Problematising the use of education to address social inequity: could Participatory Action Research be a step forwards?

Marina-Stefania Giannakaki, Ian David McMillan, John Karamichas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
144 Downloads (Pure)


This paper critiques international trends towards certain school practices aimed at promoting equity and social justice by closing gaps in specific learning outcomes among students. It argues that even though some of these practices (e.g. individualised student support, data-driven leadership) improve learning outcomes for certain groups considered ‘disadvantaged’, they fail to have a genuine impact on the issue. They remain ‘locked’ in the logic of social mobility, reaffirming the legitimacy of a hierarchical system underpinned by competitive individualism which unfairly distributes social opportunities under the guise of ‘merit’ and ‘justice’. The paper argues that unless students develop awareness of the subtle injustices legitimised by the current system, no specialised interventions will ever tackle inequity, but will, instead, reinforce it. Yet, attempts to explicitly challenge mainstream school practices are likely to face harsh resistance from system agents due to being so ingrained in school cultures. An alternative strategy is suggested which, without being too subversive, could raise students’ awareness - what Freire (1996) called ‘conscientização’. This would entail the application of Participatory Action Research (PAR) under the cloak of traditional (system-aligned) Action Research. Such PAR, despite its political character, would initially appear to fulfil the performative role of more technical interventions (e.g. raising test scores) but in a way that ‘conscientização’ also happens in the process. This may set the ground for social reform, encouraging the transition to a more sustainable and equitable society based on collectivity and solidarity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-211
JournalBritish Educational Research Journal
Issue number2
Early online date27 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


  • Social justice
  • equity
  • Participatory Action Research
  • school education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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