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The Hair, Skin, and Education of Black Girls

CEID Admin11 June 2017

STUDENT BLOG #2 | Gender Equality Stream | June 11, 2017

By Veronique L. Porter

The Hair, Skin, and Education of Black Girls

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Photo credit Devin Trent

I wrote this blog post in high anticipation of the Centre for Education and International Development (CEID) symposium on June 15th, and the discussions to follow around the CEID’s thematic areas including gender equality and women’s rights.

As I struggled to write this blog post, my classmate suggested I write about something I am passionate about. She is familiar with my social media, and knows my interests run wide and deep from my various posts. While my interests range across many areas, subjects, and themes, people of color are at the center. As an Education, Gender, and International Development student at UCL’s Institute of Education, right now I am keen to take a deeper look at Black girl’s education.

Despite my formal and informal studies and my life long experience, I somehow felt underqualified as I began to write. This is not an unfamiliar or irrational feeling. Rather it’s a response to subtle and obvious conditioning that my kinky hair and dark skin are not the features associated with educated, qualified people. And this reaction is not my unique struggle.

Black girls get these cues every day, often within the school environment. Schools in the United States often punish and suspend Black girls for being loud and aggressive at much higher rates than their peers, consistent with the perception of dark skinned women being angry and defiant. One ten-year-old student in the United States faced bullying at two schools over her dark complexion. To make matters worse, her teacher handed her a black crayon, instead of a brown one, during an assignment to draw self-portraits.

On an institutional level, many school policies regulate Black hair. Another US student was told her textured hair was “out of control and all over the place.” She was threatened with expulsion from the school if her hair was not “fixed or styled,” as her textured hair was considered a fad, which is against school policy. A school in South Africa told a student that she could not take her exams if she did not straighten her hair or make it “more beautiful.” A Black university student was barred from entering the university building in Brazil, because her “Black Power” hairstyle was too political. These are not policies that restrict styles but the texture as it naturally grows from these students’ heads.

The instances mentioned above are only a few examples of the intolerance that Black girls face based on their physical features. Stories like these regularly appear on news websites, in the content podcasts and blogs, and in my social media feeds, usually from sources that purposefully include Black news, events, and culture. The prevalence of these policies send clear messages to Black girls that they are not welcome in the learning environment without altering themselves. They should have a docile demeanor and be sure not to voice their opinion for fear of being perceived as being disruptive or defying authority. Highly textured hair needs to be altered for the classroom otherwise it is distracting or unkempt.

I say “Black” knowing that this is a very American way to label dark skinned people. Yet this is the most authentic way for me to describe the common denominator of the groups of people identified by their dark skin, and who face various types of oppression and discrimination in communities all over the world on the basis of their dark complexion.

My feelings of inadequacy, while sometimes frequent, are often brief. I know that I am knowledgeable and equally capable as my peers from other nationalities and of other complexions. But Black girls all over the world are shaping their personalities, their lives, their futures based on the information we give them in society and especially in school. There should not be an association with students’ physical characteristics and their learning. Schools can create and reinforce standards that make it more difficult for Black girls to learn by making them uncomfortable in their own bodies. But schools can also create a setting that values learning over appearance. The first step in creating a welcoming and equitable learning environment in schools is to allow Black girls to be Black students and eliminate policies that target their innate features.

I am looking forward to the ways the new Centre for Education and International Development (CEID) gender equality and women’s rights will contribute to girls’ education for girls of all backgrounds, ethnicities, and nationalities. But selfishly, I want more focus on the education of Black girls, so the Black girls of tomorrow don’t have to face the same oppression and inequality as the Black girls of today. I hope to discuss this topic more with my classmates and education experts during the CEID launch event, Thursday, June 15th.

Written by: Veronique L. Porter

Veronique has years of professional experience working in West Africa on education, youth development, and health, and supporting various USAID development programming from Washington, DC. At the time of writing, Veronique is studying the MA in Education, Gender and International Development (EGID) at the IOE.

Chile: Tunnels of Inequality

CEID Admin9 June 2017

STUDENT BLOG #3 | Inequalities, Poverty and Education Stream | June 9, 2017

By María Paz Alarcón

Why does inequality matter? Inequality of what? These are the usual questions I hear when speaking and discussing about inequality. When looking at a particular country’s data on inequality, we usually look at its GINI coefficient or the proportion of income accumulated by the highest and lowest percentiles located in the highest or lowest part of the distribution. When looking at inequalities in education, the eye is set on opportunities such as access, results among students from different countries, types of schools and households. These are often disaggregated by several characteristics, such as gender or ethnicity. All these indicators are indeed useful and necessary to improve educational opportunities, but I believe is time to have a deep look at the processes in which inequalities are embedded and how they impact peoples lives. As a Chilean, I have been a witness of a place where you can breathe inequality and segregation. Chileans might not have read international reports or know about inequality indicators, but when they travel through their cities, attend education and health services, and listen to how people speak differently, they note important differences. This recall other countries with strong inequality and segregation indicators, such as South Africa.

This segregation in education is linked with socioeconomic groups, which are concentrated in certain types of schools and areas. Segregation is strong in Chile. Through primary and secondary education these educational paths can be illustrated as separated tunnels with thick walls in which each group walk: the different realities don’t clash or meet that much. Only in Higher Education, and then only in certain Universities, some students from different backgrounds start to see each other, interact in classrooms and discover new realities. Data on higher education enrolment tell us that students from the lowest income backgrounds are significantly less-represented in higher education in Chile, but this gap has decreased in the last decades. Indicators on diversity do show improvements. But what I have observed and what I question is, do these students really see each other? What is happening with integration, process and interactions? Segregation and inequalities travel into higher education institutions and continue in different physical spaces. The topics of conversation, gestures, activities, places which student visit and their home realities are very dissimilar. When asked the question of which school they attended and which district they live in… will student be able to get along, understand each other, and truly see each other? The tunnel’s walls become transparent but might remain thick. In certain institutions, universities or careers, the phenomenon of “us-and-them” is strongly experienced by some, with, a sense of “I don’t belong here”. How much importance are we giving to these experiences in understanding forms of inequalities? How can discussion and social cohesion build up from here?

Inequalities re acknowledge to have a negative impact on economic growth, educational opportunities and a sense of community.  But much of this discussion sees inequalities as forms of inputs and outputs. The feelings, burdens, sense of voice, participation and belonging that people experience through educational processes, traveling between input and output, should be highlighted.  These experiences are things that people value. It is important for people to feel they belong, that they have voice, that they can relate and build community. I would like to make an invitation for us to start considering these effects on processes and experiences, as key to bring new perspectives on development and to eliminate barriers creating divisions. I hope that we can start to glimpse less parallel thick-wall tunnels, to then establish paths that cross and connect. In this way individuals can effectively see and understand each other.

As an MA student currently working in The Centre for Education and International Development (CEID) at UCL, I have been influenced by the work CEID has developed on social justice and equality, one of their five thematic areas, bringing debate on these complex issues and their intersections with other key themes. I’m looking forward to discussing perspectives on inequalities with the other participants at the CEID launch on Thursday 15th June 2017.

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María Paz Alarcón has worked in Chile contributing in the improvement of educational opportunities for disadvantaged groups by tutoring, developing educational projects and coordinating University affirmative-action initiatives. She is currently a student on the MA in Education, Gender and International Development at the UCL Institute of Education.

From conflict to sustainable peace, education is key

CEID Admin9 June 2017

STUDENT BLOG #4 | Conflict and Peacebuilding Stream | June 9, 2017

By Sebastian Guanumen

 “By peace we mean the capacity to transform conflicts with empathy, without violence, and creatively – a never-ending process” ~ Johan Galtung

The country where I come from, as many others around the globe, has suffered from years of internal conflict that left millions of victims. The violence in Colombia, as in any other conflict-affected context, has been a shaping factor defining the cultural, social, political and economic development of the nation. I will use this space as an opportunity to bring a brief reflexion about the role of education in peacebuilding, pa in Colombia.

More than fifty years of conflict between the state and diverse insurgent groups left the education sector unprotected and vulnerable to all kind of attacks. Constant threats to teachers, recruitment of child-soldiers, forced-displacement and minefields around schools made Colombia a very hostile environment for education, especially in remote rural areas, where the conflict was cruel and persistent. All those violent actions exacerbated issues regarding the availability of qualified teachers, the inadequate infrastructure, the limited access to education, its quality, and its capacity of adapting to children’s needs and their changing environments.

Today, just a few months after the signing of the peace agreement between the government and FARC, and ad portas of its implementation, the enormous challenge of building sustainable peace in Colombia requires the commitment of a majority of the Colombian people. In order to create the conditions for a successful peacebuilding process it is important to design, plan, and implement comprehensive and transformative policies, programmes and interventions in all sectors, including education.

The transition from conflict to sustainable peace requires not only stopping explicit violence but also transforming the different expressions of structural violence that were the ground that allowed the conflict to emerge. Historically, the Colombian education sector has suffered from direct attacks while reproducing structural inequalities. However, now, in the post-conflict context, it is time to question all those violent practices, unfair hierarchies, and unjust impositions that continue to make Colombia prone to relapse into conflict. We need to move towards an education that teaches and promotes non-violent actions, equal relationships, reflection, critical thinking, and peaceful dialogue.

Even though it is the obligation of the state to secure and guarantee the right to education to all Colombian children and young people, it might not be enough if there is not a transformation in our perspective and approach to education. In this post-conflict context, education cannot be seen just as a source of human capital, development or economic growth, it should be acknowledged as a platform able to boost processes of reconciliation, reinforce the restoration of the social fabric, recognize the cultural, ethnic and political diversity, heal the collective memory of the country, reintegrate ex-combatants and bring social transformation.

As a young student who has been always committed to social justice, peace and education I look forward to hearing more about CEID´s five topics and learning from other participants’ experiences of schooling and the end of conflict and work towards peacebuilding at the CEID Symposium on June 15, 2017 at the IoE.

Sebastian Guanumen

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Sebastian is a political scientist and current student on the MA in Educational Planning, Economics and International Development (EPEID) at the UCL Institute of Education.

Perspectives on Education and Migration

CEID Admin9 June 2017

STUDENT BLOG #5 | Education and Migration Stream | June 9, 2017

By Jugo Vukojevic

MIGRATION: ‘Perspectives on Education and Migration.’

Thinking about how to write a blog post about education, migration, and development is an exciting and overwhelming prospect at the same time. The complexity with which these fields connect and affect each other, makes one consider the seemingly infinite multitude of causal relationships and perspectives such a topic can have. This reality, while daunting, is precisely why research in this area is so fascinating.

The impact of migration and education have woven their way into, and shaped my own life in a variety of significant ways. As a young refugee in Yugoslavia I learned the importance of education, and the vulnerability of society. Later, as a student, emigrating and attending school in a number of different countries, I learned about cultural differences, the significance of having one passport versus another, and the differences in educational and living opportunities of different countries.

Through my studies I have become aware: migration and education have always had a significant impact on social development. The growth of human populations over time has increased both the complexity and degree to which this is true. Early societies were formed through mass migration, technologies, from early plant domestication to the internet today, were spread through the movement of peoples, while the impact of colonialism on the spread of global trade and slavery continues to shape our world. Today the impacts of modern warfare, environmental disasters, and economic and technological changes are causing exponential growth in migrations. Modern formal education, as a widely available and accessible public good we know today, likewise continues to impact our world and is crucial to individuals and societies. Global capitalism and growing populations make educational qualifications an increasingly important commodity for individuals, while societal ideals of citizenship and patriotism continue to drive the politicization of educational provision.

This historical perspective illustrates the positive and negative impact migration and education have had on societal development. It also emphasizes that, while educational provision has expanded significantly, the growth in migration, and importance of education as a necessity for the real opportunities people have, makes continued research into these areas more important than ever.

Attempting to tackle the multitude of complex issues in the intersection of education, migration and development through my own experiences alone, however, seems hardly adequate. Instead, I realized that through my experiences with migration and education I have been fortunate enough to have met a variety of interesting and wonderful people with diverse backgrounds, and perspectives of their own. Below is a collection of some of their experiences. The variety of these perspectives, is in some ways representative of the variety of important questions that are at the heart of this intersection of development research.

 

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Khadija
Khadija (parent – Somalia/Egypt/Canada)
  1. I am originally from Somalia, but prior to moving to Canada I lived in Cairo, Egypt. We moved our family because there was war and strife in my home country, and the conflict was wiping out my people, and the majority of my generation.
  2. Education for my children played a large part of my decision in where to find asylum, find a home. I wanted them to have a good education. We learned from abroad that Canada had a great reputation for standard of living, which included quality education.
  3. Education is very important for the well-being of all peoples, and for attaining a strong future; I vehemently believe it is the key to achieving advancement in many walks of life. On a more basic level, a formal education is the best tool to promote independence and personal freedom.
  4. I was very satisfied with how things have turned out with educating my children in Canada.

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Dennis
Dennis (University student – Russia/USA/France)
  1. I was a student at a bilingual school in Paris, the Ecole Jeannine Manuel, which blended French students with international students from all over the world. My high school is extremely internationally oriented and always pushed its students to look outwards and apply to universities in the US, Canada and the UK. I initially wanted to study at Tufts University near Boston, as I really liked the idea of a liberal arts education which gives students the opportunity to try out many different areas of study before specializing, but I finally came to UCL to study a European, Social and Political Studies degree which also offers me amazing flexibility, ranging from classes in Film Studies or Russian Poetry to International Security and Intrastate Conflicts.
  2. My high school in Paris has always pushed its students to study abroad, for one reason mainly; in the globalized world of today, it is more recognized to have a degree from a college that is known across the globe, than a college that is known solely in its own country. Also, after growing up in France as an international kid (born in USA, Russian parents), I really wanted to try something new, in terms of language, culture and way of learning. I did not see myself studying three more years in France, and the Anglo-Saxon education has always been appealing to me in the way that it forces the students to be independent and not to rely on teachers and continuous guidance.
  3. The most challenging part of my experience thus far would be to use the vast amounts of spare time we have and convert it to productive studying. I have only 9-12 contact hours per week, which obviously leaves a lot of ‘free time’. Though this free time is designed for students to be working independently, I have had a tough time doing so. In my first year, these many hours were often wasted because of lack of experience in self time management. This year, these hours were used more productively, be it towards sports, music or socializing, but it is still not easy to actually put yourself to work.
  4. The best part of my experience at UCL is the independence and maturity you gain from living alone, relying only on yourself, grounding yourself when you have work, cooking, managing money. I feel like living in a big city like London and studying at UCL has transformed me into a much more autonomous and responsible person. New social encounters, especially through being part of a sports club at UCL (basketball) has allowed me to meet people with eclectic academic, social and geographical backgrounds. Basketball for me has definitely been a memorable experience at UCL.
  5. Education is what turns potential into success. I believe everyone has a potential, a base on which one can build on to become an individual equipped to make changes or have success in their field. Without education, which teaches you not only knowledge, but also work ethic, time management, and more, we would never be able to achieve heights we are capable of achieving. For me personally, education allows me to be more aware of the world I live in, and guides me slowly but surely to a field that I would be passionate about and would be excited to make a living on.

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Eva
Eva (teacher, student – Greece)

1. I delivered catch-up lessons and lessons of Greek language to unaccompanied refugees in Athens, aged from 10-15 years old with origins from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Syria. The boys were under the protection of the NGO I was working with and they attended an international public Greek school.

2. When I first started working with them, they have been in Greece for a few months, so language was the most difficult barrier but when you must have seen their faces and mine when we achieved to overcome this barrier. Also, we have to take into consideration that working with teenagers is not easy, especially when they come for a completely different cultural background.

  1. The best part of my job is when their dedication and effort, combined with my facilitation, bring them a step closer to feel as normal children; being integrated into the school community, communicating easily with their peers, having new friends, making progress at school, having good grades, being positive about their future, dreaming freely.
  1. These children survived from all these hazards, risked their lives to come to Europe and despite that most of them had never been to school, or have been for a few years, and despite all that, they found the courage to attend a new school in a new country with a new language (objectively a difficult one). It’s even more positive that the majority of them have high aspirations for the future. So, it is our responsibility to give them the advocacy to thrive and there is no other way to do it, than through education.
  2. Talking about Greece (because right now everything is in an early stage), we must design an educational plan for integration, for language acquisition, for trauma healing, for giving them back not only a sense of normality, but also their childhood and stop depending on the good willingness of individuals.

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The Wu Family
The Wu family (parents – China)
  1. We believe education is the most important thing for a child. In China, a good education can change somebody’s life.
  2. We want him to learn English because it is a skill for everyone. It is the most popular language in the world, and therefore relates to his job in the future and may allow for more mobility.
  3. Things that concern us about his education in the future are money, Chinese education policy, teachers, and the environment of education.
  4. We just hope that he can be healthy and happy every day.

 

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Ozair (student, refugee – Afghanistan)

  1. I think that education is important, because education changes everything for me. When my brother finished his education and found a job, that was a life changing moment for my family. I was born as an Afghan refugee in Iran, and I have never dreamed that we could live like a normal people until my brother started to earn money. It is also important because it changes the way people look at you regardless of your age and origin. Also, learning English enabled me to communicate with people in different places through my journey.

    Ozair

  2. I came from Afghanistan, and I am not sure where I want to go now. I would like to go anywhere I could go to University. If I can study here, in Serbia, I will stay here. But, maybe I would like to go to Switzerland, because in that country, the population speaks different languages, so I could learn them.
  3. I didn‘t go to school since I left Afghanistan. This is the first school I am in, after education that I got in my country. And, this is also the first time I‘ve decided for myself, without my family.
  4. I don‘t like when somebody gives me orders, so I would like to become my own boss, to have my own firm and to be in IT industry.

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Jasna
Jasna (social worker and school psychologist – Serbia)

1. My job involves various activities relating to work with students who come from underprivileged backgrounds. My school includes students from poor families, most of whom are Roma, whose parents are largely uneducated, having never completed primary school. In addition, this year Serbia has had a lot of incoming refugees from Afghanistan and Syria, many of whom are temporarily stuck here while they await opportunities to move to other countries in Western Europe. Our school has tried to accommodate for some of these children who have volunteered to enrol and attend temporary classes while they are here. As they attend a number of select classes, such as Serbian and English, my job involves ensuring their stay at the school is smooth and as useful as possible, and that they are able to achieve some educational goals set by the ministry of education.

2. The most difficult part of my job is work with families whose children have left school. Trying to convince them that their education is important, and to motivate them to complete primary school. Many of them, frequently migrate to Western European countries for a period of 1 to 2 years during which time they often do not attend school, or attend infrequently, before, usually, returning to Serbia where the rest of their family and community are. Because of these frequent migrations, the education our students receive is frequently hampered as it is interrupted.

3. The best part of my work is the feeling I get from helping someone. Among other things, it often happens that many of my students simply need someone to talk to and hear encouragement from, as their parents can be busy with work and trying to survive in dire circumstances.

4. The main goal, and biggest thing that can impact their lives is completion of, at least, primary school. Unfortunately, in Serbia, many of these students have very poor employment prospects, even with primary school completion. Without it, many will spend their lives barely scraping by, perpetuating the cycle of poverty, and living in poor conditions as their parents had done. Education is the only option they have for escaping poverty.

5. Finishing school can give them a job, and jobs can give their lives some stability and security. Security is what they are lacking most in life, which makes planning for the future and setting long term goals nearly impossible.

 

 

Educational interventions for unaccompanied or separated refugee minors.

CEID Admin6 June 2017

STUDENT BLOG #1 | Migration Stream | June 6, 2017

Mohamed Fouad

UASC participating in a session about hopes for the future

With more than 65 million displaced people by the end of 2015, few areas are more worthy of attention than the refugee crises hitting our world. I often say I used to have one of the most rewarding jobs there was. Working in education for refugees in Egypt for the past years, I got in contact with thousands of refugees hailing from more than 20 countries. Still, closest to my heart was the time I worked with UASCs and through this post I would like to share a few parts of this personal experience through an unreferenced post.

UASCs is an abbreviation commonly used for unaccompanied or separated refugee minors. Children separated from their parents and families because of conflict, population displacement or natural disasters are among the most vulnerable cases. Separated from those closest to them, these children have lost the care and protection of their families in the turmoil, just when they most needed them. They face abuse and exploitation, and their very survival most of the times is threatened. They often have to assume adult responsibilities, such as protecting and caring for younger sisters and brothers. Children and adolescents who have lost all that is familiar – home, family, friends, stability – are potent symbols of the dramatic impact of humanitarian crises on individual lives. By definition, un-accompanied minors are those children who have been separated from both parents and other relatives and are not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for doing so. As for separated children, they are those separated from both parents, or from their previous legal or customary primary care-givers, but not necessarily from other relatives. Those may, therefore, include children accompanied by other adult family members.

Throughout the past years, I have met, designed interventions, delivered workshops, and got invited to the homes of hundreds of unaccompanied or separated refugee minors. Some minors were separated from their families during long and dangerous journeys. Many were sent alone with traffickers and smugglers by parents desperate to deliver their children to safe havens. Others escaped on their own or in groups after witnessing the capture or loss of their parents to violent conflict. The stories were horrifying but they were even worse coming out from children. One would think that going through these tragic events would render all UASCs in need for serious psychological interventions. However, diagnosis actually showed that only a minority needed that after attending psychosocial support sessions.

I wanted to use this space to stress more on the importance of a participatory approach in planning educational interventions especially when it comes to UASCs. Sure, the word “participatory” gets tossed around a lot in development and planners might go through all their checklists designed to ensure the inclusion of all stakeholders in the planning process. However, if we perceive children to be completely helpless, traumatized and in need of direction, it can definitely affect our judgment. I cannot generalize, but for me, UASCs coming from Ethiopia with no resources, no Arabic or English language skills residing in hostile conditions in the slums of Egypt; an Arabic speaking country, were the most resilient and resourceful human beings I’ve ever met.

Are Accelerated Learning Programs (ALP) the most suitable for UASC? Will vocational trainings solve some of their problems? Can Refugee Community Schools (RCS) help them through informal curricula? Is it possible for them to attend public schools in an unwelcoming environment? I believe such resilient children are equipped to have the main voice in answering the questions that affect their future. I am glad to see that some agencies are starting to follow a more empowering approach when planning educational interventions for UASCs but as you might know, a gap seems to always exist between policy and practice.

I enjoyed discussing these issues with my peers, and other experts, at the CEID Launch symposium on Thursday, June 15th.

Mohamed Fouad

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Mohamed has extensive work experience as a Child Protection Officer with Catholic Relief Services, and is a student on the MA Education and International Development (EID) programme at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE).

The CEID Blog

CEID Admin5 June 2017

The CEID Blog

Welcome to the Centre for Education and International Education (CEID) blog.  This blog is a forum for staff, students, alumni and guests to write about and around CEID’s five thematic areas of engagement.

Our focus areas

The Centre concentrates around five thematic areas, each underpinned by the aim to improve people’s lives through research, teaching and generating new knowledge. These include: