Research Focus

11th October 1996 at 01:00
Nearly 1,000 researchers gathered in Seville two weeks ago for a conference that mixed flamenco and flying cockroaches with a desire to fan awareness of their work across Europe. David Budge reports. "Some of them seem to go on for ever." The speaker was Jennie Jackson, one of the organisers of the European Conference on Educational Research, but she was not talking about the researchers' papers. Her problem was fitting Spanish, Portuguese and Greek names on to the traditional jam-pot labels that conference-goers like to pin to their chests.

Paraskevi Chatzipanagiotou of the Aristotle University of Thessalonniki proved quite a challenge. But Corinta Maria Grisolda Geraldi of Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Brasil, defeated her. "Which name can you leave out without causing offence?" she asked in mock dismay.

This year's conference, which was only the second to be staged by the European Educational Research Association, presented a few other organisational problems that were new to Edinburgh-based Mrs Jackson. Did everyone have a paper fan to temper the stifling heat in the lecture rooms at Seville University. Were there any tickets left for the flamenco evening?

"Don't ask me for tickets," said one middle-aged woman in the conference office. "I'm just a professor."

A few researchers had something more substantial to complain about than a shortage of flamenco tickets, however. Some unlucky women academics had their bags snatched while savouring the sights of Seville (youth unemployment in Andalucia is among the highest in western Europe). Others were taken aback by the plump flying cockroaches buzzing around after nightfall. And the majority of the 900 researchers, while delighted to be "networking" under orange trees, were frustrated by the eclectic - to put it politely - grouping of some of the papers (which the estimable Mrs Jackson had nothing to do with).

Contrary to their public image, most researchers like things to be kept simple. If their speciality is primary assessment or multi-level modelling they only want to attend sessions on these issues. But the conference's programmer ignored that fact and created some mischievously jumbled concoctions. Those wanting to learn about "The integrated courses of natural sciences in Russian secondary schools" also had to sit through lectures on "Some characteristics of educational process in Finnish and Czech schools" and "Recent reforms in the school curriculum in England and Wales".

On a few, mercifully rare, occasions the paper presentations became farcical as academics who could only speak Spanish or Polish attempted to address a predominantly English and Scandinavian audience. And even when researchers were not exercising their legitimate right to speak in their native tongue there were still communication problems. Pity the poor Dutch academics who attempted to understand a vocational education expert with a broad Northern Irish accent while Vespa scooters zipped back and forward outside the lecture room.

But though language divided many of the researchers there were other, more important issues that united them, such as the universal complaints about underfunding, denigration of their work by politicians and the difficulty of persuading teachers that their findings could be of real value in the classroom.

One Dutch academic, Guido Walraven, did, however, point out that a recent project in Holland had caused teachers to look at researchers in a much more favourable light. A research team's wages survey had proved that teachers were poorly paid and the Government had responded by raising their salaries. British researchers probably couldn't hope to be so persuasive. But it is an idea worth considering.

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