PhD candidate Sharanya Menon is examining teacher education in Africa

REDI PhD candidate Sharanya Menon is hoping to add to discussions on ‘decolonising development’ within the context of Sustainable Development Goal 4 and quality teacher education in sub-Saharan Africa with her project, ‘North-South teacher education partnerships in Kenya: colonial challenges and decolonial possibilities’. Here she provides an insight into her developing interest in social justice issues in education and her personal experience of the global North and South.

PhD project

My PhD project examines teacher education partnerships between the global North (Europe, North America) and the global South (Africa), with a focus on Kenya as a case study. I am investigating how power, agency, and knowledge(s) are distributed among various participants involved in these partnerships, including teachers, teacher educators, international experts, policymakers, and NGO workers.

Utilising two North-South partnerships that have been operational for the past five years, my research aims to understand the social, material, and discursive practices that constitute these partnerships and how these practices shape the understanding of ‘quality’ in teacher education in Kenya.

How I became interested in education research

My journey began with a Masters in Human Development and psychology from UCLA in the US. Over the past decade, I have increasingly questioned the foundations of psychology in the field of education and following a stint in a Denver, Colorado school serving predominantly refugee and immigrant students, I developed an interest in macro-level issues within the field beyond the measurement of specific variables (e.g. socioeconomic class, gender, race) to comprehend their impact on students’ achievements. This led me to pursue a Masters in Education and Globalisation at the University of Oulu in Finland, which deepened my interest in global education policy, international aid and development, and social justice issues in education. After completing this program, I engaged in work at the Faculty of Education, including a North-South partnership between the Intercultural Teacher Education Program at the University of Oulu, Finland, Savitribai Phule Pune University, India, and the University of South-Eastern Norway. My most recent experience has been a significant inspiration for my PhD topic.

Challenging neocolonial perspectives

Reflecting on my journey, growing up in Mumbai, India, and attending school in a mixed-income neighbourhood before enrolling in a private liberal arts college in Pune, India, instilled in me a desire to pursue a career in research, particularly in the United States, where many universities boast high global rankings. Initially excited about becoming a student at UCLA, I soon realised that I was among the few international students in my program and one of only a handful with limited work or research experience in education. Unlike many of my peers, my undergraduate program in India lacked a research or thesis component, and a significant motivation for pursuing a masters degree abroad was to engage in independent research and write a thesis. Unfortunately, I found myself lacking adequate support from my masters supervisors, and I began to recognise the reality that international masters students are often viewed primarily as revenue sources for universities in global North contexts like the US.

Seeking a different experience, I pursued another masters degree after receiving a scholarship from the University of Oulu. I was particularly eager to undertake a masters thesis to gauge if I was cut out for a research career. My time in Finland, especially taking a course on comparative education, was a hugely defining moment for me. It was during this period that I was introduced to decolonial theory originating from Latin America. Decolonial theory made me reflect on my own colonised thinking and provided me with the language and tools to comprehend the various ways in which Western universities and knowledge systems are often deemed superior to others. I recall contemplating during my undergraduate years that leaving India to pursue a higher degree was essential for my future career prospects. The irony of my colonial mindset is not lost on me as I talk about this residing in another colony. Hence, I see my PhD research as a small endeavour to understand and challenge Western hegemony and seek out other ways of doing research on teacher education in the Global South.

Choosing Deakin

I decided to do my PhD at Deakin to work with my wonderful supervisors Associate Professor Radhika Gorur and Professor Julianne Moss. I first learned about Radhika during one of my comparative education seminars at the University of Oulu, where another scholar in the field, Nelli Piattoeva, was giving a talk on datafication in education. After the seminar, I had a conversation with Nelli about scholars in Finland who focus on the South Asian context. She recommended Radhika, who had recently spent some time at the University of Tampere in Finland. Upon reaching out to Radhika, she expressed interest in supervising me after reviewing my research proposal. Given that my topic focused on teachers and teacher education research, Julianne also agreed to come on board as a supervisor.

I also chose Deakin as I got the Deakin University Postgraduate Research Scholarship (DUPRS) without which I wouldn’t have been able to do this PhD.

Contributions of my study

I am hoping my PhD research could make a contribution to the literature on teacher education by delving into the political and ethical issues deeply embedded in the work of teachers, teacher educators, as well as North-South partnerships. In addition, I hope my research will add to discussions in the field of education development, particularly on ‘decolonising development’ in the context of Sustainable Development Goal 4 in Sub-Saharan Africa – as in what could ‘decolonising’ mean in terms of the work I do as an HDR candidate as well as what does it structurally mean in terms of teacher education in Kenya and international teacher education partnerships?

Next steps

The next step in my PhD journey is actually going to Nairobi, Kenya for my fieldwork. I’ll be away for fieldwork from June to September 2024. I am really excited to see how my project shapes up!

Sharanya Menon

News 8 May 2024