EDU-ACTION: Empowering Democracy (with)in University: Academia for Critical Thinking and Inclusion

Workshop One: Social Inequality and Education Co-sponsored by C.E.P. and TEMPUS/Tacis

Students and teachers of the Department of Social Anthropology and Social Work at Saratov State Technical University have hosted on 16-17 February 2001 an International conference Social Inequality and Education. More than 130 Russian from Saratov, Moscow, SPetersburg, Kazan, Samara, Yaroslavl, Krasnodar, Arkhangelsk, Taganrog, and foreign participants from Ukraine, Sweden, UK, and USA. Among the participants there were university teachers and researchers, undergraduate and graduate students, school teachers, leaders of NGOs, social workers and officials.

Alexander Gatvinski, a Minister of Labor and Social Development of Saratov Oblast, in his greeting word addressed the importance of research and education in coping with acute social problems. In plenary session Valentina Iarskaia (Saratov) has stressed the necessity of democratization of university education, Kevin Whitston (Birmingham, UK) talked about the governmental program Widening participation which is aimed on engaging children from disadvantaged social class into university education. Galina Cherednichenko (Moscow) reported about her research into social inequality in secondary school. Danilo Leonardi (Moscow) presented mission of Civic Education Project and talked about its activity in Russia. Joshua Moses and Jenea Westover (C.E.P., Saratov) contributed presentations on participatory action research and peer-education perspectives.

The participants discussed issues of social work education and practice, gender aspects of inequality, issues of vocational education and employment, teaching methods. The students of Technical University and Academy of Public Service have presented the results of informal approach to education: academic battle and peer-health performances as well as round table discussion on education beyond the academic curriculum. Preventive role of education was discussed in regards to the problems of domestic violence, ethnic conflicts and segregation of the disabled. The participants have emphasized the necessity of integrated education for people with disabilities.

This forum is a respond to contemporary challenges of educational system. It shows that education is to promote equity and social development but at the same time limits our choice, contributes to segregation and reproduces social inequality. The conference has become a new step towards the bridging university and community in order to increase peoples chances for the fruitful life in the society, prevent violence and social disintegration, to promote positive social changes.



I found the event thoroughly worthwhile and stimulating.  I was impressed by a whole range of things: the friendly reception and hospitality, the hard work of graduate students and others providing translation, and the lively commitment of contributors to all the sessions.

The seminar was organized in an interesting way. The 'Panels', or workshops, which followed the initial plenary session provided tremendous scope for involving participants. Seminar themes were addressed in three broad workshops, different on each of the two days, with each theme-workshop having around nine presentations. This meant that the seminar/workshops moved at a brisk pace, involving around 60 formal contributions and anything up to three times that number offering questions and other contributions. This meant there was never a dull moment! Those who attended the seminars did so as active participants and not as passive listeners.

The range of issue addressed was equally impressive, including the sociology of educational inequalities, the hidden curriculum, social work in contemporary society, gendered education, bridging universities and local communities, civic education and multiculturalism, the pedagogy of freedom, and the social space of education.

Some strong impressions remain: many of the discussions were rooted in ideas long familiar in Britain e.g., debates about child-centred education, the effect of "marks" on student perceptions of progress, gender differences in subjects studied etc., but tackled with a new freshness and real enthusiasm for possibilities perceived in the new Russian context. In contrast, some themes such as increasing differentiation of state educational provision mirror our more recent experience. It would be interesting to explore further the meaning of such differentiation in such different situations.

Finally, the 'academic battle' staged by students for the final session was as entertaining as it was instructive. They showed beyond doubt that not all learning is dull, or done at a desk. I learned a great deal from participating and thank the seminar organizers and speakers for a positive experience.

Kevin Whitston (Director, Widening Participation Unit, University of Birmingham, UK)

The whole experience in Saratov was informative and stimulating - on my return, so many people are interested to hear about the conference and its content.

I would add one point of detail - I thought the involvement of Saratov staff and post graduate students was very impressive. This included chairing the themed sessions, providing most helpful interpretation and generally being involved in making delegates feel comfortable and included. It struck me as an example of good practice in how to organise a conference and develop staff at the same time. Many thanks for the opportunity to be involved.

Dr.David Jenkins (University of Staffordshire, UK)

Both Sven-Eric and I really enjoyed sharing experiences and ideas with your colleagues and students. I wish we had had time to stay a bit longer and to do some study visits. so many of the presentations were very interesting and exiting. I might get back to you later to ask about some of the presentations and the persons giving them. It's a pity I do not speak Russian!

My congratulations on the organization! The whole lay out was really interesting. intense - I grant you that, and sometimes I wish there would have been time for more discussion. but on the whole very rewarding, and as an introduction or kick of to new collaborations and co operations I believe your set up worked very well.

Please give our kindest regards to everyone who acted as guides and translators. they did a great job!

Annika Halen (Department of Social Work, University of Goteborg, Sweden)

I enjoyed very much the seminar and I'm glad that colleagues and students in your department became more interested in the activities of the CEP after my presentationI look forward to participating in the next Edu-Action seminar. This first one was well organized, and I found some of the presentations very  insteresting. One highlight for me was Prof. Sven Alborn's paper on the issue of "supervision". I thought his ideas were really very interesting.  His paper generated many questions - the other Swedish professor who was in the audience at that point contributed quite a bit to the dialogue.  Unfortunately question-time just flew away. I thought that perhaps for your  second Edu-Action you could use an organizational idea that works very well  for the CEP to help maximize time for questions and dialogue. At student conferences, professional roundtables, etc. we found that holding a short meeting with panel chairpersons does pay off, because it helps chairs very  much in their role as time-keepers and activators of dialogue. For example, we ask chairs to ensure that all presenters sit together, and we advice them to open the floor to questions only after all presentations are made, so that questions go to everyone and not just to each presenter, etc. Anyway, this is just an idea that works well in our events and I thought you might find useful.  Congratulations on the first Edu-Action seminar.

Danilo Leonardi (CEP, Moscow)


Photo gallery from the conference here:

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