Carnegie Education

Not at Home

CollectivED Fellow Daniel Duke tells us how he has adapted through the Covid-19 pandemic and how this time has given him space to think and reflect on Education. 
Like many education professionals, I have been required to adapt in the wake of the COVID19 pandemic and although working from home presented an initial ‘shock to the system’, one thing this time has provided, is the space to think and reflect. 
My personal experience of ‘schooling’ is best described as turbulent and traumatic, this was at a time when the Education Reform Act (1988) introduced the National Curriculum, which brought an initial shift in pedagogy, from the child-centred teaching methods to the efficient delivery of ‘core-subjects’ (Ruotanen, 2001). From an academic perspective, this experience influenced what Dweck (2006) called a “fixed mindset” and a belief of static intelligence, that led to a desire to appear smart but restricted my ability to appreciate failures as opportunities to learn. Claxton and Lucas (2015) express my beliefs perfectly from that time, as it seems that “if you can stay clean and still while you are learning, that is good, so, English and Maths come out on top”, whilst down at the bottom are subjects that I enjoyed and was good at, such as; Design, PE, Woodwork and Metalwork, which are still too often seen as “shamefully reminiscent of old-fashioned trades” (Claxton & Lucas, 2015, p. 51). This early experience of education, in the milieu of a relatively deprived area of a large northern city, also influenced a robust feeling of frustration, due to the evident inequality and social immobility. This experience fundamentally shaped my professional values and influenced my desire to enable and empower others to realise and achieve their own potential, However, my present struggle is the most powerful, best described by Brookfield (1995) as ‘imposter syndrome’, this may be due to the aforementioned perceptions or may be as Reay (2017) emphasises that “we are still educating different social classes for different functions in society”, this leads to what Mycroft (2020) describes as “liminal space” in a “No Man’s Land between my working-class identity and roots and the middle-class circles of academia”.

My current sentiments are that education has the immeasurable potential to empower people, to provide the confidence, knowledge and skills to ensure they have equal opportunities in life, to provide the cultural capital where they can appreciate human creativity and enable them to secure well-paid jobs. However, in a system that facsimiles and sustains a distinct social-class inequality, partly due to governmental policy, such as, funding and budget cuts, the change to eligibility rules for free school meals, the lower thresh hold for universal credit, the overhaul to the Adult Skills Budget, the two-tier system for Higher Education fees and the removal of maintenance grants for low-income students, it is difficult to see how this this onslaught of measures provides fairness for all, in a loaded system that edges the advantage to the already wealthy, whilst constricting disadvantaged into adversity (Ryan, 2018).

As educators, it is habitually noted that ‘Equality’ should be embedded into practice, which addresses economic disadvantage and enables social mobility, to the extent that the teaching staff often receive ‘Equality and Diversity’ training. Though, equality is not the same as equity, and although both encourage fairness, the distinction is important, as equality accomplishes an emancipated justness, where everyone receives an unbiased and equal experience. Conversely, equity requires a more egalitarianism approach, as it accepts that in order to be fair, unequal but proportionate provisions may be required to provide a similar experience (Graham, 2019). Recently I considered how an experiment by Sugata Mitra (2015) demonstrated that providing equity in the form of a computer, which was sunk into the opening of a wall in New Delhi, offered invaluable insight to how groups of children can learn together and accomplish complex tasks via “Minimally Invasive Education” (Mitra, 2015, pp. 254-277). If the design of this experiment had equality in mind then maybe a classroom with multiple computers would have been provided and if equality were the primary consideration, maybe this classroom also would have been equipped with a teacher? Interestingly, we currently face some challenges through the COVID19 pandemic, which has forced education to reconsider it modus operandi. I have recently seen that teachers have incorporated digital technologies into the nucleus to their praxis and they gather to learn in social communities as Lave and Wenger (1991) suggest as a socially engaging activity. Comparatively to Mitra’s ‘Hole in the Wall Project’, learners across the country are currently accessing their learning via digital means, in many cases, without the face-to-face contact of their teachers, sometimes within groups, where they can share their knowledge and understanding in ways that they potentially would not share if knowledge was a physical possession.

It is yet to be seen if this method of ‘learning from home’ can be applied to the diverse subjects or levels of education and be successful in delivering the intended outcomes of learning. However, to ensure equity in these times, some of these teachers and learners have borrowed digital devises from their institutions. Some receive more support and guidance than others and some teachers are being trusted to use their professional judgement to calculate fair grades for their learners, possibly these measures might construct an environment which has the potential for equality? 

Although, there are still a number of concerns to be considered as a barrier to reshaping education, foremost, neoliberal ideology which inevitably brings performativity. I am optimistic that this pause and time to re-evaluate could provide an unprecedented opportunity where we can be what Roche (2020) sumptuously called “the midwives of our own future”, where we provide the support and guidance, whilst we navigate the inevitable pain to nurture a rebirth of what education is. Is education more than an epistemic ‘knowledge building’ activity, or a means to develop ‘skills’ that are useful for employment? As this only makes sense in the context of qualification, socialisation, and subjectification (Biesta, 2016; Prats Monné, 2015; Young, 2015). Additionally, the proposition of what is Education for? requires ongoing re-calculation and can be much more difficult to define. I tend to concur with Abraham & Robinson (2018), as they note that, Education is “for becoming a person, not a worker” but we can only realise this if we reconsider the values of social justice, equality, and inclusion, and only then could bring new ways of engaging our learners, where the curriculum is “meaningful and personalised to foster the development of personal, learning, thinking and employability skills in a safe environment for all” (Duckett, 2020). 

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