Editorial Damijan Štefanc
The second issue of this year’s Journal of Contemporary Educational Studies, accompanying the readers leaving for the summer and holiday, offers eight scholarly and experts’ articles, five in Slovenian and three in English.
The first article is by Mojca Kovač Šebart. In Common sense as a site of struggle for universality she responds to the article published by Z. Medveš in the first issue of last year’s volume of this journal (1/2018). M. Kovač Šebart considers education and values in public educational institutions in Slovenia, supporting the thesis that the framework of human rights enables and requires public (pre)schools to educate children in accordance with the shared values and norms that make up different particular value systems. Not only does this make education in public institutions accord with general values and norms shared by everyone but, the author argues, it also enables reflection and adequate educational action in the instances when children’s (parents’, teachers’) values and norms differ. This clearly indicates that education is fundamentally a process that is socially defined to a significant degree; therefore, its social implications should not be overlooked. Among others, this suggests that it is not enough to focus merely on the direct relationships and communication between the teacher and children, leaving aside the social dimensions of the process. Education is a process of developing the individual’s personality, but during the process the individual adapts to society and integrates into it. However, it is also a process of the reproduction of society. This is the context in which M. Kovač Šebart reflects on the thesis arguing that when reflecting on values in the educational process we can refer to “common sense”. The danger of referring to common sense lies in the shift from the universal to the particular: if we take common sense as the standard of education, we will implicitly produce a concept of a values framework that may be majority but that remains particular, while having no standard of how to act in instances when different particular value frameworks clash.
The next article, Pedagogical unit as a form of work with pupils whose mother tongue is not French in public school in France, discusses a regulatory framework from the French educational system for the compulsory education of students whose mother tongue is not French. Although Špela Bajželj presents a specifically French solution, her contribution has a broader significance – it can be seen as an encouragement to look for and reflect on systemic possibilities in the environments that are faced with similar issues, which includes Slovenia. According to the author, pedagogical units should be understood as a measure to limit the segregation of students in France. The newly arrived students are integrated into regular classes of compulsory education programmes, which also enables the continuous learning and teaching of French as a second language provided by a qualified teacher. This solution is flexible, it allows the enrolment of children in regular classes and individualised assessment regarding their leaving the pedagogical unit, providing students with different kinds of assistance. Š. Bajželj writes that the regulatory framework has a number of positive characteristics, for instance, children are simultaneously part of regular classes and pedagogical units, pedagogical units are flexible enough and they enable individual adjustments of timetables, gradual leaving of the unit is also regulated. However, the author notes that there are many remaining problems with the integration and schooling of students whose first language is not French. She concludes by stating that the regulatory framework should define clear and unambiguous language criteria for students leaving the pedagogical unit and provide all teachers (both those in regular classes and in pedagogical units) with adequate education and training. But most of all, the development of solidarity and respect for language and cultural/ethnic minorities in educational institutions should go beyond merely professed commitments written in formal frameworks and other documents and be reflected in concrete measures at the levels of the school community and society.
The following three articles cover the field of didactics and will certainly be interesting to the teachers looking for practical didactical and organisational solutions for their teaching. Two articles examine the significance and opportunities of instruction outside school spaces and the third considers the use of the LTD (learning through discussion) method in higher education.
The views of Primary school teachers on learning and teaching outside school space are the topic discussed by Teja Gosenar and Majda Cencič. With regard to location, learning and teaching can take place inside or outside school buildings: in the school’s external spaces (the school playground, courtyard, garden, etc.) or outside the school in the broadest sense, outdoors (forests, fields, parks, outdoor town spaces) or in other institutions (museums, art galleries, theatres, sport halls, etc.). The authors review the objectives of curriculum and they conclude that many of them can be achieved outside the school. Therefore, they surveyed primary-school teachers about their attitudes towards classes outside the school building. The findings of a small empirical study show that teachers only rarely conduct their classes outside the school although they are familiar with the advantages of such instruction. The teachers working in the first and second educational trienniums mainly teach sports and natural sciences outside the school, whereas most of the surveyed teachers never teach some other subjects outside the school at all (e.g. Slovenian, mathematics and foreign languages). Nevertheless, the authors found that teachers in rural schools taught lessons outside the school space more often than teachers in urban and suburban schools. This indicates that in teaching they focus more on the narrow, direct vicinity of the school, rather than spaces further away such as institutions or spaces in the local environment.
A very similar issue is tackled by Eva Šebjanič and Darja Skribe Dimec in their article Examples of good practice of outdoor education in Slovenia and abroad. The authors use the term “outdoor education”, which should be understood conceptually more narrowly than the term “education outside the school (space)”. If we consider the semantics of the terms, “outdoor education” signifies all the learning activities that are done outside buildings (classrooms or other closed spaces), whereas the term “education outside the school” means any instruction carried out outside the school (including other spaces other than schools, not only outdoor spaces). Outdoor education frequently denotes activities related to the concepts of experiential and forest pedagogy as well as environmental education. The concepts, the authors write, have been developing in various directions of reform pedagogy, emphasising the educational power of nature, education through experience and education through art. Outdoor education benefits students in various ways, for instance, they develop positive attitudes towards nature, learn to solve problems, develop cognitive competences, motoric abilities and social skills, and they learn about sustainable living. E. Šebjanič and D. Skribe Dimec present examples of good practice in outdoor education from Germany, Great Britain, Nordic countries and Canada. They conclude by recommending some guidelines on outdoor education based on their synthesis of the presented examples.
The last Slovenian-language article is about The use of the LTD (learning through discussion) method at didactics of Art History tutorials. Marjana Dolšina Delač discusses learning through discussion as a university learning activity that is gaining popularity in Slovenia. She believes that by directing independent reviewing of literature and group discussions in eight steps, LTD provides a comprehensive approach to the learning process. In addition to teaching educational contents, it also develops critical thinking and communication skills. The author had tested LTD in her Art History didactics course at the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana. She also inquired into what students thought of the use and effectiveness of the method. She established that they mostly liked LTD and perceived it as useful for their studies although it requires a lot of commitment on the part of students, who often see homework (which is part of LTD) as additional workload.
The English section of this issue is introduced by Raees Calafato, who examines the issue of how the quality of teaching English as a foreign language is influenced by the incorporation of literary texts into the lessons. The article Policies, textbooks and the curriculum as constraints to integrating literature into language education: EFL teacher perspectives from Russia focuses on the Russian educational context. According to Calafato, discussing literary texts is a key element of foreign language teaching in Russia. It is meant to contribute importantly to the development of students’ intercultural competences at all levels of education. Although there are official guidelines on it, the author stresses that there is very little information about how teachers implement the guidelines in practice. He also writes that the use of literary texts is limited by a number of factors and decisions taken at the level of educational policies, which teachers have very little influence on.
In the next article, Ivana Šuhajdová discusses Inclusion and inclusive education through the eyes of the majority in Slovakia. According to the author, the human factor is a key condition for any successful implementation of inclusive education. Consequently, she a conducted a research study of the attitudes of the majority population in Slovakia towards the implementation of inclusive education. She found prevalently positive attitudes towards the implementation of inclusive education in regular Slovak schools expressed by the majority. However, she also noticed that some parents were concerned about how children with special needs would be accepted by their peers in mainstream schools and how the children facing different obstacles and disabilities would participate in peer groups.
The last article addresses knowledge testing and assessment, which is not only a highly relevant issue, but also conceptually, didactically and systemically complex, because in addition to didactic it also has legal and formal implications. Anna Kožuh examines Assessment perspectives at school, and her analysis takes consideration of different views and suppositions regarding school-based assessment as described by various international authors. The author develops and supports the thesis that summative assessment, which is based on objectively verified knowledge standards, as well as the indicators and assessment criteria derived from them, should be meaningfully linked to formative assessment. The latter is characterised by not being limited to evaluating students’ performance alone; rather, it documents their progress and the development of key personality traits – which are equally important objectives of every educational process.