Prof Rosamund Sutherland: Education and social justice in the digital age

Prof Rosamund Sutherland: Education and social justice in the digital age


Research seminar as part of the University of Bristol ‘Powerful Knowledge’ series


Rosamund always starts her teaching with this quote:


“The environments in which humans live are thick with invented artefacts that are in constant use for structuring activity, for saving mental work, or for avoiding errors or they are adapted creatively almost without notice. These ubiquitous mediating structures that both organise and constrain activity include not only designed objects such as tools, control instruments and symbolic representations like graphs, diagrams, text, plans and pictures, but people in social relations, as well as features and landmarks in the physical environment.” (Pea, 1993, p8)


This seminar, drawing upon the themes in her recent book ‘Education and justice in a digital age’ (now available with a 20% discount covers some really insightful thoughts into the current curriculum debates hotly contested across the sector. Rosamund reminds us, drawing up her research and experience with schools in the Bristol area, it is not the public school/state school debate which matters, but the state school/ state school debate, especially in terms of catchment areas for schools. Her horrifying statistic shows that in South Bristol, where there is more deprivation, 18% of young people go into HE, compared with the relatively more affluent West of Bristol, where 50% of young people are able to make the transition to HE. She argues that, from a social justice perspective, the priority of schools should be to give young people the formal knowledge they are not likely to learn outside school.


“Mass schooling, as a core institution of modernity and one of the inventions of the enlightenment, is a unique opportunity for students at any age – to acquire what I will call ‘powerful knowledge’ – knowledge that they would not have access to at work or at home and knowledge that takes them beyond their experience” Young, 2010


The talk covered four key areas, Capabilities and opportunities to become, drawing upon the work of SEN (2001, 2008, 2009) Powerful knowledge, drawing upon Young 2009, 2010 – the success of pupils is highly dependent on the culture that they bring to school. Elite cultures that are less constrained by the natural exigencies of life, are, not surprisingly, far from congruent with acquiring these in different contexts (Young 2009). People and technologiescovered the importance of working with human and technological resources, and this should be recognized in schools – also includes recognizing the use of resource as what Vygotsky would call ‘a more knowledgable other’. The final theme drew upon Olsens work exploring a Fourth and future pedagogy – a pedagogy of arriving at a joint goal, both shared and public, against which either student or teacher can assess the pupil performance and take corrective action.


Summary is all mine, as are any mistakes in the narrative! Off to buy the book – already recommended it to our library as an essential addition to the policy section..thanks to Rosamund for an insightful and interesting tour around her ideas.

Category: ALTC

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