Global Childhoods ARC project and book series launch

Kwong Lee Dow
Emeritus Professor Kwong Lee Dow

Emeritus Professor Kwong Lee Dow, The University of Melbourne.

Friday July 13 2023

To Professor Nicola Yelland, to all contributors to the ARC Project and to the books, and to all celebrating this launch in person or on-line:

I am delighted, professionally and personally, to have the chance to commend the completion of this phase of the Project and launch three of the four books which record it.

The first point to make is that this indeed a major piece of work. It offers fresh twenty first century perspectives, in conceptually incisive and broad both in its scope and its methodologies.

It is a serious extended collaboration across three top Education institutions- the Singapore National Institute of Education, now part of Nanyang Technological University, the Education University of Hong Kong, formerly the Hong Kong Institute of Education, and our own Melbourne Graduate School of Education, soon to revert to the earlier designation of Faculty of Education.

It is an early collaboration for childhoods in the Asia-Pacific, with a focus less on countries and their systemic policies but more on the commonalities among three global cities. The study looks at children aged from  9 to 10 years in schools in Year 4. Thanks to the culture and priority perspectives of our early childhood educators it looks at the circumstances of the whole child-in school, at home and in the local community. It situates learning in school with parallel learning in these other environments, learning from parents, siblings, family members and friends as well as from teachers and from others in their community. It does not dwell on high stakes testing (though noting the international comparisons available now from PISA, TIMMS and PIRLS), but rather on what happens hour by hour, day by day across the weeks and terms of the school year.

Four separate methodologies are adopted for data collection. Surveys were conducted in 2018 and 2019 from students and their families from selected schools at each site, providing quantitative analyses which include out-of-school activities as well as how students engaged with their schools. Classroom ethnographies sketch school-based pedagogies and learning practices across a full week in each of two semesters. Investigators attended classes, ‘tagged along’ during recesses and lunch breaks, held casual conversations and attended specialist classes. A third methodology styled ‘learning dialogues’ asked students how they see themselves, their aspirations and anticipated futures on a Monday morning and again on a Friday morning in the same week. The fourth probe, styled ‘life-world re-enactments’ followed selected students at home and through some of their community activities such as sporting, cultural (music and dancing, for example) and in extra coaching or tutoring if and where that occurred.

This rich range of approaches enabled unpacking the links and associations between children’s lifeworlds as actually lived and the intended policies and stated intentions of education authorities. Nuanced meanings become evident, as do power and knowledge relationships.

So what do we learn?

We come to appreciate the varying range of childhoods in our modern global cities, where subtleties and nuance is gently contrasted with the big political selling of education-for jobs, with a focus on tests and the striving for comparative advantage in international league tables. We see the real roles of our citizen teachers and teacher educators. We learn to beware of simple stereotypes, to avoid generalisations that disappear exceptional cases and circumstances. We understand complexity and the limitations to the linear notions of progress and development.

Let me end with some personal comments.

I am so pleased to have an insider’s understanding of these three collaborating institutions. In 2001 I was invited by the Singapore government to join three other ‘externals’ in a major review of the National Institute of Education. I have followed the evolution of the Institute with admiration ever since. Back in 1992 I was invited by the Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation to review the three British style Teachers’ Colleges along with their Institute for Language Education, which led to their combining into the Institute of Education in 1994, and I joined the governing Council of the new Institute from its inception. And of course I’ve followed our University of Melbourne Faculty of Education as student, staff member and Dean over many decades. So seeing this cooperative activity gives real pleasure. Maybe the current project could be built on in some way to maintain and strengthen the links now established.

For me personally, this project bears a modern 21stcentury advance on two landmark works by people I consider my mentors. Edmund King’s ‘Other Schools and Ours’ was in its Fifth Edition in 1979 when he came to Australia as a world expert in Comparative Education with Commonwealth government support that I had recommended. (He called himself ‘King of Kings’, referring to his home institution-King’s College within the University of London). In 1980 the Curriculum Development Centre in Canberra published Professor W.F.Connell’s ‘A History of Education in the Twentieth Century World’. This personal project ( ‘a large work on a wide canvas written over many years’) of the long- time Head of Education at the University of Sydney is a touchstone of where Education had reached some forty years ago. I cannot help but see the Global Childhoods project launched today as pointing a direction for the future that stands on the solid base of these past endeavours while clearly showing a future hardly envisaged these decades ago.

book launch