EDUCATION AN AVENUE OF SOCIAL MOBILITY?


Ernest Cashmore’s book, Black Sportsmen gave me the opportunity to explore sports as an avenue
of social mobility in NZ in the late 1990s. During this time, Pacific Island Sports Personalities were
popular. We had Michael Jones and Eroni Clarke who were following Joe Stanley‟s earlier reputation
as an amazing rugby player. Meanwhile in netball NZ had Rita Fatialofa. I selected a balanced
representation of male and female NZ born Samoans ensuring that my sample population included first
generation and second generation Samoan interviewees. The Sports Personalities represented team
and individual type sports: rugby, softball, netball, discus and shot put. Over half of the interviewees
were degree holders or had formal educational training. From this pool of inspiring interviewees, there
was indeed evidence of social mobility due to the following: strong familial support; acceptance and
accountability to a higher power; deep sense of commitment to others; clear character values. All
interviewees were part of the emerging „middle class‟ Samoan migrant group in New Zealand.

What is social mobility? In this paper, social mobility is concerned with the chances people from
different backgrounds have in attaining different social positions.1 Although income is a definitive and
convenient measurement of social mobility, it is only one dimension of social positioning. Even
measurements based on market situation (wage, pension, sick, pay, benefits) status situation (status
of job), and work situation (level of autonomy/control) are limiting.2 However, not all social mobility is
upward, there is also movement downward. Both are considered valuable and beneficial. For example,
recruitment issues sometimes include stories of parents and students who zealously advocate that their
child be in a higher level of study than their ability level. Recently students have also been making
informed decisions to move down to certain academic levels that they believe is more appropriate. This
downward mobility allows the student to feel more settled in a new environment and will ensure a
stronger commitment to their educational journey.

What is education? Education:

    •   raises awareness
    •    encourages responsibility balanced with rights
    •    engages commitment to exchange
    •    negotiates theoretical and practical application

Paulo Friere stated that education is the art of “… raising student awareness so that they become
subjects, rather than objects, of the world. This is done by teaching students to think [critically] 3 and to
continually question and make meaning from everything they learn.

**...our relationship with the learners demands that we respect them and demands equally that we be
aware of the concrete conditions of their world, the conditions that shape them. To try to know
the reality that our students live is a task that the educational practice imposes on us: Without this, we
have no access ' to the way they think, so only with great difficulty can we perceive what and how they

  Social Mobility discussion paper, April 2001, Stephen Aldridge
  ibid, Goldthorpe class schema measurement of occupation
  Socratic method of enquiry, taking nothing for granted, questioning all for better understanding


... there are no themes or values of which one cannot speak, no areas in which one must be silent. We
can talk about everything, and we can give testimony about everything.4

The next generation of learners are endowed with strong technological skills, the „microwavable
generation‟. This instantaneous generation thinks nothing about how information is readily available at
their fingertips. Consequently they are more likely to become „flip top‟ learners. Classroom learning is
focused on the teacher as the all knowing „guru‟ of knowledge, while the student becomes a passive
learner. Therefore the students take on a similar role to that of Seymour the Venus flytrap in „Little
Shop of horrors‟5 where s/he is co-dependent, demanding, self-absorbed and self gratifying in the
pursuit of their individual rights. It becomes challenging to engage these learners in a exchange
process, because they frequently prefer to be in a passive learner role and allows the teacher to be
dominant or the controlling agent of knowledge. In turn these passive learners are less interested in
applying or testing how practical any of the theoretical notions are in class. Social mobility occurs only
for the individual as they usually lack social responsibility to any form of community group – from their
families, school, region or nation.

Holistic education encompasses character based education, where the teacher recognises the learner
as a creatively endowed human being with a heart, mind, spirit and emotions. It is a commitment to
participate with the individual‟s family to develop the „whole‟ being not just the „mind‟, hence avoiding
the „flip top‟ mentality of learning. The success of the individual is an all embracing experience which
becomes the success of the whole community – the student, his/her family, staff, school, university,
region and nation. Therefore the educational journey is not just a journey of one, but of many.

Why are local Chinese students interested in studying overseas?

James Huang identifies four proposed benefits that Chinese students inherit from studying abroad.6

Firstly they are able to escape the domestic pressures. “…a country full of hard working students…
pressurised by being an only-child, who is living in an ultra-competitive graduate job market…”7 The
learner has an incessant need to differentiate themselves from other Chinese. Only 10 Mainland
Chinese universities are ranked in the top 500 Universities. Spaces at the Chinese universities are
limited. As many as 4 million students could not secure places in 2005.8 In contrast, foreign universities
welcome Chinese students (and their money) with open arms. Generally Chinese students have a
great work ethic, they would choose to stay in the library rather than go home as they value the
potential reward of hard work.9 Finally the Chinese learner can prepare to participate in the global
economy by practical living experiences abroad, learning another language and culture.10

  (page 58)Paulo Friere’s Educational Theory,
  1986 musical comedy about a young man who realises that he has a bloodthirsty plant that looks like a Venus
  2008 James Huang, Should Chinese Students Study Abroad

Why are so many Chinese local students succeeding at International schools/institutions?

Before answering this question, let‟s look behind the scenes to fully appreciate what our Chinese local
students have to contend with, whether they are aware of it or not:

The current global economic trends in business have been to ensure that there is increased choice for
its „potential stakeholders or customers‟. The reality is that education is a business; its current focus is
„customer satisfaction‟. China‟s rapidly emerging middle class require satisfaction for their children‟s
educational needs. There are many local Chinese schools able to meet these needs. Contrary to
popular belief this market pool is consistently increasing. 11 International education in China is another
choice for this market.

While China has opened its doors to international education, New Zealand has moved its entire
education process to cater for a more national curriculum called the NCEA (National Certificate in
Educational Achievement). Although NZ private schools support the NCEA curriculum they also
implement the international curriculums that will assist students in successful pursuit of studying abroad.
In a globalized economy there are many that would question how wise this decision is. In a popular
kiwi national magazine “The NZ Listener” an article entitled „double standards‟ was published, it
explained that:

The Education Ministry was instructed to ensure that by 2020 the new National Certificate of
Educational Achievement (NCEA) would deliver to economically disadvantaged minorities what no
other system in the world had ever been able to: equity.

Annual statistics suggest that [this] bold goal is on track. However, dig[ging] further into the story
[…the..] glowing rates of success for Maori in NCEA and the numbers reveal a far more complicated
story. New research reveals that, regardless of ability, Maori are at times being actively, and
purposefully, funnelled away from academic subjects and into trades and cultural courses.12

How does this relate to China? In a University of Auckland cover issue Globalization – “Culture:
The Transformation scene in China”, Professor Paul Clarke of the School of Asian Studies stated,
“…new generations of Chinese global citizens [are assuming] positions of influence. From a
„foreign, international education perspective‟ the future generation of learners will no longer just occupy
the dominant preconceived fields of investigation: mathematics and science. They are engaging
successfully and moving forward in fields like Social sciences, Arts, Hospitality, Entertainment and Fine

   Although China was affected by the recent economic crisis, its ever changing economic turnover ensured
that it was not as badly affected as Dubai.
   November 8-14 2008 Vol 215 No 3574 Globalization: Culture the Transformation Scene in China
   Courses like Psychology, Global Perspectives, History, Hotel Management, Catering, European Fine Arts,etc

It is believed that local Chinese students succeed at international schools/institutions because they
possess or are developing the following:

       1. Home life: strong family support; supportive parents who prepare their children well in realizing
          the significance of this move.

       2. Learning attitude: International studying requires determination, self-discipline, self –
          management and self-control. The majority of YWIES students come to school with these
          positive traits from their local primary and middle schools. The next development required is
          developing their team building skills in a Western cultural context. Many overseas Universities
          are interested in seeing that their prospective students have an innovative attitude and regular
          commitment to communities outside of their own life circle. It is essential for local students to
          be aware of their own history, yet equally important is their knowledge of Western and
          European history.

       3. Curriculum is appropriate for local Chinese students. The Cambridge curriculum provides an
          extensive range of academic areas to study from. Over the last five years they have

In the words of David B Surowski, “…On September 1, 1995, China committed its nation legally to
universal education via the Education Law of the People‟s Republic of China. In doing this it has been
woven into an ever increasing international community. Developments in China‟s educational system
will have increasingly profound influence on the other systems of the world, just as [other cultural
educational systems have influenced China]”. 15

Localized education and Globalized education are not in opposition. Innovative marketing practices
would encourage both education systems to be supportive and therefore strengthen the whole: student,
parents, teachers, administrative staff, community and world. It is not a question of local education
versus globalized education; it‟s a question of providing and maximising resources. Resources are only
limited when we choose marketing and educational practices that promote a „them‟ and „us‟ situation
rather than a „we‟. The local Chinese students and their families are developing and adapting, its time
other participants in this educational journey that is the principal, teachers and school administrators
adapt their practices to work together rather than in direct opposition. This ensures that social mobility
is not an individualized movement, but as stated before it is a communal movement. Social mobility
becomes more transparent, all participants can engage effectively and negotiate „real‟ issues as
opposed to „imaginery‟.

     November 8-14 2008 Vol 215 No 3574 Globalization: Culture the Transformation Scene in China
     Ibid David B Surowski

Where to from here? Further educational research is needed:

Possibility 1:
In NZ a research unit established under the University of Auckland called Starpath Project, has been
operating for five years. It has been commissioned to collect and analyse twenty years of educational
data, using an accelerated longitudinal methodology, focusing on understanding and transforming
the pathways for different groups of students in these cohorts[students choice of academic studies]
as they pass through the education system.16 New Zealand has a commitment to ensuring quality
education for all citizens not just those who can afford it. How does this relate to China?

Possibility 2:
“The foundation of education is the formation of character” However is University a place for character?
It is clear that many of the countries own leaders have embarked and fulfilled their „Higher learning‟
journey at their university. Yet, high academic achievement does not guarantee a quality based global
leader. Qualitative research can be conducted to investigate the relationship between „value based
education‟ and „higher learning education‟. Building flourishing communities secured in character
values allows the student to weather the „social, economic and academic pressures of Higher

Possibility 3:
I didn‟t have opportunity to look at critiquing this notion of International learning: what is it?
Is it when my classroom is filled with people from around the world? Is it when my teachers are from
around the world? Is it enough that I have been exposed to ideas from around the world? Or is it that I
am merely aware of the need to be aware of other cultural perspectives? Theoretical engagement to
tease out the various discussions around this area that would help to solidify the provision of quality
based education in China.

Possibility 4:
Global students learn to develop empathy. Empathy is necessary to „place ourselves in the shoes of
others‟ it enables us to consider the positions of others that we may not ever meet. How can a Chinese
student understand what it is like for another foreign student to strive for his/her dream of University

Possibility 5:
Human life was never created to live in isolation; we were created to live as positive, healthy and social
beings. Universities promote this type of learning as students progress to Postgraduate studies. What
happens to the community oriented team player during this time of isolation?

  Starpath University of Auckland is committed to increasing University participation from people groups from
lower socio-economic conditions.

Possibility 6:
A popular view of „limited resources‟ continues to pervade society. However as created beings it is not
that we live in a created environment that was endowed with limitations, it is more accurate to state that
access to resources are restricted for whatever reasons.17

     It is not the purpose of this paper to persue this critical theme


Stephen Aldridge, April 2001, Social Mobility Discussion paper: Performance and Innovation Unit
Ernest Cashmore, 1982 The Black Sportsman
Professor of Paul Clarke,2007 Globalization – “Culture: The Transformation scene in China”,
School of Asian Studies
Dr Edward De Bono, 1980 The Six Thinking Hats: Decision Making Techniques from Mind Tools
Paulo Friere‟s Educational Theory,
James Huange, November 8-14 2008, “Should Chinese Students Study Abroad”, Vol 215 No 3574
Globalization: Culture the Transformation Scene in China
Lam, Bick, Har, Phillipson, Shan N, July 2009, What are the Affective and Social Outcomes for Low-
Achieving Students within an Inclusive School in Hong Kong?, Educational Research for Policy
and practice
Listener, November 8-14 2008 Vol 215 No 3574 Globalization: Culture the Transformation Scene in
Alexander M. Sidorkin, 15 July 2004, In the Event of Learning: Alienation and Participative
Thinking in Education, Volume 54 Issue 3, Pages 251-262
Starpath University of Auckland,
David B Surowski, Editor, History of the Education System in China, University Placement

Pepe Purcell MA(Sociology)


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