Managing Diversity in Education

Last month we published Managing Diversity in Education edited by David Little, Constant Leung and Piet Van Avermaet. Here, David tells us a bit about how the book came together.

Managing Diversity in EducationManaging Diversity in Education began to take shape at an international conference organised by Trinity College Dublin’s Trinity Immigration Initiative in June 2010. The conference marked the end of the Initiative, a network of five loosely linked research projects that were philanthropically funded from 2007 to 2010. One of the projects (which I directed) was concerned with the provision of English language support for immigrant students attending post-primary school in Ireland. The strand of the conference devoted to language education mostly comprised reports on Irish research in different educational sectors, but we also had an international dimension: Constant Leung (King’s College London) and Piet Van Avermaet (University of Ghent) were our invited speakers, and both had things to say that complemented local contributions while opening up broader perspectives.

As the conference drew to an end, Constant, Piet and I reviewed the presentations we had heard. We were impressed by their quality and their variety and agreed that they were worth publishing. But on their own they were not enough to make a book, and a book would in any case need a greater diversity of themes and perspectives. So we started contacting colleagues in various countries who we knew could contribute chapters that would add substance and variety to the three preoccupations of the conference papers: linguistic diversity, policy and pedagogy. Not all of those we contacted were in a position to write something for us, but an encouraging number were. By the time we approached Multilingual Matters we had contributions from eight countries: Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Nevertheless, seven of the sixteen chapters come from Ireland. Read together, they provide a comprehensive overview of the country’s response to the educational challenges posed by large-scale immigration: the implementation of official policy in primary and post-primary schools; the often inadequate provision of English language support at post-primary and tertiary levels; the sometimes hostile attitudes of teachers; the positive contribution made by research, especially the research carried out under the auspices of the Trinity Immigration Initiative; and innovative pedagogical developments in some schools. But the perspectives these chapters offer are greatly enriched by the multiple links between them and the contributions from other countries. For example, Déirdre Kirwan describes the way in which the girls’ primary school of which she is principal, situated in one of Dublin’s western suburbs, has progressed from a narrow view of English language support to a focus on plurilingual awareness that exploits pupils’ home languages in many different ways. It’s an inspiring story that assumes added resonance when it is read together with the discussion by Sven Sierens and Piet Van Avermaet of “functional multilingual learning”, the account that Nelson Flores and Ofelia García give of translanguaging in a high school for newly arrived Spanish-speaking immigrants in New York City, Natalie Auger’s description of the ways in which immigrant languages have been exploited in a number of French schools, and Shelley Taylor’s account of the management of linguistic diversity in Nepali primary schools. All other contributions to the book are similarly enriched by the chapters that surround them.

Editing a collection like Managing Diversity in Education is an instructive experience. One learns a great deal simply by reading the contributions as they come in, and more by gradually deciding the order in which they should be presented. Compiling the indexes provides a vivid reminder of the complex interplay of themes and arguments that runs through the contributions and of the international reach of published research, and this is reinforced when the proofs land one one’s desk. When a copy of the published book arrives in the post one sighs with relief, but one also hopes that readers will gain from it something of the same instruction and stimulation that the editors have enjoyed.

For further information on the book please see our website. If you found this interesting you might also like other books in the New Perspectives on Language and Education series.

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