Erasmus, Freedom and Focus

There are 83 of us from universities around Europe here in Lisbon on an Erasmus Exchange Week.  I’ve talked to staff from Poland, Finland, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, Slovenia, Turkey, Greece, Romania — a veritable Eurovision of delegates. Although we are all working in different university jobs, what binds us together is sharing, promoting and learning about different views of education around the world. (Views from Castelo de Sao Jorge below).

Today, the 25th of April, is a national holiday in Portugal– Freedom Day — celebrating the 1974 Revolution and the free elections that started a year later. As a group for part of the day, we joined Lisbonites visiting historic sites and as I talked to others, it occurred to me that although we are all from ‘free’ nations, we all have different notions of freedom.

At one pole, freedom can be a burden, and the other pole, it can be an exhilerating release. Most of us are probably in the middle — grappling with the choices we make which may be opposed to the choices others make. It seems so many countries are divided these days, and no doubt, this is the price of freedom of choice and of information.

And this is where I take heart in the freedom of information that our UCL libraries offer.  We can offer the parity of online access, the freedom of reading a myriad of subjects and the freedom to feedback.  This freedom, however, does not come without a price. Just because information is ‘free’, does not mean that it is current, relevant, authoritative, accurate or even fit for purpose. This is when we must apply the CRAAP test for evaluating information.

Limiting our search for information to what is current, relevant, accurate, authoritative and purposeful may narrow our view of a subject….

but it can also focus our searches and can  often lead us to new and undiscovered paths.


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Education in Germany – a long march uphill

If you believe that Germans have massive bowls of freshly-prepared muesli for breakfast, march through the forests and up the mountains in ergonomic sandals and up and down cold water-basins barefoot, and are partial to extremely emotional music about love and death – you are right. And you know more than I knew when I lived in Germany, because you do not notice what you grow up with: you think it’s natural.

If you have an idea that the German way of upbringing, education, and training is very different from the British one, you are also right. Schooling starts, for instance, much later and with shorter hours: most Germans still recoil from the thought of sending children to nursery school before the age of three, to primary school before the age of six, and to anything like full-time school before the age of ten, for secondary education.

The curriculum in Germany is broad, as regards academic subjects. If you leave school at 16, you will have a systematic overview of fields like history and biology and be likely to speak English and French fluently. If you want to reach university at all, there is no way round advanced mathematics, and if you are interested in a humanities degree, you better start learning Latin betimes.

Imposing Gothic-style university building, looking somewhat like a mediaeval castle.Department of Theology at the University of Marburg. (Main building 19th c., church 13th c.).

By Willow (Own work) [GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.

You will have heard that vocational and professional training in Germany is lengthy and thorough, combining theory and practice. Teacher training, for example, lasts two years, and that after a degree course already covering education and social sciences as well as the subjects you want to teach. To become a library assistant, you would also have to train two years, after comprehensive sixth-form studies. Yet while qualifying, you would not pay for your education, you would get paid for your labour!

Germany also has a very special past, because it consisted of many – at times over a hundred – smaller states and more recently was divided for almost half a century. If you want to find out more about German society at the Newsam Library, check the UCL catalogue Explore and our shelves in the Comparative Education Collection. For more information, Barbara Sakarya has set up a whole LibGuide on International Education, to which I have contributed the Country Focus: Germany.

Tall blue volumes on library shelves.




The Newsam Library is one of the few places in the United Kingdom to hold volumes of the Datenhandbuch zur deutschen Bildungsgeschichte.

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Reading London

Orwell proof

Proof copy from UCL Special Collections of the work which was published in 1933 as Down and out in Paris and London Image reproduced courtesy of the Orwell Estate

Reading London

A London-themed celebration of reading aloud, and being read to, for World Book Night

Where: UCL IOE Library

When: Monday 24 April 2017 5.30-7.00pm

To celebrate World Book Night 2017 and to coincide with UCL Libraries’ East Side Stories: Londoners in Transition exhibition we are holding our third read aloud event on Monday 24 April. Come and listen to fellow audience members read poems, stories or passages from their favourite books. Readings will include extracts from George Orwell’s Down and out in Paris and London which is included in the exhibition. If you would like to read aloud yourself in any language (for approximately 5 mins) you would be very welcome. A London theme for your reading is optional!

Sam Duncan (IOE Dept of Education, Practice and Society) and Rebecca Webster (Head of Archives, UCL Library Services) will introduce the session.

If you would like to come along (to read or to be read to) please use the link below to book a place. If you would like to read please email Sam Duncan (

To book please click here.

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Focus on Greece

It’s so heartening to have such a diverse student population at UCL and to find out what wondrous things they do in their own countries.   The International Education LibGuide’s March Student/Country Focus features Maria Chalari from Greece. Below is just a taster….

Ya sas!

My name is Maria Chalari, and I am from Greece. I am a recent graduate of the UCL Institute of Education of the department of Education, Practice and Society. I completed my doctorate thesis in the Spring of 2016 under the supervision of Stephen Ball, and in August 2016 I was awarded the degree of Doctor in Education in the field of Sociology of Education. 

My research project aimed to explore how teachers experience the socio-economic crisis in Greece and the new challenges that stem from it; to discuss the purpose of education and the role it should play in preparing young people for this social, cultural and economic transition; to learn more about how we can build on the strengths of the present education system in order to create a system better suited to the current major societal changes and the challenging circumstances.

Throughout my study, I attempted to examine the consequences of the crisis at the time of the research, while also exploring the possibilities of a better world beyond the crisis. I also endeavoured to send a positive message, by helping educators understand the issues of teaching and learning and the purpose of education, and by encouraging them to think of practical and hopeful strategies for shaping alternative and better futures….

You can read more about Maria Chalari and education in Greece on the International Student/Country Focus page here.

You might also sample Maria’s suggested resource that can be found in the UCL IOE Library here:

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Genius, obsession and new beginnings- take a look at our new DVDs.

The lives of two brilliant mathematicians from India and the USA, a teenager’s determination for a better life through literacy, a newly unemployed man who enrols in a college to try and start a new life, a stifled Oxford academic’s obsession with a female student and a the adventures of a group of boys at a Victorian boarding school are among the subjects covered by DVDs recently added to the Library’s Education in Literature Collection. There are also films from Iran, Brazil and Italy.infinity

The Man Who Knew Infinity (2016) stars Dev Patel as Srinavasa Ramanujan (1887-1920) a shipping clerk from Madras whose passion for mathematics leads him to write a letter to G.H.Hardy (Jeremy Irons) a mathematics professor at Trinity College, Cambridge. Hardy brings Ramanujan to Cambridge, in 1913 to further his work in mathematics. Despite his support Ramanujan has to fight against the challenges of prejudice and racism.

The mathematician portrayed in A Beautiful Mind (2001) by Russell Crowe is John Forbes Nash Jr. (1928-2015). He made fundamental contributions to game theory, differential geometry and the study of partial differential equations. His brilliance was hampered by his long battle against paranoid schizophrenia. The film is directed by Ron Howard.

Precious (2009) directed by Lee Daniels, is a life-affirming story of an abused African-American teenager in 1980s Harlem whose life start to improve when she is offered a place at an alternative school. There Clareece ‘Precious’ Jones finds a mentor who helps her to overcome her illiteracy.

In Accident (1967) Stephen (Dirk Bogarde) is a middle-aged professor stifled by his marriage and his life as an Oxford academic. He becomes obsessed with his beautiful student Anna. His rivals for her affections are her young fiancé William (Michael York) and a more successful fellow academic Charley (Stanley Baker). The film is directed by Joseph Losey from a screenplay by playwright Harold Pinter.

Stalky & Co, is a six part BBC TV (1982) series set in the late 1890’s and based on the novel of the same name by Rudyard Kipling. It is set in a private boy’s school and recounts the adventures of Stalky (Robert Adie), McTurk (Robert Burbage) and Beetle (David Parfitt). The character of Beetle is said to be based on Kipling himself and Stalky & Co on his experiences as a pupil at the United Services College at Bideford, Devon. Be warned that sometimes these schoolboy’s attitudes and adventures feature revenge, hatred, violence and passion. There are copies of the novel in the Education in Literature Collection and in the Curriculum Collection.

The eponymous hero of Larry Crowne (2011) played by Tom Hanks loses his long-standing job and enrols in his local college to learn new skills.crowne He finds support from new friends and also develops a crush on his teacher (Julia Roberts). Tom Hanks also directs the film.

Talented violinist Laerte (Lazaro Ramos) fails to gain a place in the renowned Sao Paulo Symphonic Orchestra. Instead he has to teach music in a public school in Heliopolis, the biggest and most violent slum of Brazil. Gradually Laerte is able to gain the community’s trust through the transforming power of music. The Violin Teacher (Tudo que aprendemos juntos), directed by Sergio Machado, was the winner of the Best Brazilian Feature Film at the Sao Paulo International Film Festival 2015. In Portuguese with English subtitles.

Blackboards (2000) is an unusual film from Iran whose director is a young woman Samira Makhmalbaf. In the film a group of itinerate teachers wander the countryside near the border with Iraq looking for students.blackboards They carry their blackboards with them and find many uses for them- as a cover from gunfire, shelter from the weather or even as a stretcher. The teachers are eager to impart knowledge but find very few students. In Kurdish with English subtitles. It won the Prix du Jury at the Cannes Film Festival 2000.

Notte prima degli esami (Night before the exams) (2006) is an Italian teen comedy film about the adventures of Luca and his friends as they prepare for the esami di maturita (the Italian high school final exam). It is set in Rome during 1989 and features music by Europe, Duran Duran, Cecchetto and other popular 1980s bands.

The Education in Literature Collection contains novels ,plays, autobiographies ,poetry and DVDs which explores the educational experience at all levels and from the perspective of both pupil and teacher from many countries. The collection is shelved at the back of the Library Teaching Room on the 4th Floor of the UCL IOE Newsam Library and Archives.

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Focus on India

Some of our students do wondrous things when they are here in London, so it’s no surprise that they continue their amazing work when then go home.

One such student is Deepa Idnani, who was awarded the Commonwealth Scholarship for her Doctoral work at the UCL Institute of Education in 2015-16.


Deepa is presently working as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Education, SPM College, University of Delhi, India, and in 2017, she published Right to Education and Schooling.


You can find this new title in the IOE Library and you can find out more about Deepa and other IOE students on the Student/Country Focus pages in the International LibGuide.

We welcome many more students to add their education experiences to these pages that highlight the rich diversity at UCL IOE. If you’re interested in sharing  your experiences,  please out the form here.

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Are Bhutan and Vanuatu world leaders? Thoughts for the International Day of Happiness

Happiness is a word with an intense golden glow and surely one of the main goals of each one of us every day of our lives; but it seems an elusive thing, difficult to define or measure or pursue systematically or collectively. Yet it is gaining ground as a concept in social sciences and in politics.

In 2012, the United Nations unanimously adopted the International Day of Happiness on March, 20.  Resolution 66/281 urges members to integrate “happiness and well-being” into public policies and to balance economic growth with social justice and sustainability.

The pursuit of maximum production and capital has tentatively been replaced by more holistic aims. One factor is equality: if there is a considerable national income, how is it distributed? Another factor is health: if life expectancy is very high and rising, how many years are actually spent in good health? Some development indexes try to weigh literacy and education. Then there is the environment: we have finally noticed that unchecked development will destroy the space where it takes place.

Also since 2012, the UN publishes the World Happiness Report, with rankings for 156 countries and a focus on inequality in the latest update of 2016. Not only has socio-economic inequality increased: ‘happiness inequality’ is on the rise within countries, within regions, and across the globe. This ranking uses surveys on subjective well-being and studies on ethics and religions but claims to be a more precise indicator of social inequality.

The Human Development Index establishes a formula from income, education and life span. The usual suspects in Northern Europe and Central Europe and East Asia get very high ratings, together with the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Note that in the ‘inequality-adjusted’ HDI, the Nordic countries become the team at the top, while South Korea drops from position 17 to 32 and the US is in freefall from position 8 to 28!

The Happy Planet Index comes to a very different conclusion: The tiny Pacific nation of Vanuatu made it to the top of the world in the first round, with Costa Rica and other Caribbean countries of modest means runners-up and holding the flag since. The lowest rankings of well-being are clustered in Africa and extend, bizarrely, to Russia and the United States of America. This is due to the ‘ecological footprint’ of the nation’s lifestyle. ‘Happy Planet’ refers to happy, healthy people as well as a happy, healthy planet.



Map showing countries shaded by their position in the Happy Planet Index (2006). The highest-ranked countries are bright green; the lowest are brown. — Source: By Super cyclist at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

The German Parliament set up the Commission ‘Growth, Prosperity, Quality of Life’, which in 2011 came up with ten development indicators across economic, social and environmental areas: among them national debt, personal freedom, and greenhouse gases. I think this is an approach to be watched and worked on!

A few years ago, the UK Government established the What Works Centre in order to look into and promote well-being. Some of the focus areas are adult learning and culture. Recent research papers examine the link between music and dementia and discuss how ‘life-satisfaction’ can be measured and compared.

This movement was apparently started by another tiny nation, Bhutan in Central Asia, quite cut off amidst the Himalayas in the 1970s. When a journalist asked the King about their Gross Domestic Product, he replied that the Bhutanese have different aims – and went on to have Gross National Happiness (GNH) enshrined in the law.

The Newsam Library at the UCL Institute of Education has just bought two new books on the matter (downstairs at 549.8). Schuelka, Maxwell and colleagues (2016) and Robles (2016) describe how Bhutan moved, within half a century, from a traditional monastic education to a secular system with international outlook, while preserving the cultural heritage and upholding Buddhist values. The concept of ‘happiness’ encompasses equality and kindness.

I gather that in Asia, collective happiness is not the sum of individual satisfaction, but an equilibrium, the maximum space for everyone to find development and contentment. The editors of the UN’s World Happiness Report 2016 draw a similar conclusion: the more equally distributed happiness is in a country, the happier its inhabitants are overall.

For the International Day of Happiness 2017, you could think about these matters as a teacher, perhaps with your pupils or students, or as a researcher. Have there been surveys of life-satisfaction and well-being in your country? Do recent policies on economic expansion explicitly take social equality and mobility, or the educational achievement, or the healthy life span into account?

For a philosophical background, you could turn to Bertrand Russell’s Conquest of Happiness, in several copies at UCL Main Library, or to Hermann Hesse’s musings on Happiness (Glück), available in German at Senate House Library.

François Lelord offers a mixture of entertaining narrative and popular philosophy in his Hector novels, available in French at the French Institute and in English at the public libraries around UCL, which belong to Camden Council. The hero flees – like the author did – the Western ‘wellness’ industry of gyms, pills, and psychoanalysis in order to look for true contentment with Eskimos and, incidentally or not, monks in the Himalayas.

Sunlit veranda of coffee-house with cups on round table and flower pots on rails.

The IOE Library also holds a critical documentary on Bhutan’s claims to the best recipe for satisfaction: Bhutan tourism, TV and happiness.

Our Curriculum Resources section offers introductions into philosophy for children at classmark 100. Teaching and learning materials on happiness are located at 152.4 and those on health and well-being in general from 300 onwards.

For very young children, there are picture books exploring the aims of life. Have a look at The jar of happiness and Augustus and his smile. Older children will be intrigued by the illustrated tales The seeds of peace and The keeper of wisdom.

My own version of happiness would be a place in the sun, quite literally: a seat in a coffee-house in a sunny country, with the leisure to immerse myself in… social history!

‘Nid’cigogne’ café in Marrakesh, Morocco. Photograph: Christina Egan © 2012.

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