IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Transcript: International development and education - the student view

International development and education module

Dr Will Brehm and students studying Education Studies BA, Psychology with Education BSc, Arts and Sciences BASc


00:00:02 Female voiceover 

You're listening to an IOE Podcast from the UCL Institute of Education. Powered by UCL Minds. 

00:00:26 Dr Will Brehm 

Hi, my name is Will Brehm, and I’m a lecturer of education and international development at the UCL Institute of Education. Some of you might recognize my voice from FreshEd, an interview-style podcast I host and started five and a half years ago.  

When I started at the IOE, I wanted to bring together my teaching and podcasting. Both were important parts of my academic life, but they rarely came together. 

At the IOE we pride ourselves on research informed teaching. 

So why couldn't I infuse my teaching practice with podcast pedagogy? 

Why couldn't I utilize the medium of sound and audio to enrich the study of education and International Development? That's what I attempted to do this academic year and the results have actually been quite amazing. 

But before we get to them, let me tell you a bit more about the idea. 

Podcasts complement academic papers by allowing authors to move beyond the conventions of journals and books beyond the jargon and acronyms so common in academia, informal conversations about new research allows us to take a step back and explore broader implications, plus podcasts reach new and wider audiences across the globe because they aren't behind the paywall. I've also learned to see podcasts as a way to democratize knowledge production and dissemination. They're really empowering. 

Anyone with a smartphone or a computer and an Internet connection can produce a podcast. Anyone can be a knowledge producer. 

Podcasts also have a lot to offer. Universities as an academic methodology, podcasts allow for the use of soundscapes and narratives to present and explore ideas in ways the written word doesn't allow. So here's what I did. 

I asked groups of students enrolled in my Education BA module to be knowledge producers by creating 15-minute podcasts on any topic in international development and education. These students had no prior experience making podcasts and they only had 10 weeks to submit their final audio file. 

So today I want to share three clips from the student podcasts to celebrate their work and also push the meaning of impact in new directions. You can find the links to the full episodes as well as a few additional episodes in the show notes below. 

Up first is a podcast called “An international debacle: A-levels examinations and COVID-19”.  

This podcast episode was created by Yihan Ma, Yinhao Ma, Kainat Malik, Irina Pena and Fan Wu. The podcast looks at the A-Levels grading fiasco in 2020 from the perspectives of students living in Pakistan and China. What happened to students abroad when the UK government decided to use an alternative method to decide grades? 

00:03:40 Sarah (former A-Levels student from Pakistan) 

...that's administered, administering our exam. Almost everyone here knows that as Cambridge. This is a choice. This is what we choose to do, the exams we choose to give. 

00:03:51 Host 

Whether you choose to take A levels in the UK or abroad, students were not prepared for what 2020 had in store for them. 

00:03:59 Dr Mary Richardson 

What happened in 2020 was that- of course, Covid hit everywhere in March, April time- initially the government in England decided that they were going to try and go ahead with the examinations and work out some strategies for being able to offer that for students. 

00:04:18 Dr Mary Richardson 

I think because early on, of course everybody was really optimistic about what might happen with covid. 

00:04:24 Host 

Which is why the Secretary of Education declared that exams will be going forward. 

00:04:28 Sky News reporter 

- Can you give us a cast iron guarantee that exams will not be cancelled? 

- Absolutely. 

00:04:33 Dr Mary Richardson 

Then it became really clear by the end of April that we were not going to be able to have thousands of students sitting in examination halls around the country. 

00:04:42 Prime Minister Boris Johnson 

We recognize that this will mean it's not possible or fair for all exams to go ahead this summer as normal. 

The Education secretary will work with Ofqual to put in place alternative arrangement. 

00:04:56 Dr Mary Richardson 

Examination boards, of which we have many in England- but there are three extremely big ones who dominate school-based assessments for students in England- they got together with the Government regulator- who’s called Ofqual- and they began talking about “Ok if we can’t have students sitting in examinations, what will we do instead?’ 

The decision was made that what they will ask schools and colleges to do is to gather together as much evidence as they had for each student.  

And they- What teachers would do with that was to present as evidence to say “All things being equal- which they never are in assessment- we would predict this grade for this candidate”.  

And that data was put into the algorithm and the algorithm tried to replicate the usual awarding process that happens year on year in examination boards.  

38% of students got grades that were substantially lower than they were expecting. And some of those grades were really low. There were instances of students being predicted a B or an A who got an F. Things like that. Which is quite catastrophic. 

00:06:18 Host 

Shortly after the students got their grades on results day, rejections from universities followed. The algorithm included the school’s past performance as another factor to predict the grades. This became extremely problematic. 

Lewis Griffin, head teacher at the Saint Benedict Academy, told us why. 

00:06:39 Lewis Griffin on BBC News 

Over the past 3 years we have entered 30 students. Three years ago, one of those students got a U grade. Because of that U grade three years ago the algorithm has made the decision that one of our students this year has to have a U grade. 

There was nobody in that class anywhere near a U grade, so they’ve downgraded somebody from a D grade to a U grade. 

00:07:21 Host 

While the UK had replaced the A-Level scores with centre assessed grades, what was happening to international students?  

Yunfei, an A-Levels student from China, tells us about the plan CIE set in place after the cancellation of the examinations. 

00:07:38 Yunfei (A-Levels student from China) 

They announced that they would take a careful plan to judge students’ grades like, school must bring students and make a ranking in each grade. Also, schools must handle grades with supportive evidence, such as the homework or the results of mock exam... 

However, after the results were released, we found the CIE examination office totally did not follow this policy. Instead, they used another plan to drive the final grade. 

And most of us got much lower grades than the predictive grades. 

00:08:22 Dr Will Brehm 

That was Yihan Ma, Yinhao Ma, Kainat Malik, Irina Pena and Fan Wu. 

Next up is a podcast called “What does COVID-19 reveal about educational inequality, specifically regarding the digital divide in the UK?” by Trista Wu, Beatrice Ye, Danni Zhang, Najmo Abdalla and Sungjin Oh.  

This podcast explores how COVID-19 reveals the problem of education inequality when certain groups don’t have access to technology both within the UK and around the globe.  

00:08:59 DW News reporter 

At the height of the pandemic schools in some 190 countries closed their doors. Many have since re-opened but the experience of lockdown heightened major inequalities in education  

00:09:11 Male voice (Sky News) 

I think that this coronavirus exposes a deep digital divide. 

00:09:17 BBC News reporter 

This pandemic is exposing inequalities and in the classroom the poorest are falling further behind. 

00:09:24 Host A (Danni) 

Welcome to our podcast, I am Danni. 

00:09:28 Host B (Beatrice) 

And I am Beatrice. 

00:09:30 Host A (Danni) 

Just now we have heard some news about the issues of inequality and some chaotic sounds. 

00:09:36 Host B (Beatrice) 

The chaos reminded me of the time when the pandemic just hit the globe. Many people are living such a hard time, especially those who are less wealthy. I would say it not only impacted every individual, but also stressed on international issues. 

00:09:52 Host A (Danni) 

Do you think that COVID-19 plays a part in this? I mean, the educational inequality.  

00:09:57 Host B (Beatrice) 

Yes, not every child has access to technology, that’s one way in which digital divide occurs. 

00:10:04 Host A (Danni) 

Wait, digital divide? 

00:10:06 Host B (Beatrice) 

Yes, in a nutshell, that’s about how different groups of people have different access to technologies. Dr. Patti Rose, the president and founder of Rose Consulting, explains it in relation to inequalities. 

00:10:20 Dr Patti Rose 

The digital divide is the gap between people who have sufficient knowledge and access to technology and those who do not.  

According to the secretary general of the United nations Antonio Guterres regarding the digital divide, ‘it is threatening to become the new face of inequality, reinforcing the social and economic disadvantages. 

Now that I am wondering are there any real-life cases, especially in our daily education practices? I mean, how is the pandemic affecting students’ education when it comes to digital divide?  

00:10:59 Host A (Danni) 

Today, we invited two A-Level students in the UK, Arthur and James to share their experiences during the pandemic. 

Hi Arthur, welcome! Do you mind introducing yourself first? 

00:11:12 Arthur 

Hi! I am currently in year 13 doing my A-Levels, I am going to a private school and I have been going to a private school ever since primary school. My parents are both lawyers, so I have been fortunate enough to grow up in a somewhat wealthy environment, I guess.  

00:11:27 Host A (Danni) 

So how did you cope with the online learning during the lockdown? 

00:11:31 Arthur 

I've had a lot of help from my parents and some private tutoring. 

So I don't really fall behind, but you know, I do it twice a week, around twice a week and my tutor keep checking up on me to see if everything is all right. The private tutoring really helped, and my school and the private tutoring academy also provide an online study room, so it is like many students go online at the same time and study together.  

00:12:03 Host A (Danni) 

Thank you so much for sharing and hi to James. Do you mind also introducing a bit about yourself? 

00:12:10 James 

Well, I am currently doing my A-Levels and am in year 13. I immigrated with my parents here about 4 years ago from the Philippines. Both my parents work at the same supermarket as customer assistants. 

00:12:25 Host A (Danni) 

How has the online learning transition been for you? 

00:12:28 James 

There are only a certain few in my school I think who are fortunate enough to have the computers and tablets to attend the live online lessons and keep up with the work. 

I believe what is disadvantaging me the most is that I lack access to educational resources, and I also find this really unfair that the opportunities to obtain a certain level of education is not equal for everyone.  

We have one computer in the house that I need to share with two of my siblings, therefore we have to take turns. My parents are also very busy with their work so after lessons, I have no one to ask for help.  

I am already falling behind because I cannot always attend the classes on time, but this situation is made worse with the fact that there is no one I can reach out to. 

00:13:32 Dr Will Brehm 

That was Trista Wu, Beatrice Ye, Danni Zhang, Najmo Abdalla and Sungjin Oh.  

Finally, we have Evelyn Faccion, Wanxue Li, Aubry Ma and Safiyah Suleman who produced a podcast called “Can global partnerships foster peace in conflict-affected contexts?” 

They explored how global partnerships can foster peacebuilding in conflict-affected contexts, specifically looking as the case-study of Somaliland. They unpack the different root causes of the problem in these areas and explore why peace remains elusive. 

00:14:06 Host (Evelyn) 

Peacebuilding education can be interpreted in different ways, but it comes down to how education can foster stability for younger people and reduce risks of recurring conflict. 

Higher Education in conflict-affected contexts can be a pedagogical space where, through global partnerships, curriculums can be collaboratively built. “constructive critical dialogue about the causes, consequences and solutions to conflict and inequalities can be made”. 

00:14:31 Dr Tejendra Pherali 

We designed a curriculum for higher education in Somaliland and taught it together.  

And that course actually stayed with the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies in the University of Hargeisa. So, the idea was that it was owned by the local colleagues rather than you know us giving out a curriculum, because that curriculum was developed based on research and consultation and review with the local university partners and other civil society partners in Somaliland. 

So, it was the idea to actually promote its relevance, contextualization and ownership of the research output. 

00:15:16 Host (Evelyn) 

Partnerships can be mutually beneficial in this way, with Northern universities providing expertise and resources, whilst Southern universities have indigenous and contextual knowledge. 

00:15:26 Host (Safiyah) 

That is true, but in these contexts, there are surely challenges. In South Sudan, for instance, partnerships were disingenuous, with the South used for data collection, and the North as a place where knowledge is produced. 

00:15:40 Host (Evelyn) 

That is true, and there are asymmetric power dynamics between western donors and the national stakeholders. 

If funding comes from the northern or developed countries, they are likely to have a higher level of power in shaping the agenda, and this is made worse when they occur across historically colonial lines. 

00:15:57 Dr Tejendra Pherali 

The national stakeholders tend to be more kind of excluded in the process of partnership, even though they may be there, their voice may not be significant in terms of shaping the agenda, or running the projects, or achieving the outcome. 

00:16:14 Host (Evelyn) 

Another issue is the politicization of the curricula. 

Northern donors have the focus of ensuring stability in the region rather than tackling root causes of conflict, which is the interest of the national stakeholders. 

00:16:26 Dr Tejendra Pherali 

So, for the donor countries, it is important to see the cessation of violence. And whether the donor countries are interested in going beyond just the end of war in addressing the causes of these conflicts. 

00:16:44 Host (Evelyn) 

Do you think that higher education can sometimes be too much of a political tool that is Western centric and can maybe push a Western idea of what peace building looks like? 

00:16:53 Dr Tejendra Pherali 

I think you are absolutely right. There is a danger of Higher Education Development being dominated by Western epistemologies, and this idea of modern higher education, disciplinary focused research, and all those things.  

And the way that higher education development is happening in conflict affected contexts, reflects the structure, nature, and approach of higher education in the Western world. 

I think this could be seen as a problem because the southern or local or indigenous epistemologies, ways of knowledge production, those could very easily be undermined. 

00:17:37 Host (Evelyn) 

So, building on this idea of western epistemologies and disciplinary education - the Sustainable Development Goals do not have any clear disciplinary home, they work holistically together and can be spread across different disciplinary frameworks. To what extent do you think that interdisciplinary education and university could then be a solution in promoting peacebuilding in these conflict contexts? 

00:17:58 Dr Tejendra Pherali 

Okay, that's a very important question.  

I think education and conflict being an interdisciplinary field of research and practice, I think it is crucial that the role of peacebuilding education needs to be informed by other disciplines, right?  

Because education, it is itself a multidisciplinary field of study about educational financing, it's about education policy, it's about assessment and curriculum ...situated in a complex social, political, cultural, religious, and historical context.  

And that's why and when you're thinking about conflict impacting on education, and promoting societal peace, you need to engage with different theories. 

00:18:54 Dr Will Brehm 

That was Evelyn Faccion, Wanxue Li, Aubry Ma and Safiyah Suleman with Dr Tejendra Pherali. 

And just a reminder, I’ve also included links in the show notes so you can listen to the episodes in their entirety. 

So, thanks for listening and I hope these students' work makes you rethink the power of podcasts and reaffirms your faith in the next generation of researchers, academics and professionals. 

00:19:24 Dr WIll Brehm 

There’s more from the IOE wherever you get your podcasts. Just search for “IOE Podcast”. 

00:19:44 Female voiceover 

Thanks so much for downloading and listening to this IOE Podcast from the UCL Institute of Education, University College London.