Shushan GrigoryanUniversity College London
MA in Social Justice and Education
Huys Scholar 2023 (John Aroutiounian Scholarship for Service to Humanity)
Problem: Growing up in the village of Aygedzor, Tavush, located on the turbulent border of Armenia, I had my first encounters with the negative social impact of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict. Throughout my childhood, I witnessed how military unrest aggravated the existing social and economic inequalities, with disadvantaged children oftentimes paying the highest price. This situation has continuously been exacerbated by the education system’s failure to minimize the role of social barriers on educational attainment. Ever since I’ve built my professional career with the inspiration to tackle the equity issues in Armenia’s public education.
Throughout my work, I’ve observed the educational ecosystem of Armenia in multiple layers. Working in a huge corporation, understanding the most in-demand skills praised in the modern job market; working with teachers and disadvantaged rural students, and conducting research on primary education have allowed me to identify the main interconnected issues in public education and examine the state approach to solving those problems.
- Educational laws and policies lack evidence-based and student-centered methodologies and result in school curricula that underestimate the role of social inequalities.
- The public school system follows a hierarchical model. In other words, the teachers are active information distributors and the students are passive receptors reduced to their academic performance.
- The government focuses on teacher training programs by testing their knowledge of the highly problematic subject-centered school curricula and ignores the systemic failures in education.
I have realized addressing these challenges requires a deeper comprehension of how systems perpetuate inequalities, which eventually swayed my decision to study Social Justice and Education at the University College London (UCL). Getting my graduate degree with the support of the Huys Scholarship will give me the tools to solve educational equity issues to become a policymaker and facilitate social change in Armenia.
My Credentials: My interest in education as a facilitator of social change took root during the last year of my undergraduate studies at the American University of Armenia (AUA). For my dissertation, I explored the theory of critical pedagogy by Paulo Freire and analyzed how the Armenian military institutionalised soldier abuse in the army and promoted the construction of hegemonic masculine identities. Freire’s idea of dialogue-based education struck me as a worthwhile challenge to unequal power arrangements that could be applicable to many institutions, whether it be the military or public education.
I put my theoretical knowledge into practice when I joined Teach for Armenia (TFA) to work directly with disadvantaged students. During my time at TFA, I authored an equity handbook that became an integral part of TFA’s summer school curricula and was used by 160+ school teachers.
Coming out of my work experience, I identified systemic issues in government policies on equity education. This led me to join the Armenian Society of Fellows (ASOF), the largest Armenian scholarly network. As an education researcher, my research focused on identifying challenges and opportunities in public education to inform policy proposals for nationwide reforms in collaboration with the Ministry of Education of Armenia.
My Solution: Through my experiences in both the private sector and public research, I understood how deeply inequality is enmeshed in local educational systems. Despite the ample research demonstrating the causal link between socioeconomic factors and the attainment gap, the education policies in Armenia often disregard the significance of socioeconomic, regional, and gender-related issues. Armenia is lacking a legal and political framework to promote equity education, thus creating long-term social and economic costs.
My graduate degree will help me bridge the gap between existing research and education policy. UCL’s program offers many modules on social justice theories and also gives the tools to turn the theory into practice. Together with the theoretical modules, I plan to take the modules on policymaking to get a complete idea of how policies are formulated, enacted, and affected by global change. With the knowledge gained from the modules, I will be able to develop a socially conscious new approach to create change in Armenia.
As a graduate student, I aspire to join UCL’s Centre for Sociology of Education and Equity (CSEE). The faculty has consistently held the #1 ranking in the field of Education for a decade, and it is no surprise that the research centers house some of the most prominent scholars in education policy-making. At TFA and ASOF, I explored the center’s research on educational inequalities and identities and applied their findings within the local context to support my educational initiatives. In line with my research interests, my graduate dissertation will focus on qualitative discourse analysis of the educational laws and policies in Armenia, specifically discussing the legislation and regulations for two in-school practices: the provision of paid school meals and paid supplementary education. As a member of the research center, I will have the opportunity to receive mentorship from scholars like Stephen Ball, a pioneer in policy sociology. With the support of my ASOF network, I aim to achieve legislative changes to address the problems with in-school practices discussed in my research upon its completion
More than that, UCL is one of the largest educational institutions in the UK and has a substantial alumni network for disciplinary advice and projects. UCL is a member of the London International Development Center (LIDC), which collaborates with international organizations to address real-world problems. As a potential member of this expansive network, I will connect and engage in discussions with professionals from diverse areas. I am confident that UCL’s international network, along with the LIDC, will provide me with interdisciplinary advice to tackle the identified issues in Armenia’s public education.
With my current experiences and my mission to drive changes in public education by implementing socially conscious policies, the MA in Social Justice and Education at IOE will serve as a stepping stone toward my long-term goals. I am hoping to join the HUYS community to drive social change through equity education. Thus, I wholeheartedly ask you to grant me the HUYS scholarship to make my study at UCL’s IOE a reality.
I am aware that Huys Foundation is granting the Huys Scholarship to me with the anticipation of my good faith pursuit and implementation of the projects and undertakings described in this letter, to which I hereby commit.