A World of New Ideas
Tom Griffiths leads a new research program that aims to influence education policies by challenging accepted paradigms.
Research that contributes to the development of more just, equal and democratic world characterises the work of Dr Tom Griffiths in the field of comparative and international education.
Studying the history of secondary schooling in communist Cuba for his PhD thesis in the mid 1990s set the foundations for this trajectory. The academic has since devoted his research career to analysing socialist education systems, ideas and practices, and their contribution to social and political movements. His work challenges preconceived ideas about socialist education that arise from entrenched notions of historical socialism and the Cold War.
By applying world-systems analysis, a rarely used but highly expedient theoretical framework for understanding educational changes worldwide, Griffiths has become a leading researcher in this field. World-systems analysis offers a global perspective that considers countries as part of a single capitalist world-economy rather than as separate nation states operating independently of each other.
"World-systems analysis insists that you can't understand the nation-state, and its institutions like education, without understanding its place in the global system," he says.
"The conventional thinking about education systems under socialism is that they are distinct from other countries with different political systems.
"In my work, applying a world-systems framework, I have actually found many similarities that are well explained by reference to socialist countries' place within the world-system. These include ideas of mass education for citizenship formation and national economic development, but also examples of progressive policy, one of the most striking being the model of universal, free, comprehensive public education."
"Since 1990 the United Nations has been pursuing the global policy of 'Education For All', which is still a long way from being realised in many parts of the world. However, under the banner of socialism many countries - including so-called 'under-developed' countries like Cuba - achieved this goal long ago."
Griffiths' recent research has been in Venezuela, which is expanding public education, from child-care through to university, under the umbrella of its '21st Century Socialism' project. He spent a year there on sabbatical in 2010, researching the country's progression towards this new-generation model of universal education and delivering lectures on his studies into socialist education systems.
Griffiths is working on a co-authored volume this year, titled Mass Education, Global Capital, and the World: The Theoretical Lenses of István Mészáros and Immanuel Wallerstein.
He is also leading a new funded research program with the Educational Research Institute Newcastle (ERIN) that will showcase and build on the University of Newcastle's research expertise in comparative and international education to position the institution as a leader in the field.
Titled Challenging Dominant Policy Paradigms: Addressing Social Injustice Through Critical Re-readings of International Education, the program will initially be underpinned by the collective work and profiles of five researchers with a breadth of knowledge of education systems in different parts of the world, from early childhood to tertiary level. They are Griffiths, Dr Zsuzsa Millei, Dr Stephanie Bengtsson, Dr Nisha Thapliyal, and Associate Professor Linda Newman.
"This is a politically engaged research program that aims to challenge dominant, taken-for-granted policy positions in education and encourage a broader outlook," says Griffiths, who was also awarded a Faculty Mid Career Researcher Fellowship to which is aligned with the program.
"Our role is to provide a better understanding of education systems throughout the world, to elaborate alternatives to the dominant policy paradigms and intervene in debates in ways that have a direct impact on policy formulation and future directions.
"There is a renaissance of comparative education as a research field internationally and we hope to make Newcastle a distinctive site for this type of critical and engaged comparative and international research."