Institute of Education

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IOE Holds First Ever International Week of Education Law

IOE Holds First Ever International Week of Education Law

In early October 2017, IOE hosted its first ever International Week of Education Law, a unique venue to take multiple perspectives on the best national and global practices in tackling the most pressing issues in education-related legal frameworks. Inspired and organized by the IOE Centre for Education Law, the event involved a series of talks and expert seminars by world-acclaimed field professionals, including the Centre’s Academic Supervisor Dr. Jan de Groof, Prof. Ingo Richter of Paris Nanterre University, and Prof. Pablo Meix Cereceda of Roma Tre University.     

The event’s overall idea and format have been inspired by IOE’s legal experts Szymon Jankiewicz and Nadezhda Knyaginina, comprehensively supported by Dr. Jan de Groof, an internationally recognized authority in the field who was hosting the Week’s sessions. With his high-profile duties at the world’s chief law & policy organizations, including the European Association for Education Law and Policy (ELA), Dr. de Groof’s role at the academic helm of the IOE Centre for Education Law since the spring of 2017 has facilitated a major leap ahead in the Centre’s scholarship, training and networking agenda, all of this poising IOE well to evolve into a dynamic R&D and advisory powerhouse in Russian and comparative international education law.

To ensure the best practical inputs for everyone attending, the Education Law Week was structured as a series of open lectures and networking sessions, coupled with expert seminars enabling deeper and multifaceted insights into each specific area of discussions.

Dr. Jan de Groof, Professor in International and Comparative Education Law, Academic Supervisor at the IOE Centre for Education Law

As global socioeconomic landscapes are rapidly changing, so need learning & development settings – a major determiner in how well-prepared communities and nations will be for capturing this transformative momentum to secure sustainable social cohesion and growth. When it comes to educational reforms, the major imperative for law & policy frameworks is to facilitate a better parity in the rights and responsibilities of various parties, from federal- and local-level authorities and to communities, families and individuals.

In delivering on this objective, legislation architects should reinforce and streamline efforts in acting as an unprejudiced agent and mouthpiece capable of plainly articulating and effectively addressing such various stakeholders’ expectations, conflicting interests and issues of deprivation with respect to their rights to learning & development, by deploying equity-centered and unambiguous policies and enactments conducive to improved accountability and inclusive educational pluralism.         

Resolving Language Policy Conflicts for Social Empowerment and Growth

The Week’s broad and multilateral discussions kicked off on October 4 with a lecture by Dr. Ingo Richter, a Professor in Constitutional and Administrative Law at Paris Nanterre University, who spoke about strategies for resolving conflicts in language politics. This topic is central to the current global education law agenda, because the task of empowering broader population groups through better and more accessible education is inseparable from deploying robust legal mechanisms for promoting unbiased diversity in linguistic opportunity, the event moderator Dr. Jan de Groof noted in his brief address ahead of Prof. Richter’s talk:    

“Sound proficiency in both native and foreign languages is a key factor of successful social integration through one’s lifepath. It is therefore of paramount importance for governments at all levels to nurture visionary and well-balanced linguistic right policies that would enable the continuity of minority languages, on the one hand, and decent opportunities for mastering today’s lingua francas, on the other.”  

Drawing on his extensive expertise in European legal contexts, Dr. de Groof emphasized the principal role of better upholding linguistic rights in supporting individual and community identity, which is crucial for preserving sociocultural diversity and the ongoing intra- and intercultural dialogue – something that inevitably implicates in building more equitable and inclusive societies. According to Dr. de Groof, the key to effectively resolving linguistic conflicts lies in diversifying the law & policy mechanisms used, which is practically about deploying a justified mix of hard and soft legal initiatives both at the national and international level.

Language rights commonly refer to the fundamental privilege of individuals and groups, including indigenous minorities, to speak and receive education in their native languages. While there’s long been a well-developed international legal framework ensuring these rights are appropriately secured, today’s surging mobility means this existing legislation in no longer fully commensurate with the changing social environment. There’s been a clear and urgent call for us to join forces in designing an international statute warranting sound opportunities for minority cohorts to master the titular nation’s mother language, and foreign languages, as a vital means for empowering decent learning careers, and hence lives well lived, in an increasingly globalized world.     

Dr. Ingo Richter, Professor in Constitutional and Administrative Law, Paris Nanterre University 

In his lecture, Prof. Ingo Richter took a comprehensive perspective on the existing mismatches and discrepancies in language politics as attributable to the following four main factors: the territorial factor, which is a conflict of official and local community languages; the disparity in opportunities for foreign language learning and the choice of second and third foreign languages; migration resulting in new dialects and increased linguistic diversity; and the pivotal role of global communication. 

While the 20th century was an age of international communication, with various domains of cross-border liaison and policymaking each basically having its own official language, the 21st century has heralded a progressive advent of new economic and social enablers, including ongoing globalization and trans-sectorial, transnational knowledge-driven networking. All of this, Dr. Richter stressed, has been confronting the humanity with new and often highly challenging objectives that can solely be addressed through plain and meaningful interaction in a now global communicative space:       

“If you ask me for an example, take the changing role of the English language, which has been increasingly recognized as the global lingua franca over the past couple of decades. And it’s really daunting to see many local communities still largely deprived of adequate opportunities for mastering English, which naturally hampers their access to world-class knowledge resources and undermines prospects for fully-fledged 21st century learning and mobility.”       

Rounding off his talk, Prof. Richter once again emphasized the idea of diversifying and better balancing legislative models and mechanisms as vital for upgrading the existing education-centered law & policy frameworks to become more flexible and responsive to increasingly complex socioeconomic contexts, where both the centripetal and centrifugal forces must be best catered for. According to Prof. Richter, the most feasible strategies for mitigating linguistic policy conflicts should always rely on a combination of the following six regulatory principles: federalism, autonomy, pluralism, identity, access, and inclusion.        

Dr. Ingo Richter, Professor in Constitutional and Administrative Law, Paris Nanterre University

An international expert seminar on balancing language politics as related to education, which followed Prof. Richter’s lecture, primarily aimed to spotlight specific national and community cases of conflicting policies in this legislative area, as well as possible ways to resolve them.

In opening the discussion, Dr. Szymon Jankiewicz, Director at the IOE Centre for Education Law, proposed focusing on current evidence from Russia by taking a deeper look at how misalignments in ways Russian legislation treats the rights and responsibilities regarding minority-language education across regions relate to the imperatives of maintaining a single educational space and uniform high-quality learning standards across the country.

True, discrepancies in federal and local enactments on the educational status of minority languages have long remained a pressing point for Russia, as was noted in a seminar report by Nadezhda Knyaginina, Analyst at the IOE Centre of Education Law. One of such persisting controversies, according to Ms. Knyaginina, is the fact that while minority-language training is not compulsory under Russian federal legislation, there are a number of regions in Russia where local policies stipulate the reverse. This, in turn, conflicts with the existing education standardization and examination framework, which is the sole priority of Russian federal authorities. Consequently, since all Russian schoolers are required to take unified interim and final exams conducted in the Russian language, those receiving education predominantly in a mother tongue of their respective ethnicity may face significant hurdles meeting national education requirements as envisaged by federal enactments, specifically in circumstances of misaligned curricular and poor availability of proper minority-language learning resources and training in the titular language.                        

 Szymon Jankiewicz, Director and Nadezhda Knyaginina, Analyst, IOE Centre for Education Law

In commenting on this type of policy conflicts form a global perspective, Dr. Ingo Richter stressed:

“Any legislation which mandates a minority language as compulsory for learning and education, given inadequate opportunities for concurrent education in titular languages and global lingua francas, is discriminative by nature, since such policies not infrequently exacerbate community isolation and can undermine the fundamental right for broader social inclusion and global citizenship. Crucial to resolving this is empowering minority-language communities, through consistent, equitable and transparent politics, to openly share their perceptions, needs and concerns, and to have a more meaningful say in determining the balance of minority-, national- and foreign-language exposures in schooling – as people see best fit for their future sociocultural and economic development in a global world.”       

Prof. Jan de Groof, who was moderating the seminar, also contributed to this discussion by emphasizing the lack of the Russian government’s unambiguous and cohesive position toward balancing minority-, national- and foreign-language schooling, which often contradicts international legislation in this area, as a major hindrance to more inclusive, future-proof educational and social empowerment.    

Another top-priority point on the seminar’s agenda was that of better establishing and upholding the linguistic rights of migrants, so as to facilitate their fully-fledged social inclusion within host communities and effective integration into national labor corps. An example of best-practice policymaking in this domain was presented by Irina Rönnqvist, an associate with Swedish Employment Agency. According to Ms. Rönnqvist, fostering accessibility and equity in linguistic opportunity has played a central part in Sweden’s policy roadmaps aimed at supporting immigrant human capital:

“Sweden is now home to about 500 thousand non-Swedish speaking immigrants, of whom roughly half are people of Arabic background, and mostly refugees. The Etablering reform that we’ve been carrying out entitles these most vulnerable groups to 20 hours per week of free training in the Swedish language, and yet another 20 hours of free training in each of the subjects that we see as absolutely vital for successful adaptation and integration in a new social environment. While the knowledge of the national language is not mandatory to qualify for Swedish citizenship, we believe all of the above measures are simply essential for upholding the principles of shared society and equitable welfare.”                      

Supporting Equality, Non-discrimination and Affirmative Action in Education

On October 5, IOE’s Education Law Week continued with a lecture on equality, non-discrimination and affirmative action in education by Dr. Pablo Meix Cereceda, a Professor in Law at Roma Tre University, where he shared international and comparative constitutional perspectives on the subject.

In the lead-up to Prof. Cereceda’s talk, Dr. Jan de Groof briefly outlined the substance and current status of the right to education as set out in global policy documents. In today’s world of rapid and all-embracing technological and societal change, Prof. de Groof stressed, education has undisputedly become the principal linchpin and the key driver of innovative development and national welfare. Alongside the need for promoting the most relevant and up-to-date governance, curricular and teaching methods for building high-payoff, increasingly lifelong-centered educational settings, it is also vital for various stakeholders to join forces in ensuring the right to education is realized as a holistic concept where the key ingredients to be duly observed at all levels are accessibility, flexibility & diversity, sociocultural cohesion, and – most importantly – broader educational awareness across population groups. It is by reinforcing this equality-centered formula of education through appropriate legal vehicles that we can forge sustainable pathways to more equitable societies, Dr. de Groof concluded.

Inclusive education is recognized as one of the most powerful sources of cultural and economic progress, both for individuals and different social clusters. Today, national education law & policy is increasingly shaped by global legislation, including ‘soft law’ provisions, which are non-binding in nature. And it is the principle of equality in education that stands apart as the one that has been widely formalized and has probably been most firmly enshrined in international law. So, looking comprehensively at how education equality is treated in the international legal framework is crucial for evaluating particular local policy and practice in place.

Dr. Pablo Meix Cereceda, Professor in Law, Roma Tre University

Prof. Cereceda started by spotlighting such key theoretical and practical aspects of the subject agenda, as the foundations of inclusive education, its international and constitutional regulation, affirmative action practices, etc.

When discussing the international legal basis underlying educational rights and non-discrimination, Prof. Cereceda emphasized the need for policy developers to pursue a diversified approach involving a mix of hard and soft legal mechanisms that will serve as a complementary framework conducive to better equity and inclusion. As guideline documents, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention of the Rights of the Child and several other statutes were noted.   

In the second part of his lecture, Prof. Cereceda took a cross-country perspective on the key constitutional provisions regarding equity and non-discrimination at various levels of schooling. This comparative analysis suggests it is primary education where such equality-centered norms are most fully enshrined and universally observed in practice, since it is the state that most typically acts as the principal stakeholder in basic general schooling. When it comes to secondary and higher education, legislation has been found to vary significantly by country:

“What we’re actually witnessing from a comparative perspective is that there’s no consensus in how various legal systems treat the components inherent in educational equity. Thus, for instance, there are some countries where universal free access to secondary schooling is not enshrined. Further, the rights to higher education are normally vested on a competitive basis, so these are not universal rights, too, as is actually the case in Russia.”               

Drawing upon examples from legal practice at the European Court of Human Rights, Prof. Cereceda has also shared his understanding of the basic principles on which affirmative action measures should be founded. In particular, he noted that decision-making on selective preferential policies must never rely on statistical evidence alone, as this may lead to fundamentally flawed strategies. By contrast, such decisions need to be conclusively supported by a multi-perspective qualitative analysis, including, among others, sociocultural, linguistic and other historically-bound contexts of a given territory, to reveal intrinsic factors of the existing disparities, which would enable designing the most practical and fair approaches to preferential regulation.

A Q&A session following the lecture sparked vibrant discussions on a broad range of related topics. These included, inter alia, the status of non-formal education in current international law; socioeconomic inequality and biased admission policies; the dilemma of better balancing state- and market-driven forces in learning and broader social settings; issues of accessibility and the rights of special-needs cohorts; equity versus non-discrimination; etc.          

Dr. Pablo Meix Cereceda, Professor in Law, Roma Tre University

As the International Week of Education Law was drawing to a close, another expert seminar was held on October 5, where the participants focused on federalism and federal–regional relationships in education.

In federal nations, as the case of Russia, encouraging more justified and productive schemas of federal–regional governance has long topped policy agendas across economic sectors. An increasingly powerful factor of robust social engineering and growth, national education is always an immense-scale, multilayered system of complex regulatory relationships involving multiple stakeholders. That said, enacting better balanced models of authority distribution among various parties in education at the federal and community level, based on a careful evaluation of potential risks vs. benefits and opportunities from such measures for each particular territory, may become an effective tool for empowering more equitable and synergistic development of a country’s educational sector as a whole.

In the run-up to the seminar’s main discussion, Dr. Jan de Groof commented:

“During my years in international education law and policy, I’ve been part of several advisory and drafting teams working on constitutional amendments for such federal states as Belgium and South Africa in the late 1980s, and subsequently on Russia’s first law on education in the early 1990s. All of this experience confirms pretty conclusively that developing a sound and fair federal model is never easy and is by no means a one-time endeavor. Rather, it requires ongoing monitoring of cross-country best practices in the field, critically analyzing these inputs against the context of the target legislation, and then adopting the most suitable policy pieces – as appropriately adjusted for the target nation’s sociocultural and economic context. But let me stress that – whilst always challenging and often ambiguous and controversial – issues of striking the right power balance between federal and regional authorities are to be prioritized at all times.”                  

In that spirit, the floor was then given to IOE experts Szymon Jankiewicz and Nadezhda Knyaginina, who outlined the key findings from their recent study on the Russian context of federalism, where they primarily aimed to gauge whether the federal government’s steps to delegate some of its authority in educational regulation to local-level stakeholders could be actually deemed as conducive to more equitable environments.

International experts discussing potential benefits and perils of various federal–regional governance models in education

The study has revealed a persistently broad array of legislative gaps, shortcomings and misalignments between policies and practices in place at the federal and local level. While differing in terms of materiality and equality risks, all of these factors add up and may be altogether viewed as a major disincentive to achieving a more cohesive and expedient federal–regional regulatory model. The areas which, as Szymon and Nadezhda believe, require the most immediate and thorough attention include, among others: early entrance and general admission policies; minority language education; tuition benefits; fees and extra charges for certain childcare and education services; proving quality learning aids; etc.     

In commenting on the IOE experts’ presentation, Dr. Ingo Richter pointed out several other factors that need to be considered when it comes to the subject aspect of legislation:

“Education very often becomes a sort of ‘concessionary vehicle’ allowing federal authorities to consolidate more power over certain other economic sectors, as may vary by particular national context, in exchange for expanding local autonomy in educational governance. Naturally enough, this ‘quid pro quo’ approach, when stemming from biased political intent, accompanied by scarce opportunity for effective centralized monitoring and oversight, which is specifically relevant for such vast-area federal nations as Russia or the USA, may further exacerbate social inequality by disrupting a nation’s unified and universally high-standard educational space.”

In particular, Dr. Richter noted, authority decentralization and the sharing of specific governance functions – even when necessitated by the factor of wide-scattered and diverse territorial jurisdictions – may engender dramatic setbacks in educational quality and amplify outbound mobility, as regional governments may discretionary revise their budgetary spending in favor of other local industries, or otherwise act discriminatively toward accessible and inclusive education.