Category Archives: Education

Evaluating the idea of ‘underachieving’ ethnic minority pupils

It would seem that the notion of ethnic minorities underachieving is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. If you look at the stats below, with the exception of Gypsy Roma children, ‘white British’ children are outperformed by the majority of ethnic minority groups, and for those groups who lag behind, the difference is small.

It’s also worth noting that for those groups who were drastically underachieving in 2008/09 compared to the national average, have seen rapid improvement in the last five years, especially black Caribbean children. If this trend continues, we could see white children at the bottom of the ethnic league tables by 2020.

 

ethnicity and achievement

What all of this means is that all of that material about teacher Racism  that you have to trawl through in the text books is probably by now mostly irrelevant, except for the fact that you now have to criticise the hell out of it.

The question is now really one of why do most minority students do better.

This brief post from The Guardian is a good starting point to find the answer to this question – in which one London school teacher explains why he thinks London schools with a higher proportion of ethnic minority students tend to do better…

“It comes down to the parents’ influence. Students who’ve arrived as migrants recently are generally coming from a place where education is valued for education’s sake. Where I teach now, in a rural area, we’ve got a very homogenous set of students, all from similar backgrounds – generation after generation quite happily in a steady state where they’re not forced to improve. If you compare that with a parent and children coming over from a country where there isn’t as much opportunity, they do really have to try, and that’s a parent-led ideal that gets fed into the student. I met so many students from African and Asian countries that really wanted to learn.

“But that sort of ambition can have a positive impact on other pupils too. If there’s someone who’s a really enthusiastic learner, it’s a teacher’s job to seize on that opportunity and use it to generate an atmosphere in the classroom, and it does rub off.”

Related Posts 

Explaining differential achievement by ethnicity – the role of cultural factors

Using qualitative data to evaluate how material deprivation effects children in the UK

 

This post follows on from this one – The extent of material deprivation in the UK.

One of the things you need to look at for the AS Education module is the extent to which material deprivation is responsible for educational underachievement. While statistics give you an overview of the extent of poverty, and a little bit of information of the kind of things poor people can’t afford, they don’t give you much a feeling of what it’s like to actually live in poverty.

To get a feeling for day to day challenges of living in poverty you need more qualitative sources, and ‘thankfully’ we are blessed with a number of recent documentaries which look at the experience of living with material deprivation in the UK.

Watch the documentary sources below and then answer the questions/ contribute to the discussions below. The videos have all been selected because they focus on material deprivation and education in some way.

Source One – Poor Kids (BBC – 2011) – Mainly focusing on younger children

 

Growing up Poor (2013) – Focusing on three teenage girls – ‘caught between poverty and an uncertain future’

 

Poverty – Britain’s Hungry Children (Channel 4 Report, 2013) – Cites research drawn from 2500 food diaries kept by children in the UK – Some of whom live on less than half of the recommended calories. Also highlights the importance of lunch clubs to feed hungry children.

Finally watch this video – This shows you a case study of one girl from a poor background who actually made it into the best school in the area, against the odds. It’s a bit slow, but later on it gives an insight into the struggle her mum faces to raise enough cash to meet the ‘hidden costs’ of education (she has to resort to a ‘pay day loan’).

 

Questions/ tasks for discussion:

Q1: Draw an ‘ageline’ (like a timeline, I may have just invented the word) showing how material deprivation affects 3 year olds to 18 year olds in different ways.

Q2: From a broadly Marxist Perspective, the effects of material deprivation on children are structural, or objective if you like. Being brought up in poverty and having a poorer diet, and living in lower quality housing effectively cause poor children to do less well in education. This means that, all other (non material) things being equal (same school, same intelligence, same motivation etc) a poor kid will always do worse than a rich kid. Do you agree? Be prepared to explain your answer.

The extent of material deprivation in the UK (teaching tech test)

One of the things you have to consider as part of the Education module in AS Sociology is the extent to which material deprivation is responsible for differential educational achievement (mainly) by social class. This concept is also relevant to the A2 crime module, and one of the most important in Sociology in general, so it’s worth a post (and an opportunity to mess around with some new-to-me online learning software called Wallwisher).

Material deprivation* refers to the inability to afford basic resources and services such as sufficient food and heating. The government’s material deprivation rate measures the proportion of the population that cannot afford at least four of the following items:

  1. To pay their rent, mortgage, utility bills or loan repayments,
  2. To keep their home adequately warm,
  3. To face unexpected financial expenses,
  4. To eat meat or protein regularly,
  5. To go on holiday for a week once a year,
  6. A television set,
  7. A washing machine,
  8. A car,
  9. A telephone.

As can be seen from the statistics below, the number of people suffering from ‘severe’ material deprivation has remained stable in recent years, but the numbers of people struggling to pay for holidays and meet emergency expenses has increased. Percentage of population unable to afford items, UK 2005-2011

I thought it might be interesting to see the extent of material deprivation among students/ readers (NB this is just a test poll for now!)

Question – Suggest one way in which material deprivation may have a negative impact on educational achievement

You might find it easier to click on this link and visit the web page direct

Something Extra… *A fuller definition is provided by the The OECD which defines Material deprivation as ‘the inability for individuals or households to afford those consumption goods and activities that are typical in a society at a given point in time, irrespective of people’s preferences with respect to these items.’ It’s work noting at this point that this is a relative rather than an absolute measurement of poverty.

Gender and Education – Evaluating the Role of Out of School Factors (draft one)

One of the out of school factors which could explain why girls do better than boys in education is that girls have higher aspirations than boys.  Here’s some recent research which supports this while also suggesting that the relationship between gender and aspiration is also strongly influenced by social class background.

The data below’s taken from  The British Household Panel Survey and is based on a sample of nearly 5000 10-15 year olds. This research found (among other things!) that that boys are less likely than girls to aspire to go to college / university across all ethnic groups. The numbers are especially divergent for the white ethnic group – 57% (boys) and 74% (girls).

Gender and aspiration

However, when you break things down by social class background (NB this is analysis!) things look more differentiated – Basically, boys from professional class backgrounds aspire to university, but those from all other social class backgrounds generally do not, while girls from all social class backgrounds seem to aspire to go to university.

gender class and aspiration

To put it bluntly (OK crudely) what these statistical comparisons suggest is that working class boys don’t generally aspire to go to university, whereas working class girls do.

Strengths of this data

Nice easy comparisons – As evidenced in the perty charts.

You can use it as broad supporting evidence of girls aspirations being higher than boys, with an ‘analysis twist’

Limitations of this data 

Of course the above statistics (this is a classic limitation of quantitative data) tell you nothing about why working class boys but not working class girls do not aspire to go to university. It could be due to parental attitudes filtering down differently to girls than boys, or it may be other factors which have nothing to do with socialisation. These stats don’t actually tell us!

Questions for discussion 

  • Summarize the relationship between social class, gender and educational aspiration
  • Suggest one reason for the above relationship

Extension Question – This information was relatively easy to find, it’s quite easy to understand, directly relevant to the AS Sociology syllabus and gives you some easy analysis points – how many of the new (forthcoming) AS text books would you expect to find this information in?

 

 

Evaluating the Functionalist Perspective on Education

Back to A level Sociology mode for a while… Thought I’d gift this to the A level community out there….My latest experiment in ‘evidence-based evaluative bombardment’.

What does selected evidence suggest about the relevance of the Functionalist view of education today?

Before you read the material below, make sure you have a clear understanding of the Functionalist perspective on education – You should have notes, organised into at least four points which Functionalists make about the role of education in society. Once you have a clear understanding of the theory, then read/ watch the material below and annotate your notes, linking each piece of evidence to a particular aspect of the Functionalist theory of education, stating whether the evidence supports or critics that particular aspect of the theory (of course, some of the evidence might be ambiguous). You could also comment on how valid the evidence is, and suggest further evidence which you think is more valid to either support or refute Functionalism.

Firstly Cross National Comparisons suggest support for the Functionalist view that formal education and qualifications are functionally advantageous for society as a whole as they are correlated with a more developed society.

This hub site of statistics from UNESCO clearly demonstrates that there is a relationship between improved education, higher skilled jobs and economic growth. In the most developed countries such as those in Northern Europe children spend more than a decade in full time education, with the majority achieving level three qualifications (A level or equivalent) while huge numbers of children in Sub-Saharan Africa receive only a basic primary or  secondary education, with actual enrolement figures in school much lower, and only a few going on to level three education or level four (university level).

You can use Google Public Data to compare a range of Education Indicators across a number of countries

Of course as a counter-criticism, it’s worth keeping in mind that correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation in every country. 

Secondly Exclusion statistics suggest that the education system doesn’t act as an effective agent of secondary socialisation for every child, although the numbers of exlcusions are small, with only 4% of pupils being given a fixed term exlusion and less than 0.1% being permanently exluded. However, some types of student are much more likely to be excluded – boys are three times more likely than girls, FSM students 4 times more likely than non FSM and black caribbean and mixed white and black caribbean 3 times more likely than the figures as a whole, suggesting that school works better for some types of student than others, which is something Functionalists do not consider.

Thirdly, backing up the above point, Statistics on persistent absenteeism show that slightly more pupils are routinely absent from school, with about 6 % of pupils missing more than 15% of school in any one term – however, the numbers are much higher for special schools and again for boys and FSM students.

Fourthly, Employment statistics from the ONS demonstrate a strong correlation between educational level,  employment skill level and income – those with GCSEs earn 20% more than those without GCSEs and those with degrees earn about 85% more than those with only GCSEs. This set of statistics from The Poverty Site further demonsrates that those with poor GCSCEs/ no qualifications are approximately five times more likely to either be unemployed or in low paid-work (less than £7/ hour) compared to those with degrees. This demonstrates at least partial support for the theory or Role Allocation – the higher your qualification, the better paid job you get (although this says nothing about whether this is meritocratic).

Fifthly, and criticising the view that schools are meritocratic, A recent Longitudinal Study found: ‘three years after graduation, those from more advantaged socio-economic backgrounds and those who attended private schools are more likely to be in the ‘top jobs’….

‘This research shows that even if we compare students from the same institution type, taking the same subjects and with the same degree class, socioeconomic status and private schooling still affects an individual’s chance of securing a top job,’ the report concluded.

‘An individual who has a parent who is a manager and who attended a private school is around 7 percentage points more likely to enter  the highest status occupations. Male graduates from a managerial background who attended a private school are around 10 percentage points more likely to enter the highest status occupations.

But academics do not know whether the advantage given to private school pupils is simply the ‘old boys’ network’ or whether they learn better social skills so appear more confident in job interviews.

‘Our results indicate a persistent advantage from having attended a private school. This raises questions about whether the advantage that private school graduates have is because they are better socially or academically prepared, have better networks or make different occupational choices.’

Qualitative Sources

The recent BBC documentary ‘Who Gets the Best Jobs’ uses interviews with graduates, employees and experts  and explores the reasons why wealthy and connected graduates get the best jobs and why poorer graduates lose out, suggesting our system is not meritocratic.

This TED talk by Ken Robinson (An RSA animated video of a talk) – Offers several criticisms of the contemporary education system –  you could loosley call this a post-modern/ late modern criticism of the role of modernist education, which also criticeses the Functionalist paradigm that school performs positive functions.

In short, Robinson argues that modern education lets most kids down in the following ways –

  1. It stifles their creativity by focussing too much on academic education and standardised testing – kids are taught that there is one answer and it’s at the back, rather than being taught to think divergently.
  2. It tests individual ability rather than your ability to work collaboratively in groups (which you would do in the real world).
  3. Lessons are dull – out of touch with children who are living in the most information rich age in history.
  4. It medicates thousands of kids with Ritalin – which Robinson sees as the wrong response to kids with ADHD – we should be stimulating them in divergent ways.

Tasks/ Questions

Read and watch all of the above material and match the evidence to specific points which Functionalists make about the role of education in society.

 
Make a contribution to the wordgarden below : – You can include concepts or evidence, keep it brief! (http://answergarden.ch/view/139674)

Arguments and Evidence for the Functionalist Perspective on the Role of Education in Society

SupportingEvidenceFor The Functionalist Perspective on Education… at AnswerGarden.ch.

And the following: (http://answergarden.ch/view/139675)

Arguments and Evidence Against the Functionalist View of the Role of Education in Society

Arguments/ Evidence against The Functionalist Perspective on Edu… at AnswerGarden.ch.

Related Posts

A2 Functionalist Theory – Class Notes

The truancy map of England and Wales (infographics evaluation)

A new blog-theme I’m getting into  – A critical look at infographics – Mostly going to focus on education for the coming months…

In 2012 Simon Rogers from The Guardian put together this Interactive truancy map of England and Wales which was constructed by ‘mashing together’ two data sets from the Department for Education: truancy figures and numbers of penalty notices issued to parents and carers.

Truancy in England map

(NB – The still doesn’t do it justice, click on the links above to get the full utility)

 What I like about this infographic

  • It’s representative – It appears to show data from all 152 LEAs in England and all 32 in wales.

  • The Trauncy data is clearly labelled – Total percent of persistent absentees 2010/11

  • It’s very easy to compare across LEAs – given that we are given the percentages and these are clearly colour coded.

  • You get a lot more detail when you hover over each area, including the option to download the data as a fusion table.

What could be improved

  • I’m not sure when the data for penalty notices was collected

  • The graphic doesn’t allow you to see changes in truancy rates over time.

  • The infograph doesn’t allow you to easily see if there is a correlation between penalty notices issued and truancy rates, and in any case, IF the years are the same this would probably be conincidental anway.

  • The infograph begs you to do more with slighlty different data to explore the above relationship – what you would need to do this is to include truancy data from previous years (or now later years) and show the percentage change year on year, and then compare this to the number of and type of penalty notices issued over time. Of course this alone wouldn’t allow you to attribute anything like causation.

  • It would also be informative to be able to compare these truancy rates to other local variables – the most obvious one being deprivation (FSM) indicators.

A few thoughts on ICT, digital media and stratification in education

In its recent report, OFCOM describe young people as prolific users of digital media, with the vast majority of young people perceiving digital technologies in highly positive ways, and approximately 25% reporting that they see ICT as the key to their future career. (OFCOM 2013, see also Logicalis 2013).

This widespread enthusiastic adoption of digital technologies is met by equally enthusiastic encouragement by business leaders, many of whom voice optimism that such technologies can help maintain UK economic competitiveness in the global knowledge economy. Gantz and Reinsel (2012) for example note that CIOs, data scientists and digital entrepreneurs already know that there is huge, untapped potential in the rapidly expanding collection of digital bits, although this will require the tagging and analysing of big data if this is to be realised, while Lent (2102) suggests the long established blurring between consumption and production is accelerated by the web which opens up new capacities for self-generated value, pointing to a new entrepreneurial spirit amongst today’s younger generation, which should be embraced.

This optimism seems to be mirrored by the DFES1 which has an overwhelmingly positive view of the future role of ICT in schools and colleges, noting that it has transformed other sectors, and that pupils need ICT to equip them with future-work skills. In DFES literature, ICT seems to be presented as a neutral set of technologies through which individual students can be empowered, with emphasis on the benefits such technology can bring to schools, such as more personalised learning, better feedback, a richer resource base and the possibility of extending the learning day.

Following Ball (2013) this optimistic tone surrounding ICT fits with the neoliberal reorientation to economic global competitiveness as part of a global flow of policy based around a shift towards a knowledge based high skills economy, and in terms of broader (‘classic’) sociological theory these optimistic voices correspond to the largely optimistic theories of disembedded individualisation (following Dawson 2012) originally advanced by Giddens and Beck in early 1990s, in that digital technology is constructed as something which can enhance the capacity for young people to employ agency and craft innovative transitional choice-biographies (Giddens, 1991, p5, Beck 1992, p135-6). If there is any truth in this, we should, over the next few years, see several hundreds of thousands of young digital entrepreneurs engaging in cyber-reflexivity and creating innovative online solutions to the systemic problem of decreasing youth employment opportunities, irrespective of their class-location (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 2002, p39).

There are, however, several factors which suggest that this vision of the (dismebedded) individualised cyber-reflexive entrepreneurial future is either naive or ideological. Firstly, the extent to which today’s so called ‘digital natives’2 are genuinely innovative digital entrepreneurs rather than simply being ambivalent-consumers of digital products remains unclear3; secondly, cyberspace is far from a neutral arena, in reality I think it is more accurate to view it as a field of action in which the type of agency employed (e.g. whether productive/ entrepreneurial or banal/ consumptive) will be influenced by factors such as cultural capital and social networks; thirdly, this vision overplays the actual opportunities available for using digital media as a route to career success or self-employment – for example little mention is given to the problematic fact that millions of young people in Asia will be entering the ‘flat’ digital-labour market in the coming decade, able to survive off much lower returns than their UK competitors; fourthly, there seems to little interest in operationalising what kind of opportunities will be opening up for digital entrepreneurs in the future – there may well be hundreds of thousands more 20-somethings with their own digital-companies by 2020, but it is uncertain what side of the high skills low skills informational economy (referred to by Apple 2012) the majority of tomorrow’s digital workforce will find themselves; and finally there is the possibility that this is the latest discourse innovation in the denigration of teachers and state education through constructing technologically reticent staff as a barrier to progress, as well as paving the way for further privatisation with the forthcoming renewal of the ICT curriculum being fully endorsed and part-authored by Google, Microsoft, and IBM4.

It is also the case that I see little evidence of digital innovation in my mundane workaday reality – instead what I mainly see is digital-addiction, banal banter, and browsing for shoes, with today’s digital youth seeming largely content to construct themselves through digital-consumption and self-expression. Many of today’s students attach huge significance to such aspects of their lives (browsing for clothes and shoes is a favoured activity in tutorial, as are discussions about the post-exam trip to Malia, photos from the previous year’s trips being standard as social networking profile pictures). It is also apparent that the mobile devices through which many young people access online culture are themselves fetish-objects, central to young people’s experience of being themselves (as researched by Jotham 2012), that young people generally remain uninterested or unable to engage with the more technical aspects of these technologies5 which might actually equip them with the skills to be digitally-entrepreneurial, and that mobile devices link young people to heavily commodified space (Bolin 2012) which connects users directly to corporate (read neoliberal) protocols (Snickars and Vonderau, 2012).

It follows that youth engagement with digital media seems much more likely to centre around what Kenway and Bullen (2008) call the corporate curriculum (2008) which normalises the libidinal economy, a hyperreal realm of carnivalesque jouissance fuelled by desires based on values associated with lifestyle commodity aesthetics rather than the work ethic or responsibility, with any sense of ‘digital entrepreneurship’ being limited to the self-conscious commodification of the self through personal branding via social networking sites (Marwick 2011).

I also think that many students struggle as a result of what Bauman (2013a, 2013b) refers to as the pointillist experience of time online… ‘marked as much by the profusion of ruptures and discontinuities…. more prominent for its inconsistency and lack of cohesion than for its elements of continuity and consistency…. broken up, or even pulverized, into a multitude of ‘eternal instants’. This concept has been developed by Niehaus (2012), exploring what he calls ‘iTime’, describing this experience as being structured by an addictive hunt for frissons, short instants of excitement and pleasure; with each moment ever-more packed with contents, references, and tasks which taken together are likely to take precedence over the linear, single-minded time of one activity.’ This process is likely to be accelerated through multitasking, through which 16-24 year olds manage to squeeze in the equivalent of 9 hours and 30 minutes of data consumption per day (as noted by Davis 2013).

According to Bauman (2013b), those young people who are distracted by pointillism and the jouissance of the corporate curriculum, engaged in what he would call ‘banal’ cyber-reflexivity, are afflicted with a ‘fatal coincidence of the compulsion/ addiction of choosing with the inability to choose’, and if Bauman is correct, those who are more engaged with such aspects of digital media are probably less-likely to have thought about their long-term futures, and be less able to construct the kind of entrepreneurial ‘choice’-biographies that DFES champion (Bauman, 2012).

While there is a lack of critical research available on the use of digital media in an educational context (as Selwyn 2014 notes), there is some evidence that higher levels of ‘social’ use of digital technologies could be correlated with lower levels of engagement  with educational opportunities. Fisher’s (2009) personal experience of teaching in an FE college was that FE students who were heavy users of communications technologies were more likely to get bored of standard, offline lessons, Junco (2011) has theorised that the negative correlation between the frequency of posting updates on Facebook and final GPA could have been due to due to cognitive overload, given that the former variable was not negatively correlated with time spent engaged in college work, while Hall and Baym’s (2012) analysis of mobile maintenance expectations uncovered that once established mobile technologies can encourage high levels of ‘mundane maintenance’ to meet communicative obligations within a friendship group.

Possible avenues for research….

There’s definitely scope for further research to examine the extent to which student use of digital technology6 encourages the production neoliberal subjectivties, and the scope for and meaning of resistance to such subjectivities. One possible avenue might be to look at the extent of ‘digital entrepreneurship’ (for example, ability to code and create software or use software to generate innovative products) compared to other more common uses of digital media (such as information-seeking, maintaining social networks and game-playing).

My own feeling is that it would be useful to employ Bauman’s theoretical framework7 to explore the extent to which different forms of (socially embedded) digital-reflexivities stratify young people into (different types of) digital-producers and digital-consumers, although there is potential for this to be a ‘sociology of education’ type study, which might usefully draw on the theoretical work of Bordieu, exploring how digital reflexivities are embedded in social networks and influenced by cultural capital, and how these reflexivities influence students’ ability to meet the performative demands of further education.

 Works cited

Apple,M (2010) Global crises, social justice and education, Routledge: New York.

Ball, S (2013) The education debate, Kindle Edition.

Bauman, Z (2013a) Dividing time, or Love’s Labour’s Lost, Thesis Eleven 2013 118: 3

Bauman, Z (2013b)  The art of life, Kindle Edition (originally published 2008).

Bauman, Z (2012) On education: Conversations with Riccardo Mazzeo, Polity Press: Cambridge.

Beck, U (1992) Risk society: towards a new modernity, Sage: London.

Beck, U and Beck-Gernsheim, E (2002) Individualisation, Sage: London.

Bolin, G (2012) Personal media in the digital economy, in Snickars, P and Vonderau, P (2012) Moving data: The iphone and the future of media, Columbia University Press: New York.

Davis, M (2013) Hurried lives: Dialectics of time and technology in liquid modernity. Thesis Eleven 118:7.

Dawson, M (2012) Reviewing the critique of individualization: The disembedded and embedded theses. Acta Sociologica 55: 305.

Fischer, M (2009) Capitalist realism: Is there no alternative? Kindle Edition.

Gantz, J and Reinsel, D (2012) The digital universe in 2020: Big data, bigger digital shadows, and biggest growth in the far east, IDC. (Accessed online January 25/ 2014 – http://www.emc.com/leadership/digital-universe/iview/index.htm).

Giddens, A (1991) Modernity and self identity: Self and society in the late modern age, Polity: Cambridge.

Hall, J and Baym, N (2012) Calling and texting (too much): Mobile maintenance expectations, (over)dependence, entrapment, and friendship satisfaction. New Media and Society 2012 14: 316.

Jotham, V (2012) iSpace? Identitiy and space – A visual ethnography with young people and mobile phone technologies. PhD Thesis, University of Manchester, Faculty of Humanities.

Junco, R (2011) Too much face and not enough books: The relationship between multiple indicies of Facebook use and academic performance. Computers in Human Behaviour, 28: 1 (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563211001932, accessed 24/01/ 2014).

Kenway, J & Bullen, E (2008) ‘The global corporate curriculum and the young cyberflaneur as global citizen’ in Dolby, N & Rizvi, F (eds.) Youth moves – Identities and education in global perspectives, Routledge, New York.

Lent, A (2012) Generation enterprise: The hope for a brighter economic future, the RSA. (http://www.thersa.org/action-research-centre/enterprise-and-design/enterprise/enterprise/generation-enterprise, accessed 25/ 01/2014.)

Livingstone, S (2008) Taking risky opportunities in youthful content creation: teenagers’ use of social networking sites for intimacy, privacy and self-expression, New Media and Society, 10: 293.

Logicalis (2013) Realtime generation (http://www.uk.logicalis.com/knowledge-share/reports/real-time-generation-2013/, accessed 22/01/ 2014).

Marwick, A (2011) I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience, New Media and Society, 13: 114.

Niehaus, N (2012) Whenever you are, be sometime else’. A philosophical analysis of smartphone time (https://www.academia.edu/3664754/Whenever_you_are_be_sometime_else._A_philosophical_analysis_of_smartphone_time, accessed 22/ 01/ 2014).

Selwyn (2014) Making sense of young people, Education and digitial technology: The role of sociological theory. Oxford Review of Education 38:1.

1http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/a00201823/digital-technology-in-schools accessed 16/01/2104, updated 18 October 2013

2Despite the fact that recent research by the Open University suggests the concept bears no relation to empirical reality, the DFES and business analysts still seem all too willing to use it.

3 In my own college, reporting of 60+ hours a week use of digital-media is not uncommon, but the majority seem to simply use digital media for communication with significant-peers, entertainment or consumer-related information-seeking purposes, and thus it seems likely that most 16-19 year olds are currently more accurately characterised as digital-consumers rather than genuinely innovative digital-producers/ or a range of diverse prosumer hybrids.

4https://www.gov.uk/government/news/harmful-ict-curriculum-set-to-be-dropped-to-make-way-for-rigorous-computer-science DFES 11/01/2012, accessed 16/01/2013

5for example, Livingstone (2008) reported that teenage users of a variety of social networking sites were unsure of what aspects of their profiles were private, which requires a ‘deeper’ level of technical awareness than that required to maintain a profile, but in itself is hardly a ‘deep’ level of technical knowledge.

6I use the term broadly at this stage, although I realise I may need to limit the study to certain types of digital-engagement.

7If that’s even possible given his love of ambivalence?

Pointillist Time, Blase Attitudes and Anomic Melancholy – why today’s students struggle to see the relevance of education

 

Zygmunt Bauman: Liquid modern challenges to education. Lecture given at the coimbra group annual conference – Padova, 26 may 2011

This lecture mostly focusses on outlining the ways in which young people today experience life in a profoundly different way to previous generations, and how this experience is inseperable from consumer culture and hyperculture. The specific implications for educators are left almost wholly untouched, so I’ve drawn my own conclusions along the way (getting individuals to do just this – for themselves – is, I imagine, one of the intentions behind Bauman’s ambivalence). On final analysis, I think the point Bauman is trying to make is that an educational paradigm rooted in a ‘linear notion of preparing students for the future’ is completely out of sync with the way in which young people experience the world via a consumer oriented hyperculture. Towards the end of the lecture, Bauman also questionswhether the decision to go to university is a rational one, given the insecurities in the labour market which may well limit students actual life-chances in the future.

As I said above, and I say it again for emphasis in case anyone wants to read it, despite the title this is really a lecture on ‘what the experience of living in a hyperreal consumer culture is like’ (worth a read for its own sake), and it doesn’t start to focus in on (the seeming pointlessness) of education until the final section.

What’s offered below is my summary and interpretation of Bauman’s ideas about the basic characteristics of the experience of life in a liquid modern (consumer oriented, hyperreal culture). My own contributions are mainly twofold – Firstly, I’ve added in a few illustrations to make this material less abstract, and secondly I’ve added in some thoughts on how this experience might be at odds with the way students experience education today (which is what I thought the lecture would’ve been about in the first place!). I will add in critique later, for now I’m exploring the utility of Bauman’s analytical framework by ‘rollling with him’. (And wierdly I’m actually quite enjoying the experience.). This is very much explorative, and drawn from my own experience of teaching for 16-19s for 12 years. (Only 27 years to go…. roll on that lottery win).

This post is just my initial summary of the lecture, more detail to follow in future posts…

Young people today grow up in a liquid-modern, consumer-oriented, hyperculture which encourages the following –

1. An experience of time as  ‘pointillist’ – in which every moment is pregnant with infinite possibilities, although most of these possibilities remain unrealised. Pointillist time is the experience of many things going on at the same time, and one in which ‘now’ matters more than the future, because ‘if you miss it it’s gone’.

2. The anomic feeling of drowning in an information deluge, in which individuals are bombarded with too much information and have to deselect the majority of information, but lack the capacity to make decisions about which information is most worthy of attention (not least of all because of the pressure to make decisions quickly, meaning there is little time for reflection).

3. A ‘disposable attitude‘ to the products and experiences consumed: life appears as something which is about consuming and disposing, experiencing and forgetting, and all at a forever quickening pace.

At the emotional-intentional level, consumer culture accelerated via hyperculture, tends to lead to a blase and/ or melancholic experience of life. Blase in the sense that commitment to anything seems irrational when continued happiness rests on the ability to forget and move on to the next experience, and melancholic because although hyperculture is pregnant with possibilities, most of these possiblities are never realised. As far as I can see this experienc is also anomic, characterised by both an anxious uncertainty and a gnawing disaffection. (There may be a reason why Bauman doesn’t actually use the word anomie, but unless I’m mistaken, this is basically what he’s driving at.)

Bauman does not say it explicitly, but it is relatively easy to see that the experience of young people, socialised into an anxious, nowist orientation to time, a blase, disposable attitude towards consumption, all underscored by a melancholic/ anomic uncertainty about what it is that they should actually be doing is completely out of sync with many aspects of today’s standard, educational paradigm which asks students to defer gratification and make a long-term commitment to the progressive accumulation of knowledge and skills that will be useful to a future life, which this paradigm further seems to mistakenly assume will also involve some level of life-world security (an experience which is alien to today’s youth).

Bauman finishes off his lecture by delivering a final kick in the teeth to education’s relevance to today’s students: given the relentless downgrading of grades it is far from certain that a university degree you will lead to a well-paying job at the end*, it could actually be the case that today, that if your goal is a good salary and a (relatively) stable career, non-graduates have as much chance of achieving these things as graduates.

(*although this does not apply to the wealthy who can afford to attend the very best universities and have a greater capacity to network their way into the best jobs.)

NB – There are plenty of other threads in this lecture, and the related lectures, to pick up on… this is just one, elaborated on by me!

More detailed summary to follow. Just one question in the meantime… If all of this is actually true – what an earth are we doing as educators? My own prefered strategey right now, is to go buy cake and just try not to think about it, it’s just a question of figuring out what cake?

Related Links

The Bauman Institute - Liquid Modern Challenges to Education (another version of the talk)

Liquid Modern Challenges to Education – Journal Article

The Decline of Religious Education in British Schools

A recent OFSTED report – Religious Education: Realising the Potential - highlights the declining* provision and standards of R.E. in schools.

R.E, or Philosophy and Ethics as it is sometimes called, is just about the only subject where students are given the opportunity to learn about and discuss the beliefs held by students from different cultural backgrounds. In fact, gien the extent of cultural segregation in the U.K, these lessons may be the only opportunity children have to do this. There are also other benefits of PhE – such as encouraging students to think critically about ‘deep’ questions such as the nature of the self, death and dying, and the meaning of life in general. These lessons potentially provide a space in which students can develop both critical reasoning skills and pause for ‘deep reflective meditation’ (O.K. I know the later sounds unlikely – but trust me, it does occur in some schools!.

While recognising that the past 10 years have seen some improvements in RE in schools, evidence from the majority of schools visited for this survey shows that the subject’s potential is still not being realised fully, and notes the following, based on a sample of 90 schools.

Key findings

  • Weaknesses in provision for RE meant that too many pupils were leaving school with low levels of subject knowledge and understanding.
  • Achievement and teaching in RE in the 90 primary schools visited were less than good in six in 10 schools.
  • Most of the GCSE teaching seen failed to secure the core aim of the examination specifications: that is, to enable pupils ‘to adopt an enquiring, critical and reflective approach to the study of religion’.
  • The provision made for GCSE in the majority of the secondary schools surveyed failed to provide enough curriculum time for pupils to extend and deepen their learning sufficiently.
  • The teaching of RE in primary schools was not good enough because of weaknesses in teachers’ understanding of the subject, a lack of emphasis on subject knowledge, poor and fragmented curriculum planning, very weak assessment, ineffective monitoring and teachers’ limited access to effective training.  The way in which RE was provided in many of the primary schools visited had the effect of isolating the subject from the rest of the curriculum.

Why the decline in Religious Education?

In a recent Radio 4 programme which discussed the report,  the folllowing reasons were given for the decline of Religious Education….

  1. Changes in the way school performance is measured means that R.E. has been marginalised (given fewer resources, been ‘understaffed’ and actually had the amount of hours spent on it cut down) – This is because i) R.E. does not make up part of the new Ebacc and ii) short courses, which is how R.E. used to be taught in many schools, no longer count towards league table position.
  2. Academisation – 50% of secondary schools are now academies, which are outside of local authority control, which is the body responsible for ensuring R.E. provision. These new academies have more freedom to make the changes in no.1 above.

All in all this is another depressing example of the negative consequences of Marketisation on education – In a bid to get ahead in the League Tables, schools narrow their curriculms, cutting out humanistic subejcts that aim to develop rounded human beings.

It’s also a good example of how instutions both act in an ‘individualised’ way and encourage individualisation – each school is isolated in the league tables and strives to get ahead of every other school. In order to so this it cuts out those subjects such as R.E. which may encourage genuine values of citizenship and responsibility, leaving schools which focus more and more around fostering individualised competitive students.

*When I say decline, I mean decline relative to other subjects!

 

C.V. building – another individualised ‘solution’ to systemic contradictions

As part of our college tutorial programme I was recently required to show my students this ‘monster guide to writing a C.V.’

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I’ve been reading way to much Bauman recently to not subject this to some Baumanesque analysis, and from this perspective, writing a C.V. appears as a strategy for ‘middling people’ to avoid becoming ‘surplus people’ (or ‘waste’ to use another of Bauman’s terms).

A summary of the Advice in the Monster C.V. video with Baumanesque commentary

1. The purpose of the CV – ‘Your CV should tell a propsective employer why you’re the ideal canditate to invest time and money in….Essentially it’s a sale’s brochure, pinpointing the unique selling points which make you stand out from the crowd’

This is a nice illustration of how individuals have to turn themselves into commodoties, and market themselves. Bauman says in Consuming Life: ‘People today are…. ‘enticed, nudged or forced to promote an attractive and desirable commodity, and so to try as hard as they can, and using the best means at their disposal, to enhance the market value of the goods they sell. And the commodity they are prompted to put on the market, promote and sell are themselves. The activity in which all of them are engaged (whether by choice, necessity, or most commonly both) is marketing. The test they need to pass in order to be admitted to the social prizes they covet demands them to recast themselves as commodities: that is, as products capable of catching the attention and attracting demand and customers’. (who in this case are the employers.)

2. The content of the C.V. – ‘Your contact details so a prospective employer can contact you immediately; a paragraph that captures the attention of your reader and entices them to find out more about you, but don’t cram this with too much information; a bullet-pointed list of your work experience and qualifications so that an employer can match your skills to those of the job specification; your ‘key skills’ such as IT packages you’ve used, and the level you’ve achieved.’

This is a supreme example of the process of Individualisation – In Liquid Modernity, Bauman defines the process of Individualisation as follows…. how one lives today becomes a biographical solution to system contradictions – risks and contradictions go on being socially produced; it is just the duty and the necessity to cope with them which are being individualised. He goes on to say that we…. ‘are now expected to find individual solutions to our problems ….. gone is the ideal of the just society. No longer are we to solve our problems collectively through Politics (with a capital P) but it is put upon us to look to ourselves.’

3. A final word of warning – ‘Spelling and typographical erroz (lol!) – any errors are your responsibility and are one of the first things employers use to weed out weaker candidates.’

The above two process go on in a culture of fear and anxiety – To quote Bauman (LM) ‘The modernising impulse means the compulsive critique of reality, and the privatisation of that impluse means compulsive self-critique, and perpetual self-disafection. It means that we look harder and harder at how I can improve myself.’ In another section of LM – ‘Individualisation consists of charging actors with the responsibility for performing that task and for the consequences (also the side effects) of their actions.’ – If we fail in this system it is because of our poor spelling

Of course what the C.V. doesn’t remind us of are the systemic contradictions that make C.V. writing a necessity for anyone wishing to play the game of climbing the career ladder…

For such a reminder, we can again turn to Bauman – who reminds us that society is still ‘obsessed with modernising, with creative destruction… but in its liquid modern phase the drive to privatisation and deregualation have lead to even more phasing out, cutting out, merging, downsizing and dismantling’…. Today Capital moves from place to place, enterprise to enterprise, quicker than ever, and this means that capital is freer than ever to pick and choose its labour force from any part of the world…. which means decreasing job security and increasing competition, which sets the context for the necessity of constructing a ‘C.V, and career-biography’ (a cviography?) – A C.V. becomes a necessity to achieve a decent job.

Furthermore, something which the video fails to mention … ‘The New Capitalism has a strong preference among employers for free-floating, unattached, flexible, ‘generalist’ and ultimately disposable employees’ – this means that that C.V. you’ve just spent the last two weeks ‘perfecting’ isn’t perfect, it’ll be out of date by this time next year and will need updating!

However, as Bauman says in ‘Liquid Modern Challenges to Education’ the C.V. and the educational history it summarises are no guarantee of a good a job:

‘Nothing has prepared them for the arrival of the hard, uninviting and inhospitable new world of downgrading of grades, devaluation of earned merits, doors shown and locked, volatility of jobs and stubbornness of joblessness, transience of prospects and durability of defeats; of a new world of stillborn projects and frustrated hopes and of chances ever more conspicuous by their absence. Today, the throngs of the seduced are turning wholesale, and almost overnight, into the crowds of the frustrated.

For the first time in living memory, the whole class of graduates faces a high probability, almost the certainty, of ad-hoc, temporary, insecure and part-time jobs, unpaid “trainee” pseudo-jobs deceitfully re-branded “practices” − all considerably below their acquired skills and eons below the level of their expectations; or of a stretch of unemployment lasting longer than it’ll take for the next class of graduates to add their names to the already uncannily long job-centres waiting lists.’

Of course a sixth form college like mine would never subject its students to this type of analysis… that would just kill aspiration. Instead of wasting time pondering this fruitless line of analysis further, students are advised to dismiss immediately any thoughts that there may be any grain of truth in such an analysis.

Instead , you are advised to go engage in voluntary work, do D of E, learn the saxophone take up gymnastics, set up a debating society, establish your own mini-enterprise (make sure it’s a good one!), learn Greek, brush up on your IT skills, read all of the major works of English Literature written between 1831 and 1869, and basically work 26 hours a day to make sure you get 4 A*s… Well go on then, get going.. it’s ALL DOWN TO YOU!