by Benjamin Sacks
As pupils, teachers, and parents head into the final weeks preceding the winter holiday, education remains a perennial and hotly debated issue. In the last week alone, Education Secretary Michael Gove urged Lancashire primary schools to increase their standards and testing results, commentators discussed raising university fees on the Isle of Man and, while on a trip to India, Boris Johnson railed against declining numbers of foreign students attending British universities. These stories come on the heels of several years of upheaval in the British education system – ranging from the introduction of high tuition fees to reforms in primary and secondary care.
In the most recent Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Sarah L Holloway and Heike Jöns (Loughborough University) headlined a thematic issue focusing on changing geographies of education. The articles, as well as Holloway and Jöns’s summarisation, featured at the Second International Conference on Geographies of Education, held 10-11 September 2012 at Loughborough University, and presently form a 14-article ‘virtual issue’.
The authors begin their analysis with a discussion of the vital role states play in the successful implementation of educational policy at every level, from ensuring that regions meet appropriate national testing regulations, to provide local medical, nursery, and food assistance. In so doing, they highlight at least two key, but uneasy partnerships: the state and parents; and the balance between public and private responsibilities. These balances appear to be in nearly constant flux; demanding education reform that’s attune to the needs of different constituencies.
Sociologists and geographers of education are increasingly cognizant of the rapidly changing nature of education itself or, as the authors concisely described, ‘[W]hat is learnt’ (483). Several important themes are highlighted: interdisciplinary studies; the importance of informal education, or education that does not take place within the traditional classroom (e.g., field trips, active citizenship and volunteering); introduction to and engaging in national and international issues, and conceptualising different ‘spaces of learning’ that can be tailored to maximise opportunities in various environments (484-86). Geographers of education must also engage with the ‘complex networks’ and the ‘diverse flows of knowledge, information, capital and resources’ that are becoming increasingly global in the age of internet communications. As a final call to action, both authors suggest that British debates on education geography and policy engage with non-British sources, incorporating ideas and priorities from the Americas, South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
Sarah L Holloway and Heike Jöns, Geographies of Education and Learning, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers NS 37 482-88.
Michael Gove: Lancashire primary schools need to improve, BBC News, 23 November 2012, accessed 26 November 2012.
Isle of Man students to pay more for university, BBC News, 26 November 2012, accessed 26 November 2012.
Boris Johnson warns that UK is losing foreign students, BBC News, 26 November 2012, accessed 26 November 2012.