Postcolonialism in Education

Postcolonialism can be conceptualized as criticism towards “Western universal knowledge-making” (Lecture slide 20.2.2017). Postcolonial theory also has different strands and one of them is informed by post-structuralism. “This strand recognizes the instability of signification, the location of the subject in language or discourse, and the dynamic operations of power associated with knowledge production.” (Andreotti, 2011, 18.) From this perspective we can examine, for example textbooks, and has there been different significations on different events depending on a culture or a country or a school. What kind of “master” narrative, or narratives, we can find which in turn can shape our knowledge and view of the world to a specific kind of knowledge. This in turn can influence how we view and even control the world (Andreotti, 2011, 20). And if these knowledges and textbook texts are constructed in a way where they serve a master narrative, we can argue that they can be changed. They can be written again in a sense that they serve better equality goals. This links to post-structuralisms recognition of operations of power associated with knowledge production. Who has the power to write textbooks and who has the power to say what is knowledge? This is why we should examine critically different kinds of text, especially school book texts, where the knowledge can be colored by different political aims. This is where the third recognition of location of the subject in language or discourse is important. From a view, where language is seen as an action, a discourse, we can examine how textbooks, knowledge, courses etc. place a subject in it and shapes our view of the world, our actions and maybe even our attitudes. And how the ‘others’ and ‘we’ are constructed, seen, shaped. For example, on the lecture we discussed about how traumatic experience it can be for the children if they’ve grown in a different knowledge system and then must adapt a whole new knowledge system in school. It must be shocking when everything they’ve learned before is useless. In the school they will be informed that their old knowledge system, their families’ knowledge with long traditions, is less true than western universal knowledge system. Therefore they are told that their knowledge and wisdom is less valuable. All in all discourses, master narratives from textbooks can influence our thinking and shape it through political agenda and power where people are seen less equal and thus justify inequality in a way, where some are seen superior and some are not.

There was a talk about the cultural colonization in education. How western knowledge is portrayed as universal knowledge and violence committed by colonialists is explained and justified. Thinking about epistemologies that schools portray as valuable or the knowledge that is relevant, the aim of the curriculum of basic education (Opetushallitus, 2016) is a broad-based learning where knowledge, skills, values, attitudes and the will to form a whole. Thinking and learning skills create a basis for the development of other skills and lifelong learning. Students are directed to consider things from different perspectives, to think critically and to built new knowledge and insight. It is also important to identify and appreciate cultural meanings of the environment, the review of ones own background as well as the reflection on the issues that cannot be accepted because of the contrary to human rights. Multi-literacy skills mean to acquire, merge, edit, produce, present and evaluate information in different forms and in different environments and also to support the development of critical thinking skills. Teaching critical thinking can built a criticism towards western universal knowledge-making and in that sense the aim of the curriculum is supporting the postcolonialism in education.

//Group H


Andreotti, V. (2011, available as an e-book). Actionable postcolonial theory in education. Chapter One (13-24): Contextualizing Postcolonialisms and Postcolonial Theories

Opetushallitus. (2016). Perusopetuksen opetussuunnitelman perusteet 2014.

Some thoughts about the introduction literature

The literature for the first session of the course S 1.3 ”Social justice and diversity in education” was of introductory nature. The first one, ”Social Justice, Education and Identity” (edited by Carol Vincent), and more precisely, chapter 1 and the first seven pages in the introduction, take us in the right direction and orient us to what would follow.  A few words first of the article by Alan Cribb and Sharon Gewirtz, ”Towards a sociology of just practices. An analysis of plural conceptions of justice”.

You really should have started your reading with this article, as it undeniably argues for a conception of social justice as plural. Cribb and Gewirtz strongly criticize what they call a ”failure” to engage adequately with different claims to social justice (p. 15) – whatever definition is given to that concept. This action-orientedness is a kind of cross-cutting theme in the whole of their article. It can be seen even in the very last sentence of the article, in which Cribb and Gewirtz urge sociologists – we suppose they include all who are engaged in research and studying and teaching educational sciences – not only ”embodying particular conceptions of justice, but also as having direct effects on the possibility of these conceptions being realised.” (p. 28).

So what are those conceptions? There is an interesting table (p. 16) of dimensions of pluralism, which  shows tensions between three aspects of justice: distributive, cultural and associonational. Distributive and cultural justice are more or less clear, but we think their definition of associational justice needs an addition, and that is a sort of process of accommodation into decision making. They vaguely refer to that, but personally we have met people of ”subordinated groups”, and they have been content with what they have, distributively and culturally. It can be only after they realize that they really are subordinated and that there really is a possibility of change and ”associational justice” is possible, that this dimension of justice is possible in their lives. Let us not be too hegemonic in our conceptions of ”justice”.

Cribb and Gewirtz also show concern to what is called ”critique from above”, to describe educational policies and practices from the point of view of an outsider. Their argument is that based on the plural nature of social justice, research must engage itself and help create more social just policies and practices. This distancing is something they refer even in their ”Conclusion” (p. 28), and we think they make a point there.

The second reading is an article concerning ”Language Diversity and Language Policy in Educational Access and Equity” by James W. Tollefson and Amy B.M. Tsui. It deals with ”the role of language policies in mediating access and equity in education.” (p. 189). They convincingly argue that migration, urbanization and changes in the nature of work – all three aspects of globalization can be experienced in Finland, too –  emphasize the importance of language policies in education. Their key concept is ”medium of instruction” (MOI). In 1990 UNESCO decided that there must be universal access and equity in primary education.

Tollefson and Tsui give examples of various countries in the world, especially where English is promoted as MOI. There seems to be a tension between currently dominating lingua franca, the English language, and national languages, even inside the United Kingdom (Wales). Their examples include Hong Kong and Asian countries, e.g. China, India, Malesia, and Japan. They refer to an interesting study that observes that Mandarin Chinese is today a ”must-have” language in Asia (p. 207), even if English still dominates the scene. The domination of English has sometimes created even absurd situations. Tollefson and Tsui mention German students studying German philosophy and literature in English (in Germany, we presume).

At the end of their article, they unexpectedly and very shortly refer to cases in New Zealand, Solomon Island, and Native America and formulate five generalizations about MOI policies in education. We think they are good and appropriate, but introducing these cases and the generalization right at the end makes us ask: why do they base these only in those three cases? Why introduce all those other interesting cases concerning MOI and not to refer to them in conclusion? Somehow this conclusion (”Conclusion: reducing inequality and improving access”) is good, but surprising for a reader.

Group H