Education an avenue of social mobility? Background Ernest Cashmore’s book, Black Sportsmen

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Ernest Cashmore’s book, Black Sportsmen gave me the opportunity to explore sports as an avenue of social mobility in NZ in the late 1990s. During this time, Pacific Island Sports Personalities were popular. We had Michael Jones and Eroni Clarke who were following Joe Stanley’s earlier reputation as an amazing rugby player. Meanwhile in netball NZ had Rita Fatialofa. I selected a balanced representation of male and female NZ born Samoans ensuring that my sample population included first generation and second generation Samoan interviewees. The Sports Personalities represented team and individual type sports: rugby, softball, netball, discus and shot put. Over half of the interviewees were degree holders or had formal educational training. From this pool of inspiring interviewees, there was indeed evidence of social mobility due to the following: strong familial support; acceptance and accountability to a higher power; deep sense of commitment to others; clear character values. All interviewees were part of the emerging ‘middle class’ Samoan migrant group in New Zealand.

What is social mobility? In this paper, social mobility is concerned with the chances people from different backgrounds have in attaining different social positions.1 Although income is a definitive and convenient measurement of social mobility, it is only one dimension of social positioning. Even measurements based on market situation (wage, pension, sick, pay, benefits) status situation (status of job), and work situation (level of autonomy/control) are limiting.2 However, not all social mobility is upward, there is also movement downward. Both are considered valuable and beneficial. For example, recruitment issues sometimes include stories of parents and students who zealously advocate that their child be in a higher level of study than their ability level. Recently students have also been making informed decisions to move down to certain academic levels that they believe is more appropriate. This downward mobility allows the student to feel more settled in a new environment and will ensure a stronger commitment to their educational journey.

What is education? Education:

  • raises awareness

  • encourages responsibility balanced with rights

  • engages commitment to exchange

  • negotiates theoretical and practical application

Paulo Friere stated that education is the art of “… raising student awareness so that they become subjects, rather than objects, of the world. This is done by teaching students to think [critically]3 and to continually question and make meaning from everything they learn.

**...our relationship with the learners demands that we respect them and demands equally that we be aware of the concrete conditions of their world, the conditions that shape them. To try to know the reality that our students live is a task that the educational practice imposes on us: Without this, we have no access ' to the way they think, so only with great difficulty can we perceive what and how they know.

... there are no themes or values of which one cannot speak, no areas in which one must be silent. We can talk about everything, and we can give testimony about everything.4
The next generation of learners are endowed with strong technological skills, the ‘microwavable generation’. This instantaneous generation thinks nothing about how information is readily available at their fingertips. Consequently they are more likely to become ‘flip top’ learners. Classroom learning is focused on the teacher as the all knowing ‘guru’ of knowledge, while the student becomes a passive learner. Therefore the students take on a similar role to that of Seymour the Venus flytrap in ‘Little Shop of horrors’5 where s/he is co-dependent, demanding, self-absorbed and self gratifying in the pursuit of their individual rights. It becomes challenging to engage these learners in a exchange process, because they frequently prefer to be in a passive learner role and allows the teacher to be dominant or the controlling agent of knowledge. In turn these passive learners are less interested in applying or testing how practical any of the theoretical notions are in class. Social mobility occurs only for the individual as they usually lack social responsibility to any form of community group – from their families, school, region or nation.
Holistic education encompasses character based education, where the teacher recognises the learner as a creatively endowed human being with a heart, mind, spirit and emotions. It is a commitment to participate with the individual’s family to develop the ‘whole’ being not just the ‘mind’, hence avoiding the ‘flip top’ mentality of learning. The success of the individual is an all embracing experience which becomes the success of the whole community – the student, his/her family, staff, school, university, region and nation. Therefore the educational journey is not just a journey of one, but of many.
Why are local Chinese students interested in studying overseas?
James Huang identifies four proposed benefits that Chinese students inherit from studying abroad.6

Firstly they are able to escape the domestic pressures. “…a country full of hard working students… pressurised by being an only-child, who is living in an ultra-competitive graduate job market…”7 The learner has an incessant need to differentiate themselves from other Chinese. Only 10 Mainland Chinese universities are ranked in the top 500 Universities. Spaces at the Chinese universities are limited. As many as 4 million students could not secure places in 2005.8 In contrast, foreign universities welcome Chinese students (and their money) with open arms. Generally Chinese students have a great work ethic, they would choose to stay in the library rather than go home as they value the potential reward of hard work.9 Finally the Chinese learner can prepare to participate in the global economy by practical living experiences abroad, learning another language and culture.10

Why are so many Chinese local students succeeding at International schools/institutions?

Before answering this question, let’s look behind the scenes to fully appreciate what our Chinese local students have to contend with, whether they are aware of it or not:

The current global economic trends in business have been to ensure that there is increased choice for its ‘potential stakeholders or customers’. The reality is that education is a business; its current focus is ‘customer satisfaction’. China’s rapidly emerging middle class require satisfaction for their children’s educational needs. There are many local Chinese schools able to meet these needs. Contrary to popular belief this market pool is consistently increasing. 11 International education in China is another choice for this market.

While China has opened its doors to international education, New Zealand has moved its entire education process to cater for a more national curriculum called the NCEA (National Certificate in Educational Achievement). Although NZ private schools support the NCEA curriculum they also implement the international curriculums that will assist students in successful pursuit of studying abroad. In a globalized economy there are many that would question how wise this decision is. In a popular kiwi national magazine “The NZ Listener” an article entitled ‘double standards’ was published, it explained that:

The Education Ministry was instructed to ensure that by 2020 the new National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) would deliver to economically disadvantaged minorities what no

other system in the world had ever been able to: equity.

Annual statistics suggest that [this] bold goal is on track. However, dig[ging] further into the story […the..] glowing rates of success for Maori in NCEA and the numbers reveal a far more complicated story. New research reveals that, regardless of ability, Maori are at times being actively, and purposefully, funnelled away from academic subjects and into trades and cultural courses.12

How does this relate to China? In a University of Auckland cover issue Globalization“Culture: The Transformation scene in China”, Professor Paul Clarke of the School of Asian Studies stated, “…new generations of Chinese global citizens [are assuming] positions of influence. From a ‘foreign, international education perspective’ the future generation of learners will no longer just occupy the dominant preconceived fields of investigation: mathematics and science. They are engaging successfully and moving forward in fields like Social sciences, Arts, Hospitality, Entertainment and Fine Arts13

It is believed that local Chinese students succeed at international schools/institutions because they possess or are developing the following:

  1. Home life: strong family support; supportive parents who prepare their children well in realizing the significance of this move.

  2. Learning attitude: International studying requires determination, self-discipline, self – management and self-control. The majority of YWIES students come to school with these positive traits from their local primary and middle schools. The next development required is developing their team building skills in a Western cultural context. Many overseas Universities are interested in seeing that their prospective students have an innovative attitude and regular commitment to communities outside of their own life circle. It is essential for local students to be aware of their own history, yet equally important is their knowledge of Western and European history.

  3. Curriculum is appropriate for local Chinese students. The Cambridge curriculum provides an extensive range of academic areas to study from. Over the last five years they have introduced14

In the words of David B Surowski, “…On September 1, 1995, China committed its nation legally to universal education via the Education Law of the People’s Republic of China. In doing this it has been woven into an ever increasing international community. Developments in China’s educational system will have increasingly profound influence on the other systems of the world, just as [other cultural educational systems have influenced China]”. 15

Localized education and Globalized education are not in opposition. Innovative marketing practices would encourage both education systems to be supportive and therefore strengthen the whole: student, parents, teachers, administrative staff, community and world. It is not a question of local education versus globalized education; it’s a question of providing and maximising resources. Resources are only limited when we choose marketing and educational practices that promote a ‘them’ and ‘us’ situation rather than a ‘we’. The local Chinese students and their families are developing and adapting, its time other participants in this educational journey that is the principal, teachers and school administrators adapt their practices to work together rather than in direct opposition. This ensures that social mobility is not an individualized movement, but as stated before it is a communal movement. Social mobility becomes more transparent, all participants can engage effectively and negotiate ‘real’ issues as opposed to ‘imaginery’.

Where to from here? Further educational research is needed:

Possibility 1:

In NZ a research unit established under the University of Auckland called Starpath Project, has been operating for five years. It has been commissioned to collect and analyse twenty years of educational data, using an accelerated longitudinal methodology, focusing on understanding and transforming the pathways for different groups of students in these cohorts[students choice of academic studies] as they pass through the education system.16 New Zealand has a commitment to ensuring quality education for all citizens not just those who can afford it. How does this relate to China?

Possibility 2:

“The foundation of education is the formation of character” However is University a place for character? It is clear that many of the countries own leaders have embarked and fulfilled their ‘Higher learning’ journey at their university. Yet, high academic achievement does not guarantee a quality based global leader. Qualitative research can be conducted to investigate the relationship between ‘value based education’ and ‘higher learning education’. Building flourishing communities secured in character values allows the student to weather the ‘social, economic and academic pressures of Higher education’.

Possibility 3:

I didn’t have opportunity to look at critiquing this notion of International learning: what is it?

Is it when my classroom is filled with people from around the world? Is it when my teachers are from around the world? Is it enough that I have been exposed to ideas from around the world? Or is it that I am merely aware of the need to be aware of other cultural perspectives? Theoretical engagement to tease out the various discussions around this area that would help to solidify the provision of quality based education in China.

Possibility 4:

Global students learn to develop empathy. Empathy is necessary to ‘place ourselves in the shoes of others’ it enables us to consider the positions of others that we may not ever meet. How can a Chinese student understand what it is like for another foreign student to strive for his/her dream of University studies?

Possibility 5:

Human life was never created to live in isolation; we were created to live as positive, healthy and social beings. Universities promote this type of learning as students progress to Postgraduate studies. What happens to the community oriented team player during this time of isolation?

Possibility 6:

A popular view of ‘limited resources’ continues to pervade society. However as created beings it is not that we live in a created environment that was endowed with limitations, it is more accurate to state that access to resources are restricted for whatever reasons.17

Stephen Aldridge, April 2001, Social Mobility Discussion paper: Performance and Innovation Unit

Ernest Cashmore, 1982 The Black Sportsman

Professor of Paul Clarke,2007 Globalization“Culture: The Transformation scene in China”, School of Asian Studies

Dr Edward De Bono, 1980 The Six Thinking Hats: Decision Making Techniques from Mind Tools

Paulo Friere’s Educational Theory,

James Huange, November 8-14 2008, “Should Chinese Students Study Abroad”, Vol 215 No 3574 Globalization: Culture the Transformation Scene in China

Lam, Bick, Har, Phillipson, Shan N, July 2009, What are the Affective and Social Outcomes for Low-Achieving Students within an Inclusive School in Hong Kong?, Educational Research for Policy and practice

Listener, November 8-14 2008 Vol 215 No 3574 Globalization: Culture the Transformation Scene in China

Alexander M. Sidorkin, 15 July 2004, In the Event of Learning: Alienation and Participative Thinking in Education, Volume 54 Issue 3, Pages 251-262

Starpath University of Auckland,

David B Surowski, Editor, History of the Education System in China, University Placement Workshop

Pepe Purcell MA(Sociology)

1 Social Mobility discussion paper, April 2001, Stephen Aldridge

2 ibid, Goldthorpe class schema measurement of occupation

3 Socratic method of enquiry, taking nothing for granted, questioning all for better understanding

4 (page 58)Paulo Friere’s Educational Theory,

5 1986 musical comedy about a young man who realises that he has a bloodthirsty plant that looks like a Venus flytrap.

6 2008 James Huang, Should Chinese Students Study Abroad

7 ibid

8 ibid

9 ibid

10 ibid

11 Although China was affected by the recent economic crisis, its ever changing economic turnover ensured that it was not as badly affected as Dubai.

12 November 8-14 2008 Vol 215 No 3574 Globalization: Culture the Transformation Scene in China

13 Courses like Psychology, Global Perspectives, History, Hotel Management, Catering, European Fine Arts,etc

14 November 8-14 2008 Vol 215 No 3574 Globalization: Culture the Transformation Scene in China

15 Ibid David B Surowski

16 Starpath University of Auckland is committed to increasing University participation from people groups from lower socio-economic conditions.

17 It is not the purpose of this paper to persue this critical theme

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