22 SES 06 D, Social Justice & Responsibilities in Higher Education
The idea of "engaged university" (Watson et al., 2011) acknowledges in a more explicit way the responsibility of Higher Education to society in general (Collini, 2012) and, specifically, in tackling community problems (Preece, 2017). The concept doesn't entail a subsidiary role of HE institutions in relation to other social actors, but rather highlights the possibility of incorporating public engagement into their activities: researching, teaching, and sharing knowledges and competences with other social actors (the so called "third mission"). In this perspective, research activities should have a meaningful impact both on communities' wellbeing as well as on students' awareness and responsiveness to social issues. Barnett recently depicted a scenario where "ecological" universities, would be more and more able to face social issues by forming and widening their networks across society (Barnett, 2018).
The Department of Human Sciences for Education (Bicocca University of Milan - Italy) currently planned a three year action research named "Education for social Justice" and focused on childrens' rights, as stated by the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child. The theoretical framework is represented by the capability approach (Sen, 1999; Nussbaum, 2013) and the main aim is to identify those rights at risk of being neglected in different contexts (primary and secondary school, children residential centers, etc) as well as to interrogate conditions promoting or hindering an effective and real practice of these rights. The research project is managed by researchers working in the same department and belonging to different disciplinary domains (pedagogy, anthropology, geography, philosophy). They are dealing with a plurality of stakeholders (local authorities, children protection agencies, schools) and actors (administrators, educators, teachers etc.) in order to engage a large community on the topic, reflecting on eventual new educational practices and innovative social/political actions. The research also entails an active participation of university students thanks to the possibility of connecting their academic traineeship to the project. At the moment ten students of the Master Degree in Pedagogy and ten students of Primary teacher education are involved in different actions: mapping services and projects dedicated to children on a city area close to the university, exploring educational practices rooted in this context and participating at focus groups and interviews addressed to different social actors.
This is the context in which our current research questions have been shaped. How it is possible to enhance students' active citizenship (and, in particular, social engagement attitudes) through their involvement in the research project? How it is possible to compose their need of professionalization (coherent with their traineeship aims) to a broader sense of responsiveness to social issues?
The data collected are focused on student’s a posteriori reflection on their role in the project. The sample was constituted by the group of 20 students involved in the project. Three main research instruments were used to collect data with a view to exploring the validity of the research hypothesis: 1) a questionnaire, administered after the traineeship, focused on student’s perceived impact of the project; 2) two focus group (conducted following analysis of questionnaires) with the group of 20 students; 3) in-depth interviews (conducted following analysis of the questionnaires) with a subsample of the students who had participated in the project. Textual data from the questionnaire and narrative materials from the focus groups and in-depth interviews were recorded, transcripted and analysed through thematic content analysis following a constructivist grounded approach (Creswell, 2013; Charmaz, 2014).
By the end of June 2019 we will finalize the analysis of surveys, focus groups and interviews. Our expected outcomes will outline: - how students perceived their role in the research and how they connected their activities to their learning career; - whether the involvement in the project contributed to students' awareness about issues connected to social justice, childrens' rights and those factors that may foster or hinder processes promoting capabilities; - whether students' engagement in local activities with a plurality of social actors enhanced their willing to contribute (and how) to community wellbeing.
Barnett, R (2018). The ecological university. A feasible utopia, Oxon, UK: Routledge. Charmaz, K. (2014). Constructing Grounded Theory. London: Sage. Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design. Choosing among five approaches. London: Sage. Collini, S. (2012). What are universities for? London: Penguin Books. Delanty, G. (2001). Challenging Knowledge: The University in the Knowledge Society, Buckingam: Open University Press. Nussbaum, M. (2013). Creating capabilities. The Human Development Approach. London: Belknap Pr. Preece, J. (2017). University Community Engagement and Lifelong Learning. The porous university, New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Sen, A. (1999). Development as freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Watson, D., Hollister, R. M., Stroud, S. E., Babcock, E. (2011). The Engaged University: International Perspectives on Civic Engagement. London: Routledge.
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