Meet Our Members: Interview with Dr Julia Paulson

Dr Julia Paulson, FHEA, is a Senior Lecturer in Education, Programme Lead for the forthcoming BSc in Education Studies program, and a member of CIRE.

CIRE Blog: What brought you to the Graduate School of Education and CIRE?

IMG_0615Dr Paulson: I have been attending CIRE events since 2011, when I was finishing my doctorate, so I knew about the wonderful community of comparative and international education researchers here at Bristol, which was definitely a big draw. After I finished my doctorate, I worked at Bath Spa University nearby, where I was Programme Leader for undergraduate awards in Education Studies and International Education. Bristol will be launching two new undergraduate degrees in September 2017 and a big part of my role is to help get them off the ground, which is a privilege. Unsurprisingly, the new undergraduate Education Studies at Bristol has a strong focus on international, comparative and global perspectives – interested people can learn more here. Finally, my partner is from Bristol and I am raising two mini-Bristolians, so being able to work nearby home is amazing!

What do you hope to contribute to the GSoE and CIRE communities? 

I hope to support the School to introduce wonderful new undergraduate provision that offers exciting teaching opportunities for colleagues and postgraduate students, as well as a great experience for undergrad students, who I’m sure will love being part of the warm, friendly community in the School. I’m thrilled to join CIRE, with its established expertise in social justice work in education, and to contribute towards developing work around education, peace and conflict, which is a strong area of common interest within the Centre and at the heart of my own research agenda.

How does your research fit into the research already being conducted at CIRE?

CIRE colleagues have been so important in laying out the conceptual and practical implications of a social justice approach to education. Their work has been important for me in thinking about the ways that education policy in conflict-affected contexts might contribute towards positive peace and to trying to understand the conceptual, potential and practical possibilities for education and transitional justice processes to complement one another.
There is really interesting work being done in CIRE around conflict – including Angeline’s work on teachers and peace-building and Shelley’s work on applying contact theory to better understand intergroup relations. There is real commitment in the Centre to social justice and working to understand how education might best contribute towards peace – and to acknowledging how difficult this challenge can be – and it is energising and exciting for me to join this community.

What are some possible future directions for your research?

I am just back from Bogota, Colombia and a workshop with colleagues there on pedagogy, conflict and memory – these are all themes I am taking up in current and future work, including as part of new project that I am developing in Colombia (with Michelle Bellino from the University of Michigan). I will continue with my interest in transitional justice, truth commissions and history education in conflict affected contexts, including through the publication of a Special Issue of Comparative Education on transitional justice and education, which is coming out in August 2017.
I am also very interested in education responses to the migration crisis, and to doing more work around possibilities for peace education here in the UK, especially in response to Brexit and in the context of Prevent.

Education and the sustainable development goals debate: Student reflections

Education and the Sustainable Development Goals 28 November 2016, 4.00 PM – 28 November 2016, 6.00 PM: Simon McGrath, Leon Tikly and Michael Crossley

Reflections from Marcia Shah

marcias-picMarcia Shah has recently defended her doctoral thesis, which investigated teachers’ perspectives on upgrading to degree status in Trinidad and Tobago. In this post she reflects on the recent CIRE research debate and its implications for improving the quality of education.

Throughout this debate, these prominent academics engaged the audience in thinking critically about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In this blog, I reflect upon the aspects of the debate which I found particular affinity with.

Professor Tikly provided a brief historical overview, which identified education as a basic human right, since the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child. Professor McGrath highlighted the ways in which the 1990 World Conference on Education for All, aimed to improve both the quality of education, as well as, to increase access to educational opportunities. However, he illustrated the ways in which the 2000 Dakar Framework reduced these rich discourses around educational quality to issues of access, evident in the six Education for All (EfA) goals and the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The SDGs were then examined in great detail. The three members of the panel affirmed that education is critical if countries are to build their capacity to achieve the other SDGs. Thus, while there are 17 SDGs, the speakers mainly focused on the education goal, SDG four. This goal was accompanied by seven targets and three sub-targets. One of the indicators of quality education, as expressed in target 4.7C, relates to teachers’ qualifications. This target was critically assessed, as it questioned the quality of teacher education, and the impact of teacher training on actual practice, among other things.

Professor Crossley provided intellectual stimulation on the implications of the SDGs in relation to national, regional, and global priorities. He noted the ways in which small states are inevitably ‘forced’ into global agendas, although their unique priorities may be quite different. Therefore he made a very pertinent argument that in order for the SDGs to be more meaningful, countries should adapt these to their unique needs and priorities. In concluding, he argued that there is room for mutual learning between the ‘developing world’ and the ‘developed world,’ as too often policies are dictated by the ‘developed world’ without learning from the rich experiences of the ‘developing world’.

Although this debate lasted for less than two hours, it has certainly left the audience thinking, evaluating, and reflecting upon the discussions, for many more than two hours, many thanks to the speakers for this!


Reflections from recent Masters graduate, Bowen Xu

15123400_1353156641363853_7569529262005242563_oBowen Xu is a recent graduate with a Msc Education (Policy and International Development) from the University of Bristol. He also holds a BA Education (Honours) degree from the University of Nottingham. His research interests include higher education and comparative education in the fast-changing global environment.

I am interested in the intersection of sustainable development and education as I have written an essay for Chinese higher education internationalisation by applying the concept of sustainable development. The seminar held by CIRE on Monday evening provided an excellent opportunity for me to upgrade my understandings about this concept by engaging with different perspectives from speakers and audience in relation to education development.

I believe sustainability presents a difficult standard for countries worldwide,  as achieving triple-sided economic, environmental and socio-cultural advancement simultaneously is absolutely a challenge for every country. So how can we integrate this notion into our educational system?  Perhaps we need some imagination and creativity.

Prof’s Crossley’s work on Small Islands Developing States particularly draws my attention. He argues that countries such as Maldives on the Indian Ocean risk the danger of drowning due to the rising sea level caused by climate change, and this can be disastrous for many places such as Maldives.  Indeed, they face the consequences of global warming and they are the victims of such ecological change. But who is responsible for this? The whole global community, and perhaps bigger economies in the West and Northern hemisphere. I worry about those small islands developing states; in fact, their future is not controlled by themselves, but controlled by others:  this could be the negative discourse of the globalised world.

UN’s sustainable development goals are rather comprehensive in a sense that it includes many different dimensions. Some suggest this could be referred to as an ideal list in which nation states can pick those that are more relevant to themselves. I partially agree with this, because some more powerful countries’ choice might affect how others survive. For example, in the case of global climate change, if the US and China do not reduce the carbon emission, then the world will continue to warm more quickly, and polar bears are going to be struggling with the melting Arctic Sea ice. How does this relate to education? Maybe we need to include those texts into our curriculum to let the next generations know the facts of this over-crowded and over-exploited planet and that they are living in a increasingly fragile earth.

I couldn’t help noticing some audience members and Simon and Leon are interested in the role that a growing China plays in such a scenario. As a Chinese national, I would say China’s development over the past few decades has not been sustainable enough and we need to explore more sustainable development pathways. Some also suggest that China should be invited into the core global community to play a central role in overcoming the new crisis. I think in fact that unchecked capitalism is actually the reason for the unsustainable development we have seen at the current time. We, as human beings, could only take from the earth what we need; the earth can satisfy our needs, but not our greed.  If un-regulated neoliberalism is not restricted and capital interest is flourish without restriction, then we can only see a continuing destruction of our ecological system, a growing gap between rich and poor and the emphasis of private interest over public good. I don’t see these as sustainable. In fact, we are in a crisis of searching for sustainable development and will not be able to bring the true spirit of sustainability into practise until we recognise that nature needs to be respected and human community needs to be more unified than divided. So, there is a problem of sustainable development of education, but it is so much more than that, it is a problem of human, nature and our relationship with each other, with the earth.


Research dialogue on peace and conflict: Responses from MSc students

CIRE – Research Dialogue on Peace and Conflict: Dr. Shelley McKeown Jones and Dr. Julia Paulson9 November 2016

MSc students Anil Akbulut and Chris Doel give their personal responses to the Research Dialogue presentations on 9 November, followed by MSc student Anna Burchfield’s reflection on a recent lecture by the first speaker, Dr. McKeown Jones. 

Anil Akbulut on Dr. Shelley McKeown Jones’ presentation:

When I joined this CIRE seminar, I was very excited because I wanted to write an assignment about segregation, migration and/or refugees and asylum seekers. At the time, I was reading a lot of papers about these topics, but the experiments that Dr. Jones explored in her presentation were really helpful to me because she provided real world examples and experiences. I have obtained some ideas from her presentation, especially the following sections: “micro ecologies” of segregation, her current project with racial segregation, and her future work with “the diversity effect”.  

From this presentation, several points stood out to me. In her research, she focuses on segregation, in that she looks at where students sit and who they interact with in order to see if they are moving outside of their groups. For this, the context of religious diversity in Northern Ireland for the example was interesting. The size of the population of Catholics and Protestants are almost the same so we cannot talk about “religious minorities” here, and they don’t “look” so different from each other, but they still maintain their different groups within their classrooms. Contact Theory argues that people will decrease their negative views of a group because of contact with them; Dr. Jones’ research appears to show that this isn’t always true. After this section, Dr. Jones asked the question: “Do we expect too much from contact?”

Secondly, and this was the most interesting part for me, she gave us some information about the experiments to look at racial segregation observations in primary schools.  In these observations, they used different methods, but mostly the Value In Diversity storybook, which teaches principles of diversity at a child’s level. The researchers observed the children before the story, immediately after, and then 24-48 hours after the story. Immediately after, the actions of children showed more intergroup contact, but unfortunately 24-48 hours after the story, their contact reverted to their own groups. Precisely at this point, I was wondering about their families’ attitudes and approaches to ‘segregation’ and ‘diversity’, because this stimulant is really significant in a pupil’s approach to his/her friends.

To conclude, I must mention that education (especially primary education) will be the most significant part when we are trying to create peace and desegregation and, as a teacher, these real examples from the real world are going to be our pathfinders. This presentation provided research that will help inform us as teachers. 

Dr Shelley McKeown Jones

Chris Doel on Dr. Julia Paulson’s presentation:

The broad essence with Dr Paulson’s presentation was a précis on the nature of Truth Commissions and their links to education since 1980. The broad range of countries included in the research analysis ranged from Argentina and Uganda in the 1980s, to more recent examples of Kenya and Canada (yet to be concluded and not fully implemented in the research at present). As such, it was highlighted that there had been forty Truth Commissions around the world, but to ascertain their relative success Dr Paulson’s research seeks to investigate the purpose of each and how they were evaluated and quantified. Commissions were evaluated broadly and then examined more specifically for education, with fourteen subsections for education engagement identified. Themes from the research included the significance of a recommendation to increase the use of education to address the issues raised through the Truth Commissions (such as new and revised pedagogical techniques), the exclusion of Northern Ireland from the research, and the validity of such research and the impact that it may have on issues such as ‘peace and conflict’ and, significantly, education.

The research raised the point that whilst education had also become a more prominent part of peaceable agendas in the past, it is not necessarily the case more recently. For instance, summative findings suggest that ‘the number of Truth Commissions and engagements in education, which was relatively insignificant in the 1980s, spiked in the 2000s, and has regressed to date’. What does this suggest?

Let us illustrate a number of points here that can illuminate some of the significant findings. When one examines the ‘Type and frequency of Truth Commission engagements with education’ there are four broad categories: ‘Instrumental’, Relationship’, ‘Investigative’ and ‘Recommended’. One interesting category which I will highlight is the latter; why? I thought it would be interesting to ascertain how the ‘Recommended’ category from the research was (or will be) acted upon by countries as a result of Truth Commissions. For example, considering the aspect of ‘non-formal’ education, where would this be filtered into institutions? Possibilities include the military and civil service so that beyond formal education, society can come to terms with the nature of conflict and strive toward peace. Additionally, ‘Teach history of conflict’ is interesting if only because it would be a challenge to the very nature of the problems that had occurred and triggered a Truth Commission; how would this be implemented and measured? Would the history be objective? What would objectivity look like? These are some of the questions that I would raise.

Whilst an interesting and insightful presentation, the length of time was too short and as such there could have been more time given to developing some of the major conclusions thus far. This is by no means a negative comment, but as an MSc student I would have liked the fourteen points from the initial qualitative analysis to have been addressed in more depth, together with ‘Types and frequency of Truth Commission engagements with education’. On the latter point, each of the types of engagement could have been covered in more depth which could have stimulated an interesting discussion; especially important due to the nature of the research. Finally, to the point of Truth Commissions; who decides when they happen and why?

Dr. Julia Paulson

Anna Burchfield: A recent lecture by Dr Shelley McKeown Jones

In one of the recent lectures for the Education, Peace and Sustainable Development module, we were lucky to be joined by Shelley McKeown Jones. In the lecture, we learned and discussed contact hypothesis and how identity is reflected in individual’s group actions.

We learned that when using the contact hypothesis (the more time people spend with someone who is different to them, the more tolerant they become) there are some limitations. It is stated that for contact hypothesis to be true, all participants must start on an equal standing. Ensuring this in a society which has been polarised or with people who have lived their lives segregated is incredibly difficult – you cannot undo years of socialisation in one experiment.

Researchers must also ensure that there is cooperation and common goals amongst the participants. Creating a common goal can be easy, for example a sports team or a project. However when considering cooperation, it is important to recognise that there may not be equal participation or cooperation, and societal hierarchies may still be apparent and dominate the work.

Our group identities make us feel good about ourselves, being part of a group makes us happy. Pointing out the differences in other people makes us feel better about our standing. Trying to work to challenge these deeply ingrained attitudes will take long-term societal shift. I believe that we are moving towards a more inclusive society, as can be evidenced by voting patterns of young people in a couple of key elections/referendums this year. As we move into the future, we will bring with us more multicultural contact and more recognition of the need for diversity and celebration of each other’s differences.


Student Voices in SDG4 and Education 2030

Beth Button, current MSc. Education (Education Policy and International Development) student, reports on participating in the recent SDG4 and Education 2030 regional consultation meeting. Beth is an executive committee member for the European Students’ Union, responsible for representing students studying in higher education across Europe and campaigning and lobbying on educational issues within Europe and internationally. 

The regional consultation meeting for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) and the Education 2030 agenda took place on the 24th and 25th of October at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Attended by government representatives from Europe and North America, NGOs, and foundations’ representatives, the meeting assessed governmental progress on SDG4 and proposed recommendations to strengthen regional cooperation and monitoring of the targets.

As a representative of the European Students’ Union (ESU), I was present to offer student input, host a discussion on our work on national student movement engagement, and contribute to the discussions that took place regarding the region’s priority areas for the coming year, such as quality of education, skills and competencies, and education for refugees and migrants.


One of the thematic areas within SDG4 the European and North American regions have chosen to focus on this year is global citizenship education (GCED)– as a means for achieving target 4.7, specifically “promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence.”   GCED aims to  “empower learners to assume active roles to face and resolve global challenges and to become proactive contributors to a more peaceful, tolerant, inclusive and secure world” (UNESCO).

Strategies for approaching GCED within the SDGs vary from country to country. Some, like Norway, are focusing very much on human rights education, whilst others such as Albania, have developed specific targeted points in the curriculum to develop intercultural or interfaith understanding. Meanwhile, France has developed specific citizenship education which seeks to develop a sense of belonging- recognising that when people are afraid they tend to fall back on issues of identity. We at ESU strongly lobbied for an approach to GCED that was embedded holistically throughout the educational system- both formal and informal, and not approached as a singular thread in the delivery of a specific module.

In our engagement with the topic, ESU also argued that promoting peace and active citizenship through education has to be approached with a focus on embedding students as central partners in any process that takes place. Whether that’s in ensuring students are active in democratic structures, or through taking a student centered approach to redesigning the curriculum to make it more inclusive and diverse, if a learner can see their lived experience reflected in the content they’re delivered, they’re less likely to feel alienated within their education. This student centered approach will also develop leadership and critical thinking in learners through the process- by empowering students to be part of building inclusive and tolerant schools, education can be a tool to creating more inclusive and tolerant societies, promoting peace and preventing violence.

However, what struck me during all the discussions at the conference was how ‘preventing violent extremism’ (PVE) has become a dominant focus for the region within this thematic area. The continued threat of terrorist attacks has altered the way governments perceive the role and responsibilities of education- with a renewed focus on preparing learners to be resilient to violent extremism and preventing radicalisation. We, as ESU, along with other NGOs raised our concerns during the debates that this approach misses the opportunity to present education’s role in positively developing citizenship and promoting peace- and therefore preventing violence.

Whilst GCED has historically been about promoting positive values, the shift to focus on PVE has changed the language and terminology used, and therefore the implicit and explicit meaning of the policy focus. This change in language, from the positive role of education in the promotion of citizenship development and peace (for example through human rights education) to negative and even violent language about stopping radicalisation and extremism through preventative measures will undoubtedly have implications for the way member states approach educational policy on the matter in the months to come.

Another striking observation during the meeting, was the subtle removal of education for sustainable development from the first draft of this year’s policy recommendations. After years of debate within the group about the subject, for it to suddenly disappear from the agenda was striking. I was rapporteur for the thematic discussion on GCED, a platform which I also used to raise the concerns held by ESU and other groups such as open society foundations as to the lack of inclusion of education for sustainable development. Thankfully, it was reinstated in the final recommendations document, which can be found online here


Post author Beth Button (left) with Arleen Michelle, a representative from the European Federation of Intercultural Learning (EFIL)


Diversity in the Field: Masters Roundtable

EventCIRE Masters Dissertation Roundtable.  21 October 2016, 12.00 PM – 21 October 2016, 1.30 PM Room 1.20. 35 Berkeley Square, Clifton, Bristol BS8 1JA

At the recent CIRE Masters Dissertation Roundtable session, five Masters students exemplified the diversity found within the field of international and comparative education as they presented research submitted towards completion of their degrees. Representing five countries of origin (China, Dominican Republic, Malawi, the United Kingdom, and the United States), varying research methods (including desk studies, interviews, and action research), and even styles of presentation, they delivered their work to an audience of classmates and current postgraduate students, and faculty from CIRE and the Graduate School of Education. Despite this diversity, the speakers were bound by a common theme that each mentioned as an influence in their work, the advice of CIRE Professor Michael Crossley: “Context matters.”


Here, current Masters student Hannah Walsh  presents her reactions and commentary on the presentations.

The recent Masters Dissertation Roundtable event gave current students an engaging insight into the range and scope of research projects undertaken by last year’s cohort of students.

I was particularly interested by Betty Wisiki’s presentation on her research: ‘An exploratory analysis of the experiences of Deaf students in accessing higher education in UK universities.’

As a part-time Masters student, I am also working this year to coordinate a new outreach project, Bristol Classics Hub, for the Classics Department at the University of Bristol. This hub is designed to support state schools in introducing and developing their provision of classical subjects. A particular focus of my work on this project is to encourage the growth of Classics in state schools which have a high proportion of students from low socio-economic groups.

Betty’s discussion of the issues facing deaf students in higher education was therefore both challenging and surprising, in that it highlighted the extent to which deaf students are often underrepresented in the WP agenda. Her presentation has prompted me to consider how the outreach project that I am working on could provide more targeted and specific support to deaf or disabled students who may wish to access classical subjects.


Bowen, Laura, and Felipe pictured during the question panel.

The five speakers featured at the event included:

Bowen Xu: Globalisation and its impact on Chinese Higher Education Development: Opportunities, Challenges and Dilemmas.

Betty Wisiki: An exploratory analysis of the experiences of Deaf students in accessing higher education in UK universities.

Felipe Hernandez: An exploratory study on the “I am Me: Strong, Capable, and Peaceful” Summer Program: A pilot intervention program designed to strengthen self-esteem and perceived efficacy.

Laura Hankin: PREVENTing Critical Thinking: A study into the impact of the statutory Prevent duty 2015 on the development of critical thinking in young people in schools in England.

Nidia Aviles Nunez: Bridging the educational achievement gap in public school students of the Dominican Republic.

If you would like to contact the researchers individually, please contact Jane Nebe, CIRE Research Assistant. 

Empowering teachers to be change makers

EventCIRE – Empowering teachers to be change makers workshop 1 July 2016, 12.00 PM – 1 July 2016, 1.30 PM: Sharath Jeevan, Founder & CEO, STIR Education Room 3.18


Sharath Jeevan, Founder & CEO, STiR Education presented the challenges of teaching developing countries where teacher absence and low morale can be a real issue (often linked to erratic pay). STIR runs a successful CPD programme aimed at empowering teachers. Teachers in India and Uganda have become members of local “changemaker” networks where they meet with peers across neighbouring schools, to share their own classroom ‘micro-innovations’, and gain exposure to evidence-based practice. There has been a 300% rise in teacher punctuality for those involved in the programme and it will soon be rolled out further, in Tanzania, for example.

CIRE event audience members

Welcome to CIRE blog

IMG_0369[1]This blog has been set up by Angeline & Leon (with a little bit of help from their friends) for colleagues in CIRE to share their research events, projects, publications etc. Contact Jocelyn, Dave or Zibah to be given permissions to blog centre relevant posts – comments on them can be made by all of us.