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Topic in Focus: Race

Two schoolchildren (Pixabay)
Two schoolchildren (Pixabay)

In honor of the theme of 2024’s American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual meeting, ‘Dismantling Racial Injustice and Constructing Educational Possibilities: A Call to Action,’ this Topic in Focus explores how racial inequality continues to globally pollute educational structures to this day, as well as discussing strategies to improve equal access to education.

Explore more of our content about race in education here.

Topic in Focus: Switzerland and Childhood

The Swiss education system is consistently ranked among the best in the world. But what is it about the nation’s approach to teaching children that has garnered such a high reputation, particularly in the case of primary school students? These three articles from world-leading education scholars, newly added to the Bloomsbury Education and Childhood Studies platform, seek to outline and explore the methods behind Switzerland’s primary education system.

Read Philip D. Jaffé, Jean Zermatten and Özlem Lakatos’ article on government, policy, and the role of the state in childhood in Switzerland here.

Read Gisela Unterweger’s article on agency and rights in childhood in Switzerland here.

Read Gisela Unterweger and Anja Sieber Egger’s overview of childhood in Switzerland here.

Exlore more of our content about education in Switzerland here.

Exploring the planes of truth and equality in and through education

by Urszula Markowska-Manista, University of Warsaw

“Education either functions as an instrument … to bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women … discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” (Freire 2003: 34)

Truth and equality are categories that are central to human rights in both local and global contexts, as they speak to diversity in social life. These categories are present among the so-called "contemporary sensitive topics" (Markowska-Manista & Górak-Sosnowska 2022) and include the difficult knowledge of migration and mobility, social and cultural conflicts, education for peace in a world full of inequality and crises, and education for sustainable development and ecology. At the same time, truth and equality are key categories for the implementation of education that imparts knowledge to young people and enables them to acquire the skills to initiate and implement social change. These are categories that, in a critical approach, develop a sense of responsibility for the cultural and natural world, and knowledge regarding social participation, subjectivity and empowerment.

Truth and equality in education are consistently founded on four basic aspects of knowledge and education: "learn to know," "learn to act," "learn to live together," and "learn to be" (Delors 1998). Hence, the constant duty of education is to provide everyone who is part of the process with the conditions necessary for harmonious development (physical, mental and worldview-related), to educate for respect towards nature, other people and their cultures by learning about the dynamics of the world while maintaining respect for oneself and native culture and thus sensitizing to the environment and forming socio-cultural and intercultural competences.

While we have diverse approaches to building planes of equality, tolerance and respect in conventional curricular structures that are based on educational, social and environmental decisions, we need matrices and compasses that would allow us to critically deconstruct content, reflectively orient ourselves in systemically delivered knowledge, participate in the creation of that knowledge, and navigate politically and ideologically constructed curricula. Thus, approaches that are inclusive and take into account the participation of different groups and different narratives, the use of different sources of knowledge, and diverse methods and strategies of work and cooperation seem necessary. Such approaches have a socially critical quality involving majority and minority groups that deconstruct and are simultaneously constructed in a given context, in society and in the environment. It is thus a bundled transaction - (co)learning through action and co-participation for social change in search of social justice and equality in and through education.

The reflexive need to search for planes of truth and equality in and through education provides a legitimate path to reach out to diverse bodies of knowledge, use a variety of tools, and take action that deconstructs schematic practices, so that the knowledge we use is integrated with an awareness of the limits of human interference with our natural environment and the local and global society we are a part of.

The analyses of the planes of truth and equality in and through education are based in this introductory text on an analysis of publications on education for peace, education for sustainable development and equality education related to teaching in unequal societies.


Examples of good practice in these areas can be found, among others, in the book Peace Education: International Perspectives (Bajaj & Hantzopoulos 2016). Prepared by researchers and practitioners deeply involved in peace education efforts in various contexts and locations around the world, the book takes a closer look at the basic concepts and current trends of peace education. Highlighting the need to teach about peace, as well as to teach for peace, the authors offer concrete ideas to readers who want to delve into this field of research, seeking opportunities for work and practice based on critical pedagogy, human rights education, critical race theory, and postcolonial theories.

A group of young boys who are happy andlaughing
Image credit: Pixabay

The authors, following Paolo Freire (1970), advocate strengthening the participation and empowerment of students as agents of transformative change. Involving young people in the educational activities that concern them makes it possible to activate their social potential in the environment and to tap the resources of individual and community action as well as shape the competence of peacebuilding in everyday life. Authentically engaging young people with a diverse set of skills is important for building their sense of responsibility for the community and environment. Participatory education based on a critical analysis of the power dynamics and interdependence between different factors (race, class, gender, special needs, sexual orientation, language, religion, geographic location and other factors) as forms of social stratification, allows for identity-building based on respect for the group the students belong to and the environment that surrounds them. This is complemented by another element - education for equality and diversity as the development of specific skills, and proficiency in the use of knowledge in promoting peace and building the attitudes and behaviors necessary to promote nonviolence.

The publication shows that mass media can also be used to bring about positive social change. One example is provided in the chapter ‘Promoting Peace through Children’s Media: The Case of Sesame Workshop’ (Subramanian et al. 2016) based on a model to build tolerance and mutual respect and understanding among children. Sesame Workshop's holistically oriented, child-centered approach promotes the knowledge and skills necessary to nurture peaceful attitudes, promoting resilience and the ability to interact positively with others. By building critical thinking, it also aims to change children's attitudes by enabling them to challenge forms of structural and cultural violence, including the oppression of marginalized and oppressed groups. Education for Peace, based on the case of Sesame Workshop, allows for the development and expression of empathy, appreciation of similarities and differences, peaceful conflict resolution, cooperation, and the development of basic pro-social skills that children need in specific contexts in both post-conflict and fragile peace.

Read more from Peace Education: International Perspectives here.

Sustainable Development

Another important and highly topical subject is teaching for sustainable development taking into account the currents of ecopedagogy and critical environmental education approaches. In the book Ecopedagogy: Critical Environmental Teaching for Planetary Justice and Global Sustainable Development (Misiaszek 2020), ecopedagogy is portrayed as education for reading (wise understanding) and rereading human acts of environmental violence and as a process that relies on critical thinking and people's capacity for transformation and deconstruction.

Seedlings growing out of compost
Image credit: Pixabay

The author focuses on understanding the connections between human acts of environmental violence and acts of social violence that cause injustice, further violence, domination, oppression and unsustainability of the planet. At the same time, it reveals the challenges and boundary situations for ecopedagogy from the side of Post-Truthism and the Sustainable Development Goals (Misiaszek 2020). The educational goal of ecopedagogy, the author emphasizes, is to construct learning with increased social and environmental justice (Misiaszek 2020). This is important because of the need to implement critical teaching, decolonial reading through various epistemologies and methodologies and research by problematizing the causes of socio-environmental violence, including the oppressive processes of globalization and the triadic constructs of citizenship, development and economics.

Read more from Ecopedagogy: Critical Environmental Teaching for Planetary Justice and Global Sustainable Development here.

Inequality and Diversity

Children with their hands in the air
Image credit: Pixabay

In the book Teaching in Unequal Societies (Russon et al. 2020), the authors address the subject of teaching in the face of diversity and pluralism, and the issue of inequality in contexts of radical diversity, for example, in relation to school environmental education (Lama 2020). Taking into account the historical, social and cultural context, the authors analyze the impact of inherited caste and racial inequalities on the situation in the school classroom, particularly in terms of relations between students, teachers, institution, environment and the system. At the same time, they point to the phenomenon of the capitalization of education, the undervaluing of the teaching profession and the prejudicial perception of participants in the learning process in terms of clients and consumers of knowledge (George 2020) which is diametrically opposed to an approach based on reflective and critical thinking that seeks empowerment and inclusion in and through education.

Read more from Teaching in Unequal Societies here.

Exploring and discovering the planes of truth and equality in and through education is a rich program area relating to mutual respect and understanding in and for diversity. Shaping the competencies of critical and reflective thinking, peacebuilding and understanding the social aspects of being part of society and nature is based on the pillars of (co)learning through action and co-participation for social change in the search for social (human and planetary) justice and equality in and through education. The publications cited above indicate how education for peace, ecopedagogy and education for sustainable development can be implemented in the curriculum and in the practice of everyday life, taking into account the perspectives of the contexts of time, place and space and relating them to local and global knowledge. The issue worth paying attention to is how, in the face of constant social change, to carry out the task of education of understanding, discovering and seeking truth and equality. This points to education that, in the face of and despite differences, will enable social change based on social justice towards the transformation of individuals and societies (Evanoff 2010) as well as the well-being of the environment and the sustainability of the planet.


Bajaj, M., & Hantzopoulos, M. eds. 2016. Peace Eeducation: International Perspectives. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Delors, J. 1998. Learning: The Treasure Within. Paris: Unesco.

Evanoff, R. 2010. Bioregionalism and global ethics: A transactional approach to achieving ecological sustainability, social justice, and human well-being. London: Routledge.

Freire, P. 2000. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th anniversary edition. New York: Continuum.

George, S. K. 2020. 'Prejudice and the Pedagogue: Teaching in a Democratic Classroom' in Russon, J., George S.K., Jung P.G. Teaching in Unequal Societies. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Lama, R. 2020. 'Environmental Education in Schools: Perspective and Challenges', in Russon, J., George S.K., Jung P.G. Teaching in Unequal Societies. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Markowska-Manista, U., Górak-Sosnowska, K. 2022. Tackling sensitive and controversial topics in social research-sensitivity of the field. Society Register, 6(2), 7-16.

Misiaszek, G.W. 2020. Ecopedagogy: Critical environmental teaching for planetary justice and global sustainable development. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Russon, J., George S.K., Jung P.G. 2020. Teaching in Unequal Societies. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Subramanian 2016. 'Sesame Workshop's Approach to Peace Education' in Bajaj, M., & Hantzopoulos, M. Eds. Peace Education: International Perspectives. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Images above are courtesy of PixaBay.

Topic in Focus: Higher Education Access

Photo of students throwing graduations hats in the air (Credit: Pexels).

In honor of World Access to Higher Education Day on November 17th, this theme explores global challenges in equitable higher education access. Higher education access is monitored by studying participation in higher education by students, particularly those who are disadvantaged due to their age, race, gender, religion, sexuality, or economic class, and by the outcomes of their education, on both the individual socio-economic level and globally.

In Serbia, Roma remain underrepresented in higher education due to racial and economic discrimination. Learn more about the obstacles that they face and how this inequality can be overcome.

Over the last two decades, China has rapidly grown into a global economic superpower. Read about how this and other developments have impacted higher education access.

How does being first-generation impact students’ experiences in higher education? How can embracing students from a wider variety of social and economic backgrounds cultivate diversity? Read this study on the experiences of first-generation Māori and Pasifika students at university in New Zealand.

Explore the theme here.

Topic in Focus: Peace Education

Holidays go away briefcase

While many criticize the media for reproducing oppression, mass media can also be used to enact social change. In Peace Education, the authors take a look at Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit that produces Sesame Street and other locally created co-productions worldwide. Sesame Workshop’s programming exposes children to peace education content with the goals of ‘[empowering] children between the ages of three and eight years old with the skills, attitudes, and behaviors necessary to promote nonviolence’.

Topic in Focus: Self-Confidence in the Classroom

children drawing education.

What exactly is confidence? Throughout the years, many have wrestled with the ‘possibly intractable questions of whether dispositions such as confidence are skills, competences or “capabilities”, attitudes, personality traits, particular mind-sets, feelings or emotional responses to situations’. In Reinventing the Curriculum edited by Mark Priestley and Gert Biesta, read about confidence as a high-stakes educational and social goal.

Topic in Focus: Transitions

Architecture students at university

How do you define transitions, especially within an educational context?

In the chapter “Agency, Participation and Transitions Beyond School” by Caroline Sarojini Hart, the author discusses developing different understandings of transition and the different aspects and angles that come with it. Drawing on data from two different studies with young people undertaken in Yorkshire in the UK, Hart looked at factors such as relationships with communities, families, and peers, to study how these factors influenced change.

Read about conversion factors and agency and transition in Agency and Participation in Childhood and Youth

Teaching sustainability

In honor of Earth Day, which took place on April 22nd, this theme explores how sustainability education can be implemented in the curriculum.

Read about environmental education initiatives in India in Environmental Education in Schools: Perspective and Challenges

Find more chapters on environmental education here

Topic in Focus: Migration and Mobility in Childhood

Migration in childhood

Children are highly affected by all forms of migration, regardless of its motivations. This can result in emotional trauma, disruption to schooling, and family instability, while also leading to more stable environments, improved employment opportunities, and family reunification.

Japan Migration and Mobility in Childhood in Japan

Mexico Migration and Mobility in Childhood in Mexico

Turkey Migration and Mobility in Childhood in Turkey

Country in Focus: Eritrea

Flag of Eritrea (Pixabay)
Flag of Eritrea (Pixabay)

Eritrea gained independence from successive Ethiopian governments in 1991, following a devastating 30-year war. The quality of education had dramatically deteriorated over this time, with an illiteracy rate of over 70%, a very low attainment level among students and teachers, and a shortage of schools exacerbated by war damage. Since gaining independence, however, Eritrea has made substantial investment in a plan intended to quickly raise the country’s education levels. Over 50 million US dollars have been used to provide undergraduate scholarships for almost 1,000 Eritreans, the recruitment of expatriate professionals, and training for members of the Eritrean civil service. While progress has certainly been made, there remains a lot to be done. The establishment of postgraduate programs, access to strong internet capacity, and construction of new buildings are essential needs that are expected to be implemented in the near future.

Asmara University, Eritrea (Wikimedia Commons)
Asmara University, Eritrea (Wikimedia Commons)

Access to Higher Education

The Eritrean government’s huge amount of investment to expand access to higher education, restructuring from one university to six higher education institutions, has almost doubled student enrolment. At the same time, the National Higher Education & Research Institute (NHERI) has been working to standardize the quality of the education system and increase higher education opportunities, revising academic deadlines, providing students and staff with scholarships to study abroad, developing international linkages, and opening postgraduate degree programs. Tuition in Eritrea is also free at all levels. Further investment is required to amend the shortage of teaching facilities including lab and workshop equipment, information and communication technologies, books and journals, as well as a lack of qualified instructors.

Shimelba refugee camp, northern Ethiopia (Wikimedia Commons)
Shimelba refugee camp, northern Ethiopia (Wikimedia Commons)

Migration and Mobility in Youth

As a result of its long history of brutal colonialism, as well as a subsequent border war with Ethiopia from 1998 to 2000, Eritrea has one of the highest rates of forced displacement in the world as a proportion of its population. Reports from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) show that, by the end of 2018, over 507,300 Eritreans were forcibly displaced across many countries. Young people are the primary demographic affected by involuntary displacement with no political structures in place to support them, and thousands of Eritrean refugees have disappeared without a trace in organised trafficking. Eritrean youth continue to face marginalisation due to strict immigration and asylum policies in their new destinations, such as in the UK, where the Nationality and Borders Act and Rwanda Deal have made it impossible for forced migrants to seek asylum or access services.

Country in Focus: Poland

Poland flag (Pixabay)
Poland flag (Pixabay)

Poland’s status as a former member of the Soviet Union has had a lasting impact on the approach and structure of its education system. Forming part of the ‘Eastern Bloc’ following the Second World War, the newly-implemented Soviet emphasis on social equality granted access to free higher education, providing the lower social classes with an opportunity to improve their position in society. The birth of the Solidarity movement in the 1980s brought about the fall of communism in Poland, and the country subsequently became a member of the EU.

Polling station (Pixabay)
Polling station (Pixabay)

Challenges of Democracy

Democracy, however, brought about its own set of problems, and was a concept that had to be learned anew after 45 years of communist rule. In the 1990s, Poland reformed its educational system to improve citizens’ educational attainment and provide them with a better grasp of the new capitalist reality. The decision to give back autonomy to universities, for instance, was intended to limit state control of academic governance. In spite of this, the state has been seen to frequently intervene in curricula, public financing and public steering of teaching and research, with author Dorota Dakowska arguing that this ideological confusion ‘exemplifies the way austerity has been applied to academia in the form of cuts in public expenditure, competitive financing and far-reaching privatization.’

hildren drawing (Pixabay)
Children drawing (Pixabay)

Special Needs and Disability

In the modern age, Poland faces challenges in terms of adapting to the special needs of students in primary education. Read Monika Skura’s article on special needs and disability in primary education in Poland here.

Country in Focus: Chile

Wat Si Muang (Simuong) buddhist temple. Buddhist monks having vegetarian lunch in monastery. Vientiane, Laos..

There has been a flurry of great activity in educational policies applied in Chile since 1980. During the 1980s, Chile reformed its education system so that it would function according to market logic. This promoted expansion of private education and encouraged competition among schools. In the 90s, the return of democracy brought about programmes for educational equality: curricular reforms, longer school days, and improved teacher training. In the 2000s, the student movement proposed ways to enhance public education and eventually, the Quality Assurance System was born. Read more in Education in South America.

Person in black hoodie riding a swing in the rain.

Challenges in education

Amongst OECD countries, Chile has the lowest level of social inclusion in their schools. In this policy report, the authors’ note causes of social segregation of Chilean schools and how parents’ attitudes contribute to this issue.

Yellow and black metal tool set.

Teacher education

One of the main factors of quality education is the quality of teachers. For quite a few years, Latin American countries have been heavily critiqued in preparing competent teachers. In The Struggle for Teacher Education, learn about the teacher education issues in six South American countries and the possible solutions.

Country in Focus: Albania

Albanian national flag Balkans.

Albania has seen an increase in efforts to introduce significant pre-university and higher education reforms in the past two decades. Up until 1991, the country was one of the most economically disadvantaged countries of Europe, as it was under a totalitarian regime for many years. With the end of communism: , Albania looked to international agencies and organizations not only for educational models and policies, but also financial assistance. The early 1990s saw curriculum revisions that included new ideas about democracy. In 2001, the country adopted the United Nations framework of the Millennium Development Goals for poverty reduction and education and health sector reform. And in 2004, basic compulsory education changed from an eight-year system to a nine-year one. Read all of the details in ‘from Education in Non-EU Countries in Western and Southern Europe: Education Around the World.

Children in Albania

Challenges in education

Generally, participatory action is needed to hold educational officials and institutions accountable for malfunctions or misdeeds. In this policy report, the authors conduct research on participatory accountability and collective action with parents and teachers in Albania and note how this relates to elections of parent class representatives and voting in the latest national elections.

Italian-American food

Teacher education

Since 1995, teachers in Albania have been faced with evolving demands. The 2005 National Report on Albanian education revealed that there is a lack of standardized criteria for teachers, evaluation and self-evaluation systems and competent people to do training. In moves to address this, Albania has had an uptick of teacher education programs undergoing accreditation procedures and the development of a mentoring system.

Country in Focus: Singapore

Education in Singapore is managed by the Ministry of Education and today is regarded as one of the world’s best education systems, despite being a young country that is scarce in resources. It has sought to create a modern society that values and rewards hard work, and culture of excellence combined with policy focus and targeted investment over the last four decades has resulted in high academic achievement for Singapore’s students.

In Education in South-East Asia the Singapore section is focused on the theme of “Transition.” The first part of the chapter details the key transitions and initiatives that are responsible for the development of the education system. The second part discusses the demands and challenges, such as ensuring that graduates remain competitive in a global space.

Read the entire chapter to get all the details about Singapore’s education system.

Check out Singapore’s country overview.

Country in Focus: Ukraine

In Ukraine, the education system mixes elements inherited from the Soviet Union with a growing desire for national renewal. Under the Soviet Union, near-universal literacy was achieved, despite major ideological influences on education. Following the nation’s transition to a democracy in the 1990s, major reforms led to the abolition of ideology in the education system and new initiatives promoting national culture. Today, education is regarded as one of the most important human values in Ukraine. The ideas of scientific and cultural progress, humanism, democracy, and mutual respect underpin Ukrainian education.

As Ukraine faces another conflict with Russia, it is yet to be seen how this will impact that nation’s future.

Read an overview of education in Ukraine here.

Read a 2014 article emphasizing the importance of educating future generations as autonomous, self-regulating citizens.

Learn more from an analysis of cooperative efforts between history teachers in Lviv, Ukraine and Moscow, Russia.

Country in Focus: Iran

Photo of Iran (Credit: Getty).

Education in Iran has a complex history characterized by ideological struggle, competing agendas, and contrasting methods. Until the twentieth century, the Islamic seminary system led education until being eclipsed by the state-run education system popularized in Europe. Before the Revolution, Iranian leaders promoted nationalism and the glory of pre-Islamic Persia before the new regime attempted to unite the population under Islam. Following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, seminaries once again grew in influence, eventually producing most of the country’s political elite. The cultural revolution dramatically altered the nation’s educational framework, impacting institutions at all levels with a particular focus on universities.

Today, gender equality, instruction quality, and academic achievement remain the greatest issues facing the nation’s educational development. Following weeks of protest in September 2022 in support of women and against governmental oppression, Iran seems poised for more transformation.

Images above are courtesy of Getty Images and PixaBay.

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View our previous Topics and Countries in Focus here.

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