Monthly Archives: April 2022

Curriculum for inclusion: Case of immigrant students

Author: Dr. Max Anthony-Newman, Lecturer, Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University

Social justice in education requires redistribution[1] of material resources, recognition of cultural differences, and political representation in decision-making  for all students and their families. Curriculum plays a crucial role here, because a socially just curriculum can provide (“redistribute”) rich knowledge to all students, ensure that the culture of all students is recognized, and all educational actors (students, teachers, parents) are represented in decisions about the curriculum. Socially just and inclusive curriculum should work for all students without erasing their differences.

Increased mobility in the context of “superdiversity” makes the inclusion of immigrant and refugee students in schools not only a matter of practical importance, but also a crucial social justice issue. So, how can a socially just and inclusive curriculum work for immigrant students? Bajaj and Bartlett (2017) offer a critical transnational curriculum for immigrant and refugee students. The first tenet of such a curriculum is diversity as a learning opportunity, where students can learn from each others’ cultures and history. Secondly, a critical transnational curriculum encourages ‘translanguaging’, i.e. a dynamic and integrated use of multiple languages represented in a particular classroom. Thirdly, civic engagement as curriculum, allows students not only to learn about monarchs, presidents, and battles, but also get involved in civic issues that matter for their communities. Finally, this type of curriculum fosters multidirectional aspirations to prepare students for multiple possible futures, including work and post-secondary studies in different countries.

Including students’ home languages and representing diverse ethnocultural groups in the social studies curriculum is important in its own right, but we need to go further and ensure that inclusion starts at the level of nature and goals of education. A key concept that can help us in achieving this goal is curriculum orientations[2], understood as a set of relatively stable beliefs about the nature, goals, and content of curriculum.

First introduced by Elliot Eisner and Elizabeth Vallance in 1974, four curriculum orientations are commonly established.  Academic rationalism focuses on the transmission of disciplinary knowledge as the main goal of education, social efficiency shifts main focus to equipping future citizens with socially desired skills and knowledge, humanist orientation pays the utmost attention to the personal fulfilment and development of individual learners, while social reconstructionism views education as the main tool to change and improve society.

Why do curriculum orientations matter for the inclusion of immigrant students? As far as children spend 80 percent of their time at home and 20 percent at school, the role of parents and guardians cannot be underestimated. Immigrant parents have been socialised and educated in their home countries before moving abroad. They bring in a distinctive set of beliefs and expectations about education, which might not always correspond to those of teachers in the host nations. When curriculum orientations of immigrant parents and non-immigrant teachers are misaligned, family-school communication can be negatively affected, which in turn lowers parental satisfaction with schooling, and diminishes the benefits of parental engagement.

Here, I would like to provide an empirical example. In my study of parental engagement among Eastern-European immigrant parents in Canada, I found that interviewed parents were evenly split between the supporters of academic rationalism and those who favoured social efficiency with elements of humanism. As far as elementary school teachers in Canada predominantly follow social efficiency and humanist orientations, immigrant parents who also believe that main goals of education are to develop children’s interests, acquire applied knowledge and skills necessary for the world of work, were satisfied with their children’s education. Subsequently, such parents adopted normative engagement expected by teachers and took part in activities that mostly benefited the school (e.g. volunteering in the classroom, attending school events, fundraising). Outside the school, parents arranged sports extracurricular activities for their children.

On the contrary, parents who believe that the main role of the school is to provide access to academic knowledge and “classical” culture, were not satisfied with their children’s education in Canada. They were critical of the curricular content and pedagogy, found family-school communication inadequate, and tried to compensate for this perceived lack by a range of activities at home. Such parents purchased additional textbooks and arranged tutoring for their children. Misalignment between the curriculum orientations of teachers and parents in this case negatively affected family-school communication and made it more difficult for parents to advocate on their children’s behalf.

How can such tensions be resolved? One possible solution is to increase awareness among teachers of the role curriculum orientations play both in their own work and in parental engagement. This can lead to better understanding of engagement practices among immigrant parents and ensure a more inclusive classroom experience for all students. A more ambitious solution could be to follow an inclusive curricular approach from the very outset. Young and Muller (2010) developed a 3 Futures curriculum model, where Future 1 is a vision of conservative education based on the transmission of dominant knowledge through the teacher-led instruction without taking into account the social context of education. If it shares some, but not all, elements of academic rationalism, then Future 2 is the combination of social efficiency and humanism: education is learner-centred, knowledge claims are relative, pedagogy is facilitative, and students are expected to acquire generic skills and competencies. The preferred curricular model here is Future 3, which combines rich academic knowledge with learner engagement. Bringing together elements of academic rationalism (disciplinary knowledge), social efficiency (attention to the social context), and humanism (active role of learners), Future 3 model has the genuine potential to offer a truly inclusive curriculum for all, where immigrant students will feel at home.

[1] Fraser, N. (2008). Reframing justice in a globalizing world. In K. Olson (Ed.), Adding insult to injury: Nancy Fraser debates her critics (pp. 273–291). Verso.

[2] Eisner, E. W., & Vallance, E. (Eds.). (1974). Conflicting conceptions of curriculum. McCutchan.

Antony‐Newman, M. (2020). Curriculum orientations and their role in parental involvement among immigrant parents. The Curriculum Journal, 31(3), 340–356.

Bajaj, M., & Bartlett, L. (2017). Critical transnational curriculum for immigrant and refugee students. Curriculum Inquiry, 47(1), 25–35.

Biesta, G. (2009). Good education in an age of measurement: On the need to reconnect with the question of purpose in education. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 21(1), 33–46.

Hampden-Thompson, G., & Galindo, C. (2016). School–Family Relationships, school satisfaction and the academic achievement of Young People. Educational Review, 69(2), 248–265.

Mills, M. (2019). Towards an understanding of curricular justice: A provocation. BERA Blog.

Muller, J., & Young, M. (2019). Knowledge, power and powerful knowledge re‐visited. The Curriculum  Journal, 30(2), 196–214.

Pountney, R., &  McPhail, G. (2019). Crossing boundaries: Exploring the theory, practice and possibility of a ‘future 3’ curriculum. British Educational Research Journal, 45(3), 483–501.

Power, S. (2012). From redistribution to recognition to representation: Social injustice and the changing politics of Education. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 10(4), 473–492.

Vertovec, S. (2007). Super-diversity and its implications. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 30(6), 1024–1054.

Wherry, J. (2004). The influence of home on school success. Principal.

Young, M., & Muller, J. (2010). Three educational scenarios for the future: Lessons from the Sociology of Knowledge. European Journal of Education, 45(1), 11–27.

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Black holes, companion robots and an introduction to epistemic insight.

Author: Prof Berry Billingsley, Professor of Science Education, Canterbury Christ church University

What are the similarities and differences between a black hole and a companion robot?” – before you begin to assemble a response, I should add that it’s a rhetorical question that I ask to enable me to share some thoughts on the nature of knowledge and what it might be important to emphasise when teaching young people about knowledge.

So to respond to my own question, in my schooldays, black holes and companion robots were the stuff of science fiction but recently both have become a lot more ‘real’ – we have images of a black hole now which is a considerable leap from equations and artistic impressions. And a plethora of machines that are marketed as companion robots can now be found in homes for the elderly, daycare centres, and some people’s homes.

Secondly what’s similar about them is that both are a bit mysterious – maybe even spooky. Look at the face of a humanoid robot – look again – look again. Do those eyes hide a soul or an intelligence, or nothing other than components and code. As for the black hole – according to astrophysicists it swallows up light and has an infinite amount of gravity. What does that even mean?

And now let’s turn to some differences. Begin with the black hole. Which school subject (or scholarly discipline) would you go to if you want to know more about the black hole? You could visit any, but let’s say ‘physics’. In other words – when the media recently reported the first image of a black hole, physics teachers expected and hopefully had a surge of interest in their subject.

Ok – what about the companion robot – who is your scholarly guide and/or expert teacher for that one? I’m hoping that you have more than one discipline in mind and that you agree with me that it’s a question that should not be addressed by any one discipline alone.

This leads me to another difference that I perceive to exist between the black hole and the companion robot: I think secondary schools are generally better placed to teach students to ask and explore questions about black holes than to ask and explore questions about companion robots.

In the research and curriculum innovation work we do in the Epistemic Insight Initiative this is something we hope to address. We define epistemic insight as ‘knowledge about knowledge and in particular, knowledge about disciplines and how they interact’. It’s a construct intended for education and is associated with a learning progression. Tools and workshops to develop learners’ epistemic insight are being co-created and investigated by researchers, teachers, student-teachers and tutors in a wide range of educational settings.

These tools include the Discipline Wheel (DW) – two examples follow (see image above). A workshop facilitator can put a question into the DW and invite students to explore it through different disciplinary lenses. Some questions work well as ‘Bridging Questions’ – where the idea is to compare and contrast how two different disciplines help us to address the same question. Some other questions are Big Questions, like ‘What is a companion robot?’ which warrant investigation through many different disciplines.

At this point if your thoughts are – but an image of a black hole can also be investigated and discussed through the lenses of many disciplines – then I agree! Many questions are open to a wider exploration – beyond the discipline where arguably we first find them. Epistemologically I find it interesting to consider whether there are different preferred questions to ask about this image – as we move round the discipline wheel and engage with each discipline in turn. Big questions about personhood and the nature of reality are intertwined with real-world problems that affect individuals, societies and global communities- such as artificial intelligence, mental and physical health the environment and space travel.

Equipping students in school, further and higher education with the insight and skills they need to ask and explore Big Questions is a recognised curriculum priority nationally and internationally. Working out where and how to embed opportunities to ask and explore Big Questions within existing or revised curriculum frameworks is driving considerable debate. So too is the challenge of how to define the learning objectives and assessment. This is the theme of our Epistemic Insight Conference 2022 (23-24 June 2022) Transforming Interdisciplinary Learning through Epistemically Insightful Curricula – all welcome!

We are also keen to find and/or recruit researchers and educators to work with us. Please visit if you would like to see more about our work or email us at


Prof Berry Billingsley
Faculty of Arts, Humanities, & Education, Canterbury Christ Church University, North Holmes Road, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 1QU.
Professor of Science Education
The Epistemic Insight Initiative
LASAR (Learning about Science and Religion)

Further information:

Epistemic Insight: Engaging with Big Questions (TED talk)

 The launch of the Epistemic Insight Initiative, ‘Big Questions Day’ was filmed by BBC Breakfast –


Billingsley, B., Heyes, J.M. & Nassaji, M. Covid-19 as an opportunity to teach epistemic insight: findings from exploratory workshops on Covid-19 and science with students aged 15–17 in England. SN Soc Sci 1, 260 (2021).

Billingsley, B., Nassaji, M. Secondary School Students’ Reasoning About Science and Personhood. Sci & Educ (2021).

Billingsley, B., Abedin, M., & Nassaji, M. (2020). Primary school students’ perspectives on questions that bridge science and religion: Findings from a survey study in England. British Educational Research Journal, 46(1), 177-204.

Billingsley B and Nassaji M. (2019) Exploring Secondary School Students’ Stances on the Predictive and Explanatory Power of Science. Science and Education, 28 (1), 87–107.

Billingsley, B., Nassaji, M., Fraser, S., & Lawson, F. (2018). A Framework for Teaching Epistemic Insight in schools. Research in Science Education. 48(6), 1115-1131.

Billingsley, B. (2017). Teaching and learning about epistemic insight. School science review, 98(365), 59-64.

Billingsley, B., Brock, R., Taber, K. S., & Riga, F. (2016). How Students View the Boundaries Between Their Science and Religious Education Concerning the Origins of Life and the Universe. Science Education, 100(3), 459-482 doi:10.1002/sce.21213

books: Science and Religion in Education, Springer

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