Zinnia Mevawalla has recently joined the School of Education as one of our new lecturers in Early Years Education and brings with her a wealth of knowledge and expertise in the area of early childhood education. We caught up with Zinnia ahead of her arrival at Strathclyde to discuss her background teaching around the world, the mentors that moulded her career, and how family has been a big inspiration behind her choice of career.
Tell us a little bit about your career so far...
I started my career as an early childhood teacher and research assistant in Australia before travelling overseas to volunteer as an early childhood teacher with an organisation working with children living on the streets in India. These experiences formed part of the catalyst for the direction of my career – as I became aware of the need for social justice education in the early years and the importance of early years education to the development of broader social inclusion.
After returning from India, I was very lucky to have the opportunity to work with three incredible academics. These three wonderful mentors not only became my PhD supervisors, but they also shaped (and continue to shape) the trajectory of my research, my teaching, my life and the way I think about children and the world. Working alongside my mentors, I was able to gain greater knowledge and experience by researching, learning about and teaching in different subject areas within early childhood (inclusive education, family functioning, community development) – and was even lucky enough to be able to travel to different parts of Australia, Cambodia and Timor Leste to research on early childhood initiatives, policies and practices. It was through these experiences I learnt that education and research could start to support transformative changes for children, families/caregivers, educators and communities who experienced discrimination, disability and social exclusion.
Guided by my mentors’ expertise in the ‘international early childhood’ space, I completed my PhD in early childhood education by examining the lived experiences of social justice and critical consciousness of young children living on the streets in India. The child participants from this research pulled me into developing deeper and more critical understandings of the fundamental need for inclusive education for ALL children, they also highlighted the importance of listening (really listening) to children, the need for critical pedagogy in education, and lastly, the need for maintaining children’s dignity (especially when responding to resistant behaviours).
Since the doctorate, I’ve continued to research in these areas (social inclusion, inclusive education, social justice, resistance and dignity work, listening to young children) and I have been fortunate to work across a number of institutions in the UK (University of East London) and Australia (University of Canberra, Macquarie University and Sydney University) as a researcher and lecturer before joining the University of Strathclyde
What has been the most memorable moment of your career so far?
The most memorable (and the happiest) moment of my career was the day I graduated with my PhD and (on the very same day!) got my first “proper” academic job! Having the opportunity to celebrate all the aha! moments, the laughter, blood, love, sweat, passion and tears of the research journey with the friends and family who made it all possible, was only made all the sweeter by also being able to mark the end of one momentous journey and the start of another.
What inspired you to get into Early Years Education?
My family has always valued education above all else, so I grew up always believing in the power of education and that of educators. The transformative potential of the early years first nudged me into the sector, but it’s been the early childhood professionals and the underlying early years philosophy (of consistently supporting the wonder, participation, agency, inclusion, dignity and belonging of ALL children in a holistic, equitable, thoughtful, embodied, critical and joyful manner by working alongside educators, families/caregivers, cross-disciplinary professionals and communities) that’s continued to inspire me throughout my career.
What is your role within the school?
As a Lecturer in Early Years Education for the School of Education, my role involves teaching on undergraduate and postgraduate programs, researching in the sector and engaging in citizenship activities.
What current trends do you see influencing your field?
I hope to work with colleagues to influence the ways in which early years education can foster greater social inclusion – particularly focusing on supporting children and families/caregivers who experience social exclusion. Under this broad “umbrella” goal, I hope to continue working to support inclusive education for ALL children by further developing theory and practice around disability equity education, social justice education and dignity work through resistance. I also hope to continue working with families/caregivers and transdisciplinary professionals to support family functioning, and to work alongside educators in developing community-based and community-led programs that support community wellbeing and belonging through early childhood initiatives.
Tell us about any research you are currently involved in...
I am currently involved in some research projects with colleagues from Australia and India which involve working alongside educators to support children’s resistant behaviour, exploring early childhood educators’ understandings and practices of inclusion in the early years and critically examining representations and issues of caste in Indian literature and education.
What initially attracted you to the University of Strathclyde?
Everything! Aside from the international reputation of the university itself, I was attracted by the critical, creative and seminal work done by researchers in the School of Education on listening to children and including children and families/caregivers who experience social exclusion. I was (and am!) also very much attracted to the prospect of living and working in Scotland (and am very much looking forward to having the opportunity to do so when it is possible post-COVID)!
Do you have any words of wisdom or encouragement for any prospective students?
To paraphrase Maya Angelou, children and families/caregivers will forget what you said, and will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel. The early years space is the best space to be in, but it is also the most powerful – so the more we learn (through research and education) the better able we are to ensure that our practices support children, families/caregivers and communities to feel like we all belong and that we are all worthy, whole, clever, respected, capable and powerful!
You can keep up-to-date with Zinnia's work below: