Background and Objectives
At many institutions around the world, sociological examinations of educational processes are included as central components in pre-service teacher education programs. These ‘sociology of education’ courses aim to examine differences between social groups (e.g., student populations), the functions of institutions, and the working and professional lives of teachers, among other areas of inquiry. They also grapple with the arguably complex nexus between theory and practice, and the ways in which teaching, learning, and schooling are informed by and reformed through deep(er) theoretical understandings of phenomena in and beyond schools and sites of learning. The means for achieving these understandings are often rooted in classical sociological concepts and theories, such as those espoused by Karl Marx, Herbert Mead, and C. Wright Mills, to name a few. Like most knowledge produced in the global North, ideas of these sociologists are assumed to have ‘universal relevance’, hence their inclusion in many ‘sociology of education’ courses. Recent movements, however, have questioned the global economy of knowledge production and dissemination, particularly in relation to which knowledges are privileged and assumed to be universal (e.g., Chakrabarty, Connell, Chen).
Situated within this broader movement, this paper aims to explore the teaching of sociology of education within teacher education in Zambia. In particular, it pursues two lines of inquiry. First, it examines data from pre-service teachers (PSTs) at the University of Zambia to consider their impressions of a mandatory sociology of education course and the concepts/theories they learned in the course. Second, the paper raises critical questions about the blanket application of the historical sociological canon and then offers several alternative directions toward a more localized ‘sociological imagination’ (Mills, 1959). In short, we wonder about the theories Mbuyi, Mulenga, and Munkombwe (i.e., hypothetical Zambian sociologists of education) might have to offer that should be taught in Zambia alongside, or perhaps in lieu of, Mead, Marx, and Mills.
This paper is rooted in post-/decolonial theory and attendant efforts to reconsider the sociological theories studied and taught in pre-service teacher education. It begins with an understanding that classical sociology is itself not just ‘neutral’ knowledge, but rooted in specific traditions, as evident in its omissions and (Western) biases. Yet these theories are often perceived as universal. Chakrabarty (2000), for example, has highlighted the ways in which certain theories seem to emanate from ‘everywhere and nowhere’ at the same time, leading to their presumed generalisable application around the world. Keim (2008) has called this ‘a distorted form of universalism’ (p. 40), and Connell (2018, 2007) has likewise questioned the ways in which certain knowledge traditions have been elevated to the level of general theory (i.e., knowledge) while others are actively excluded. Even today, pre-service teachers studying sociology of education in Zambia may be expected to build their sociological knowledge of schools as social institutions from the basic blocks shaped by Comte, Mead, Weber, Durkheim and Marx. While these perspectives are not without merit, scholars (e.g., Alatas, 2003; Baber, 2003) advocate for alternative knowledge produced in the global south to form part of sociological knowledge, and to help appropriately prepare pre-service teachers for the complexity of their work as future teachers.
Research Context, Methods, and Analysis
The University of Zambia (UNZA) is the flagship higher education institution in Zambia, having emerged in 1965, only one year after Zambia gained its independence from the British. Within UNZA, the School of Education is charged with preparing pre-service teachers and annually offers 15-week ‘Sociology of Education’ course in the educational foundations suite. This course is compulsory for all PSTs preparing to be teachers—including those in early childhood, primary, and secondary—and therefore has large annual enrolments. In 2017, the year in which data were collected, there were 1,257 students enrolled in the course, with the majority of them in their second year of study.
After receiving research ethics approval, the research team designed a mixed methods study collected data through surveys (n=318) and focus groups with students (n=20), a focus group with tutors (n=6) working on the course, and reflections and fieldnote observations conducted by lecturers. All FDGs were recorded and transcribed verbatim, then coded thematically, while the survey results were analysed descriptively.
Three key findings emerged. First, students struggled with the balance between theory and practice. Several UNZA students (n=9) wanted the course to be “more practical” and to “include practical examples.” Second, the students largely preferred more recent and contemporary research and theoretical perspectives than knowledge associated with traditional canons of (primarily) European theory. One student commented, “due to changes on [sic] society, we need new research” and a second suggested “new ways of research.” Maxwell (FGD) also noted that “…most of the stuff we look at are a century old.” Third, the students also expressed an interest in learning sociological perspectives of issues affected society, including HIV/AIDS, poverty, and unemployment. Chimunya (FGD), for example, noted in an FDG that “there are so many issues that have arisen that affect students and everybody else. I think they [instructors] should bring up things like HIV/AIDS, in detail.”
The paper therefore concludes by considering what a more Zambian-ized theoretical grounding might offer PSTs as they work towards further decolonising schools and society. It connects closely to the conference them on ‘Education as Sympoiesis’ in reconsidering the cannon and ecology of knowledge and how various theories and ideas about schools and societies are promoted and taught in teacher education, or not. In sum, we want to head the call by Connell (2018) to try to de-colonialize and de-imperialise, particularly in teacher education where, in the case of Zambia, thousands of students are being prepared and inculcated into sociological patterns of thought each year.
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