Implementing language supportive pedagogy in teacher education: An ongoing CIRE research project

by Dr Angeline Barrett

The Language Supportive and Teaching and Textbooks (LSTT) in Tanzania is a collaboration between the University of Bristol, University of Dodoma and St. John’s University, Tanzania.  Now in its second phase, the main focus of the project is introducing language supportive pedagogies into secondary teacher education.  At Bristol, the project is led by Angeline Barrett, director of CIRE. Dave Bainton is a Research Fellow on the project.

Language in education in Tanzania

Like many postcolonial countries, Tanzania has a policy of using both an African language and English as medium of instruction in public education. Six years of primary education is delivered through the medium of Kiswahili. Kiswahili originated from coastal areas of East Africa and is not the lingua franca in metropolitan centres in Tanzania. Secondary education is only available in the medium of English. Students making the transition to secondary education, particularly those living in remote, rural or disadvantaged communities, have had very little exposure to English. The majority do not have the level of proficiency assumed by the syllabus (Barrett, Mtana, Osaki, & Rubagumya, 2014). Yet, when we analysed textbooks available on the market in 2013, we found many use long sentences and obscure vocabulary. Textbooks that have come onto the market since then are easier to read, in part due attention LSTT has drawn to the issue.

LSTT phase 1: developing language supportive materials

Between 2013 and 2016, we collaborated with the Tanzania Institute of Education to develop three prototype textbooks for first year of secondary education. The books incorporated features commonly found in modern foreign language textbooks into science, mathematics and English textbooks. These included English-to-Kiswahili; keeping sentences short and simple; images that support interpretation of the text; structured support for reading, writing and speaking in English; and attention to socio-cultural relevance for socioeconomically disadvantaged learners.

Evaluation of the textbooks in 16 schools found that teachers adopted one language supportive strategy quite readily – group discussion. Working in small groups, students discuss new ideas in their ‘thinking language’. This was usually Kiswahili, Kiswahili mixed with ‘broken English’ or Kiswahili mixed with a local language. The purpose of the discussion is to produce a formal scientific statement in English, which they write down and/or present to the class. This transformed the classroom climate. Within six to eight weeks, students who were initially reluctant to talk in class or to researchers in any language, gained the confidence to discuss their ideas and presenting in front of the class in English. Before and after assessments showed improved ability to write about science in English and an expanded academic vocabulary in English (Barrett & Bainton, 2016).

LSTT book pagePage from LSTT textbook

These findings sit alongside those of a sister project in Rwanda, led by Prof. Leon Tikly, which developed prototype language supportive textbooks for learners transitioning into English medium education following three years of education in Kinyarwanda. The Language Supportive Textbooks and Pedagogy (LAST) project found that children in schools using the textbooks scored on average 16% more in tests than their peers in control schools (Milligan, Clegg, & Tikly, 2016).

There are still challenges, however. Science teachers struggled to understand the language learning objectives or indeed the language demand of their subjects. Language teachers, however, understood the books’ objectives immediately and were often willing to support their colleagues. Science and mathematics teachers struggled to maintain pace when using interactive strategies, and so could not deliver content within the available time.

LSTT phase 2: integrating language supportive pedagogy into teacher education

The university-based textbook authors and researchers in Phase 1 were all teacher educators. It made sense, therefore, in Phase 2, to try putting language supportive pedagogy (LSP) into practice within teacher education programmes. So far, language supportive practices have been introduced into subject methodology (pedagogy) courses in the two Tanzania partner universities and in three teachers’ colleges. We are implementing this using an adapted version of lesson study. It involves collegial professional learning, collaboration between language and science specialists and peer observation.

At the end of October, I travelled to Tanzania to see how the teacher education component of the project was progressing and visited two of the teachers’ colleges – Butimba and Mpwapwa. The two colleges had started integrating both the theory and practice of language supportive pedagogy into their teaching. As with the schools in phase 1, the use of the discussion was the element of LSP taken up most readily, with benefits for student engagement, confidence to speak in English and an affirmative classroom climate. Tutors were devising and sharing creative ways to create space for discussion without sacrificing pace. This included strategies such as ‘think, pair, share’ and allocating different discussion questions to different groups. These are being implemented in large classes (60 – 240 students).  Language specialists were present in the classroom and gave explicit feedback on sentence structure and pronunciation; in the classrooms, a supportive climate was established within which mistakes were tolerated. This led to improved accuracy in use of English and, crucially, students gaining practice in English. At the University of Dodoma, tutors had also supported student teachers to implement language supportive pedagogies during their period of teaching practice in schools.


Angeline with tutors at Butimba Teachers College

The project is having a positive impact on teacher education already. Around 3000 student teachers are being introduced to the theory and practice of language supportive pedagogy and observations from teaching practice suggest that with quite modest support, they are then able to implement this within their own teaching. New collegial partnerships have been forged between science and language specialists within and across teacher education institutions. Through these, teacher educators are inspired and supported to innovate, try out and critically review new strategies. However, as we start a second cycle of lesson study collaboration in the two universities, we can also identify areas where we could improve practice further. Some points that I observed during the travels are:Use of group discussion needs to be supported with concise conclusions from tutors that clearly articulate key learning points;

  • Discussions are often oriented towards extracting theoretical information from a text. There is scope to make more use of collaborative learning for contextualised problem-solving;
  • More detailed and explicit content on secondary school students’ language proficiencies needs to be developed;
  • Student teachers need to be equipped with strategies for supporting secondary school students to read and write as well speak in English; and
  • There is potential within the project to develop and share teaching and learning resources that enable each of the above.

Implications for policy

Tanzania is currently at a crossroads, with the option of switching to Kiswahili medium education all the way through or remaining with the current policy. The purpose of the LSTT is to find ways to improve implementation of the policy as it is now being interpreted and implemented and not to explore other policy options. In phase one, we found a way forward for improving English medium of education. But it is one that is demanding of teacher expertise and depends on learning materials being placed in the hands of learners. Implementation requires careful planning and investment, including significant revision of the syllabus. Nothing in our research supports switching language of instruction midway through young people’s schooling career.



Barrett, A. M., & Bainton, D. (2016). Re-interpreting relevant learning: an evaluative framework for secondary education in a global language. Comparative Education, 52(3), 392-407. doi:10.1080/03050068.2016.1185271

Barrett, A. M., Mtana, N., Osaki, K., & Rubagumya, C. (2014). Language Supportive Teaching and Textbooks: Baseline Study Report. Bristol: LSTT.

Milligan, E. M. A., Clegg, J., & Tikly, L. (2016). Exploring the potential for language supportive learning in English Medium Instruction: A Rwandan case study. Comparative Education, 52(3).


We are grateful to the Partnership to Strengthen Innovation and Practice in Secondary Education (PSIPSE), which has and continues to fund this research.

Angeline M. Barrett is the Principal Investigator of the LSTT project and Director of CIRE. She has 17 years’ experience of research into improving the quality of primary and secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa.


CIRE Event: ‘Children’s literature and its role in learning about conflict and peace’

By Dr Bernardita Munoz Chereau 

On Tuesday the 12 of September, 2017, the one-day workshop facilitated by Dr Bernardita Munoz Chereau and Dr Julia Paulson, entitled ‘Children’s literature and its role in learning about conflict and peace’ took place at the School of Education, University of Bristol.

Funding from the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law International Development Group enabled us to invite leading speakers and provide refreshments for participants, which allowed the exploration of ideas and discussions into the ways in which children’s literature might be used to foster teaching and learning about conflict and peace.


In the current context — where the record levels of people are forced to flee their homes, the refugee crisis and the threat recent polarisation and terror attacks pose — the challenge of how to learn about conflict and peace in the school system, has reach a critical momentum. The workshop took an interdisciplinary approach to reflect on the role that children’s literature can play when tacking these issues in the educational setting.

The Workshop was introduced by Julia Paulson, Senior Lecturer and Deputy Director of CIRE, SoE, who provided the context of research and practice around education, conflict and peace. Julia argued that although causes and legacies of political conflict permeate the educational experiences of young people living in post-conflict countries, conflict is not always recognized, nor its teaching supported by formal curriculum. She also recognized that in the conflict and peace education field, there is a lack of research focusing on children’s literature, and the need for taking an interdisciplinary approach.

Then Lorna Smith, Senior lecturer, SoE, organized a debate regarding whether 15 children’s and young adults books (such as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies and Macbeth), according to the audience and contrasted with the in Key stage 3 and Key Stage 4 English Curriculum, should or should not be read by children in schools.


Lorna Smith, Senior lecturer, SoE, leading a small group within the workshop

We moved next to the representation of conflict in Children’s literature. Dr Blanka Grzegorczyk, Teaching Associate, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, drawing on a forthcoming book to be published in 2018 by Routledge, focused on the ways in which contemporary British Young Adult’s books (such as The Boy from Aleepo, Welcome to Nowhere and The Jungle) are representing Terror and Counter-Terror in Contemporary British Children’s Literature.


Dr Blanka Grzegorczyk, Teaching Associate, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

The following presentation delivered by Dr Bernardita Munoz Chereau, Post Doctoral Fellow, SoE focused on 6 contemporary children books that represent the Chilean dictatorship for a Chilean and international audience. Drawing on a 2017 paper published in Children’s books in Education journal titled “Representations of Dictatorship on Contemporary Chilean Children’s Literature” and recently submitted work, Bernardita argued that the authors’ positionality in terms of nationality, voice and context of production of the books were critical to take into account when understanding differences in which children characters are depict within the narratives and the way in which the dictatorship is represented for a young audience.

In the afternoon perspectives and possibilities were explored by putting together two presentations that dealt with the role of fiction as a tool for enhancing research epistemologies and memory work. Dr Goya Wilson Vasquez, Research Associate, Hispanic, Portuguese and Latin American Studies Department, School of Modern Languages, draw on her 2017 award winning doctoral thesis LASA/Oxfam America 2017 Martin Diskin Dissertation ‘Troubling (the) Testimonio: The borderlands of collective memory work—Writing a narrative inquiry with the HIJXS de Perú Group’ Awarded by the Latin American Studies Association.


Dr Goya Wilson, Research Associate, Hispanic, Portuguese and Latin American Studies Department, UoB

Finally, Dr Bernardita Munoz Chereau closed the workshop by sharing with the audience her experience of life in a dictatorship and the process of writing the award-winning IBBY-Chile Colibrí honourable mention 2017 Noelia’s Diary – her latest children book recently published in Chile, which deals with her experience of growing under Pinochet’s dictatorship, as well as the ways in which academic inquiry helped her overcoming censorship.


Dr Bernardita Munoz-Chereau, Senior Research Associate, SoE

The fund obtained was vital for nurturing and enhancing the visibility of a new niche of interdisciplinary research that is emerging at the SoE around children’s literature and its role when learning about conflict and peace, as well as to build new collaborative networks across academics from different centers, departments, faculties and UK universities (UoB, Cambridge and IoE-UCL) in the fields of Peace Education, English Curriculum, Qualitative Methodologies and Literature.

CIRE at Conferences Part 2: BERA

This is the second in a series of  posts written by CIRE members who presented at conferences throughout the UK in Summer/Autumn 2017. Part 1, written by CIRE Director Angeline Barrett, focused on UKFIET 2017. Here, PhD student Jane Nebe writes about her experience at BERA 2017.

Attending My 1st BERA Conference

by Jane Nebe

The 2017 edition of the British Educational Research Association (BERA) conference held on 5th – 7th September 2017 at the University of Sussex, Brighton. It was my first time attending a BERA conference, but it wasn’t my first time at the city of Brighton. I was excited about attending the conference as I received a BERA bursary that exempted me from paying the student registration fee of £285 (if payment was made after 1st May). However, I was anxious as well because I was presenting my PhD research at the conference. I would later realise that my anxiety was unnecessary, because the presentation went well and I had a very supportive audience.

jane 1

Presenting my paper on 5th September, 2017

The presentation was titled ‘Exploring the Consequences of Poor Academic Performance in Nigeria’s High-stakes Secondary School Exit Certificate Examinations: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) Study’. There, I spoke on how my PhD research was seeking to understand the ways that high-stakes examinations impacted on higher education aspirations for secondary school leavers in Nigeria. Having concluded fieldwork in June 2017, I was able to provide my audience some of the findings that emerged from a part of my Pilot Study. Evaluating my performance afterwards, I felt I should have provided more specifics for my audience while articulating the research methodology and design. Nevertheless, I am pleased with the feedback I got on how I could critically engage with theory, considering the philosophical framework of my research.

At the conference, there were interesting presentations by other researchers and thought-provoking Keynote speeches. It was exciting to learn about the wide range of educational research going on around the world. Of course, there was the social part of the conference where I met new people. It was also a huge pleasure to reconnect with an old friend who relocated to Australia and another dear Colleague, Dr. Sana Rizvi, who now lectures at De Montfort University. It was also nice to see familiar faces from the School of Education, University of Bristol such as Professor Rosamund Sutherland, Dr. Sue Timmis and Ms. Paola Ramirez. My most memorable occasion was sitting on the same table with the new BERA President for 2017 – 2019, Professor Gary McCulloch at the Dinner event.

jane 2

Dr. Sana Rizvi and I at the end of the conference on 7th Sept 2017.

Reflecting on my experience of the BERA conference, I dare say it has particularly motivated me to ensure that my research is rigorous, both conceptually and methodologically. I even bought a book that was relevant to my research at a discounted rate and opened conversation with a prospective publisher. I am grateful to BERA for the bursary I was awarded, which made this experience possible as I look forward to attending future BERA conferences.

Jane Nebe is a 3rd Year PhD student at the School of Education, University of Bristol.

CIRE at Conferences Part 1: UKFIET

In the past month, CIRE members have been active at conferences around the UK. This post is the first in a series that details recent conference presentations and publications.

Learning and Teaching for Sustainable Development

CIRE at the UKFIET International Conference on Education and Development, University of Oxford, 5-7 September

by Angeline M. Barrett, CIRE Director

CIRE was well-represented at the 11th UKFIET Conference on Education and Development, on the theme Learning and Teaching for Sustainable Development.  In total four staff and three students presented papers in sub-themes on Pedagogies for Sustainable Development, Enabling Teachers and Rethinking Curriculum, reflecting new and longstanding streams of research within CIRE.

Pedagogies for peace and sustainable development goes bananas


Julia Paulson and Angeline Barrett joined with James Lawrie of the Save the Children, to convene the subtheme on Pedagogies for Sustainable Development. Julia herself presented with Lizzi Milligan, University of Bath, on a review of history textbook analysis in post-conflict settings. The review found that very little research had gone beyond content analysis to ask questions about how textbooks were commissioned, produced and used in classrooms. Angeline’s paper co-presented with Prof. Kalafunja Osaki, St. Augustine’s University of Tanzania, however, did address the authorship and design of bilingual science textbooks created by teacher educators and curriculum developers in Tanzania.  The presentation questioned whether targeting formal scientific language in just one language was sufficient to address sustainable development within multilingual societies. Kalafunja’s examples of the knowledge of 15 species of banana, preserved within his mother-tongue memorably illustrated the argument. David Bainton, a CIRE Research Fellow, presented his own reflections on the Language Supportive Teaching and Textbooks in Tanzania project, applying an epistemological justice framing to evaluate its bilingual pedagogies.

Enabling teachers: Continuous Professional Development, voice and wellbeing

Faizulizami Osmin and Leanne Cameron presented on very different forms of continuous professional development for teachers. Enabling Teachers subtheme. Faizulizami’s paper titled, Empowering Teachers through Self-Initiated Continuing Professional Development: A New Vision for Teacher Professional Development in Malaysia presented a critical analysis of the formulation and reception of a formal, centrally imposed policy on teachers. The analysis identified conflicts and tensions between how the policy was conceptualised by its authors as promoting autonomous responsibility for professional development; and how it was experienced, interpreted and implemented by practicing teachers as a top-down coercive initiative. This paper won a competitive grant from the British Association for International and Comparative Education (BAICE), which sponsored Faizulizami’s attendance at the conference. Leanne’s paper, Sustainable Continuous Professional Development? Considering models from East and Central African Teacher Associations, problematised the apparent autonomous professionalism associated with teacher associates. Drawing on data on Language Teacher Associations it highlighted the support and influence of external international sponsors, in particular US Department of State and British Council. The paper highlighted the different organisation of associations and their potential to foster sustained continuous professional development initiated by members, who are practicing teachers.


Faizulizami, Angeline and Leanne at UKFIET

In the same theme, Tigist Grieve, a postdoctoral fellow, presented Teachers’ Voice: Essentials for Pursuit of Sustainable Development in Teaching and Learning in rural Ethiopia. Her findings from ethnographic research in Ethiopia highlighted the professional and wellbeing concerns of teachers posted to rural schools. Drawing on her ongoing ESRC-GCRF research, Tigist stressed the materiality of voice, and argued, given the emphasis on inclusivity and learning in which teachers are imagined as ‘transformative agents’, their voice, agency and wellbeing must be part of the scholarly debate and key consideration for policy makers.

UKFIET Conference photo

Tigist’s presentation


Rethinking the curriculum at Higher Education

Amy Walsh, a Masters student, presented on a Bristol Student Union sustainability project, Get Green, in her paper Learn Act Engage Create: A four-step approach to engage higher education students in sustainability. The project aimed to challenge staff’s and students’ attitudes to sustainability through a holistic approach to teaching and learning, which spanned the formal, informal and sublimal curriculum. It aimed to involve students engaging with ESD through the formal curriculum and then extending this to social action outside of their course. Her quick fire paper was presented in the subtheme Beyond Literacy and Numeracy: Rethinking the Curriculum.

New BAICE President: Michael Crossley

Also at the Conference, Prof. Michael Crossley was announced as the next BAICE President. For more on this see the School of Education news story. We look forward to hearing Michael’s Presidential Address at next year’s BAICE Conference, in York.

Publications related to this blog

Barrett, A. M. (2017): Making secondary education relevant for all: reflections on science education in an expanding sub-sector, Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, DOI: 10.1080/03057925.2017.1343127

Barrett, A.M. & Bainton, D. (2016) (2016) Re-interpreting relevant learning: an evaluative framework for secondary education in a global language, Comparative Education, 52:3, 392-407, DOI: 10.1080/03050068.2016.1185271

Paulson, J. (2017). From truth to textbook: the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, educational resources and the challenges of teaching about recent conflict. In M. J. Bellino, & J. H. Williams (Eds.), (Re)constructing memory: education, identity, and conflict. (pp. 291-311). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Paulson, J. (2015). ‘Whether and how?’ History education about recent and ongoing conflict: A review of research. Journal on Education in Emergencies, 1(1), 7-37.

Peace through education: An interview with Dr Teame Mebrahtu

CIRE recently celebrated the launch of the book Long Way from Adi Ghehad: Journey of an Asylum Seeker: Dr Teame Mebrahtu written by Stan Hazell. The book focuses on the life and work of Dr Teame Mehbratu, whose career as a member of staff and later, Advisor to International Students and faculty member, had a profound impact on the Graduate School of Education in his research, teaching, and counselling career. He kindly sat for an interview in July 2017 to discuss some aspects of the book and his research and teaching career.


Dr Mebrahtu (centre) at the launch. Also pictured (from left) Dave Brockington, Dr Roger White, Teblez Mebrahtu, Dr Teame Mebrahtu, Prof. Michael Crossley, Anne Crossley, and Prof. Malcolm Johnson.

CIRE Blog: The book details your life’s journey from Eritrea to Bristol. How did your early years influence the direction of your academic life? 

TM: When I started school at the age of seven, formal schooling, even at the elementary level (grade 1 to 4), was not compulsory. Now, more than six decades later, formal education still remains a privilege rather than a right for many school-aged children in Eritrea.

As the eldest child in my family, going to school was a great joy and privilege for me. Mastering the 3R’s gave me the opportunity to read the weekly newspaper of the time and a few basic Tigrinya books that my father bought for me. This in turn opened new opportunities for me to broaden my understanding of countries and situations outside of my own and enriched my desire for general knowledge. It also made me more competitive in my studies; I was always among the top ten of students throughout my academic career. Moreover, for reasons which I still do not understand, I have always been either appointed by teachers or elected by my classmates to be a class monitor. Thus, it is fair to conclude that my early appetite for learning, my competitiveness, and my sense of responsibility as a trusted class representative helped to shape the trajectory of my life and later career.

Another experience which greatly affected the direction of my future academic life was the interruption of my senior secondary education due to student strikes. These strikes, which led to the arrest of many students including myself, were fuelled by the creation of a dysfunctional federation between Eritrea which was then a “Democracy” and Ethiopia, then an “Autocracy”.

What advice would you give to early career researchers and PhD students interested in issues of immigrant communities, refugees, and migrants in the UK? 

Broadly speaking, I would like PhD students interested in issues of immigrant communities, refugees, and migrants in the UK to take heed of the following four observations. First, knowing some members of immigrant communities in one’s home town is not a sufficient condition for writing a dissertation on them. One needs to go further to broaden and deepen his/her understanding of what the “push and pull”  factors behind their migration were and, equally importantly,  how these groups or peoples lived, thought and worked, by walking in their own moccasins. Second, there is the need to realise that “migration” is as old as humanity itself and that it is not necessarily negative, as tends to be portrayed by the media in the Global North. Third, there is a need to undertake extensive research into all aspects of education and well-being of migrants and refugee communities, as well as their offspring, in the UK. Such a comprehensive study needs to be quantitative and qualitative in nature as well as multi-dimensional in its orientation.

Finally, PhD students need to be aware of the danger of compartmentalisation of study areas. These days, we have too many specialised areas that do not necessarily communicate with each other. This begs for “pruning”, which in itself presupposes intimate understanding of the boundaries and the interface between say, Global Education, Refugee Studies, Migration Studies, and Intercultural Education, to mention but a few.

What would you describe as your most significant or valued accomplishments during your time at the University of Bristol? 

This is a complex question which requires detailed treatment of the relevance of the book. It is also worth-noting that it would be presumptive of me to pinpoint what my accomplishments are or might be. Instead, what I prefer to do is share with the reader some of the experiences I enjoyed which I believe had some impact on my performance as a Bristol University educator.

One of these is getting the opportunity and the experience of caring for all the national and international postgraduate students under my charge. This manifested itself in treating them with the respect they deserve but also in taking action to meet their respective needs in as much as possible. For instance, allowing my office to be used as a prayer room by my Muslim students in the fasting month of Ramadan and also convincing the University authorities of the need to build feet washing basins for them in order to perform their “salat” – the prayers that fell in the time between lectures. This theme reinforced by my ability to first learn and then teach others how to learn “to live  with a difference”, is discussed fully in the book chapter on “The Role of an Advisor to International Students”. Briefly, the theme implies the need to learn how to live unselfishly and how to serve others by being there for them when they needed you most.

A second area of accomplishment which was widely spoken about by both teachers and academics within Bristol was the project I ran on promoting international understanding through education.  The primary aim of this Rowntree-sponsored project was to tackle certain intended and unintended biases held by the pupils in 100 Avon and Somerset schools about the developing world in general and Africa in particular. This project, among others, entailed discussing their pre-conceptions with them and encouraging them to create contacts and exchange of ideas between them and some refugee pupils in schools in Sudan.

A third area which gave me great satisfaction whilst serving the University was the immense effort and sacrifice I made to build bridges between my alma mater in my second home, the UK, and the Ministry of Education in my country of birth, Eritrea. The Bristol-Eritrea Link Programme which was sponsored by the Danish Organisation DANIDA, resulted in the production of 1 PhD and 48 M.Ed. degree-holding Eritreans on-site in Bristol and in the professional upgrading of 250 School Directors, Supervisors and District Education Officers over a period of three, in-service summers in Eritrea. Designing these tailor-made inservice modules and teaching and running them in Asmara were by no means easy tasks. The professional and financial benefits of this Link Programme, which lasted for about a decade,  were also of immense significance to the University of Bristol. Another area of activity recognised by many national and international educators as an accomplishment were the four International Conferences I organised on topical professional issues.

Finally, what would you like the audience to take away from reading about your life and work? 

It is not for me to suggest what readers would take away from reading about my life and work. This is because the book blends aspects of culture, religion, history, politics, economics and education (which in turn is broken down to multicultural, refugee, and global education) whilst narrating my life journey. Of these, different readers may find some aspects more relevant to their needs and interests than others. Broadly, the book demonstrates how the lives of individuals are or can be affected when they move from the local to the national and global spheres of life. It also provides a vision of hope and action for the future of humanity. Given this, I would like to invite readers to reflect more on the following five concepts and practices.

The first pertains to my “global vision”. In the book, I am described as a “global educator” and a “dreamer”. My dream is to see a world where justice, fairness, and equality prevail for all members of the Human race. A related dream is to see a “reconciled world” – one where the powerful and technologically-advanced “North” is reconciled with its weaker, poorer, and more populated counterpart, the “South”. A third area worth reflecting upon is my conviction in the power of education and its key roles in individual, social, national, and global developments. Such  a conviction (one that has earned me the nickname of an “Education Evangelist”), I believe, will help all educators to make a difference in a world of indifference. A fourth is my suggestion that we can use education to achieve peace at individual, national, and global levels. This perspective of cultivating peace in people’s hearts and minds through education is in direct contrast to the old Roman maxim which argues that the way to peace is “through war”. Finally, I would like readers to reflect on my perception that life becomes more meaningful when one leads a life of purpose. This is best understood when each one of us decides to become more connected with humanity through our thoughts and actions, one of which could be lifting others as we climb up. 

The book can be found online and will soon be featured in the University of Bristol library. 

Reflections on Kenneth King’s talk, “Lost in Translation? Learning Challenges in the SDG4 Target-to-Indicator Process”

Below, CIRE Members and Msc students Sabah Hussein Shide, Doris Asimeng, and Chris Doel reflect on their impressions and the questions, yet to be answered, that arose in their consideration of Kenneth King’s recent talk on Sustainable Development Goal 4.

Sabah Hussein Shide: Problematic indicators and educational quality

Professor Kenneth King presented a lively and stimulating discussion on the fourth Sustainable Development Goal for education (SDG4) titled: Lost in Translation? Learning Challenges in the SDG4 Target-to-Indicator Process. Whilst many aspects of this presentation resonated with me, I will share my reflections on just one of the issues raised which was the narrowing and reducing of education goals into useable global indicators.

Professor King highlighted the inconsistency with the claim that SDG 4 resulted from ‘the most inclusive process of consultation in the history of the United Nations’ (Naidoo, cited in King, 2017). Yet, arguably the most important task of translating these into achievable targets and essentially the process of global indicator development has been principally left to technical experts (in UN’s Inter-Agency Expert Group). This, King argued, has resulted in the omission of vital, qualitative aspects of some of the globally agreed targets whilst other aspects have been misrepresented, bearing little resemblance to the idealistic goals they represent.

Professor King gave some striking examples, like that of SDG 4.3 & 4.4 where equal access for all to ‘quality technical, vocational and tertiary education’ and increasing numbers ‘who have relevant skills, including technical & vocational skills for employment, decent jobs & entrepreneurship.’ Which gets translated into a global indictor that only aims to measure the ‘proportion of youth and adults with information & communications technology (ICT) skills, by type of skill’ And ‘quality technical and vocational’ becomes merely ‘participation rate in formal & non-formal education & training’ in last 12 months.

It struck me that whilst on the one hand the ‘right things’ are relatively easy to identify and say in a global declaration of sorts, it is clearly far more difficult to measure in any meaningful way. Instead what we are left with is a mismatch between the global education targets highlighted in SDG4 and the indicators that are said to measure the progress towards these. For me, as an inherently qualitative-focused individual, the idea that an area such as education which is multifaceted and complex can be reduced to that which can be measured or counted is hugely problematic and needs redressing.

It also made me question the extent to which the same goals that are supposed to be levelling the playing field and raising the education standards of all countries around the world are instead effectively eroding the scope of education to enrich and empower beyond statistically compliant measures. For countries that continue to pursue their national goals in conjunction with regional and global goals and targets, perhaps the limitations set by SDG4 indicators can be overcome more easily. However, my concern is more for developing countries that are more likely to internalise global goals and agendas, sometimes at the cost of national and regional goals. Can relevant skills such as ‘…technical & vocational skills for employment, decent jobs & entrepreneurship’ in these countries really be reduced to just ‘ICT skills’?

Doris Asimeng: Whose expertise?

A system is being set up in which only the global indicators will be used for the key annual SDG Report. What happens therefore to the priorities set by, for example, the African Union’s Agenda 2063, with its very different deadline? Or to countries, such as China, with their Five-Year Plans? Do countries have to accommodate the 17 goals and 169 targets of the SDGs within their own agreed national plans? Assumption of a Global Governance concept a problem: Who are they? Where are they? And what power do they have over nations? (King, 2017 Slide 14)

The above excerpt from the presentation from Kenneth King summed up my sentiments about the global influence on policy making at the national level. I had not given much thought to the targets and indicators of the SDG 4 until that presentation. Indeed I became familiar with the SDG 4 last term whilst researching an assignment on quality education. In my quest to know more about EFA and SDGs, in particular, the influence of global actors on national policy in respect of EFA attracted me to this seminar.

It was interesting to learn from King that there has been a dilution of indicators used for measuring the targets set for the SDGs. The key idea I took from the presentation was the conflict and tension that nations, especially those from the developing countries face in meeting these SDG indicators which take no cognisance of national and regional educational plans as shown in the quote above.

The involvement of OECD-DAC in developing indicators for SDGs was revealing. King pointed out that ‘the vital process of global indicator development has been principally left to technical experts (in UN’s Inter-Agency Expert Group)’. He did not elaborate on the constituent members of the group but my personal guess is that the group is likely to be dominated by OECD countries.

In the final analysis, the presentation clearly contributed to my research on the influences of the global on national policies of countries in the area of the EFA Framework.

Chris Doel: Local contexts and technocrats

The opening question ‘Lost in translation?’ relating to SDG4, was apt for a group of MSc students embarking on research into the significance of SDG4 and global education policy in a UK context.

The session explored the intricacies of global policy that does not really take into account the realities of local contexts. Of course, local contexts are alluded to in the goals, and not just in SDG4; but how are less developed countries supposed to implement SDG4 if some, or all of the goals, do not align with local contexts? This is the case in developed countries too where it is right to assume that the SDGs are not widely known about, or they are ‘managed’ and ‘implemented’ (if at all) by ministries not aligned with education. Let us take the UK context where DfID have the responsibility to implement SDG4 but do not communicate directly with the DfEE. Therefore, what is the significance of global education policy when, it is argued, many developing countries are implementing SDG4 whilst many (Northern) states are not. How can the SDGs be achieved? Is there ever going to be equity across the globe in terms of how people are educated? Do the UK see SDG as a national or international education policy?

Are the SDGs achievable? It would seem that other hurdles are already in place (unwittingly). Such hurdles contradict the advertised nature of setting up the SDGs because of the proposed failure of the preceding EFA and MDGs. Where was the transparent democratic process? What about ‘targets’ and ‘monitoring’.

Not only are there targets, but indicators too: the latter being developed by ‘technocrats’, as opposed to the publicised consultative process leading up to the implementation of the SGDs in September 2015. ‘It is claimed that SDG 4 resulted from ‘the most inclusive process of consultation in the history of the United Nations’. By contrast, the vital process of global indicator development has been principally left to technical experts. It is claimed that the ‘global indicator framework will be simple yet robust’, but how? For SDG 4’s 10 targets there are 11 global indicators and 32 thematic indicators; there will also be regional and national indicators; it would be interesting to ascertain whether such ‘regional indicators’ have been contextualised. What happens to quality learning and children’s rights to education, where only 11 global ones are the main source of data for the UN’s annual SDG reports?

Therefore, ‘global governance by targets and indicators’. Linked closely to this we see that there is also a closely aligned relationship between the public and the private, which highlights the ambiguous nature of ‘free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education’ (SGD4.1). This begs the question of ‘whether such partnerships undermine education as a human right’. The relationship between the public and the private will always be a contested one and could jeopardise the intended aims of SDG4. Which members in the global society will miss out? The poor and vulnerable? However, the private sector could raise awareness of SDG4 which is not widely known about, let alone understood.

Kenneth King concluded on an assumption of global governance, posing the following question: The Final, Bigger Question: Global, Regional or National Priorities? Which brings us back to the ‘targets’ and ‘indicators’ discussed earlier. What about priorities set by individual countries that may not necessarily have the same priorities as the global community? What happens, for example, to the priorities set by the African Union’s Agenda 2063, with its very different deadline? OR ‘countries, such as China, with their Five-Year Plans?’ There are 17 goals and 169 targets; how are these to be integrated into national plans? There is also the ‘Assumption of a Global Governance concept’ (which is) a problem: Who are they? Where are they? And what power do they have over nations? This is all to be taken into consideration within national and local political contexts. What about the political shift to the Right? Will SDG4 be a priority and align with national politics (King)?

Echoes from the field: Meeting gatekeepers

16716167_10154395149407549_2697571276313872087_oJane Nebe is a 2nd Year PhD student at the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol. Her research is investigating the consequences that poor academic performance in Nigeria’s high-stakes examinations, have on post-secondary school educational aspirations. 

I stood before him with a smile. An elderly man with grey hairs, standing tall and confident. He was holding white chalks, about four pieces of them. It’s been a while that I saw white chalks. For some seconds, I fixed my gaze on the white chalks as it brought back forgotten memories – copying notes from blackboards as a student, writing on blackboards as a teacher and secretly chewing white chalks when the craving arose. But I was not there to see white chalks. I was there to get access to meet potential participants for my research. Papa, as he is fondly called, was the first gatekeeper I met as I commenced fieldwork. Papa teaches and supervises activities, at a privately owned coaching centre for secondary school students and leavers, who are preparing to write Nigeria’s high-stakes examinations. The high-stakes examinations are for certification and selection into higher educational institutions. He returned my smile with a smile of his own as I began to introduce myself.

white chalks

My PhD research is exploring the lived experiences of secondary school leavers who wrote the secondary school exit Certificate Examinations (CEs) in Nigeria, in order to understand how poor academic performance in the CEs initiates consequences on educational aspirations. On 27th December 2016, I returned to Nigeria to commence data collection using a Mixed Methods Phenomenological Research (MMPR) Design. After a pilot phase, qualitative data was collected using Life-Grid charts and interviews. The preliminary analysis of the qualitative data, the stage I am presently in, is informing the design of the questionnaires that will be administered in the next phase, after being piloted. Getting supportive gatekeepers has been easier than anticipated, but I cannot say the same for getting actual participants who meet the criteria for selection. As I continue with the preliminary analysis of my qualitative data, I see potential ways of improving my sampling strategy and design, in order to enrich my research findings. But time is a factor I must take into consideration if I intend to make any revision in the next phase of my research design.


Reflecting on my fieldwork experience so far, I am grateful to all the gatekeepers that I am working with presently. Prior to our first encounters, I neither knew nor had met any of them. I am impressed by how much they value knowledge and wish to be a part of something that would seemingly extend the frontiers of knowledge. They have provided the platforms for me to address potential participants. They have allowed me to use their space as the venue for collecting data. I have had some of them refer me to other places I can find potential participants. They have always welcomed me pleasantly when I arrive. And yes, Papa tried to match-make me with one of his handsome teachers. Perhaps, I would have given it some thought, if I did not have to explain its ethical implications for my research. For now, I will just focus on collecting ‘rich data’.