EUR has placed the promotion of diversity high on its agenda. But drawing up concrete policy to that end and offering inclusive education is no simple task. Willem-Jan Kortleven and Nina Holvast, both affiliated with Erasmus School of Law, were awarded a CLI Fellowship in January 2022. They research the role 'deficit thinking' plays in education and the daily interaction with students at ESL.
Standard = different
Nina:“'Deficit thinking' means that a deviant profile is seen as a 'defect', which must be repaired in some way. The implicit idea then is that more diversity can be achieved by helping people to repair their defects and thus ensure that they fit within the standard profile. The question is, of course, what is the standard. We notice that many teachers still have a fairly traditional image of “the student” and that their teaching material and the way of teaching or testing is based on that.” Willem-Jan adds: “We want to make clear to fellow educators that with a diverse student population such as ours, there are major differences between students and the way in which they experience education. And that it is important to match your teaching material to the reality of that diversity. The deficit approach is often well-intentioned, but focuses on deviation and that deviation from the (old) norm is seen as a deficit. Personal prejudices often also play a role in this.
Nina: “What we find very interesting, but also challenging, is the following dilemma: we train students for a profession with a fairly dominant culture. As educators, we want to prepare them as well as possible for that culture. However, we also want to provide inclusive education. And sometimes those two intentions clash. You do not want gender or social and cultural background to play a role in your education, for example, but you know that they do matter, or play a role in law practice. We have to find a balance in that.” She admits, laughing, that she herself at least finds it a sport to break through traditional images in her teaching materials: “A divorce between two women, or a man who receives alimony from his ex-wife, for example, are appropriate for this time as far as I'm concerned.” Keeping the balance is also a theme here, says Willem-Jan: “I recently realized that we should not forget to add or keep 'traditional' examples as well. Recognition works in all directions, of course.”
Nina: “We had been researching the theme for some time, but precisely because it concerns educational practice, we wanted to do more than just scientific research. Thanks to the CLI, we also have the opportunity to innovate education.” In their project, the two fellows conduct research to gain more insight into deficit thinking: Does it occur at Erasmus School of Law, and in what form? In addition, they look specifically at which educational innovations they can apply to promote a more inclusive approach to legal educational practice. Willem-Jan explains: “The research includes literature analysis, interviews and focus groups, in which we ask students about their experiences and their suggestions for improvement. At a later stage, we also want to organize panel discussions with teachers and experts.”
Their aim is that all students have equal opportunities and that unnecessary drop-out or lagging study results are reduced. "In addition, we do hope that if we train students in a different way, they will be able to bring about changes in the workplace later on, by adopting a more critical attitude,” Nina concludes optimistically.