Public scholarship: Influence, engagement, and ethical imperatives

Associate Professor Jenny Ritchie, Victoria University

Education researchers are probably different from many other scholars in that many of us have very direct and engaged links to practice, actively researching in partnership with teachers in early childhood services, schools and other community groups. Many of our NZARE members have teaching backgrounds, and those of us who are teacher educators spend extensive periods of time regularly visiting our students on practicum. We are also often asked to present our research to practitioner conferences and events. So given that we are already in relationships with so many people, groups, and institutions, why has the NZARE Council decided that we would like to have this regular blog site?

Firstly, I think it is important to position our members’ research in the realm of ‘public scholarship’ – that is, recognising the role of education research in informing public policy and practice. Many of our past and present members have long track records in doing such work – Anne Smith, Anne Meade, John O’Neill, Martin Thrupp, Mere Berryman, Russell Bishop, Helen May, Linda Mitchell, Joce Jesson are just a few of many excellent education researcher public scholars whose names spring to mind … and there are many many more – too many to really  list here.

Because of our deep engagement with critical issues of identity, culture, agency, motivation, knowledge production, assessment, and pedagogical practice, educational researchers are well positioned to influence public policy, educational practices, and societal attitudes. But, more than this, as critics and conscience of society, educational scholars have an ethical imperative to bring our research insights to bear on the educational experiences and wellbeing of children and families. As Paulo Freire so wisely and succintly pointed out, education is never neutral.

Recently, the United Nations have established a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), an agreement our government has signed and will be required to report on. The SDGs require governments to work towards societies which: end poverty; attain gender equity; remediate climate change; and live sustainably with peace and justice. In particular, Goal 4, which focuses on quality education, is seen by UNESCO as key to achieving all the other goals, and a set of learning objectives has been developed.

The most recent UNICEF Innocenti report on the situation for children in ‘rich’ countries (including Aotearoa New Zealand) focuses on how well these countries are addressing these SDGs. The report points out that “the presence of countries such as New Zealand and the United States in the bottom reaches of this league table is proof that high national income alone is no guarantee of a good record in sustaining child well-being”. As educational researchers, we have the opportunity – and, I would argue, also an ethical obligation – to support the UN SDG objectives in our research, teaching, and service.

In recent weeks, our voices have been engaging in some of these kinds of discussions: Martin Thrupp and Cathy Wylie contributed to a recent Radio New Zealand Insight investigation on education after nine years of National Party-led government, Sue Cherrington wrote an informative open letter to incoming Minister of Education Nikki Kaye, and I made a case for prioritising high quality, culturally responsive early childhood are and education in the forthcoming election.

And so, with three months remaining to our 2017 general election, we invite NZARE members to use this blog to share your research insights and implications with the wider community. Please send us your contributions so that NZARE members can become more visible, and thus a stronger voice, in the political and educational arenas.

Jenny square.jpgJenny has a background as a child-care educator and kindergarten teacher, followed by over 25 years’ experience in early childhood teacher education. Her teaching, research, and writing  have focused on supporting early childhood educators and teacher educators to enhance their praxis in terms of cultural, environmental, and social justice issues. She currently shares the presidency of NZARE with Agnes McFarland.

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