As educators far and wide are busy planning to adapt to the pandemic conditions of this new academic year, the Education department at Staffordshire University held a guest speaker event in association with BESA to consider crisis responses in the field of education in other times and places. While the role of technology in transforming education has received much attention since the outbreak of COVID-19, this panel discussion aimed to generate a wider conversation about the human dimensions of learning in times of instability.
You can access a playlist of videos from the event on the BESA Youtube channel; and the organisers are keen to use the ideas in these presentations as a starting point for learning resources for our wider education community. If you have any ideas for creating learning resources or are interested in working with the event organisers, please get in touch with them directly by email.
Dr Claire Kinsella opened the online event by drawing on the historical examples from the hedge school movement in Ireland and the limitations of telephones during the 1918 flu pandemic; to consider the extent to which problems affecting learning communities in the current crisis overlap with those in other times and places.
The first guest speaker, Dr Alpesh Maisuria, began with the provocation that the economic dimensions of the current crisis are fundamentally akin to those in other times and places. Alpesh did this by situating his analysis within Marxist understandings of capitalism as an inherently unstable economic system, where cycles of profitability are constantly punctuated by serious economic downturns. Within this dominant world order, public education becomes a key battleground for the direction of politics and history. Replete with practical examples from current UK events, Alpesh’s guest presentation serves an important reminder that change through struggle is possible, no matter how entrenched the current order of things seem.
The idea of change through struggle was also at the centre of the presentation by our second guest speaker, Dr. Aneta Hayes. Aneta drew upon her recent ethnographic research on educational provision for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Over the course of Aneta’s ethnographic analysis, we see that, once again, the sphere of public education becomes a key political battleground as the Lebanese ministry of education is hard-pressed to meet the needs of Syrian refugees. Yet on the fringes of this system, lies a non-formal, alternative educational system which participants often expressed a preference for since it fostered feelings of normalcy, a sense of belonging as well as more relevant psychosocial supports and curricular offerings.
A panel discussion chaired by Dr. Duncan Hindmarch followed the guest presentations, where the narrow nature of government and media discourse surrounding the educational response to COVID-19 in the UK was highlighted. It was agreed that the dominance of an economic imperative in which education remains a personal investment to make future gains in the labour market downplays questions about the possibility for human dignity in learning and the sense of psychological safety that education might offer during these turbulent times. The speakers looked towards an approach which sidesteps entrenched debates characterised by series of stark alternatives (e.g. vocational education versus academic education; face-to-face instruction versus online instruction; and grades based on examinations versus grades based on course work) towards one based on more open-ended discussions and greater creative manoeuvrability.
We would like to express our thanks to Matthew Coombe-Boxall for his dedication to the online hosting and delivery of this event