23 SES 06 A, Curriculum Reforms and Teacher Agency
The multiplication of regulatory activities, actors, networks and constellations in the education policy sector, at both the national and transnational level, have changed the premises for national curriculum making and teachers professional roles in that process. The policy exchange concerns crucial questions such as schooling for social cohesion and multicultural citizenship, for a sustainable future, for enterprise and innovation and critical literacy including digital literacy. The arguments for restructuring the curriculum and including future key competencies have stressed that in order to achieve technological progress, economic growth and social wellbeing there is a need for a mix of highly specialised and generic skills. The curriculum, which previously has been understood as primarily a national affair, is increasingly influenced by transnational policies, even if these international policy flows take different forms in different countries due to different historical, social, and cultural traditions (Steiner-Khamsi 2012, Anderson-Levitt 2008). In this paper, we will use the case of Sweden to explore how transnational policy trends change the conditions for teacher agency in curriculum making (Sundberg & Wahlström 2012). Drawing on the distinction between “coordinative discourse” of curriculum policy construction and “communicative discourse” of deliberation, contestation and legitimization (Schmidt 2012) the paper analyse teachers’ epistemic agency within their institutional contexts (i.e. actions such as common goal setting, making long-range plans of action and actions aimed at autonomously regulating the epistemic activities). The key questions of the inquiry are: (1) How is the transnational/national curriculum reform Lgr11 (SNAE 20011) in Sweden understood and enacted by the teachers? (2) What are the consequences of this policy enactment in terms of teachers’ epistemic agency in curriculum decision-making?
Initiatives like the Lisbon strategy, Europe 2020 and a strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training “ET 2020” open for the Member States to formulate “European benchmarks” for monitoring progress and challenges for an increasing convergence of curricula and school systems as a result of what within EU is called ‘evidence-based policy’. The OECD PISA surveys serves as evaluation of national comparison and the “flow of Europeanization is enhanced and shaped by the indicators and data produced in the construction of Europe as a legible, governable, commensurate policy space” (Lawn & Grek 2012, p. 83). In this context, the European Commission wants the key competencies to be made more visible in the national school curriculum (European Commission 2007). This has led to a shift from subject-specific to generic curriculum criteria and to an increased focus on learning outcomes (Sundberg & Wahlström 2012). In particular the OECD indicators for education function as tools for evaluating national systems. But although this may change the parameters of national education policies, it does not override national particularities. The culturally and politically established rules for curriculum making has been renegotiated and teachers are set in the nexus of transnational, national, regional and local influences and in multiple complex and interdependent regulatory discourses.
This paper undertakes a critical analysis of recent education and curriculum policies in Sweden. Drawing theoretically and analytically on Discursive institutionalism (DI), we analyse the development of the Swedish curriculum reform for compulsory school Lgr 11 in the nexus of the transnational, the national and the local arenas. The paper aims at contributing to policy analysis by elaborating agency and change in curriculum reform processes and theorize endogenous and exogenous determinants. By exploring the ideas, arguments, and discursive interactions within specific institutional contexts that frame curriculum decision making, teachers’ epistemic agency is scrutinized.
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