Meet Associate Professor Radhika Gorur
Associate Professor Radhika Gorur lived and worked in Asia, Africa and the Middle-East before making her home in Australia. As well as being a member of REDI, she is a founding member and the Convenor of the Deakin Science and Society Network and a Director of the Laboratory of International Assessment Studies. Her research interests include education policy, regulation and reform; global networks, aid and development; the social studies of science and technology (STS); the sociology of numbers; and critical data studies. Here she talks about her background and her interest in how policy ideas are assembled and how numbers have gained influence in policy.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small township in India that had an ambitious school – it was an “English medium” school (i.e., instruction was in English) even though most of the teachers were not very good at English, which is the language of elites in India. After completing my schooling in this town, I moved to Bengaluru for my undergraduate studies. I took advanced maths, physics and chemistry in school, but made an impulsive (and very good) decision to switch to Arts (literature, psychology and sociology) for my BA at Bangalore University.
What has been your career path up until now?
After completing my undergraduate degree, I went to Bombay (now Mumbai) and did a Graduate Diploma in Mass Communication. The subjects included journalism, radio, TV and film. It was all about art, design and society and was the beginning of my understanding of politics. After completing the course, I got a job in advertising.
I moved to Nigeria when I got married and volunteered at a new international school for Indian children. The day I started they showed me a long line of tiny kids and told me that was my class. I was 21 years old and had no idea what to do with a bunch of 4-year-olds, but I found that I liked the kids and I enjoyed teaching. I spent the next 20+ years teaching – at the Indian Language School, Lagos; the American International School, Lagos; Mallya Aditi International School, Bengaluru; the American-British Academy, Muscat; Wesley College, Melbourne; and Melbourne Girls Grammar School, Melbourne. Over this period, I taught all grades – from pre-school to the IB Diploma – and across the Indian, American, Victorian and IB curricula. I taught various subjects, all the primary subjects as well as Art, IT, Theory of Knowledge, English, and Religious Education and Ethics.
After completing my PhD in 2011, I got a part-time position as a Research Fellow for a year at the University of Melbourne, and then a 3-year post doc at Victoria University. In 2015, I moved to Deakin and have been here since.
When did you become interested in research?
The American school offered staff $1000 to study during the summer break. That is how I started my Masters degree with Michigan State University, attending their overseas programs where they crammed a semester worth of study into a few weeks. I needed a few extra credits to complete the requirements for my Masters so I did it via research. My project was a year-long, video-based self-study to understand the effects of using a pedagogy inspired by constructivist thinking in my Grade 3 ‘accelerated’ maths class. It was a great success and resulted in a change to the maths program at the school.
When I moved to Melbourne in 2003, I got a job in the Prep school at Welsley College. However, when I applied for Victorian Institute of Teaching registration my application was rejected. In order to keep teaching in Victoria, I had to return to university to do a DipEd. I had always wanted to do a PhD, so I enrolled for both courses at the University of Melbourne.
My PhD was on education policy. At the time there were lots of things happening in policy – the Education Revolution, Naplan, the My School website, the national curriculum and PISA. After I completed my thesis, I received a one-year fellowship at Melbourne University and then did post-doctoral work at Victoria University before I moved to Deakin in 2015. My research was focused around how numbers gain authority, how they are mobilised and gain certain meanings, travel though the world and reorder societies.
Over the years, my research has grown in different directions, including a focus on international organisations and their reform efforts in the global south, issues of social justice, theory and methodology in education research (I also teach a course on this at Deakin) and digitisation, datafication, and EdTech. Currently I am trying to think through how data and EdTech might be ‘decolonised’.
Can you talk a bit about the Laboratory of International Assessment Studies
The Laboratory of International Assessment Studies was formed in 2014 and aims to bring together producers, consumers and critics of international assessments to explore how we might understand the power of these assessments in current policy regimes. We found that test developers, officials in global development organisations, policy makers and academics could barely communicate with each other meaningfully as their epistemic practices differ widely. The Laboratory designs opportunities – seminars, panel discussions, small-group symposiums – that bring them into meaningful conversations. Addressing various influential groups, including officials of the World Bank, OECD, UNESCO, etc. and engaging them in focused conversations through the Lab events is one way we try to have an impact.
Recently, the Lab organised the very successful Decolonising Data Summit, in partnership with NORRAG – and it has started a discussion on a new and important topic with the most cutting-edge thinkers in this field. This is a great example of the work of the Lab.
How did you become interested in the Global South?
I was invited by UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring (GEM) to write a background paper on accountability to inform their 2017 report. As I did some research into accountability in the global south, I became deeply interested – and deeply concerned – about the effects of global monitoring and accountability on global south nations. This concern became the basis of my DECRA application in 2017. My DECRA examined how global networks and the Sustainable Development Goals were reconfiguring education in India and Cambodia. I interviewed people in villages and people at the World Bank in the United States to see what kind of accountability practices were in place and how accountability could be done differently.
What does your research mean for the community?
It is very difficult to demonstrate a dramatic impact on policy when your scope is global. But I think issues of inequity, colonisation through data and EdTech, and the effects of global reform programs, particularly on global south nations are important to understand – and my research produces detailed descriptions of how these occur. I am also one of the few scholars in the world bringing in theoretical resources from Science and Technology Studies (STS) into education, which approaches issues of power in novel ways and also carries the optimism that it is possible to change the status quo.
What are your next steps and what are your challenges?
Two things are currently preoccupying me. The first is the need to decolonise education data. I think much work is needed in this area and I am keen to dig my teeth into it. The second is to re-think the notion of ‘ethics’ in engineering curricula so that there is greater awareness of the harms and injustices caused by emerging technologies. This is crucial because regulation can never keep pace with technological developments. My students are also working on a number of related, interesting issues relating to social justice, datafication, global reform, and governance at institutional, national and international levels.