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A critical exploration of the rhetoric of equity belied by practice in postgraduate teacher education

Author - Roisin Donnelly


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This paper presents the initial results of an investigation into the current awareness and perceptions of equity issues amongst academic staff working on a postgraduate learning and teaching course for teachers in tertiary education in the Republic of Ireland. The study is set in the contemporary landscape of discourses around equality, egalitarianism and equity in education generally. The Irish White Paper on Adult Education Learning for Life (2000) recommends that adult education should be underpinned by three core principles, one of which is to promote equality of access, participation and outcome for participants in adult education, with pro-active strategies to counteract barriers arising from differences of socio-economic status, gender, ethnicity and disability. However, there is no detailing of specific research conducted on equality issues on Postgraduate Certificate Courses for teachers in tertiary level education and how staff working on such courses conceptualise their own practice within current, sometimes conflicting discourses. Therefore, the primary aim of this study is to uncover whether the rhetoric of equity in an Irish higher education institution is being put into practice in reality by the academic course team specifically on this particular course and more widely within the institution in which the course is being delivered, and to critically examine the implications for policy. A qualitative questionnaire was distributed to the course team who designed and are delivering the particular course under study to gauge their awareness of, and attitudes towards, equity in higher education and their experiences of it. Findings included issues with regards to equality of access, participation, outcome and esteem.


Through conducting small-scale qualitative research, in the form of a questionnaire, the primary aim of this research is to discover what the course team on the Postgraduate Certificate in Third Level Learning and Teaching are actually experiencing in terms of equity issues. By exploring what current, relevant literature is saying, a secondary aim is to inquire into the philosophical, legal and political positions with regard to equity in this third level educational institution in Ireland. The literature examined indicated the perspectives of stakeholders and policy-makers in higher education teacher training. Within a philosophical and policy framework, this study proposed to weigh up the implications of the data within the DIT Centre for Learning and Teaching, and within the institution in which the centre is located. Figure 1 shows the interrelationships between the issues explored in this paper.

The structure of this work was influenced in part by a study conducted in the area of Teacher Education in Northern Ireland, which explored similar issues (Elwood et al., 2003). My micro-study attempted to investigate the highlighted themes further and to gauge the extent of cognizance and prioritisation of equity issues in third level learning and teaching amongst the providers of education on our Postgraduate Certificate in Third Level Learning and Teaching. A triangle of evidence was used in this study to investigate specific areas in relation to the content, delivery and resources for the course.