March 10, 2015

Ubuntu as requisite: Why emerging scholars must imagine humanism as the impetus for educational research

Written by Mariusz Galczynski, Lecturer, McGill University, Student Representative, CIES Board of Directors

This post originally appeared on the CIES 2015 conference website here.

For scholars, researchers, and practitioners alike, academic conferences provide the opportunity to engage in dialogue, exchange ideas, and connect with others who share similar interests—in collective deliberation over pressing issues and enduring questions. The prospects of these conferences are even brighter, of course, when they are international in scope, bringing together delegates from around the world to partake in a global conversation. And for those of us entrenched in comparative education, conferences like the annual meetings of the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) actually concretize the “global” aspect that is fundamental to our work within the field.

In the not-too-distant past, while attending one such conference relevant to our comparativist discourse community, I sat in the audience of a panel presentation on international large-scale assessments (ILSAs) and their effects on education policy. As this topic is primary to my own research agenda, which scrutinizes how policymakers’ and media misinterpretations of ILSA results spillover to diminish the occupational status of teachers in the United States and Canada, I was interested to learn whether similar phenomena took place in other parts of the world. Each of the presenters confirmed as much by highlighting how the achievement of students on ILSAs in their respective countries led to subsequent policy reactions. During the question period at the end, then, I asked the presenters if they had any ideas about how to communicate our understanding of ILSAs to policymakers and other education stakeholders, so that we could begin to reverse certain unjust effects of cross-national comparison which our research seemed to consistently reaffirm. But before any of the presenters could answer—and my impression was that they did have something to say in response—the well-established professor who was chairing the session interjected, “I’m afraid that your question is too practical for the purposes of our discussion here today.”

When President-Elect N’Dri T. Assié-Lumumba invited me to respond to the CIES 2015 conference theme on behalf of emerging scholars, I decided it would be appropriate to share the above anecdote from one of my early experiences in academia. This is because her theme, “Ubuntu! Imagining a Humanist Education Globally,” serves to remind all of us that our conference represents our collective ethos as researchers and practitioners, in commitment to exploring “an imagined future where education is a moral enterprise that develops and shapes minds to embrace humanism” (CIES, 2014). Indeed, moral purpose is central to construct of education, so much so that educational research really only acquires value in its (potential for) application. Yet, as my anecdote intends to illustrate, I am not sure that emerging scholars are those who need much reminding of this.

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