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Article

Gender and School Reform in India  

Nandini Manjrekar and Indumathi Sundararaman

Policy discourses on education in all countries are historically shaped by a range of regional, national, and global factors and dynamics. In the Indian context, ideological and structural contexts have influenced the policy visions and practices of gender and schooling, particularly in relation to the education of girls. Mapping historical shifts over the colonial and post-colonial periods up to the present, the early 21st century, reveals the intersections of ideologies and structures associated with both gender as a social category and education as a state project. Such a discursive cartography reveals certain key moments that point to how these intersections have impacted practices and processes within school education. From the early 2000s, the intensification of neoliberal economic reforms has been marked by an ideological shift that sees education as a private good and the operation of discourses of school choice. The ascendance of majoritarian nationalism and its presence in state power has also seen an undermining of the gains in women’s education. At the same time, India passed a historic legislation, the Right to Education Act (2009), making education a fundamental right of all children. These somewhat contradictory and competing discourses and practices have had critical implications for the education of children of marginalized communities like the lower and former untouchable castes (Dalits), marginalized ethnicities like the Indigenous communities (Adivasis), and a marginalized religious minority community (Muslims). Within an intersectional perspective, it emerges that girls belonging to these communities face the greatest challenges in accessing and participating fully in schooling, even as recent policy initiatives are silent on many of the critical issues relating to promoting gender equality within the education system as a whole.

Article

Imaginaries of Inclusion in Swedish Education  

Gunnlaugur Magnússon and Daniel Pettersson

Traditionally, Swedish education has been built on, and enhanced by, notions and priorities of democracy, equity, and inclusion. In fact, Sweden’s education system has often, during the 20th century, been raised as a beacon of inclusion. However, from the 1990s onwards Swedish education is gradually transmogrified into a heavily marketized system with several providers of education, an emphasis on competition, and an escalating segregation, both as regards pupil backgrounds, need for special support, educational attainment, and provision of educational materials and educated teachers. This shows that traditional educational ideals have shifted and been given new meanings. These shifts are based on desires to improve performance and new ideas of control and predictability of educational ends. The historical development of education reforms illustrates how priorities have shifted over time, dependent on how the public and private are conceptualized. In particular, education reforms from the 1990s and onwards have gradually been more attached to connotations on market ideals of competition, efficiency, and individualization, making inclusion a secondary and de-prioritized goal of education, creating new educational dilemmas within daily life in schools. An empirical example of principals’ experience—seen as mediators of educational desires—illustrates these dilemmas and how the marketization of education affects both the political understanding of how education is best organized and the prioritization of previously valued ambitions of coherence and inclusion.

Article

School Choice and Inclusive Education  

Curt Dudley-Marling

The reform of public education through the application of principles of free-market capitalism, particularly notions of competition and choice, has long enjoyed bipartisan support in the United States, reflecting trends in other industrialized countries. The basic assumption is that the competitive pressures of the market, instantiated through various forms of school choice and high-stakes accountability, will necessarily lead to more efficient and effective schools while honoring parents’ right to determine what is best for their children. Concurrently, another group of educational reformers, advocating for the rights of students with disabilities, have pushed for the transformation of schools, with the goal of creating spaces congenial to the range of human differences, including disability. The problem is that the basic assumptions that underpin free-market reforms and the principles of inclusion are incompatible. One of the requirements of school choice, for example, is the production and marketing of data based on standardized assessment practices and standardized curricula. This tendency toward standardization in market-oriented schools, saturated with the ideology of normality, is antithetical to the conception of diversity that informs the desire for inclusive schools.

Article

Citizen Ideals and Education in Nordic Welfare State School Reforms  

Christian Ydesen and Mette Buchardt

Education has long been held to be the nucleus capable of producing national identities, citizenry, and citizen ideals. It is the locus wherein the majority of children and families most actively experience their first encounter with the state and the societal order in the guise of state-sanctioned professionals, practices, culture, technologies, and knowledge. Starting from this observation and making a comparative, historical investigation of continuities and ruptures offers insights into the production of citizen ideals and the purposes of education. The Nordic states—Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark—have often been characterized as the cradle of the distinct—and, to many people, attractive—Nordic welfare state model known for distributing equal rights and opportunities among the entire population, for instance, by providing education free of charge. In addition, the educational system has been viewed as a means to create a citizenship mentality to support the welfare state program. A central feature cutting across place and to some extent time is the apparent dilemma that exists between creating social mobility through education and thereby including “all,” while still finding the means to differentiate “under the same school roof” because pupils are individuals and must be taught as such to fulfill the ultimate needs of society’s division of labor. At the same time, the welfare state school must educate its pupils to ensure a level of equal participation and democratic citizenship among them as these youth advance through the system. School must be mindful of retaining different approaches to teaching that can accommodate differing levels of intelligence and learning abilities in the student cohort. The Danish school reforms of 1975 and 2014 are examples of how Denmark’s political leaders answered such challenges. The reforms also reflect a moment in time wherein politicians and administrators worked to resolve these challenges through modifying and recreating welfare state educational policies.

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 Norwegian Case of School Reform, External Quality Control, and the Call for Democratic Practice  

Ann Elisabeth Gunnulfsen and Eivind Larsen

Traditionally, the Norwegian education system has been built on equality and democracy as core values, but the disappointing results in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) introduced the perception of a “crisis in education” and increased the occurrence of national reform initiatives. New assessment policies with an emphasis on performance measurement and emerging accountability practices have characterized the transition processes over the last decade. With increasing focus on monitoring based on performance indicators, there is a risk that the purpose of promoting democracy in schools will be downplayed by instrumental and managerial regulations. However, the Norwegian school reform of curriculum renewal in 2020 also highlights democracy and participation as separate interdisciplinary themes and includes a concrete elaboration of this topic, which strongly emphasizes that schools should promote democratic values and attitudes as a counterweight to prejudice and discrimination. To obtain more knowledge about how school professionals deal with possible tensions and dilemmas in their work with the contemporary reform, it is important to unpack the interplay between managerial accountability based on performance indicators and identify how educators legitimize their work on promoting democracy in schools. To capture the dynamic nature of educational leadership and the daily subtle negotiation, a micropolitical perspective and theory on democratic agency were used to analyze theoretical and empirical material from two larger studies focusing on certain aspects of school reforms in Norwegian lower secondary schools. The findings suggest that educational professionals respond to the policy of inclusion through negotiating and translating tensions between equalizing students’ life chances and being subjected to collective monitoring and control. The findings also illuminate stories characterized by a predominantly individualistic interpretation of the democratic purpose of education and the challenges and opportunities involved in balancing academic achievement with students’ well-being.

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

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.