Most OECD countries argue that economic prosperity is now tied to competitiveness in a global knowledge economy, which is largely dependent upon increasing higher education participation. In Australia, such perspectives translate into Higher Education policy as a commitment to encourage more young Australians to participate in higher education and especially to improve the participation of under-represented groups in Australian higher education, such as students from low SES communities. This new policy direction has generated a myriad of reactions from the University sector. This paper will report on and analyse a university-school outreach project at the University of South Australia, called the School of Education Aspirations Project (SEAP), using the following three themes as conceptual provocations.
Aspiration is a key idea for higher education and school based equity practitioners. SEAP not only proposes 'aspirations-achievement'; but also draws on Appadurai's (2004) notion of the 'capacity to aspire'. To aspire is not only an individual impulse but is also a social and cultural capability to imagine alternative futures and to develop and utilise the resources to shape them. Aspirations thrive and survive on practice, repetition, exploration. Unfortunately, those working on equity in the Higher Education sector forget that most of the action is actually occurring in the school sector. The challenge is to work out how to sustain professional learning communities across the university-school interface.
It's a pedagogy problem. 'Unless we solve the pedagogy problem; all other efforts at reconstruction will be in vain' (Boomer 1991/1999: 136). Hence the challenge is to work how to support teachers to develop new practices, not how to force them to adopt the right answer as dictated by the latest policy pronouncement. As Hayes et al (2009) argue: 'The key issue is not what kinds of pedagogies improve educational outcomes but how to support the development of the kinds of pedagogies that we have good reason to believe will work. As in the past, the sticking point remains practice'.
The very idea of equality itself requires ongoing interrogation and this paper proposes taking up Ranciere's provocations to sociology: 'Equality is a presupposition, an initial axiom—or it is nothing' (Ranciere 2003: 223); and 'The process of emancipation [critical pedagogy] is the verification' of one's equality (Ranciere 1992: 59). As such, Ranciere provides a way to unsettle our thinking and practices that are derived from deficit views of so-called 'disadvantaged' students and their communities.