23 SES 13 A, Adult Literacies and the Effects of Comparative Performance Measurements: Local, National, Global
The ranking of all kinds of institutions has become a common phenomenon in modern industrialised societies and these comparisons are popular techniques for governments because they provide information that is succinct and easily digestible and the competition that is set up often generates debates about the relative positions of those that are ranked (Martens & Nieman, 2010: 6). The OECD is the body that has led these international comparisons and it has produced a range of reports and statistics on adult literacies and basic skills that have generated international comparative educational performance measures. The most recent being the Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competences (PIAAC) that assessed key information processing skills and provided information on the use of literacy, numeracy and problem solving at work and elsewhere (OECD, 2013). The results of these assessments are usually widely publicised and a number of researchers (e.g. Martens, 2007; Lawn and Grek, 2012; Rizvi & Lingard, 2010) have shown that the resulting ‘league tables’ play a part in steering education policy at the national level through the bureaucracy of statistics by governments internationally. Moreover, the underpinning human capital ideology of the OECD surveys (Moutsios, 2010; Rubenson, 2009) highlights the importance of global economic competitiveness and skills focused education and training. Similarly, following the Lisbon Treaty in 2000, the EU has prioritised adult participation in programmes designed to improve their skills so that they ‘can contribute to a successful life in a knowledge society’ (DG-EAC, 2007: 3) and has asked member states to collect data on ‘outcomes, drop out rates and on learners’ socio-economic backgrounds’ (CEC, 2010 p 9). However, although the focus from the OECD and the EU has been on efficiency and competitiveness there is also a commitment to education for broader personal development and “social inclusion” within a democratic context (Holford & Spolar, 2012: 39).
How the outcomes of programmes are measured also has a strong impact at the local level on the curriculum and pedagogical approaches used. Lave and Wenger (1991) have distinguished between a ‘learning curriculum’ that focuses on the resources and goals of the learners’ themselves and the ‘teaching curriculum’ that focuses instead on the priorities and goals of the institution. Programmes that are driven by externally devised outcome measures are more likely to use a teaching curriculum and so reinforce a deficit discourse about participants’ capabilities because the goals and aspirations of the learners are not foregrounded (Barton et al, 2007; Hamilton & Hillier, 2007; Tett et al, 2012).
This symposium will ask three research questions and consider their impact over time 1) Is there a relationship between these international assessment frameworks and how the problem of adult literacies is conceptualised and enacted at the local and national level? 2) If so, in what ways? 3) In particular, what are the effects of standardised measures and outcomes on the potential of adult literacies education to promote social inclusion and democratic decision-making?
This symposium will examine these questions from the perspectives of 3 EU countries: Denmark, Germany and the UK using a range of theoretical lenses. These include socio-material theory to show how harmonising projects of international assessment travel into local sites and ‘disorganize them’ (Fenwick and Edwards, 2013); the role of communities of practice (Wenger, 1998) in enabling the collective and common to enter individual activities through learning(Sfard & Prusak, 2005); and policy sociology (Ozga & Lingard, 2007), to investigate both how policy is enacted at the national level and how discourses frame the presenting problem (Bacchi, 2009).
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