Realsociology

A hyperreflexive blog focussing on critical sociology, infographics, Buddhism and extreme early retirement

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

Posted by Realsociology on 27th September 2014

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?

Posted in Education | No Comments »

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

Posted by Realsociology on 19th October 2013

 

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

Posted in But what can I do?, Changing Britain, Education | 1 Comment »

The Decline of Religious Education in British Schools

Posted by Realsociology on 12th October 2013

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!

 

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

Posted by Realsociology on 8th October 2013

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

;

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!

Posted in Capitalism, Changing Britain, Education, Globalisation, Neoliberalism, Postmodernism, Sociological Theory | No Comments »

Social Class Inequality Visualisations

Posted by Realsociology on 1st October 2013

I had my classes exploring one of my ‘favourite’ topics today – The extent of and explanations for inequalities in life chances by social class, gender and ethnicity – Here a few visual updates and links which highlight the extent of class inequality in the UK today…

1. In Education… 3 year olds from the richest fifth of households are twice as likely to be ‘school ready’ than 3 year olds from the poorest fifth of households

education

2, by health – This is a nice, if dated article which reminds us that Based on 2007-2009 mortality rates, a man aged 65 could expect to live another 17.6 years and a woman aged 65 another 20.2 years. This graphic demonstrates that men and women from routine manual backgrounds are twice as likely to die before the age of 64 than those from professional backgrounds(my title is clearer than that in the picture!)

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3. The chances of being a victim of violent crime (available from the ONS and the Home Office Annual crime stats reports)

bh

4. Births outside of wedlock (not that I think the decline in marriage is a bad thing!, unlike the author of the post where I got the info!

The chart below shows the proportion of kids who are born outside marriage by social class in Britain. Its quite a short period of time, but you get the general idea. At the top, things haven’t changed much. At the bottom, having children inside marriage is not the norm, and increasingly rare.

121109-coming-apart

 

More Sources to follow…

 

Posted in Crime and Deviance, Education, Infographics, social class, Wealth and Income Inequality | No Comments »

Does Britain really have some of the highest paid teachers in the world?

Posted by Realsociology on 27th June 2013

According this article in the Torygraph - Britain has some of the highest paid teachers in the world.

To cite from the article, which draws on OECD data:

“Primary school teachers in England are among the youngest in the world but they still earn almost £4,000 more on average than their counterparts across the rest of the OECD.

The average salary for a primary teacher in the OECD countries was £24,690 in 2011, compared to £28,660 in England.

However, according to the think-tank’s latest study of education, teachers in English primary schools spent less time in class than their peers elsewhere.

The report found England’s primary teachers delivered 684 hours of lessons in 2011, significantly below the OECD average of 786 hours.”

No doubt Michael Gove will use this as part of his future agenda to cut teacher’s wages further (Let’s face it, it’s coming). In order to make his case he will have  to use this data uncrtically and without looking at the wider context of these figures, because if you do dig deeper (and this took me about 2 minutes), you come across these statistics -

“England has some of the highest class sizes in the developed world, beaten only by Mexico and Turkey, with an average of 26.1. That is a ratio of 19.8 students per teacher, compared to an OECD average of 15.7.” – This is from the Guardian - Depressingly, drawn from the same data as used in Torygraph article, which might lead anyone with a brain to think that this is an example of the Torygraph deliberately using data selectively for political ends.

In addition, neither of these articles mention explicitly that teachers in Britain may  have a tougher time than in other countries because they are dealing with higher levels of deprivation (we are one of the most unequal socities in Europe), having to meet the needs of learners from a diverse array of backgrouds (London is the most diverse city on earth), and having to cope with a test-obsessed marketised system, now resided over by a megalomaniac intent on bending the system to his own narrow minded personal agenda. (That would be Michael Gove btw).

Another problem with the article is its suggestion that ‘the fact that teachers on average are much younger in Britain than elsewhere makes the fact that they are paid so much even less justifiable’ – In reality a better interpretation might be – ‘teaching in Britain is especially demanding and thus relatively well paid. The fact that it is so demanding is the reason why teaching careers are relatively short and teachers are much younger in Britain than elsewhere.’

All in all I think UK teachers’ higher salaries are justified and that the Torygraph is best ignored.

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20 teenagers sitting in a room

Posted by Realsociology on 25th November 2012

This isn’t a particularly informative post, more of a spontaneous expression of an epiphany moment (although one without the elation).

The epiphany comes in the form of a question – Is there any worse way of getting teenagers to concentrate than sitting them in a room with 19 other teenagers and one adult for four and a half hours a day?

I mean I know the typical day at school or college, for most kids at least, will be broken up with more active lessons such as sport and music, but the standard model is 20 teenagers in a room with one adult.

This just seems ridiculous – Assuming an hour and half lesson, it’s too large a number for the teacher to engage with one on one in any meaningful way, it’s too many for everyone to have a meaningful input into a ‘whole class discussion’, so teachers are left reverting to either individual work where not everyone gets monitored, or pair/ group work where some students inevitably lose focus, and if you are going to go against ‘fairyland Ofsted’s’ advice, and do the dreaded lecture – well 20 is an equally pointless number, you may as well film it and stream it to 20 000.

The days of 20 teenagers sitting in a classroom must surely come to and end soon? Surely it’s possible for schools and especially colleges to be a little more creative with teaching arrangements – A combination of online lectures and independent learning combined with more intense, tailored, smaller group sessions and occasional one on one meetings with students where they spend less time sitting in class, but where they get more focused attention and thus more focused working when they are in lessons …. Maybe>?

A related question is where did the educational norm of ’20 teenagers sitting in a room’m actually come from anyway, and how did it evolve? Answers in comments please.

So if my Beacon ‘best 6th form college’ in the country doesn’t actually innovate like it’s supposed to, perhaps I’ll forge this path at the institutional level,  perhaps one day, a year or so before I quit in case it all goes pear shaped, I’ll break all the rules and just do this anyway.

 

Posted in Education, My 'life' | 1 Comment »

Twitter as a revision tool in ten tweets

Posted by Realsociology on 4th May 2012

-      Twitter as an educational tool in ten tweets –

I’m getting my students used to using twitter as an educational tool this week. I’ll be getting them work through the following questions. I’m doing this with my A2 Global Development other educators should be able to modify this for their own subjects…

Initial steps

  • Set up a dedicated sociology twitter account if you haven’t already done so
  • Follow all the other students who follow me – NB – check later who I follow too, as I will be following people as they join!

Twitter as an educational tool in ten tweets –

Work your way through these – these are ten ways you (we) can use twitter as an educational tool. This focuses on recent Development work (the SCLY3 module)

Tweet 1 – Define one of the following terms in 146 characters – #Patriarchy #Globalisation or #Urbanisation – start the tweet #concept – (then define it)

Tweet 2 – Retweet the versions of the definition you think are the best

  • Now ‘Favourite’ the ones you like in order to note them down later.

Tweet 3 - Tweet one advantage of using #NGOAID over ODA aid – put #NGOAID at the beginning of the tweet.

Tweet 4 – Review other tweets that answer to 1 and 3 (NB there may still be some definitions coming in) and comment on one you think particularly good by replying to someone using @theirusername.

Tweet 5 – Tweet about the most obscure/ advanced thing you talked about in your essay on gender and development. Put #genderessay at the beginning of the tweet.

  • Review the tweets on gender – add in any ideas you missed to your essay.

Tweet 6 – Use the @ function to reply to someone and ask how they used the concepts/ case studies they talked about – you will be getting a ‘twitter conversation going about essay planning – which can continue on the train ride home. (Obviously if you get an @question your next tweet may be replying)

Tweet 7 – Either find something on line relevant to global development or find a good revision site and tweet us the link – with a brief summary of what it’s about

Tweet 8 – Possibly the simplest usage – tweet a question about something you have found slightly obscure or difficult to understand – Use the #SCLY3 if the question is about that, or if you’re resitting use #SCLY4

Tweet 9 Find another sociology source on twitter to follow – recommend them to the rest of us using #FF

Tweet 10 – Tweet how useful you find this as a revision tool

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Cultural Deprivation’s the Devil

Posted by Realsociology on 3rd May 2012

Oh the comforts of revision – I finally get to really hand over to the students and spend my prep time creating these cartoons – becoming something of a yearly ritual now – In this one a Green devil like creature explains how cultural deprivation affects educational achievement.

Please note the cunning use of the PEEEL essay writing technique – In relation to the question ‘Assess the Extent to Which it’s Home Based Cultural Factors that Explain Social Class Based Differences in Educational Achievement’ (20)

Point

Explain

Elaborate

Evaluate (the baby bear does this)

Link – OK the link is sort of the next point – and so it may continue, if it weren’t for World of Warcraft (or Facebook, twitter, driving theory tests, the apprentice, fake tan disasters, boyfriends…. I mean I could go on….)

 

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Do schools make a difference?

Posted by Realsociology on 30th April 2012

An excellent podcast from BBC Radio 4′s Analysis on the above topic should be compulsory listening/ reading for anyone studying the Sociology of Education – you can get both the audio version and the transcript here

The programme centres on Harvey Goldstein’s statistical research – who points out that once you take into account children’s social and economic backgrounds (their home backgrounds if you like) schools only account for 10% of the difference in a child’s educational achievement.

Although she didn’t say it when Labour was in power, on reflection, New Labour’s Education Secretary in the late 1990s, Estelle Morris, now consents that although ‘schools are all we’ve got’ they ‘can never make up for the social disadvantage that children from poor backgrounds and from disinterested families’ – late on in the programme we are reminded that only 1% of children going to Oxbridge are Free School Meal students.

So why is it that government ministers put so much faith in the potential of schools to transform students’ lives?

The programme traces this back to one study conducted in 1979 by Peter Mortimore, one of the principle researches on the “15,000 hours” study – in which the researchers did observations of good and bad schools and identified all of the features that good schools had (good being defined as those which got students good results) – These features were –

  • Good teacher support
  • A clean environment
  • Good behaviour
  • Pupils felt like they were valued

This in turn lead into a new field of study centring around the question of ‘what works’ in education – which lead to researchers being dispatched to discover what successful schools were doing – and later this lead onto the question of how we could design these success features of ‘good schools’ into all schools. The programme draws on Pam Sammons Professor at Oxford University who seems to favour this approach.

Going back to Goldstein, he criticises the work of Sammons and the like by pointing out that the features found in good schools may just be coincidental to success – the schools may have good behaviour, the environment may be clean and money might be available for teacher support precisely because these schools have pupils who are from middle class backgrounds, and this may not be repeatable in all schools around the country.

This, however, is not the view Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief inspector of schools (Head of OFSTED), famed for his headship of Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, one of the most deprived areas of London – this was Labour’s flagship academy which replaced the old failing Hackney Downs schools. Wilshaw claims that, through a combination of strict discipline, very long teacher and student hours and a ‘no excuses culture’ you can improve results in any school – he certainly did in Mossbourne – last year 8 students made it to Oxbridge, way above the national average.

What he forgets to mention of course is that he also had the help of a cool £25 million cash injection for a new building, and then there’s the little matter of his new Academy having almost half the population of FSM children attending as were at Hackney Downs.

As a final note – the programme does an excellent job of flagging up how successive governments selectively ignore research that doesn’t fit in with their own political agendas. The stats suggest social class and ethnic background matters and than schools only make 10% difference, and this is ignored, you then find some statistically dubious research from 1979 and one case study from recent history and use this to show that schools can make a difference…..

 

 

 

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