At Lyfta, we have a working and evolving definition of cultural capital. We consider it to be a broad range of cultural experiences and opportunities that prepare children to thrive (now and in the future) and an accompanying awareness of the skills, values and knowledge that has been acquired from these experiences. Ofsted’s definition has understandably been criticised for being so vague it can be interpreted in many different ways, but also because it is so far removed from the terms roots in social reproduction theory and the work of Piere Bourdieu - as seen in one of their definitions below!
Cultural capital is the essential knowledge that children need to prepare them for their future success. It is about giving children the best possible start to their early education. As part of making a judgement about the quality of education, inspectors will consider how well leaders use the curriculum to enhance the experience and opportunities available to children, particularly the most disadvantaged. (Ofsted EY Inspection Handbook 2019, 142, p.31.)
A generous reading of Ofsted documentation is that it opens up more ways of looking at educational practice beyond quantitative measures. But in evaluating any sort of educational activity we believe it’s important to refer back to cultural capital’s sociological roots which requires us to adopt a power analysis and ask who is defining what is/is not cultural capital and why!
We therefore work with a definition of cultural capital that has some pedagogical caveats which help us navigate the complexities around policy and practice in this area.
Cultural capital education needs to:
- recognise the cultural capital that every child brings to the classroom so that any teaching strategies or curricula needs to build in spaces to navigate the new and the pre-existing. Research shows that when children and families’ cultures are valued, both the child’s experience of learning and progress can benefit (see this piece) for links and strategies in early years settings for example). It is therefore important to give all children the opportunity to open their virtual, cultural backpack and share this where possible when navigating new ones, which is what we do in Lyfta through reflective questioning in lesson plans for example.
- recognise that some children have more experiences and opportunities to access different types of capital (languages, traditions, beliefs, interests, travel, awareness of work opportunities, cultural/human networks, literature, clubs & the arts etc.) than others and that reasons for this may vary (e.g. socio-economic status, education levels of parents and so forth). It is therefore important, before bringing in any educational interventions, to ascertain what children in school have access to and what they don’t but will be of perceived benefit/use to their future selves. After this we can then strive to provide access and recognition of as many different life options and experiences around the world as possible (something we facilitate through Lyfta Time for example), both to help children recognise their own cultural capital but also to offer up the alternative ways of being and living and a sense of hope about those opportunities.
- recognise that cultural capital is a social construct and that power is being exercised and value judgements are being made every time it is viewed as something to ‘aspire’ to have more of or deemed ‘lacking’. This means exercising care when asking questions and/or making value-judgements about what are the ‘best’ sort of experiences.
- recognise that there are some forms of cultural capital that appear to support childrens’ learning (e.g. access to books, opportunities to experience other lifelong learning spaces) and abilities to ‘thrive’ in the wider world (being socially confident) that a ‘lack of’ would, correspondingly, mean that they could be disadvantaged amongst their peers. But this is balanced with an understanding that cultural capital is part of a lifelong learning process and has knowledge, skills, values and behavioural dimensions that develop and change over a lifetime and that some experiences (or lack thereof) in childhood do not set a clear path of advantage or disadvantage.
With the above in mind, Lyfta offers a huge variety of cultural learning opportunities as possible (local, national and global) experienced through a metacognitive/reflective learning framework. We also consider intercultural capital - intercultural experiences, skills, and competencies - to be a key part of the type of cultural capital that Lyfta can support.
How can Lyfta support
Lyfta’s immersive storyworlds cover a vast range of different people, cultures, traditions and countries around the world. We make it clear in accompanying learning resources that no one storyworld can be seen as representing a particular location, country or culture. Nevertheless, collectively all storyworlds create an amazing opportunity to experience diversity and gain a more global understanding of what it means to thrive and be as a human being. From whizzing around Hong Kong City in a car to trekking up Mount Apo in the Philippines on a motorbike, Lyfta takes young people all around the world in different virtual ways!
A more traditional (and arguably liberal-western) understanding of cultural capital activities might relate to access to and understanding of professional theatrical and orchestral performances, or opportunities to visit extensive art galleries or historically significant buildings. Putting aside the fact that beauty and art are in the eye of the beholder, at Lyfta we do offer a number of virtual cultural capital experiences in this sense. For example, we know that primary school students have enjoyed visiting the Secrets of the Opera storyworld in Finland where they can hear from professional ballet dancers (and visit their studios) and musicians (and hear the instruments).