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What count as knowledge?: A critical analysis of the ongoing reformation of the Swedish upper secondary school in the age of “standards-based education”
Linnaeus University, Faculty of Health, Social Work and Behavioural Sciences, School of Education, Psychology and Sport Science.
2011 (English)In: ECER 2011, Urban Education: Network: 23. Policy Studies and Politics of Education, 2011Conference paper, (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

In a society that is characterized of being both more and more knowledge intensive and differentiated in the labor market, education has come to be increasingly important for the capitalist states integrative functions as for the competitiveness in the global economy. Parallel processes can be found in a European context. Different movements have resulted in the creation of different supranational systems with the aims of converging nation’s education policy and compare pupils’ knowledge standards on an international basis (Ringarp & Rothland, 2010).  In other words – knowledge has become high politics! This means, just like Apple (2003) emphasizes, that schooling by its very nature is political. Apple also suggests that analyses of the politics of knowledge are crucial if a deeper understanding of the complex connections between education and power is to be examined.

 

In regard to, among others, Swedish results in the international knowledge comparison between countries and an increasingly youth unemployment, the Swedish school system, and especially the upper secondary school, has had to endure a lot of criticism. These critics resulted in a reformation of the Swedish upper secondary school system. With a general interest in understanding the relationship between the constitution of knowledge in education policy and broader social changes - this paper analyses the political dimension of knowledge in the way it is materialized in this reformation. Two education policy reforms will be compared with an aim to study discursive shifts over time concerning the formation of knowledge in educational policy. In 2009 the Swedish government handed over the proposition “Higher standards and quality in the new secondary school” (2008/09: 199) to the Parliament. Foregoing this proposition was the government committee report “the path to the future – a reformed upper secondary school” (SOU 2008:27), which proposed the most extensive changes in the Swedish upper secondary school since the 1990s. This government committee report, with the subsequent proposition, will in this paper be analysed in relation to one of the most influential committee reports (School of education, 1992:94) and propositions (1992/93:250) which in the same way can be regarded as the most important policy texts in the reformation of the 1990s upper secondary school. The interest of this study is to examine discursive and social changes by comparing the content in these policy texts with regards to the constitution of knowledge in the way it manifest itself in how policymakers talk about the concept of student, education and society. With a critical approach it is crucial to understand and explain policy processes of education in its historical and sociopolitical context. The educational system is then, in this study, theoretically positioned in terms of its embeddedness in a prescribed dilemma by the welfare states politics to, in a as well legitimately and efficiently ways, reproduce the capitalistic system (Offe, 1984; Jessop 2002). In this processes the educational system seems play an important role.

 

With methodological inspiration from the Critical discourse analysis (CDA) (Fairclough, 1992, Chouliaraki & Fairclough, 1999) I study educational policy from the viewpoint of three different dimensions: text, discursive practice and social practice. With a focus on how the policymakers talk about knowledge I try, on the text level, to elucidate and analyse the essential concepts in the policy texts. In the next step, i.e. in the analysis of the discursive practice, I see how these concepts underlie and create different types of knowledge discourses. The concept orders of discourse (Chouliaraki & Fairclough, 1999) enable an analysis of the relation between the discursive and the social practice. In this dimension I analyse the relation between this different types of knowledge discourses. The aim is to visualize changing patterns of dominance and legitimate knowledge discourses in a specified historical and sociopolitical context, and how this order changes (in this case from 1990s to 2009) in relation to social changes. With a methodological approach like the above describes it is possible to understand the constitution of knowledge in educational policy in relation to a broader sociopolitical and historical context.

 

In preliminary results of the analyzed policy texts I can see discursive shifts in the formation of knowledge from the 1990s until today. The 1990s policy texts were dominated by a form of a hybridization of a market- and a socio-cultural knowledge discourse. This discourse has now been challenge by, what I will call, an economic neo-conservative knowledge discourse characterized by an explicitly and defined knowledge content in each syllabus and with major differences between vocational education and theoretical educations. These movements can be understood in relation to the processes of the increasingly standard based education trend we can see in a European context. In conclusion, Habermas (1984) concepts system and life world, help us to understand how different rationalities are working within theses different discourses of knowledge. From this analysis I then discus in which direction the current reformation of the upper secondary school seems to move in terms of what is considered to be a desirable student, a good education and a desirable society.

 

References

 

Apple, Michael (2003). The state and the politics of knowledge. London: Routledge

Chouliaraki, Lilie & Fairclough, Norman (1999). Discourse in late modernity – Rethinking critical discourse analysis. Edinburgh: EdinburghUniversity press

Fairclough, Norman (1992). Discourse and social change. Oxford: Polity Press.

Habermas, Jürgen (1984). The Theory of Communicative Action. Volume 1: Reasons and the Rationalization of Society: Cambridge : Polity Press

Jessop, Bob (2002). The future of the capitalist state. Cambridge: Polity

Offe, Claus (1984), Contradictions of the welfare state. London: Hutchinson

Ringarp, Johanna & Rothland, Martin (2010). “The effects of the PISA results on Education Debates in Sweden and Germany” European Educational Research Journal. Vol. 9, Nr. 3

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2011.
National Category
Educational Sciences
Research subject
Pedagogics and Educational Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:lnu:diva-23109OAI: oai:DiVA.org:lnu-23109DiVA: diva2:579847
Conference
ECER 2011, 12-16 September, Berlin
Available from: 2012-12-20 Created: 2012-12-20 Last updated: 2014-12-09Bibliographically approved

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Citation style
  • apa
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