avoid when writing this post), it suffices to say that there is no assumption being made that integration is wrong, but questions have to be asked regarding the extent to which integration should be defined, and the limit of which integration should take place. Questions especially have to be asked about globalised economies and the integration of economies: as we have observed with the financial crisis of America and of the EU (yes, it was a global economic crisis, folks), too much integration can bring as many dangers and negatives as there are positives; additionally, the more integration takes place the more that a country is at the mercy of the actions of other countries regardless of what an individual Government does to safeguard a country’s economy. Whether or not globalisation, the EU and so on are viewed as either positive or negative is up to you to decide.


Globalisation, Education, and the Changing World

The theme of this conference therefore, as you can probably imagine, was about Education in a Changing World. The presentations I attended focussed on teacher perceptions of their role and identity; about teaching British values; about theory-practice relationships; about the role of Education in a changing world; and Grounded Theory. All these presentations were extremely interesting and focussed on different aspects of the way in which Education is attempting to deal with an ever changing world, and the way in which individual researchers are engaging with relevant, challenging issues. The presentations enabled reflective and critical engagement not only with their work, but with my work from both Philosophical and Methodological perspectives.


To focus in on a single thread of discussion (far too much can be said for a single blog post!), a function of any Education system is to maintain pace with a continuous evolving world through equipping and enabling citizens with the skills and processes suitable to take an active part in this changing world relative to their ability and capability. The extent to which Education is able to maintain pace with a changing world, the approaches that are used to ensure this pace is kept, and the way in which a changing world is realised and reflected within an Education system is a matter of much debate and, hence, much research and questioning.


As a specific example in relation to a particular presentation, it can be argued that education systems need to be designed for flexibility, adaptability and fluidity and therefore responsive to change, but it’s arguable as to the extent to which this actually happens in the UK. An extremely interesting presentation revolving around the teaching of fundamental British values noted that the term “fundamental” was debatable because it suggests a set of values that should not be questioned. Given that we are a democratic society, should anything be considered fundamental? Does the very definition of fundamentalism go against the definition of a democratic society, in terms of its freedom and choices that it proclaims? Can you really have pure democracy when fundamental principles exist? Is there really such a thing as a pure democracy? Does the fact that we are a democratic society encourage the existence of diversity and integration? Additionally, the idea of a British value or holding what is perceived to be a British value is also debatable, nevermind defining them as being exclusively British. Democracy, for example, is considered a British value but yet there are other democratic societies. Why define it as exclusively British? Another interesting point made in the same presentation, and other presentations referring to teacher identity, was the use of teachers as applications of surveillance: should teachers play a role of observing children and surveying those at risk of being exposed to or expressing terrorist-like characteristics? Who defines what a terrorist-like characteristic is? In what way can these definitions be separated from normal childhood games and behaviour? Would cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers be perceived as terrorist-like characteristics?

Teachers, according to the research presented, generally reject this role because it goes against their perceptions of themselves as teachers and the general identity of being a teacher, which in turn brings about questions regarding what are perceived to be social norms, trends, and psychological mindsets linked to a particular identity. If a teacher perceives their role and identity as a teacher and not some terrorist surveyor they will not accept the idea of observing children for potential terrorist based characteristics. Further, adopting such a role brings about questions of ethics, obligations and morals. Researchers, as an example, have the moral and ethical duty to inform relevant authorities, parents and, in some cases, the children themselves that they are being observed in some way for a research project. Is it therefore moral and ethically correct that teachers might be able to observe without permission? Might it become a definition of the job of teaching? Would you want YOUR child to be observed in such a way without you knowing, in an attempt to ensure that the child observed British values? Where did these British values come from anyway? Who defines them and why? Who is anybody to dictate what defines a British identity, when British countries themselves cannot agree if whether or not they want to be part of a British union?


Considerations of the Research Context


Just writing this blog post from the top of my head (and following a reedit) it’s already reached over a thousand words and I haven’t even scratched the surface of the conference, as for the purpose of this post I’m thinking about a single aspect: the influence of Globalisation on our Education system in a changing world although this actually wasn’t the focus of my presentation but regardless of that, it is an important concept for Ph.D. candidates in Education and researchers in general to consider. When we are thinking about psychological and social processes within the specific contexts of our research practice and designs it is important to think about the wider society outside of our research contexts and the impact politics, society, economy and so on have had on the phenomena of research interest. This is particularly important when engaging with the relationship between theory and practice, and in the way that our developing theories can integrate with practice and provide it with benefits, and in turn the way that observations of practice can integrate with theory (told you integration can be beneficial!)


Summaries


In summary then, the conference itself was absolutely fascinating and has presented me, as you can imagine, with opportunities to reflect and critically engage. It has most certainly been a worthwhile experience attending the conference and every presenter both orally and poster wise made an important contribution and every discussion has been highly valued and is being reflectively and critically engaged with.


In summary of the general theme of this blog post, Globalisation as part of this changing world has introduced benefits, but it is also playing havoc with the Education system in terms of safeguarding and protecting values, norms and customs that are perceived to be British, and in the identity of a teacher. However, it should be asked if there really can be a set of agreed upon British values and customs and the way in which this should be introduced and taught (e.g., criticisms are raised against extreme Islamic teaching: can the same be raised about extreme nationalist teachings? In what way should this be monitored and approved by official standards, and who would define and develop these standards in the first place?). Additionally, it has to be questioned to what extent the benefits and negative aspects of globalisation are actually perceived or actualised, and the extent to which the media and Governments are using globalisation as a cover up for any mishaps that they refuse to take responsibility of.


Regardless, it’s the role of the Education system to keep up with all changes that occur nationally and internationally, but whether or not it is doing this effectively, ethically, and morally and whether or not it’s based more on ideological assumptions rather than practical realities is a matter of continuous debate and much research.


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