My first research engagements were with academics based at the University of Auckland. Dr Vicki Carpenter is an expert in the sociology of education and critical theory, Dr Georgina Stewart is an expert in Maori education and Claudia Rozas-Gómez is conducting her doctoral research on NZ policy initiatives which seek to improve literacy.
I contacted these researchers because they have recent familiarity with local and national educational policy concerning critical literacy and they have connections to school communities where policies are enacted.
My central research questions for them included:
- What role does critical literacy play in the NZ school curriculum?
- How well is critical literacy understood by school staff and pupils?
- Is critical literacy linked to citizenship in NZ?
- How is critical literacy assessed?
Our discussions were organic and allowed for the exchange of ideas, both general and specific. Dr Stewart talked of NZ and Australia as ‘peripheral academies’ where social justice education has always played a central role. We discussed how NZ has, historically, been free of class-restrictive traditions (unlike the UK) which has facilitated a more progressive approach to curriculum development and implementation. Critical literacy has long been considered and important part of the school curriculum but policy is increasingly diverging from practice as teachers are evaluated on exam results and assessment comes to govern what is taught in the classroom. There are currently some professional development courses which aim at empowering teachers to engage, critically, with educational research in the hope that this prompts them to accommodate the cultivation of critical skills in their classrooms. Much of this parallels current trends in the UK but the explicit link between critical literacy and citizenship in the NZ Social Studies curriculum promises some interesting avenues for further research into policy and practice. I will raise this linkage as an item for discussion in the schools and Universities I visit elsewhere in NZ.
After our productive and interesting meeting, Gerogina and Claudia took me on a tour of the University of Auckland Epsom campus. The photos capture the essence of this diverse and creative place to work!