Editorial introduction: three dimensions of changing schools

Kenny, Mairin and Danaher, Patrick Alan ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2289-7774 (2009) Editorial introduction: three dimensions of changing schools. In: Traveller, nomadic and migrant education. Routledge Research in Education (24). Taylor & Francis (Routledge), New York, United States, pp. 1-12. ISBN 0-415-96356-7; 0-203-87867-1 (ebk); 978-0-415-96356-5; 978-0-203-87867-5 (ebk)


In most countries of the world, there are minority populations who have a tradition of migrancy. These include many recognised “Indigenous Peoples” –nomadic pastoralists, hunters, herders, fisherpeople – but also migrant farm workers, entertainers (circus and fairground people) and Gypsy/Travellers. The level to which these peoples still maintain a mobile lifestyle varies hugely from place to place, and within each group: some groups or group members opted to live in fixed places generations ago, some are in transition and some are actively committed to maintaining their prized tradition.

This book grew out of the editors' growing awareness of the wide diversity of these nomadic and migrant cultures, the paucity of research registering their perspectives and experiences, and the even greater lack of comparative research. By focusing on educational provision, and bringing together a range of contributions from widely scattered countries, we hope to contribute to the initiation of such a project. We asked potential contributors to consider the challenges facing these communities and the education system as they engage with each other. The term “changing schools” catches three key dimensions of this engagement.

Firstly, the children from mobile families change schools, sometimes on a monthly or even weekly basis; the knowledge that they come from this tradition colours school attitudes even to those who are no longer mobile. This places them in conflict with traditional forms of educational provision, which are predicated on permanently resident children attending the same school or studying via distance education. This mismatch exacerbates the already severe marginalisation of Travellers, nomads and migrant workers in the local 'host' community context, by placing the migrant learners between the 'two worlds' of home and school.

Secondly, “changing schools” refers to the way that the schools' demographics are changed as these group of pupils arrive and depart at varying times over the school year. Many schools see this changing demographic as a problem: the mobile children's difference makes them deviants from the norm of fixed residence and therefore needs to be controlled or (re)solved. In England, for example, a perception exists that there is sometimes pressure for Traveller children to be absent on the days of centralised tests used to compare schools' effectiveness, on the grounds that they might lower a school's scores on the tests (Currie & Danaher, 2001). Often efforts are expended to change the children so that they fit in more closely with the 'normal' school population. This situation clearly does nothing to redress the mobile people's marginalisation and in fact extends and perpetuates that marginalisation.

Thirdly, and by contrast, there is evidence, particularly in the past 15 to 20 years, that schools themselves are actually being changed in fundamental ways as a consequence of their interactions with Travellers, nomads and migrant workers. Largely as a result of determined lobbying by mobile people themselves, aided by knowledgeable teachers, officials and policy-makers, there are now several examples of 'best practice' in many countries in relation to the education of mobile learners. These examples not only demonstrate fundamental changes to the institutions and structures of schooling but also constitute the best chance to date of transforming the marginalisation of mobility into its acceptance and celebration as a valid, viable and valuable mode of existence. The transformation, as will be seen, is necessary even where the groups in question have almost ceased to “change schools” in the sense of moving from one to the other: their heritage and cultural distinctiveness remain a challenge to the sedentarist mindset still informing intercultural policy and practice.

Traveller, Nomadic and Migrant Education presents 14 accounts of education provision for these sectors in 10 countries – Spain, Italy, England, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, the Russian Federation, India, Nigeria and Australia – on four continents: Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. Contributions relate to nine groups of mobile people: circus people, fairground people, farm workers, fisherpeople, herders, hunters, nomadic pastoralists, Roma and Travellers. The thread holding together this diversity of location and group is the common focus on the triple dimensions of educational change noted above: the client group changing schools; those schools having their demographics changed and seeking to change the mobile learners; and these learners contributing to fundamental change to the nature of schooling.

Given this focus on the triple dimensions of educational change, the authors reject a 'progressivist' or teleological interpretation of such change. Rather than assuming that progress is natural or inevitable, the contributors argue, in the contexts of their respective research projects, that educational policy is as likely to regress as it is to progress, in response to changed government funding models and recurring social prejudice against minorities. Gains in provision for Travellers, nomads and migrant workers, therefore, can be more properly understood as 'moments' of the coincidence of interests, and accordingly as temporary and provisional settlements rather than fixed and guaranteed reforms.

This book was assembled by means of calls for chapters, sent out through a wide range of academic and research channels. Many potential contributors who initially expressed strong interest were prohibited by pressure of time or other factors from completing their chapters. So regions and even continents that are unfortunately missing on this occasion include the Middle East, Mongolia, Central Europe and the Americas; we hope to address these gaps in future publications.

Some scholars felt that the book's nomadism/mobility focus precluded their contribution. For instance, many Roma and Traveller groups in Europe no longer travel – in some regions they have not done so for centuries. However, others believed that, whether or not the group is currently nomadic, the nomadic heritage introduces profound challenges into the domain of educational provision, challenges that warrant discussion.

Such is the range and diversity of these mobile peoples worldwide that coverage even of regions that are included is necessarily minimal. Europe is covered by peoples in peripheral states/regions – Spain (Roma), Italy (attractionists/showground people), the United Kingdom and Ireland (Roma, Travellers and fairground people), Norway (Samis) and the Republic of Yakutia in the Russian Federation (reindeer herders, fisherpeople and hunters). Asia is represented by the inclusion of the Rabaris in India; Africa by the inclusion of nomadic pastoralists and fisherpeople in Nigeria. From Australia come studies of Roma, farm workers, circus people and showground people. The particular geographical and sectoral spread of the chapters in this book means that the perspective is from local and lesser-known levels; the findings here endorse those in studies of more written-about groups – for instance, the majority Roma population (Liégeois, 1998, 2008) or United States migrant farm workers (Gouwens, 2001). ECOTEC‟s (2008) survey of educational provision for the full range of mobile peoples in Europe highlights the value of taking this cross-sectoral approach.

There are issues of authorship. Chapters by members of the communities in question were sought, but in the end all the chapters came from 'majority' scholars. However, community members have worked as co-researchers with most if not all the authors included here, and we believe that these authors were sensitive to and have registered the voices of the peoples whose experiences they were privileged to access.

A note on terminology is also necessary. Here, and in the conclusion, the editors use the terms “nomadic”, “migrant” and “mobile” interchangeably. The term “Roma” is used in preference to “Gypsy”. In the individual chapters, each contributor uses the terminology currently accepted in her/his country and research setting. In keeping with current practice (for example, ECOTEC, 2008), when referring to Travellers who are part of the Roma/Traveller ethnic spectrum, the title “Travellers” is capitalised, but the title “occupational travellers” (groups on the economic migrant spectrum) is not.

Finally, the process of gathering contributions to this book highlighted conceptual gaps in policy and research literature regarding these peoples, particularly around the issue of the hybridity and fluidity of group identities. These peoples have shadowy status. Three areas require comment: identities and understandings of migrancy/nomadism; the status of these peoples in public perception and policy; and the nature of anti-migrant/nomadic prejudice.

Statistics for USQ ePrint 6956
Statistics for this ePrint Item
Item Type: Book Chapter (Commonwealth Reporting Category B)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Permanent restricted access to paper due to publisher copyright restrictions. Print copy held in USQ Library at call no. 371.826918 Tra.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Education (Up to 30 Jun 2013)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Education (Up to 30 Jun 2013)
Date Deposited: 25 Jun 2010 05:41
Last Modified: 09 Oct 2014 05:54
Uncontrolled Keywords: mobile communities; school; education
Fields of Research (2008): 16 Studies in Human Society > 1608 Sociology > 160809 Sociology of Education
16 Studies in Human Society > 1608 Sociology > 160803 Race and Ethnic Relations
13 Education > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education > 130399 Specialist Studies in Education not elsewhere classified
Fields of Research (2020): 39 EDUCATION > 3902 Education policy, sociology and philosophy > 390203 Sociology of education
44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4410 Sociology > 441013 Sociology of migration, ethnicity and multiculturalism
39 EDUCATION > 3904 Specialist studies in education > 390499 Specialist studies in education not elsewhere classified
Socio-Economic Objectives (2008): C Society > 93 Education and Training > 9399 Other Education and Training > 939903 Equity and Access to Education
URI: http://eprints.usq.edu.au/id/eprint/6956

Actions (login required)

View Item Archive Repository Staff Only