Personal space and inclusive research

 

Forming partnerships for future research in inclusion

Forming partnerships for future research in inclusion

One of the best aspects of being amongst enthusiastic people, is that their enthusiasm can become infectious. Here today, in São Carlos Brazil, I have been surrounded by colleagues whose commitment to learning, and in particular their passion for research, has been affirming. For the next three days, researchers from the UK who are the early stages of their academic  careers, will work alongside a similar group of colleagues from Brazil exploring issues of research into the inclusion of learners with disabilities and special educational needs.

Through the good offices of the British Council, these keen investigators have been brought together to explore ways in which they may collaborate in the further development of research and exchange of knowledge and ideas. My role in this process, along with that of other well established academics from Brazil and the UK, is to support and facilitate activities, and to encourage these dynamic individuals to form partnerships for exploring ideas around inclusive education.

Today, the most stimulating and important activity has been a series of presentations given by some of these new researchers, affording them an opportunity to exchange their ideas with a supportive audience. The range of topics covered has been diverse and interesting. Research into access to learning for students who are multi-sensory impaired, an investigation into cultural interpretations of autism, the experiences of students with disabilities in Brazilian universities, explorations into ways of teaching mathematics, and an analysis of school refusal behaviours in looked after children, were just a few of the topics discussed. Each presenter demonstrated a thoughtful approach to developing a research project and a critical analysis of what they had discovered.

Many themes emerged from today’s presentation, but one that I had not anticipated comes immediately to mind. Several of today’s researchers raised issues related to the influence of spatial aspects of the management of educational provision. In some instances these revealed specific challenges that need to be confronted if progress towards inclusion is to be made. Elizabete Renders provided an interesting observation of a deaf student, attending university in Brazil. In order to assure access to learning, this student is accompanied by a signed communicator who works with him in every lecture and seminar session. However, Elizabete recorded that students in the sessions where this young man was present, spent much of their time watching him and the lady supporting him. This raises questions about his personal space and how self-conscious he may be in this situation. There are also issues about the degree to which students are distracted from their lectures by watching this activity.

A second session presented by Sean Bracken considered the control that teachers exercise over learners with special educational needs in terms of where they locate children in classes. His research suggests that teachers have clear ideas about where they wish to place children in the classroom based partly upon their individual needs, but more because of the need to exert control, and that this may mean that they have less opportunity for participation in some activities. It would seem that some teachers, in their need to ensure that they are controlling learners, give less attention to providing space that is conducive to learning.

A further presentation from Prithvi Parepa examined cultural interpretations of autism. He too found matters related to personal space to be a factor in his work. Prithvi discussed the challenges that parents experience when their children have a limited understanding of the personal space of others, and intrude upon this, with no ill-intent, but simply as a result of lack of understanding. This may seem like a small matter to some people, but to parents it can be a cause of considerable stress.

I was particularly impressed today that in expressing their findings, these researchers demonstrated a great empathy for the subjects of their studies. Each had identified potential obstacles to learning experienced by the individuals in their studies, and had sought not only to understand these, but to discuss possible ways of providing support.

Over the next few days these colleagues will be forming partnerships with others who, before today were unknown to them. This is an ambitious aim, but having met these dedicated professionals I have every confidence that much will be achieved. This is the next generation of researchers who face the responsibility to move inclusion forward through what promises to be a stormy time of social upheaval and economic challenge. Having met them, I see every reason to be highly optimistic.

 

 

I could be anywhere in the world!

Heathrow, Birmingham, Rome, Dublin, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai - who knows?  This is simply corporate world!

Heathrow, Birmingham, Rome, Dublin, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai – who knows?
This is simply corporate world!

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes made of ticky tacky,

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes all the same.

There’s a green one and a pink one

And a blue one and a yellow one,

And they’re all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same.

          Malvina Reynolds (1962)

Pete Seeger, the American political activist and singer with whom I most readily associate the song “Little Boxes” died last year at the age of ninety four. The song tells the story of an unimaginative approach to housing development, through which hundreds of poorly designed and constructed houses, built with low quality materials cover the country. These become indistinguishable from each other, as do the people who live within them. The song is a protest against poor design and the encroachment of corporate image.

You know how it is, suddenly a song comes into your head and you are unable to shake yourself free of this, until after a while it begins to iritate? Well, this morning I found myself humming the tune to this song as I meandered in a somewhat delirious, fatigued state through the airport at which I arrived in São Paulo, Brazil. Here was I, arriving in an airport at a place previously unvisited, that was oh so familiar. Looking at the immediate environment, this could easily have been Dubai, Bangalore, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dublin, or any one of the numerous airports I have visited in recent years, including terminal five of London’s Heathrow from which I had departed just twelve hours earlier. This is a curse of modern travel; the uniformity that has come to characterise airports around the globe, forbidding any true sense of national or local identity. If an unknowing individual was dropped into the midst of any of these locations, they would have little clue as to where in the world they might be.

Each destination appears to house the same ugly furnishings, completely ill at ease with themselves. The décor is bland and boring, almost clinical in its presentation. In recognition of the modern obsession with consumerism, the architects (if one can truly describe them as such) of these soulless places, guide the passenger through a mazy path between “designer” shops, with instantly recognisable labels, selling goods that you could never previously have known you needed, enticing you to part with whatever currency you choose in a frenzied display of shopper’s madness. The same familiar goods, sold from display cabinets of corporate uniformity, easily recognised from any other airport in the world, ensure that the only thing that you, the weary traveller knows for sure is that you are in yet another airport.

As many who know me well would tell you, I am not a great fan of shopping, and I must say that it is rare that anything within these cathedrals of consumer insanity would entice me off the path to a seat near my embarkation gate. I sometimes wonder if I was inoculated against the dangers of catching the shopping bug when I was a child. If so, this is doubtless yet another act for which I owe many thanks to my parents.

To be fair, a few airports have made the effort to reassert a more personal identity. I remember a few years ago in Schiphol airport, Amsterdam, that there were two particularly pleasing and thoughtful features. A small collection of paintings from the Rijksmuseum had been displayed in a quiet area, inviting the waiting traveller to browse and enjoy something of Dutch culture. In another part of the airport, a small library with books in many languages had been installed, tempting willing readers to turn the pages and relax with a work of literature. I was more than happy to respond positively to both of these allurements, a much more delectible means of addressing the tedium of a long wait. Even more creative, at Changi airport in Singapore, a butterfly garden was constructed with exotic plants and examples of these beautiful multi-coloured insects to raise the curiosity of the passenger in transit. Again, a pleasant half hour or more was spent during one of my visits, exploring this lovely area. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more such innovation could be applied to these boring, non-descript edifices. Such creativity could certainly make the endless periods of waiting less tedious. Whilst functionality and efficiency must obviously dictate the ways in which airports operate, some effort to retain national identity would be most welcome.

I well recognise the symptoms associated with today’s blog. I am tired after a long period of travel by air and road, and a fruitless effort in trying to sleep in a cramped aircraft seat. I am sure that after a good night’s rest I will be restored and ready to learn with and from colleagues here in Brazil. Perhaps it is the lack of sleep that has made me view international airports in a less than favourable light – but I still can’t get that irritating tune out of my head, because basically

they’re all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same.

Let’s try to recapture some of the magic of childhood

Congratulations to Evelyn Glennie - awarded the Polar Prize for Music

Congratulations to Evelyn Glennie – awarded the Polar Prize for Music

Dame Evelyn Glennie is a wonderful percussionist. I have been fortunate to see her perform on several occasions. One of the most memorable of these performances was as soloist for James Macmillan’s Veni Veni Emmanuel at the the Derngate Concert Hall in Northampton. She must be amongst the most vibrant and enthusiastic performers to ever grace the concert platform. I was therefore delighted this morning to hear on the radio that she had been awarded the prestigious Polar Music Prize.

Evelyn Glennie has often asserted that she is a musician who does not want to be “pigeon holed” or labelled according to the music she plays. Equally at home with a full orchestra playing pieces written by classical composers, or with a small avant-garde group accompanying the Icelandic performer Bjork, she is an adventurous musician who is always looking for opportunities to do something new.

Just as she does not wish to see perceptions of her musicianship limited, she is equally adamant that she does not want to be labelled as a deaf musician. This despite the fact that she has been profoundly deaf since she was twelve years old. Glennie feels the music at least as well as most of us can hear it.

“There’s no such thing as total deafness,” she told a reporter on BBC radio this morning. “If the body can feel, that is a form of hearing. Sound is vibration, that’s what it is.”

I have heard her make similar suggestions on several occasions before, but it was something else she said this morning that caught my attention. Evelyn Glennie is approaching her fiftieth birthday and was asked by the interviewer to reflect on how she felt about this in the context of her distinguished musical career. Her immediate response was to say that she still felt like a child. When asked to elaborate on this comment, she stated that she felt that she could still view her music and experiences of the world with the same enthusiasm and pleasure that we associate with children.

What a wonderfully life affirming statement I thought. Here is an eminent professional who clearly values the sense of awe and wonder that children experience with each new discovery. Evelyn Glennie in making this claim reinforces the importance of respecting the ways in which children view the world, and the excitement that they gain from learning. Her comment this morning made me smile above my muesli! It also made me wonder whether we all ought to make a little more effort to try and recapture some of the magic of our youth and channel it into the work we do today.

I am not suggesting that we become childish, which I see as being distinctly different from being child like. The first implies a level of immaturity that we should make every effort to leave behind, the second a state that we should perhaps try to recapture.

As I write this I am seated at Heathrow airport awaiting a flight to Brazil. It occurs to me that I have a recording of Evelyn Glennie on my phone and that I have an opportunity to listen to this and celebrate this wonderful musician and her achievements during the long trip ahead. I must also make a note to myself to ensure that I work towards achieving a more childlike state!

 

You can listen to Evelyn Glennie perform Rhythmic Caprice by Leigh Howard Stevens  by watching the link below

 

 

Raising standards – hopefully for everyone.

 

Will all children receive a seal of approval?

Will all children receive a seal of approval?

Over the weekend I received an email from a colleague who teaches in a school in a county in the north of England. A few months ago this teacher, who I have never met, contacted me and asked if I would be willing to run a one day workshop in the primary school where she works. The focus of the workshop was to be on enabling pupils with special educational needs to be involved in planning for their individual education plans. Having negotiated a suitable date I was very happy to agree to this request and had begun a little planning for how I would organised the day.

I was somewhat surprised and a little disappointed on Sunday morning to find a message in my inbox from the teacher who had negotiated these arrangements, informing me that the event would have to be cancelled. In one sense, this is not a problem, it relieves a little time in my diary, but I was none the less somewhat disturbed by a part of this colleague’s message. Having made a number of apologetic opening remarks, hoping that I had not been inconvenienced and that I would understand that the decision was not her own, this obviously stressed lady went on to explain:-

“At a staff meeting on Thursday the head teacher informed us that special educational needs was no longer on the priority agenda, and that all of our focused training for the next year would be on raising standards, particularly in mathematics where we need more children reaching the highest grades. Therefore any work involving SEN would have to be shelved until a future date”

I could feel this teacher’s frustration and anxiety leaping at me from this email, and have the feeling that she felt somewhat embarrassed to have to cancel the event. Naturally I wrote back to her telling her not to worry and that I was in no way inconvenienced. Trying to reassure this colleague I emphasised that I recognised the situation and explained that I fully understand the situation. But do I?

What does the expression “special educational needs was no longer on the priority agenda” mean? More particularly, is the implication here that raising standards in mathematics does not have implications for children with special educational needs? Is it possible to raise standards in a school without considering this section of the population? Can standards across the board be raised by looking at the performance of one section of the school population whilst ignoring others?

I have no difficulty with the notion of raising standards in mathematics in a school. The teaching of the subject is obviously important, and we would hope that all children are enabled to achieve mathematical competence according to their need. But surely this is the point, we should be enabling all children to achieve. It is essential that all teachers feel competent and confident in teaching mathematics and that they should therefore receive professional development in this area. However, I would hope that somewhere in this training there might be an emphasis upon supporting those children who have particular difficulties with learning mathematical concepts and applying these in a range of situations.

I have long held the belief that if teachers learn the skills of planning and differentiating to ensure that pupils of all needs and abilities can be included in lesson, this is a major step towards raising standards for all children. Teachers who think carefully about how they can provide effective access for those who have difficulties with learning, usually develop strategies that benefit all learners.

I hope that in reading the email received on Sunday, something was lost in translation. Perhaps the head teacher meant to say that the focus of training for the coming period will be on raising mathematical standards for all children, including those who find the subject particularly difficult. Some of these children are probably not destined to reach “the highest grades”, but yet may make significant progress if provided with the right kind of teaching and support.

I would like to think that this time next year the achievements of all children in this school in mathematics are significant, and that the performance of both the most gifted mathematicians and those who have made progress with more basic concepts, is recognised and acknowledged. I would also hope that my colleague who has clearly been made to feel uncomfortable by the decisions made in her school, is fully involved in speaking on behalf on the pupils for whom she clearly feels responsible.

 

 

Broadening the learning horizon could well have benefits.

How important might the learning opportunities being provide here be?

How important might the learning opportunities being provide here be?

In recent years it seems that everywhere I travel education has been reduced to a set of attainment targets. Furthermore the focus of education often appears to have been confined to a narrow and predictable channel around mathematics and science. The social sciences and arts appear less significant in the minds of many politicians and policy makers and achievements by children in these areas can easily pass unnoticed. But maybe now I am beginning to detect a small amount of challenge to this narrow view of the curriculum.

Yesterday was a day of contrasts in terms of the education related media reports that I accessed. On the morning Radio 4 Today Programme the BBC,  in one of those items that always seem to appear as “fillers” between more weighty debate, once again cited a politician (so many have done this that they all blur into one) who wishes that our schools in the UK could be more like those in Shanghai, Singapore or Korea. Leaving aside the fact that these learned politicos appear to have failed to recognise that the cultures of these countries are significantly different from our own, it is clear that the obsession with the education system in these nations is based solely upon educational attainment in mathematics and science. There is no doubt that any scrutiny of academic outcomes in these subjects reveals that China, Korea and Singapore are performing at a high level, but at what cost?

Research conducted into childhood stress and anxiety levels, published in a number of authoritative journals indicates that Chinese students report some of the highest stress levels in the world, and exhibit acute symptoms that include heightened anxiety, despair and feelings of anger towards their peers. Similar reports from Korea suggest that increased levels of bullying and an appallingly high incidence of child suicides may be directly correlated to pressure to do well in academic subjects. Every parent wants their child to do well in school, and it is right that teachers should have high expectations of their students. But perhaps this can be achieved through methods that don’t simply involve cramming for examinations, and might be better managed if greater credence was given to wider aspects of the curriculum.

Once again I found myself feeling somewhat cross that the BBC had resorted to lazy journalism in presenting an item comparing UK education to that elsewhere in the world. However, by contrast it was a news item from Asia that made me think that perhaps there is the potential for a backlash against this simplistic appraisal of the purpose of education.

Krishnan Koushik writing in the education supplement of the Deccan Herald from South India begins his article under the title “The need for reviving liberal education”  (Deccan Herald March 5th 2015) by depicting a typical scenario in which an adult asks a child how they are getting on in school. The child answers by giving his grades in maths and science, but says nothing of other subjects and certainly does not mention whether or not he enjoys schools. The adult is satisfied that he has received a reply that indicates satisfactory attainment in these two dominant subjects, therefore all must be well in this child’s education.

I should state before going any further that the use of the term “liberal” in Mr Koushik’s article will have already raised the hackles of at least one reader of this blog, who has had occasion to use this term as a derogation of my articles in his own writing in the past, but I make no apologies and neither should the journalist who within his feature makes a number of acute observations about the purpose of education.

Krishnan Koushik constructs an eloquent argument for giving greater value to the teaching of literature, the social sciences and art. With regards to the teaching of literature he states that:-

“literature is the study of life. By studying literature, we learn what it means to be human. Literature also teaches us about how powerful language can be. By studying the use of language in literature, we learn how to use the subtleties of the language to our advantage. So, literature helps us in shaping and moulding our character”. 

He goes on to advocate a broadening of our approach to the social sciences by saying:-

“When we study the social sciences, we are studying how people put their societies together and we are looking at the impacts of their decisions about how their societies should be run. By studying these things, we are becoming better informed about how societies should be put together and the intricacies involved in them”.

At no point does Krishnan Koushik deny the importance of the sciences and mathematics, but he makes a good case for ensuring that we provide children with a more holistic appreciation of the world in which they live and for which they will soon assume greater responsibility. Referring to previously revered, but sadly now more often ignored, educators of the past, including Johann Pestalozzi, David Thoreau, Francis Parker, John Dewey and Maria Montessori, Koushik makes a case for recognising the individuality of each child and provided them with a broad range of learning opportunities in which they can find their own passions and strengths. One particular phrase in his article stands out:-

 “Holistic education aims to call forth from people an intrinsic reverence for life and a passionate love of learning”.

Krishnan Koushik’s article is one of several that I have noted in the media from several parts of the world recently. It would appear that concerns are being increasingly expressed about the narrowing focus of education and in particular the marginalisation of all but a few curriculum subjects. The issues surrounding this debate are complex and I believe that many of those who advocate a focus upon science and maths, even at a cost to other subjects, often do so with a genuine concern for the needs of children. The majority of teachers with whom I converse have been expressing their concerns about the narrowing of curriculum priorities. Sadly, many of them are fearful of expressing their opinions or participating in the debate.

If you disagree with the sentiments expressed by Krishnan Koushik or the ways in which I have portrayed these in this blog, do feel free to post a reply. Healthy debate can help us all to learn and understand other’s points of view. Alternatively, if you have been incensed by the liberality of the views expressed you could try to relax by reading a good novel, visiting your local art gallery, exploring the nature of your immediate hinterland, going to the theatre or listening to Mozart or Abida Parveen. Whilst doing so you might consider how future generations will be encouraged to value and appreciate these experiences.

A flickering light gives hope for education

 

Those of us who can assert that education is not a crime are the fortunate ones.

Those of us who can assert that education is not a crime are the fortunate ones.

“They can destroy books and computers, or they can imprison people.

They can confiscate property and shut down classes.

But they can’t confiscate education.

They can’t end the love of learning, love of teaching”

Supporter of the Bahai Institute of Higher Education, in exile

Is education a right or a privilege? What happens when individuals or groups of people are denied access to education? To what lengths will people go in order to obtain an education, or to ensure that others do not gain access to learning? These questions, and other similar points of debate were the focus of a discussion held yesterday evening at the University of Northampton.

The debate around these fundamental issues was provoked by the showing of a film “To Light a Candle” made by the Iranian journalist and film maker Maziar Bahari, whose other films include Of Shame and Coffins (2000) and Along Came a Spider (2003). He has also been involved in the production of television documentaries, including programmes for Channel 4 and the BBC in the UK. Bahari is not unfamiliar with controversy and oppression having spent time in an Iranian prison accused of anti-state activity after filming and publicising “illegal demonstrations” and “illegal gatherings” in Tehran. “To Light a Candle” is certainly unlikely to enhance his popularity amongst the current rulers of Iran as it continues Bahari’s theme of recording oppression and denial of human rights.

“To Light a Candle” tells the story of the Bahai community in Iran and their struggle to obtain education and fair employment. The Bahai’is are a significant minority religious group within Iran, where their faith was originally founded in the nineteenth century. Ever since their foundation, during the time of the Ottoman Empire they have faced persecution, but they have always resisted this oppression through determined non-violent resistance.

In modern day Iran Bahai’is are forbidden access to higher education and are not allowed to teach in universities. Some of those who have sought a university education elsewhere and have returned to Iran have been denied the right to practice their professions, and the degrees that they have obtained from well-established universities have not been recognised within the country. One of many examples of this level of persecution is the story of Faran Hesami who graduated in 2003 with a Master’s degree in Educational Counselling from the University of Ottawa, Canada. On her return to Iran, where she hoped to work for the benefit of her local community Faran Hesami was arrested and tried and informed that her degree was illegal, and therefore she had been practicing as a counsellor illegally. The court sentenced her to four years imprisonment.

“To Light a Candle” is in many respects a depressing film, and not surprisingly, those of us watching, representing many different nationalities, cultures and a range of secular and religious beliefs, were horrified at the level of oppression depicted. Everyone present at the showing of this film had benefitted from education from primary school days through to university, and there was a general consensus that our experiences left us better equipped to make a contribution to the countries from which we come. Whilst the sense of injustice around the room was palpable, there was however, one aspect of this film that gave everyone present hope that things will be better in the future. On several occasions individuals from the Bahai community shown in the film demonstrated their commitment to obtaining an education and their preparedness to go to great lengths to assert this right. The point was strongly made, that whilst it is possible to deny access to universities or libraries, to destroy learning materials and resources, and to attempt to stop people learning together, determined individuals will find ways of circumventing legislation and oppression and will continue to learn.

Within Iran students and academics, supported by many Iranians who are not of the Bahai faith have organised themselves to create the Bahai Institute of Higher Education (BIHE). Through this underground movement classes are organised and qualifications obtained. Though the Iranian authorities do not recognise this institute or its awards, the organisers of this movement persist and are continuing to assert the right to education. Academics from around the world have supported this movement by giving their time to teach courses at the BIHE at a distance through internet links and the production of teaching materials. The film showed professors from Canada and the United States of America engaging with students on a range of courses and enabling them to have access to high quality teaching.

The showing of this film to a small audience enabled those present to reassert their commitment to the concept of education for all. Many of the students present have been involved in researching and debating aspects of inclusive education over the past few years, and their tutors in some instances for far longer. Discussions about the exclusion of children from education because of disability, poverty, caste or conflict have been a regular feature of the work of those present. This film added a new dimension to our attempts to understand the impact of exclusion and the importance of  gaining a holistic view of the meaning of inclusion.

The courage of individuals, who are struggling in the face of danger to obtain an education, should encourage all of us who have opportunities to learn in freedom alongside our peers and colleagues, to value what we have. The overwhelming view within the room was that education is indeed a right, but that perhaps those of us who have had educational opportunities should recognised how privileged we are, by comparison to others who live under oppressive regimes. Whilst members of the Bahai community in Iran and others around the world continue to be denied their right to education, it will be essential that those of us who do have the freedom to learn continue to debate these issues, and bring them to the attention of others.

Education is Not A crime, is a movement campaigning to bring the denial of education to the Bahai community to wider attention. You can find details at:-

http://www.educationisnotacrime.me/

To see a trailer for the film “To Light a Candle” go to:-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7aE27GyMMo

 

 

Learning must cross boundaries

Many nationalities - but only one humanity

Many nationalities – but only one humanity

 

It is said that Diogenes of Sinope declared himself to be “A citizen of the World”.

I was talking this morning with one of my PhD students about her research. Her work has involved observing teachers working with children in the early years of their education in schools in the UK. She has then taken some of the teaching approaches that she has learned and applied these in schools in her native Taiwan. Listening to her enthusiastic description of the differences of teaching approach in two countries many thousands of miles apart, and her account of what she has learned, and how she has shared this learning with teachers in both countries, reinforced my belief that there is so much to be gained from working in an international environment.

Later in the day I enjoyed conversations with groups of research students from India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Vietnam, China and Colombia who occupy an office in the Centre for Education and Research at the university. Sharing a common commitment to investigating aspects of education, they bring a vast range of professional and personal experiences to the university. In addition, they have significantly different cultural backgrounds that have shaped their interpretation of the world, and are generous in exchanging these as part of their overall experience of being a student in the UK.

Without exception they enjoy being part of this richly diverse community. They recognise that they have an opportunity to learn from each other, to understand the similarities and difference in the education systems of their countries, and to appreciate the varying challenges that these bring. In formal teaching sessions they exchange their views and consider how their learning may be applied to a wide range of educational situations. Informally, they share food, music, literature and ideas from their homes, and thus broaden their understanding of each other’s cultures.

As tutors working with these students, we gain as much as they do from this multi-lingual and international community of learners. Opportunities to hear about their teaching experiences and the conditions in which they live and work in their home countries, and to listen to their aspirations for the future is a privilege that is to be greatly appreciated. We also benefit from a greater understanding of how educational policy and practices evolve in different circumstances, and how we may apply some of these ideas in our own situation. However, in the past year I have also detected a greater apprehension in their conversations than I recall from the past.

Being an international student in the UK, and I suspect in many other countries, is much harder than in the past. The world is in turmoil and the level of trust in the unfamiliar has significantly decreased. Fear of “foreigners” appears to be on the increase and several of our students have expressed a concern that they are sometimes viewed with an element of suspicion. The burgeoning bureaucracy to which they are subjected in order to monitor their movements and the increased difficulties associated with renewing visas has become a source of frustration. Increased regulation from the UK Border Agency, understandably implemented with national security in mind and designed to discourage a small minority criminal and fundamentalist element, impacts upon all non-British nationals. My fear is that those with a legitimate desire to learn may be detered from doing so outside of their own national boundaries in the future.

The students I work with are sensitive to the need for increased vigilance, but also conscious of the apparent negativity towards visitors to this country that they experience in the media, and sadly on occasions, on the streets. Much of this is founded upon ignorance, and I am sure that if some of the perpetrators of these reactions could spend time with these hard working young people, they would exhibit a different range of behaviours. Having visited several of the countries from which these students have come, I have always been received with kindness and generosity and made to feel welcome. I would like to think that this is reciprocated for colleagues who come here.

I am sure that the students with whom I work as they complete their research degrees will make a major contribution to the education systems in their own countries or elsewhere in the world. I hope that as they do so they will take with them many positive memories of their time in the UK.

It may not be a classic but…

A film that clearly has a devoted following

A film that clearly has a devoted following

 

I have been a daily reader of The Guardian Newspaper for at least the past thirty years, and have become familiar with many of its excellent feature writers and journalists. The Guardian covers topical news items in depth and often with a critical perspective, but sometimes an article attracts my attention more for the quirky nature of the story than the seriousness of the content. It was one such feature that held my interest this weekend.

Under the heading “Bollywood Romance that Keeps on Giving” Sharin Bhatti from Mumbai reported how, having been shown every day since its release in 1995, the management of a cinema in that city had decided to take the film Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, (roughly translated as “The Brave-Hearted Will Take Away the Bride”) described as a Bollywood Classic, off its schedule. The film, starring the actors Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan apparently tells the story of an Indian couple who fall in love whilst on holiday in European, and recounts how the boy tries to convince the girl’s parents that she should marry him rather than the boy that her father has chosen for her. (I haven’t seen the film personally so can’t tell you more than this). The film is the longest running in the history of Indian cinema.

Almost immediately after removing the film from its schedule the cinema management found themselves with mass protests on their hands. The manager Mr Manoj Desai described how he was overwhelmed by the public outcry and felt that he had no option but to reinstate the film. The record is therefore likely to be extended well into the future.

The choice made by The Guardian to publish this article, may result from a lack of other more serious stories, though I like to think that news of this nature, is designed to raise a smile by reporting one of the more amusing incidents that whilst seemingly trivial in nature, clearly does matter to some people. My own decision to reflect on this article is influenced by a similar situation encountered whilst cycling through the magnificent countryside of Ireland a few years ago.

After several rather wet days in the saddle, pedaling through the rugged and weather beaten landscape of County Mayo and Connamara between Lough Mask and Lough Corrib, on the west coast, we arrived in a little town called Cong. Here we pitched our tent in the lee of a wall to gain some shelter from the impending storm. Having settled our place and secured our bicycles Sara and I made our way to the campsite office and were provided with the usual warm Irish welcome and furnished with information about the locality.

Cong, we were informed was famous for having been the location of a Hollywood movie, which has “put the area on the map.” The film described, directed by John Houston and called “The Quiet Man” starred the screen idol John Wayne, and Maureen O’Hara and was made in 1952. So proud of this film are the people of Cong, that throughout the summer season it is screened free of charge every evening in a small cinema located on the campsite.

The predicted storm arrived, and so it was that the evening saw us making our way to the cinema to watch this Technicolor epic. And so began one of the most bizarre evenings I can recall. Having settled down into our seats we observed that the audience comprised other members of the campsite community, alongside local people for whom this was a regular, and in some instances, nightly venture.

Throughout the film a lady sat next to us knitting a sweater, when the film was finished she informed us that she came to the cinema every evening, every summer. Two other ladies who sat near us, without a doubt had a similar record of attendance, as they knew every line of the film and managed to recite them from the opening until the final credits! Elsewhere, members of the audience unpacked sandwiches or opened picnic baskets and proceeded to share in their evening repast. In all honesty, the film is far from a masterpiece, telling the tale of a misogynistic Irish-born American from Pittsburgh, who travels to Ireland to reclaim his family farm and meets and falls in love with the fiery Mary Kate Danaher played by Maureen O’Hara. However, watching the audience served very well to keep us entertained and also provided welcome shelter from the lashing rain.

Since that visit to Cong, which has much more of interest than The Quiet Man to offer the visitor, we have often laughed as we have recalled that evening in the campsite cinema. Never before have we experienced an evening at a film that has done so much to bring a community together. This was a cinema going experience like no other. The film seemed almost peripheral to the social experience.

This weekend’s Guardian report of the emotions stirred by a Bollywood film gave me cause to recall that enjoyable visit to a beautiful town in Ireland. I would happily return and repeat the experience tomorrow.

A film that provides a social event for locals and visitors to Cong in the summer.

A film that provides a social event for locals and visitors to Cong in the summer.