What is Social Justice in Education?

According to Soken-Huberty (2015) social justice in education takes two forms.

"The first is social justice in action and the level of equality within the actual education system. When factors like wealth, gender and/or race determine what kind of education an individual can receive, that’s an example of social injustice. Students not privileged enough to receive an education on par with more privileged students are given a poor foundation for the rest of their lives. Their ability to earn a certain income can suffer, which in turn affects access to healthcare, good housing, and safety. When the education system isn’t committed to providing equal opportunities and privileges, it negatively impacts a society both culturally and economically." (Soken-Huberty, 2015, para 2)

For further information on how Ulster University prioritises educational attainment and widening access, visit the University's Fair Access, Participation and Student Success web pages (currently under review).

"The second form of social justice in education is how social justice is taught within the school system. In a social justice framework, curriculum is specifically chosen to broaden students’ worldviews through incorporating different ideas and challenging opinions. Instead of ignoring very real-world issues such as sexism, racism, poverty, and more, a social justice education framework addresses it and encourages students to exercise analytical thinking. Schools committed to social justice in education pay close attention to their choice of curriculum and how it can be used to expand their students’ minds."  (Soken-Huberty, 2015, para 3)

Healy & Healy (2022) explore how socially-just pedagogies and practices can open up spaces and places of learning through exploring diverse knowledge around wide-ranging topics such as equity, diversity, inclusion, anti-racism; decolonising the curriculum, indigenisation, well-being and disability.

"Social justice is about distributing resources fairly and treating all students equitably so that they feel safe and secure - physically and psychologically"

(Alvarez, 2019, para 1)

Incorporating Socially Just Pedagogies into Learning and Teaching Practice

Curriculum re-examination is an excellent starting point for implementing Socially Just Pedagogies. Ferguson et al. (2019) on behalf of the Open University suggest that by taking a step back and looking at our curriculum from new perspectives we are able to uncover our unconscious biases and from there begin to build a more inclusive curriculum.

"A curriculum provides a way of identifying the knowledge we value. It structures the ways in which we are taught to think and talk about the world … Decolonising learning prompts us to consider everything we study from new perspectives … and helps us to recognize, understand, and challenge the ways in which our world is shaped by colonialism. It also prompts us to examine our professional practices."

(Ferguson et al., Open University 2019, pp. 3-4)

"the decolonisation of UK universities is vital for the improvement of course curricula, pedagogical practice,  staff wellbeing, and the student experience."

(Liyanage 2020, p.9)

Socially Just Pedagogies expands beyond updating reading lists or adjusting a small part of a module's content. Rather, they necessitate a complete overhaul of how we view education practice and design within our institution and the way in which both staff and students interact with curriculum, content and our university spaces. Liyanage (2020, pp.9-12) puts forward five key policy recommendations:

  1. Get educated about decolonisation and end its conflation with equality, diversity, and inclusion initiatives
  2. Reprioritise: decolonisation is both pedagogically necessary and academically rigorous
  3. Fund BAME research
  4. Tackle discrimination, hostility, and unconscious bias
  5. Institutionalise decolonisation: create departmental roles and engage students

Incorporating Socially Just Pedagogies is not a process that can be achieved overnight, rather it is an ongoing process that will take time and will impact the university at all levels. Importantly, it is a global process that has already begun and it is vital that we maintain pace to ensure our Learning and Teaching practice and environments continue to be world class.

The accompanying Toolkit for this topic will provide a starting point as well as the tools and resources to facilitate discussions throughout the multiple levels of the university (module, course, school/department, and faculty).

As you begin to develop resources and strategies for implementing Socially Just Pedagogies within your own discipline and, indeed, across disciplines, we hope you will share these experiences with your colleagues and students on the Toolkit. Providing examples of good practice and food for thought that may inspire the next shift in Socially Just Pedagogies.

Visit our Socially Just Pedagogies and Practice Toolkit (coming soon) for further guidance on how you can enhance your practice in this area.

References

Alvarez, B. (2019) Why Social Justice in School Matters. Washington: National Education Association.
Available from: Why Social Justice Matters [Accessed 23 February 2022].

Ferguson, R., Coughlan, T., Egelandsdal, K., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Hillaire, G., Jones, D., Jowers, I., Kukulska-Hulme, A., McAndrew, P., Misiejuk, K., Ness, I. J., Rienties, B., Scanlon, E., Sharples, M., Wasson, B., Weller, M. and Whitelock, D. (2019). Innovating Pedagogy 2019: Open University Innovation Report 7. Milton Keynes: The Open University.
Available from: Innovating Pedagogy 2019 [Accessed 23 February 2022].

Healey, R. and Healey, M. (2022) Socially-just pedagogic practices in HE: Including equity, diversity, inclusion, anti-racism, decolonising, indigenisation, well-being, and disability.  Available from:  Healey HE Consultants [Accessed 29 March 2022]

Liyanage, M. (2020) Miseducation: decolonising curricula, culture and pedagogy in UK universities (HEPI number Debate Paper 23). Oxford: Higher Education Policy Institute.
Available from: Miseducation: decolonising curricula, culture and pedagogy in UK universities [Accessed 23 February 2022].

Soken-Huberty, E. (2015) What is Social Justice in Education? Austria: Human Rights Careers.
Available from: What is Social Justice in Education [Accessed 23 February 2022].