The Future of Education: Learning Throughout The Life-course Conference

This year’s conference was hosted by The School of Education and Childhood studies in collaboration with the Higher Education Forum. The conference was organised by Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten and Dr Jessica Gagnon who led a team of academics and administration staff.  It is the sixth annual conference and this year focused on ‘The Future of Education: Learning throughout the Life-course.’ This year over 120 delegates attended the event and lots of participation took place in the form of questions and comments. The event was organised around 4 themes that are central to the work of the department: Mental Health and Wellbeing in Childhood and Education, Childhood and International Development, Education Perspectives, and Inclusion and Diversity. 

Wendy Sims-Schouten and Stephen Corbett begin the conference
Wendy Sims-Schouten and Stephen Corbett begin the conference

The scene for these themes was set by the two keynote speakers, both professors exploring current themes relating to educational and life-course outcomes for future generations. The first speaker was Professor Nigel Thomas, Professor of Childhood and Youth Research in the School of Social Work, Care and Community at the University of Central Lancashire on ’Human Beings Need Something from One Another when they come to places Like Schools’ Participation, Recognition and Wellbeing and Professor Kalwant Bhopal, Education and Social Justice and Bridge Professorial Research Fellow in the Centre for Research in Race and Education, in the School of Education at The University of Birmingham on BME Academic Flight from UK Higher Education. 

Top: Keynote speaker Professor Nigel Thomas. Bottom: Dr Jessica Gagnon introduces keynote speaker Professor Kalwant Bhopal
Top: Keynote speaker Professor Nigel Thomas.
Bottom: Dr Jessica Gagnon introduces keynote speaker Professor Kalwant Bhopal

The keynote speakers raised a number of important issues which generated a whole host of questions to be addressed through future research and collaboration. In particular, Professor Kalwant Bhopal, University of Birmingham, delivered an array of alarming statistics regarding the disadvantages faced by BME students through her research which is linked to the inequalities still experienced by those from BME backgrounds at all levels. In particular, the discrepancies between the number of, not only BME students, but those from other WP groups, who gain access to Oxbridge and Russell Group Universities and the under-representation of BME academic staff across all HEIs (ECU 2015), (HEFCE 2016), (Bhopal 2016), (Independent Schools Council (2016)).

Professor Nigel Thomas delivered his findings from a current research project working in collaboration with various Australian universities and organisations in partnership to look at the link between wellbeing and participation of students. Findings were generally optimistic, but he raised a key point that although students rated ‘having a say’ as particularly important, they need more than ‘just a voice’. That it is important to them that their voice is ‘heard’ by influential people and taken seriously so that they have real choice and influence. Professor Thomas reported that overall, meaningful participation led to recognition and improved student wellbeing.  He also discussed how this would work within the school context and the feeling of threat faced by teachers when pupils are openly invited to participate in what are traditionally adult conversations, should this strategy be implemented (Bingham 2001).  One of the key take home messages being that, “effective participation has a key payoff in enhanced wellbeing.”

Wendy Sims-Schouten and Sylvia Horton are editors of the SECS department's most recent publication: Rethinking Social Issues in Education for the 21st Century - UK Perspectives on International Concerns
Dr. Wendy Sims-Schouten and Dr Angie Dharmaraj- Savicks discussing the departments most recent publication: Rethinking Social Issues in Education for the 21st Century – UK Perspectives on International Concerns, of which Wendy Sims-Schouten and Sylvia Horton are editors.

The conference also introduced new and ongoing research themes within the department including; Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten’s Mental Health in Childhood and Education Hub, Dr Jessica Gagnon’s multiple projects around the themes of Higher Education Experiences: Equity and Inclusion, Dr Francesca Salvi, Dr Angie Dharmaraj-Savicks and Dr Ann Emerson’s Global Education, Childhoods and Outreach, among others.  Important issues and questions were raised that researchers in the department will be working on during the coming year. The conference provides a fantastic opportunity for staff to showcase their work and to meet and listen to academics and practitioners from other universities, colleges and educational organisations.

Rethinking Social Issues in Education for the 21st Century - UK Perspectives on International Concerns. Editors - Wendy Sims-Schouten and Sylvia Horton
Rethinking Social Issues in Education for the 21st Century – UK Perspectives on International Concerns. Editors – Wendy Sims-Schouten and Sylvia Horton

 

References:

Bhopal, K., Brown, H. and Jackson, J (2016) ‘BME academic flight from UK to overseas higher education: aspects of marginalisation and exclusion.’ British Educational Research Journal. 42, 2: 240-257. DOI: 10.1002/berj.3204

Bingham C (2001) Schools of Recognition: Identity Politics and Classroom Practices. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

ECU (2015). Equality in Higher Education: Statistical Report 2015. Part 1: staff. London: ECU.

Funding for higher education in England for 2016-17: HEFCE grant letter from BIS (2016) http://www.hefce.ac.uk/news/newsarchive/2016/Name,107598,en.html

Independent Schools Council (2016) Annual Census Report (2016). Retrieved from: https://www.isc.co.uk/research/annual-census/isc-annual-census-2016/

‘Mental health first aid training’ in schools is a sticking-plaster solution

Dr. Wendy Sims-Schouten’s publication on The Conversation  is a poignant portrayal of the situation surrounding mental health for children, young people, and teachers in education today. The Conversation allows everyone open access to journalistic articles written by academics with expertise in the field. It is a platform where researchers can share current developments, issues and concerns openly and honestly with the general public.

Brain-Plaster

It is clear that, despite the government’s attempts to address the issue of mental health in childhood and education, little progress is being made with reports, such as those from The Children’s Society, suggesting that there have been increases in mental health issues, particularly for girls, for today’s youth culture.

On top of this, teachers – who already report vociferously about the stresses and strains of their workload and the impact this has on their own mental health, will be expected to undertake training and delivery of the proposed strategy to tackle the issue of spotting the signs and stopping the stigma surrounding mental health. So why are teachers being expected to undertake yet another pastoral aspect as a part of their already very challenging role? In this article Dr. Wendy Sims-Schouten also addresses the question of “What happened to professional mental health services?” Through looking at government pledges and actual spending in this category.

Can social media be used as a tool to help improve wellbeing in young people?

We have known for many years now the links between socialising, positive relationships, good health and wellbeing. It is a fundamental part of being human. We need to feel connected to others to feel safe and practice the exploration of self-identity; and never has this connectivity been more accessible than since the invention of the internet. However, this doesn’t come without risks and some are sceptical as to the benefits. They believe that it could put our young people in danger and in the long-run it will do more harm than good. Fears of cyberbullying are of particular concern and a cause for great anxiety among the general public.

social media keyboard

Not for Drs’ Edwards and Wang though; in the following study: Strangers are friends I haven’t met yet: a positive approach to young people’s use of social media, they look more positively at the impact the use of various social media tools can have on young people when used as a way of building and maintaining close relationships. Quantitative data is collected through surveys and analysed to establish how various (8) social media platforms are used in terms of relationship maintenance strategies. However, the findings do not necessarily represent generalisable trends, a much larger scale study would be needed instead, its purpose is to guide subsequent qualitative explorations. Although not focussing specifically on wellbeing, the study suggests that the use of these social media tools by young people is primarily to,

“support and protect those with whom relationships have been carefully established,” and, “to provide them with a challenging space to practice identity and relationship management strategies,”

All of which are vital to protecting wellbeing in a culture where self-identity is managed within an increasingly complex network of social relationships for which online communities can support this process and also a sense of belonging.

socialmedia-teens3

To achieve a positive state of wellbeing young people must feel safe, connected and supported by those around them, especially those who they feel closest to. Prior to common use of the internet and social media, social settings in which this happened were face-to-face in groups or one-to-one. School sites however, can be unnatural settings in which relationships and young peoples’ identities are managed in the context of social hierarchies and sometimes in response to peer pressures. The use of phatic technology, or communications (social) technology used for the purpose of relationship building, via various social media platforms appear to allow young people to do much the same but in an environment where exploring identities feels safer as they are able to gauge the response of their peers before committing themselves to a particular identity and seek out those who are like-minded. The eight various social media platforms in this study appear to be able to provide young people with an online community in which bonding and self-expression may be practiced safely and without fear of judgement, therefore supporting the building of a community which could positively affect the wellbeing on young people in the long-term. However, further studies are required to measure the impact.

Victoria Wang & Simon Edwards (2016) Strangers are friends I haven't met yet: a positive approach to young people's use of social media, Journal of Youth Studies, 19:9, 1204-1219