How Children Learn

If a picture is worth a thousand words (or so the saying goes), what might pictures of schooling from around the world tell us?  How are images used (either implicitly or explicitly) to shape our constructions of education in a particular place?  British photographer Julian Germain has been working since 2004 to capture school life, and has recently published a book entitled Classroom Portraits, 2004-2012.  All together, Germain has taken more than 450 photographs in 20 different countries.  Here are some of my favorites.  (You can see more photographs here.)

Taiwanese Kindergarten

Taiwanese Kindergarten

Nigerian Secondary School

Nigerian Secondary School

Brazilian Elementary School

Brazilian Elementary School

Saudi Arabian Kindergarten

Saudi Arabian Kindergarten

Whenever I look at images like these I inevitably compare it to my own experiences teaching first grade in rural Louisiana or second grade in North Africa.  I think, what would my own classroom have looked like if someone came by one day?  Personal biases and reflections notwithstanding, I also think about what I see and what I do not see.  How are the students oriented?  Are they in a group?  Or facing the teacher?  Why might that be?  What types of materials and supplies are there available to the students (at least in the picture)?  How are students dressed?  Is there a uniform?  What purpose might that uniform (or lack of uniform) have?  What is the racial, ethnic, religious, gendered composition of the classroom (at least in this moment)?  Why did the photographer choose these schools or classrooms, as opposed to others?  What purpose might he have had in these choices?  What is the “absent presence”?

What do you think about when you see photos of other schools?

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Childhood in Context

2013 Family World Map

Photo: 2013 World Family Map

A common topic within the field of education is the effect of family on a student’s academic achievement.  Child Trends recently released its “2013 World Family Map”.  The report examines family structures, socioeconomics, process, and culture in several countries around the world–including China, Turkey, Kenya, Canada, France, and the United States–to represent high-, middle-, and low-income countries.  Although the report does not examine education directly, it does look at children’s lives in the context of their families.  One particular essay examines the influence the number of parents and siblings has on a child:

Prior research–mostly on the US and Europe–suggests that children who grow up without one or both parents in the household are at risk for a host of negative educational outcomes.  This essay… [asks] the following questions: How does living with one parent or neither parent compare with living with two parents on a range of educational outcomes…?

Interestingly, the report found that the positive effects of living with two parents were less consistent in the low-income countries studied.  Unlike prior research conducted in the US and Europe, in some countries having fewer parents did not always correlate with lower educational achievement.  Although this research was conducted at the national level (a unit of analysis often critiqued by Comparative Education scholars), these findings trouble the notion that living with one parent, or no parents, is always a disadvantage.  Extended family involvement, parental involvement and relationship quality, and other family-related factors also play a role in shaping a child’s educational achievements.