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Article

The Swedish Assessment Reform of 2011: A Reform in Constant Need of Ad Hoc Adjustment and Clarification  

Christian Lundahl

Curriculum and assessment systems are tightly connected, both in theory and practice. However, this is not always the case when it comes to curriculum and assessment reforms. This has created major problems for teachers and in the implementation of the reforms from a governing point of view. Sweden was one of the first countries to adopt a management-by-objectives curriculum and assessment system. The case of Sweden illustrates some of the problems that arose as a consequence of not seeing the close connection between curriculum and assessments when reforming the educational system. The ongoing reform of management by objectives that started in the early 1990s has been adjusted several times since and has most recently been considered as a parallel curriculum and assessment reform. Teachers have not been involved throughout the shaping and implementation of this reform, but they have instead been seen as troublesome learners of how to work in a management-by-objectives system. This has led to constant revisions, production of supporting materials, and ad hoc policies. However, in 2018 there was a shift in reform strategies in relation to curriculum, syllabi, and grading revisions, where teachers became much more involved in the reform than they had in the preceding decades. So far it is inconclusive how these changes will affect the work of the teachers and the pupils’ learning; there has evidently been a case of “system’s learning.”

Article

Language Policy and Reform in the Indian School System  

Rupanjali Karthik and George W. Noblit

India is a linguistically diverse country and supports this with its Language Policy based on the “Three Language Formula” (every child is taught three languages in school). However, its implementation has exhibited monolingual bias as multiple languages are offered as subjects of study and not as media of instruction. The medium of instruction in the majority of government schools is the concerned state’s regional language. Due to a rise in the demand for English medium instruction, governments in various states have started introducing all English medium instruction in schools. It is unfortunate that in a multilingual nation, a monolingual mind-set has dominated the language-in-education policies and effective pedagogical reforms have largely remained side-lined in such policy debates. There is no denial of the importance of learning English for the children in government schools in India. However, the success of any language-in-education policy in India will depend on a flexible multilingual approach that recognizes the languages existing in the ecology of children (which will vary from state to state as media of instruction), acknowledges the importance of learning the English language, and ushers in effective pedagogical reforms.

Article

Using Proven Programs to Improve Educational Outcomes  

Robert E. Slavin

One of the most important problems in improving educational practice and outcomes is the very limited role that evidence plays in decisions about adopting books, software, professional development, and other materials and services. Instead, these are sold using relationship marketing in which sales reps work to build friendships with key decision makers. Word of mouth among educators with similar jobs also has a powerful influence. Why should evidence of effectiveness be a major criterion in the selection of educational products and services? The most important answer is that programs with a strong evidence base that are implemented as they were in the validating research are likely to produce better outcomes for children. Further, making evidence a basis for program adoption would put education into a virtuous cycle of innovation, evaluation, and progressive improvement like that which has transformed fields such as medicine, agriculture, and technology.

Article

The Curriculum of Science Education Reform  

David Blades

Three key movements in the evolution of school science curriculum in the 20th century illustrate the complexity and difficulties of curriculum reform. Through social changes such as world wars, rising societal concerns about the environment, and the globalization of economies, the location for aspirations of national security, environmental responsibility, and, more recently, economic prosperity have come to focus on reformation of school science curricula. This hope springs from the hegemony of positivism. Each wave of reform, from the “alphabet science” programs as a response to the launching of Sputnik to the STEM-based programs in the 21st century, sheds light on the change process: the importance of involving teachers in curriculum change topics, the influence of societal factors, how feedback loops prevent change, how ethos and intentions are not enough for a successful change attempt, how a clever acronym can assist change, and the role of public truths in delimiting the extent of curriculum reform. These lessons on changing the curriculum illustrate how efforts to employ a school subject, in this case science, for social salvation is at best unpredictable and difficult but more usually unsuccessful.

Article

Early Childhood Teacher Education in Global Perspective  

Olivia N. Saracho

Teacher educators assume that the teacher education programs in their own countries provide a comprehensive scope of possible selections. Nevertheless, how teacher education is planned and implemented differs in each country. They have different practices in both early childhood education and teacher preparation programs, even though American early childhood education theories and practices have guided them. In addition, countries differ in their early childhood education teacher qualifications. Teacher education programs have been attempting to prepare global-minded early childhood teachers who can function in other countries. Teachers who are prepared with global perspectives are able to help students succeed in the interconnected world where they encounter challenges throughout their lives. The globalization of early childhood education and the preparation of teachers in the United States and other countries appear ultimately to be achieving importance, respectability, acknowledgment, and wisdom. Several countries have engaged in transforming early childhood teachers through educational reform, which calls upon countries to expand and improve early childhood care and education. Educational reform has intermittently been a main topic of discourse and seldom an emphasis of commitment in countries around the world. Frequently these reform attempts have emphasized the necessity to advance children’s knowledge, abilities, and views to help them become good citizens and productive adults. Whereas developments may not be equivalent from country to country, the movement is continuous. It is encouraging to see countries functioning to advance programs to prepare teachers of young children and to cope with the demanding difficulties and concerns of early childhood education and the preparation of early childhood teachers.

Article

Reforms of Education in Nordic Countries  

Jens Rasmussen

Educational reforms have become the normal condition of education, and educational reforms will come ever more frequently due to rapid and accelerated changes to the world in which we live. Reforms are always concerned with anticipating the future due to the belief that education can be done better in and for the future. When pedagogy orients itself towards the future, demand for a solid basis for its decisions becomes pressing. Therefore, trend analysis has become an industry that seeks to establish an (you might say) uncertain certainty about an uncertain future as a basis for reforms in and of the educational system. In its orientation towards the future, education seems to be in a process of transformation into new combinations of tradition in the sense of normative, philosophical considerations and evidence for what works in education and for ensuring that students can achieve their best, which is the purpose of teaching and education.

Article

Current School Reforms in Transnational Policy Landscapes  

Ninni Wahlstrom

The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) and its Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) play an important role in forming transnational education policy. Based on the results of the PISA measurements and other evaluations, the OECD can claim that its policy proposals are evidence based and in accordance with international standards. There is growing interest from the national governments to adapt their national policy strategies to these international standards. However, the translation from the transnational to national policy is a complex process, whereby the national receivers of the policy are selective regarding the policy elements they borrow from those who create and influence transnational policy. Thus, discursive power regarding transnational policy can be understood as power through ideas, making national reforms similar but not identical, and promoting incremental or imperceptible reforms.

Article

The Origin and Development of Comprehensive School Reforms in Sweden and Other Nordic Countries  

Ulf Blossing

The Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) have all based their school systems on a vision of inclusive and comprehensive schools with no streaming and easy transition between the levels. In Sweden, “A school for all” was the concept and vision for school reforms during the postwar period from the 1950s to the 1980s. This vision originated in egalitarian philosophy and the development of the welfare state. The implementation and reforms have gone through three phases: (a) implementing and supporting enactment of the comprehensive school reforms from 1950 to 1980 approximately; (b) decentralizing and implementing new public management and local accountability from 1980 to 2010 approximately; and (c) evaluating, correcting, and considering new measures from 2010 onward approximately. Political and economic premises have changed the prospects of implementing “school for all.” There are diverse developments in Nordic societies and schools, which, however, are not as dramatic as those in some other countries currently in 2021. Nevertheless, the question of equity in the school system and its importance for a democratic society needs to be raised.

Article

21st-Century Skills and Current Nordic Educational Reforms  

Gunn Elisabeth Søreide, Hanne Riese, and Line Torbjørnsen Hilt

Twenty-first-century skills are a global network of corporate and governmental influences that promote competences suited to fit the future knowledge economy. The competences described as 21st-century skills vary across frameworks and initiatives, but the emphasis is predominantly on metacognitive, social, and emotional skills. Some of the most prevalent capabilities are learning to learn, self-regulation, in-depth learning, creativity, innovation, problem solving, critical thinking, ethical and emotional awareness, communication, and collaboration. Research tends to portray 21st-century skills initiatives either as evidence-based knowledge based on the latest research or as part of an economization of the learner to the interests of the market economy in line with neoliberal ideology. The ideas associated with the 21st-century skills movement have nevertheless become part of educational reforms worldwide and are currently also translated into a Nordic education policy context. When global ideas such as 21st-century skills are taken up and used, they are colored by national concerns and consequently change as they travel across contexts. The Norwegian LK-20 reform for compulsory and upper secondary school is an example of how policymakers include global educational ideas in the national curriculum and educational policy, by balancing core 21st-century skills elements with national cultural sentiments about assessment, childhood, educational purposes, and schools’ responsibilities. The balancing of global and national educational ideas can be done by promoting 21st-century skills as a solution to specific national challenges and thus urgent for pupils’ and the nation’s future. A more sophisticated technique is when policymakers frame 21st-century skills by familiar concepts and language associated with existing traditional national educational values, thus seemingly promoting change and continuation simultaneously. In such an intersection between global educational ideas and national educational sentiments, both core elements of the 21st-century skills as well as the more traditional educational concepts and values can be adjusted and altered.

Article

The Impact on French Upper Secondary Schools of Reforms Aiming to Improve Students’ Transition to Higher Education  

Clement Pin and Agnès van Zanten

For a long time, the French education system has been characterized by strong institutional disconnection between secondary education (enseignement secondaire) and higher education (enseignement supérieur). This situation has nevertheless started to change over the last 20 years as the “need-to-adapt” argument has been widely used to push for three sets of interrelated reforms with the official aim of improving student flows to, and readiness for, higher education (HE). The first reforms relate to the end-of-upper-secondary-school baccalauréat qualification and were carried out in two waves. The second set of reforms concerns educational guidance for transition from upper secondary school to HE, including widening participation policies targeting socially disadvantaged youths. Finally, the third set has established a national digital platform, launched in 2009, to manage and regulate HE applications and admissions. These reforms with strong neoliberal leanings have nevertheless been implemented within a system that remains profoundly conservative. Changes to the baccalauréat, to educational guidance, and to the HE admissions system have made only minor alterations to the conservative system of hierarchical tracks, both at the level of the lycée (upper secondary school) and in HE, thus strongly weakening their potential effects. Moreover, the reforms themselves combine neoliberal discourse and decisions with other perspectives and approaches aiming to preserve and even reinforce this conservative structure. This discrepancy is evident in the conflicting aims ascribed both to guidance and to the new online application and admissions platform, expected, on the one hand, to raise students’ ambitions and give them greater latitude to satisfy their wishes but also, on the other hand, to help them make “rational” choices in light of both their educational abilities and trajectories and their existing HE provision and job prospects. This mixed ideological and structural landscape is also the result of a significant gap in France between policy intentions and implementation at a local level, especially in schools. Several factors are responsible for this discrepancy: the fact that in order to ward off criticism and protest, reforms are often couched in very abstract terms open to multiple interpretations; the length and complexity of the reform circuit in a centralized educational system; the lack of administrative means through which to oversee implementation; teachers’ capacity to resist reform, both individually and collectively. This half-conservative, half-liberal educational regime is likely to increase inequalities across social and ethnoracial lines for two main reasons. The first is that the potential benefits of “universal” neoliberal policies promising greater choice and opportunity for all—and even of policies directly targeting working-class and ethnic minority students, such as widening participation schemes—are frequently only reaped by students in academic tracks, with a good school record, who are mostly upper- or middle-class and White. The second is that, under the traditional conservative regime, in addition to being the victims of these students’ advantages and strategies, working-class students also continue to be channeled and chartered toward educational tracks and then jobs located at the bottom of the educational and social hierarchy.

Article

Taking a Well-Being-Centric Approach to School Reform  

Helen Cahill, Babak Dadvand, and Annie Gowing

The well-being challenges of the 21st century are deeply ethical in nature and require activation of collective as well as individual responsibility for the ways in which others are treated. For this reason, school reform initiatives need to equip young people with a wide range of capacities to engage with the challenges of advancing both the wellness of humanity and that of the planet. There is a robust body of theory and research available to inform school reform efforts that aim to accomplish improved individual and collective well-being. This knowledge base emanates from different paradigms and disciplinary traditions. Brought together, these knowledge sources highlight the importance of ensuring that schools invest efforts toward developing ethical, critical, personal, social, and creative capabilities that enable young people to enact care for self, others, society, and the planet. A transdisciplinary approach that expounds on research and theory from diverse disciplines, including well-being education, critical, feminist, and postmodern traditions, and scholarship on youth voice and participation can help efforts toward well-being-centric school reform. Evidence suggests that research-informed well-being education programs can have positive impacts in terms of improved mental, social, and relational health, contributions to learning, and fostering critical thinking skills. These are the skills that are needed by young people to navigate and respond to ethnical challenges with care, compassion, and a sense of responsibility as a relational ethos. Taken together, these advances in thinking and knowledge, derived from different traditions of scholarship, can be harnessed to inform a “well-being-centric” approach to schooling reform that is responsive to the past, present, and future lives of persons, peoples, and the planet. A well-being-centric approach to school reform should harness developments in education knowledge and thinking generated across diverse disciplines within the past 50 years, since the 1970s. This, in turn, requires disrupting the ways in which the disciplinary structures and assessment regimes of secondary schools work as impediments to the transformative change needed to advance student well-being and learning in these changed and challenging times.

Article

Tradition and Transformation in Danish Early Childhood Education and Care  

Karen Ida Dannesboe and Bjørg Kjær

Denmark has a long tradition of public provision of early childhood education and care (ECEC) as part of what is known internationally as the Nordic welfare model. Both traditions and transformations within Danish ECEC are parallel to the establishment and development of this model. The emergence of child-centered pedagogy, so characteristic for Danish ECEC, is part of specific historical processes. Since the 1960s, the ECEC sector has undergone significant expansion and in 2020, most children in Denmark between the ages of 1 and 6 attend an ECEC institution. This expansion has positioned ECEC as a core universal welfare service, including a special focus on preventing injustice and inequality and on taking care of the vulnerable and disadvantaged. Early 21st-century international discourses on learning and early intervention have influenced political reforms and initiatives addressing ECEC institutions and the work of “pedagogues” (the Danish term for ECEC practitioners with a bachelor’s degree in social pedagogy). Since the 1990s, there has been growing political interest in regulating the content of ECEC, resulting in various policies and reforms that have changed the nature of Danish ECEC by introducing new learning agendas. This has been accompanied by an increased focus on the importance of the early years of childhood for outcomes later in life and on the role of parents in this regard. These tendencies are embedded in political initiatives and discourses and shape the conditions for ECEC, perceptions of children and childhood, the legitimacy of the pedagogical profession, the meaning of and emphasis on young children’s learning, the importance of inclusion, and the changing role of parents. These changes in social reforms and pedagogical initiatives interact with national historical processes and international tendencies and agendas at different levels.

Article

Shared Sense-Making, Agency, and Learning in School Development in Finnish School Reforms  

Tiina Soini, Kirsi Pyhältö, and Janne Pietarinen

Curriculum reform is at the heart of educational change and impacts pupils, teachers, other educational professionals, and society at large. Moreover, the way we go about developing our schools and designing curricula defines our future and reveals where we stand regarding the role of education in society. In order to research the desired aims of reforms, it is crucial to understand curriculum making: How does the school develop, and what regulates the development? Learning is at the core of school development. It can be considered as both the aim and the primary means of achieving and sustaining any change in schools. Accordingly, the impact of a school reform is highly dependent on the quality of learning enabled within the school communities. Particularly, the extent to which the reform engages teachers in active and skillful learning by promoting their professional agency is a central determinant of the reform’s outcomes. The core curriculum is the single most influential regulator of school development in Finland. It is renewed approximately every 10 years and provides a common direction and basis for renewing school education and instruction, and sets the framework and foundation for district- and school-level curriculum development work. Teachers in Finland are curriculum makers not only in the class and school, but also at the district and even national levels of the school system. In such a system, teacher autonomy and teacher agency are at the core of school development. Moreover, teachers’ ability to understand the aims of the reform and to integrate, modify, and adopt them as part of their pedagogical practices is essential. This requires making sense of their aims. In Finland, shared sense-making has been the main strategy in the latest participatory reforms, with the aim of promoting transformative learning in professional communities in order to reach reform goals.

Article

Postwar School Reforms in Norway  

Harald Thuen and Nina Volckmar

Comprehensive schooling has been a cornerstone in the development of the Norwegian welfare state since World War II. Over the years it has been extended, initially from 7 to 9 years and later to 10-year compulsory schooling, since the late 1990s including virtually all Norwegian children between the ages of 6 and 16. In education policy, the interests of the community versus the individual have played a key role, reflected in a line of conflict between the political left and right. During the first three to four decades after the war, through the Labor Party, the left wing was in power and developed education policy according to a social-democratic model. The ideal of equality and community in schools had precedence. The vision was to create a school for all that had a socially and culturally unifying effect on the nation and its people. Social background, gender, and geographical location should no longer create barriers between pupils. Ideally, school was to be understood as a “miniature democracy,” where pupils would be trained in solidarity and cooperation. Compulsory schooling was thus regarded as an instrument for social integration and for evening out social inequalities. But one challenge remained: How could a common school for all best take care of the individual needs of each pupil? The principle of individualized teaching within the framework of a common school was incorporated in the education policy of social democracy and was subjected to experimentation and research from an early stage. But with the political shift to the right toward the 2000s, a sharper polarization can be observed between the interests of the community versus the interests of the individual. The political right profiles education policy in opposition to the left-wing emphasis on the social purpose of the school system. In the early 21st century, the interests of knowledge, the classroom as a learning arena, and the performance of each pupil take precedence. Based on the model of New Public Management, a new organizational culture is taking shape in the school system. Where the political left formed its policy from the perspective of “equality” during the first postwar decades, the right is now forming it from the perspective of “freedom.” And this is taking place without significant opposition from the left. The terms “equality” and “equity” provide the framework for the analysis of the changing polarity between collective and individual considerations and between pupils’ freedom and social solidarity in postwar education.

Article

The “Crisis” in Teacher Education  

Michael Schapira

In 1954, Hannah Arendt wrote that talk of a crisis in education “has become a political problem of the first magnitude.” If one trusts the steady stream of books, articles, jeremiads, and statements from public officials lamenting the fallen status of our schools and calling for bold reforms, the 21st century has shown no abatement in crisis as an abiding theme in education discourse. But why does education occupy such a privileged space of attention and why is it so susceptible to the axiomatic evocation of “crisis?” Arendt provides a clue when she argues that “Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token, save it from the ruin which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and young, would be inevitable.” The crisis in education has come to signal a variety of issues for which the teacher is either a direct or indirect participant: declining student performance, inadequacy of teacher preparation, inequities of opportunity as well as outcome, or a curriculum ill-fitted to the shape of the modern world. However, at base is the issue of social reproduction that Arendt sees at the heart of education. Thus, the crisis in education serves as a forum for expressing, critiquing, and instantiating the values that are at play when considering “the coming of the new and the young.”

Article

History of Curriculum Development in Schools  

Daniel Tanner

The evolution of curriculum development in schools reflects the evolution of knowledge and civilization itself. What knowledge is of most worth? How shall it be codified, structured, and transformed into curriculum for the acculturation and growth of successive generations so that the future is better than the past? How can the school be designed and equipped as a productive and democratic learning environment? These are some of the questions that intersect with the fundamental factors of the education process, namely the learner, the curriculum, and the society. When these fundamental factors are set in opposition or isolation, the possibility for educational progress is impeded or set back. Embracing the idea of progress and the science of education, the experimentalist movement over the first half of the 20th century sought to dissolve the dualisms carried from ancient Greece (e.g., mind/body, intellect/emotion, abstract/concrete knowledge) in endeavoring to create new designs and structures for curriculum synthesis to meet the democratic prospect and the universal educational needs of the rising generation. In sum, the experimentalists reconstructed curriculum development into a process of problem solving for educational progress, holding to the paradigmatic principle that the structure and function of the school curriculum must be in congruence with the nature and needs of the learner for effective living in the democratic society. The paradigm holds the fundamental factors in the education process as necessarily interdependent and in harmony. The curriculum paradigm explains why so many reforms imposed on the schools predictively are destined for failure simply because they set the fundamental factors in conflict with each other. The march of democracy in global affairs will require a resurgence of the progressive vision for the curriculum of the democratic classroom and school in which students are engaged openly with each other and with the teacher in investigative cooperation, collaboration, and consultation.

Article

Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and School Leadership in Action  

Tomoko Takahashi

Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871–1944) was a geographer, elementary school teacher and principal, and educational reformer, who was active in the early-to-mid 1900s in Japan. As a school leader and scholar-practitioner guided by a passion for supporting teachers and improving education for the happiness of children, Makiguchi scrutinized pedagogy as a science and proposed a number of reforms of the Japanese education system, key elements of which, he believed, were failing teachers and students alike. His proposals included, among many: the establishment of standards of competency expected of school principals as well as a system of examination to uphold these standards; the abolition of a government-led school inspection system that pressured and restricted teachers from freely conducting teaching activities; and the establishment of an “education research institute” and an organization for the training of teachers. The growing number of modern educational scholars and practitioners paying attention to Makiguchi’s work and philosophy find his ideas not only valid and applicable to education in the 21st century but also remarkably innovative and insightful. His proposal for school leadership was still but a voice in the wilderness in the 1930s. It was also a bold and audacious attempt for him, especially at the time of the militarist regime. Makiguchi is often compared with his contemporary John Dewey (1859–1952). Evidently, Makiguchi and Dewey were both visionaries, passionate school leaders, and fearless reformers. Bearing this in mind, Makiguchi deserves much more attention than he has received thus far—at least as much as Dewey, if we are to balance the historical account of progressive education as a transnational phenomenon.