Engaging with the politics of education at AARE 2017

This guest blog post is written by Hayley McGlashan, a doctoral researcher and professional teaching fellow in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Auckland. Hayley is one of two recipients of the University of Auckland’s U21 FINE Award  that supports postgraduate students to attend international conferences and participate in FINE networking events.

I recently attended the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) conference in Canberra as a University of Auckland FINE award recipient. The AARE conference brings together researchers from across the world, as well as Australia, who work in diverse educational fields. The Association’s wide range of Special Interest Groups (SIGs) gives a sense of this diversity. And the conference is a space within which both well established and early career academics can find a forum to provoke debate, stimulate discussion, offer new ideas and encourage the dissemination of research findings.

The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Education: What’s politics got to do with it?’ and delegates were able to engage in many vibrant discussions about the importance of educational research and its ability to bring about positive change both in Australia and internationally.

There were two key political issues which were at the forefront of discussions at this conference. One was the situation of asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island and Nauru, and the infringement of their human rights. The membership expressed deep concerns about this and, as a result, a motion was passed that AARE condemn the current situation on Manus Island and Australian refugee and asylum seeker policies more generally. The Association’s President, Professor Annette Woods, has published the following statement following the conference, and I strongly urge people to sign in support of this:

The Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) condemns the inhumane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island.

We demand that the Australian government urgently provide medical services, food, water, and other services to those in need, and to take immediate action to resettle these asylum seekers and refugees safely.

We believe that the current situation whereby asylum seekers and refugees have been abandoned is a breach of their basic human rights. We regard the current situation on Manus Island to be the product of an indefensible refugee policy. We call on the Federal Government and the Opposition to make immediate changes to Australia’s refugee and asylum seeker policies, including a review of practices related to off shore detention within centres on locations such as Manus Island and Nauru. Children, families and adults are currently being held in detention for long periods of time under Australian authority, and as educators we condemn this policy.

Please consider adding your signature of support to this statement at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/G6TWJNJ 

The opportunity to sign this statement closes on Wednesday 13 December 9:00pm AEDT.

Professor Annette Woods
AARE President 2017-2018

The other current political event which was eminent, especially within the Gender and Sexualities SIG, was the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey. This was a national survey that gauged the level of support for legalising same-sex marriage in Australia. The postal survey was held between 12 September and 7 November 2017 and returned 7,817,247 (61.6%) “Yes” responses and 4,873,987 (38.4%) “No” responses. The total turnout was 12,727,920 (79.5%). These results were released to the public on the 15 November 2017 however, on the 29th of November, while the AARE conference was ongoing, the Australian Senate passed a same-sex marriage bill 43-12, after having rejected proposed amendments by conservative lawmakers.

The result was read out to applause and cheers in the chamber, as senators embraced each other. This news came through to many conference attendees and, at the time, I was present in one of the Gender and Sexualities SIG sessions. The members present in this session also erupted in delight and took the time to celebrate the achievement for LGBTQI people across Australia. Attorney-General George Brandis, the Government Senate Leader, said the legislation would “demolish the last significant bastion of legal discrimination” over sexuality in Australia. “By passing this bill, we are saying to those vulnerable young people there is nothing wrong with you. You are not unusual. You are not abnormal. You are just you,” he said on Tuesday, when the main debate took place.

Many of the presentations within the Gender and Sexualities SIG were focussed on the impact which homophobia and transphobia have on both staff and students within schools, not only in Australia but also worldwide. This debate personally affected many of the conference delegates and it was an extremely emotional time for all. There was hope that this historical law change will allow for positive change across Australia in regards to more inclusive curricula, schooling policies, structures and discourse around LGBTQI+ youth in schools.

In addition to these two political issues, there were thousands of engaging, liberating, and controversial presentations across the twenty-eight SIGs, of which Social Justice, Post-structural Theory, Inclusive Education, Language and Literacy are but a few.

A special thank you to FINE and the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Auckland for this wonderful opportunity to attend and present at such a well-established education conference.



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