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Standards-based Curricula in a Denationalised Conception of Education: the Case of Sweden
Linnaeus University, Faculty of Health, Social Work and Behavioural Sciences, School of Education, Psychology and Sport Science. (Skola och Utbildning (SOU))ORCID iD: 0000-0003-0644-3489
Örebro university.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-5554-6041
2012 (English)In: ECER 2012, The Need for Educational Research to Champion Freedom, Education and Development for All: Network: 23. Policy Studies and Politics of Education, 2012Conference paper, Published paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Within the tradition of curriculum theory, the societal arena has primarily been regarded as a national one. We would claim, however, that today international organisations such as the OECD and the EU also have to be taken into account, together with other transnational collaborations and influences, if we are to be able to interpret the societal arena for education in an adequate way and offer plausible explanations for curriculum changes (Dale & Robertson, 2009; Grek et al, 2009). Here, therefore, we will mainly discuss curriculum changes in the societal arena from an international perspective, although this does not mean that that is the whole picture. Rather, we believe that every country responds to influences from transnational arenas in its own specific way. The point is that all countries respond in some way; that is, international relations and impacts cannot be ignored. Our aim is to examine Europeanisation and cross-national collaborations and comparisons in relation to the development of the Swedish educational reform of 1991, and in particular their implications for the recently implemented curriculum reform of 2011 (National Agency for Education, 2011).

In this paper we will answer the following questions in relation to international policy flows: How can the dominant conception of education in Sweden be understood at the beginning of the 21st century? And, as a supplementary question: What implications does this conception have for the Swedish curriculum reform of 2011?

Our starting point is the Swedish educational reform of 1991 and its specific features. Drawing on a theoretical framework of curriculum theory, with its different arenas for analysis – the societal arena and the curriculum arena (cf. Lundgren 1989, Englund 2005) – we analyse the development of this reform from 1991 onwards. In the first part of the paper, the principles underlying the reform are explored and the societal context for education is examined. In the second part, the focus is on the concrete arena of governance and curriculum, and the conception of curriculum in the Swedish curriculum reform of 2011. In the third and final part, we draw a number of conclusions concerning changes in conceptions of education and curriculum arising from transnational policy pressures and dominant curriculum discourses.

The societal arena is characterised by cooperation and agreements within transnational member organisations such as the OECD and the EU in arenas which used to be, for the most part, purely national concerns (Wahlström, 2010; Young, 2008). The forms of knowledge that are selected and emphasised include both basic knowledge and key competences that students are expected to be able to develop during their schooling. Thus, the discourse of the societal arena is characterised by an internationalisation of educational policy, with a focus on competences, standards and collaborating networks (f.x. The European Commission, 2008). A central issue is how formalised standards-based reforms are translated into national curriculum constructions and content. In the case of Sweden, there has been a remarkable silence in national educational politics and policymaking concerning different valid knowledge claims in the curriculum context.

 

Method

Our analysis draws on a critical discourse-analytical approach within curriculum theory (Sundberg 2012), by which we examine how curriculum texts are legitimised by the use of concepts and arguments in specific social practices. The analyses are conducted in three steps. In the first step, we analyse the Swedish educational reform within a societal arena. In a second step the curriculum text is examined in order to identify the changing knowledge focus within the framework of the 1991 educational reform, that is, between the earlier curriculum for compulsory education, Lpo-94, and the subsequent curriculum reform represented by Lgr 11. In the third step, the curriculum construction of Lgr 11 as a whole will be analysed in terms of the criteria of standards-based curriculum reforms, including the following six elements: (i) specified knowledge expectations of students, (ii) alignment of the different elements in the assessment system to achieving the set standards, (iii) an assessment system for the evaluation of students’ achievements, (iv) decentralisation of accountability for teaching and learning to schools, (v) support and technical services to improve the system, and (vi) incentives to reward or impose sanctions on schools and students on the basis of achieved results (Hamilton et al, 2008).

Expected Outcomes

A denationalised and instrumental conception of education is characterised, at a general societal level, by internationalisation and privatisation, and, in the more concrete arena of governance and curriculum, by management by requirements and control. The combination of two basically contradictory conceptions of knowledge, that is, a technical-instrumental form of curriculum and a neo-conservative view of curriculum content, is made possible by reference to decontextualised output measures, such as standards or predefined key competences. Some central elements of international standards-based curriculum reforms have been appropriated into the core construction of the Swedish national curriculum of 2011, such as standardised knowledge requirements and their alignment to grading criteria. In this regard, the Swedish curriculum is an example of a standards-based type of curriculum, in line with an international technical-instrumental curriculum discourse, combined with a neo-conservative view of curriculum as a given, and uncontested, body of knowledge. The instrumental view of schooling and teaching, although it claims to be objective, neutral and context-independent, is in fact based upon certain epistemic premises. In this sense, the Swedish curriculum can be viewed as one version of a European curriculum discourse, albeit with its own specific national connotations.

References

Commission (2008) Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions. Improving Competences for the 21st Century. An Agenda for European Cooperation on Schools. COM (2008) 425 final. Brussels: Commission of the European Communities. Curriculum for the Compulsory School, Preschool Class and the Leisure-time Centre (2011). Stockholm: National Agency for Education. Dale, Roger & Robertson, Susan (Eds.) (2009). Globalisation & Europeanisation in Education. Oxford: Symposium Books. Englund, Tomas (2005) Läroplanens och skolkunskapens politiska dimension [Curriculum as a Political Problem]. Göteborg: Daidalos. Grek, Sotiria, Lawn, Martin, Lingard, Bob, Ozga, Jenny, Rinne, Risto, Segerholm, Christina & Simola, Hannu (2009) National policy brokering and the construction of the European Education Space in England, Sweden, Finland and Scotland. Comparative Education, 45(1), 5-21. Hamilton, Laura S., Stecher, Brian M., & Yuan, Kun (2008) Standards-based reform in the United States: History, Research, and future Directions. Unpublished paper, Center on Educational Policy, Washington, D.C. Lundgren, Ulf P. (1989) Att organisera omvärlden [Organising the World Around Us]. Stockholm: Utbildningsförlaget. Sundberg, Daniel (2012) Curriculum theory – some contemporary lines of development, in Tomas Englund, Eva Forsberg & Daniel Sundberg (Eds), Vad räknas som kunskap? Läroplansteoretiska utblickar och inblickar i lärarutbildning och skola [What Counts as Knowledge – Curriculum Theory Outlooks and Insights in Teacher Education and Schools]. Stockholm: Liber. Wahlström, Ninni (2010) A European space for education looking for its public. European Educational Research Journal, 9(4), 432-443. Young, Michael F. D. (2008) Bringing Knowledge Back In. From Social Constructivism to Social Realism in the Sociology of Education. London and New York: Routledge.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2012.
National Category
Educational Sciences
Research subject
Pedagogics and Educational Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:lnu:diva-21792OAI: oai:DiVA.org:lnu-21792DiVA: diva2:556478
Conference
ECER 2012, 18-21 sept 2012, University of Cadiz, Spain
Available from: 2012-09-25 Created: 2012-09-25 Last updated: 2017-01-19Bibliographically approved

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