Newcastle conference report 13. – 14th January 2020
The second DIAL thematic workshop – Education for Life – was organized on 13th and 14th of January 2020 at the Newcastle University. Researchers from the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, France and Finland gathered together to present and discuss their ongoing research. The presentations of this two-day workshop covered topics such as socioeconomic differences in child development, with a special focus on linguistic and behavioural development, preterm babies, maternal mental health and social mobility. The conference finished with a vivid discussion on science communication to political actors and practitioners.
Cramman (SEED) started the first workshop day by presenting findings on the “Monitoring Practical Science in School and Colleges” study conducted in England and Scotland. The results indicate that introducing more practical science, an important material in preparing students for laboratory-based courses at university, did not enhance students’ grades. Instead, many schools struggled to provide the necessary facilities for practical science in general and were unable to introduce more practical science to begin with. Labuschange (SEED) demonstrated in her presentation that language development below or above normal limits at 18 to 48 months is associated with stuttering onset at the age of nine among Dutch children. Kirkman (SEED) investigated the association between class identity and smoking, showing that it remained significant even after controlling for the individual’s economic situation. The results indicate that at least in the UK, class identity can be an important explanation for why smoking is more popular among the working class than the middle class. The next two presentations focused on the risk factors related to preterm birth. Lemola (PremLife) showed that low socioeconomic status and education are associated with a higher risk of preterm birth, but the social gradient has decreased among the latest birth cohorts. Schintzlein (PremLife) showed that especially the mother’s poor mental health during pregnancy increases the risk of having a preterm birth.
The last presentations of the day concentrated on child language skills. Attig (SEED) presented results highlighting how mother’s education, sensitivity and stimulating behaviour as well as mother-child interaction and joint book reading were all associated with better language skills at the age of two among German children. Barone’s (LIFETRACK) presentation dealt with a field experiment that took place in public schools located in low-income districts of the city of Paris. In this study, schoolchildren and their parents were provided with books and information on the benefits of shared book reading. The results showed that especially low educated parents were more responsive to the intervention and their children benefitted the most in terms of improved language skills. Karwath (SEED) demonstrated that poverty has detrimental effects on the child’s early vocabulary and grammar. Lastly, Huang (SEED) presented results on the impact of socioeconomic status on 5 years old’s socio-emotional development via parental distress and behaviour in the UK and Germany. The results show that while socioeconomic status is an important predictor of language development, more precise effects of the socioeconomic status and parental distress and behaviour varied between the countries.
The second day consisted of presentations, keynote speeches and discussions on possible policy implications and how to reach policy makers. First, Willoughy (SEED) presented on the difficulty in identifying strict thresholds for assessing functional language difficulties. Next, Rush and Law (SEED) talked about the problems related to a common confusion between association and causation and the possible pitfalls in this field; emphasizing the need to understand well the nature of mediation analysis when utilizing it. Next, Jansen (SEED) showed how children’s socio-emotional-, cognitive- and motor-developmental trajectories vary by socioeconomic position (SEP) in the Netherlands. Children from lower SEP families have more developmental problems at baseline, but the inequalities diminish as the children grow. Further, girls outperformed boys in all developmental outcomes across SEP groups.
Anna Vignoles (HuCIAW) held the first keynote speech on socioeconomic differences in the UK educational system, and how this inequality continues in labour market outcomes. She demonstrated that despite the ‘student’s choice’ being the basis of the English educational system, this does not hold. Instead, students’ aspirations, attitudes and actions are greatly influenced by their socioeconomic background, ultimately determining their educational routes. The second keynote speech was given by Paul Bradshaw who presented the collection and updates of the Growing Up in Scotland study (GUS) as well as the possible impacts of the study findings on policy development.
Lastly, a good hour was spent on discussing science communication to a non-academic audience, and on the possibilities and challenges related to policy briefs. As Tuesday came to an end, some headed home, and some continued with internal projects meetings the next day. Hopefully, everybody was left with an inspiration to continue with the research for the last remaining year of the DIAL projects. We hope to see everyone in future DIAL meetings!