Işɪl Sincer - Pedagogical and Educational Sciences

Studying the relationship between school composition and citizenship outcomes

"A great deal is said about the influence of ethnic diversity in schools, but little is known about the actual effect this has on citizenship."

A better world starts with yourself. According to developmental psychologist Işɪl Sincer, it really starts at school. "To put it very simply: if you want a better, more beautiful society, you should start in schools. That's where the foundation is laid," Işɪl says. Her PhD research at the Department of Pedagogical and Educational Sciences focuses on the relationship between the make-up of schools and the promotion of good citizenship.

Işɪl has been interested in people and human relationships from an early age, and is particularly drawn to the educational aspects of this. So studying Education and Developmental Psychology was a natural choice, and in 2008 Işɪl graduated from Erasmus University.

"I always knew deep down that I wanted to continue in the academic world."

"I then spent some time in Istanbul and later London, doing some things that were related to my studies, and some that weren't at all," Işɪl says. "But I did keep in touch with the university during these years abroad. I always knew deep down that I wanted to continue in the academic world."

Expanding boundaries
When, in 2012, she saw there was a vacancy for a Pedagogical Sciences tutor at her alma mater, she decided to return to Rotterdam. "This also expanded my boundaries: some areas corresponded to my field of specialisation, but the approach was slightly different," Işɪl says of this new step. 

She enjoyed the contact with the students and engaging concretely with the field, but nevertheless there was something missing: "Teaching was fun, but I noticed I had an urge to make a contribution to the content of the textbooks myself. I was looking for a little more of an academic challenge, so I decided to look for a PhD project." 

Since 2013, she has been carrying out research as part of a joint project between Erasmus University and University of Amsterdam into the role of schools in civic education. 

Social cohesion
"Various changes in society, such as individualisation and increasing migration, mean that the social cohesion between citizens, and between citizens and the government, has become weaker. This calls for renewed attention within education to the role of schools in the socialisation process," Işɪl explains.

With the aim of equipping pupils to navigate society correctly, since 2006 schools have had a statutory obligation to tackle citizenship. "And the remit is pretty broad," Işɪl explains. "Certain limits are set, but within these limits, schools are completely free to act according to their own insights and in accordance with their own vision. To date, little is known about the exact ways in which they do this." 

School composition
The focus within Işɪl's PhD research is on the influence school composition has on citizenship outcomes. An extremely fertile field: "Knowledge of the role of student backgrounds in terms of ethnicity in citizenship outcomes is still very limited. It is really motivating to be able to contribute to the knowledge base of something new."

Personal trigger
In addition, her research into the influence of school compositions also acts as a personal trigger for Işɪl, given her own background, she reveals. 

"It is rewarding to be able to help along the debate on citizenship and social integration through such research."

"I was born in Turkey and brought up in Rotterdam, where I came to live when I was two. There is a lot of talk about ethnic diversity in schools, but little is known about the actual influence this has on citizenship. It is rewarding to be able to help along the debate on citizenship and social integration through such research."

Transitional period
Her research focuses on pupils around 14 years of age; an important transitional period for young people, during which all kinds of issues of identity arise. "So this also relates to developmental psychology, while at the same time there are overlaps with political science and sociology," Işɪl enthuses. 

Işɪl has spent the past year focusing mainly on an extensive study of the literature. This autumn, she will start on the qualitative side of the project, through visits to schools. "We hope to obtain input for the quantitative aspect through observations and interviews," Işɪl explains.  

The research range of the project certainly is ambitious: "Our aim is to involve 100 of the 600 secondary schools in the quantitative research. Using mixed methods – both qualitative and quantitative research – we hope to achieve the most complete insight possible into the influence schools have on citizenship."

Inter-personal relationships
Literature review, visits to schools, tutoring: Işɪl sees her research as anything but dull. "It is really varied. I am also trying to split it up into sub-projects; there's always something you find less interesting, but then there are the aspects that you find more enjoyable. Alongside my individual academic development, I also really value the experience of inter-personal relationships with students, mentors and colleagues that is an inevitable part of such a research period."