23 SES 11 B, PIACC (Part 2)
Symposium continued from 23 SES 10 B
Human capital has been defined (Becker, 1975) as ‘any stock of knowledge or characteristics the worker has (either innate or acquired) that contributes to his or her productivity’. This knowledge is conceptualised as a form of capital because it enables workers to invest in a set of marketable skills through gaining education and training credentials that would increase their earnings. This commodification of human beings as a form of capital goods has been much criticised (e.g. Rubenson, 2015) but nevertheless this once controversial expression has largely gained uncritical currency. It has been taken up by many international organisations, including the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD) and the European Union because it is regarded as a key driver of adult learning activity on the grounds that: ‘Investment in human capital is money well spent. Good education and training help promote sustained economic growth, as well as sustainable development’ (EUR-Lex, 2015, p1).
Whilst this model is much disputed (Grek and Ozga, 2010; Rubenson, 2015; Yasukawa and Black, 2016), the human capital ideology promoted through the EU and the OECD’s policy documents leads to an assumption that skills focused education and training is the most important. This perspective, which regards countries and their citizens as competitors in a global market place, then gets translated into measurable indicators such as those used in the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) (OECD, 2013; 2016). This symposium presents the argument that such international quantitative surveys shape the discourse about what is accepted as appropriate skills, especially in the literacies curriculum areas through the ‘power of numbers’. In particular such surveys emphasis what people cannot do and thus promote a ‘discourse of deficit’. Moreover, the financial and economic, rather than the social aspects, of literacies are stressed. The discourse thus moves the emphasis away from the individual learner’s strengths on to the presumed generic skills needed by employers.
However, as Ball notes, ‘policies are always incomplete in so far as they relate to or map onto the “wild profusion of local practice”’ (Ball 1994, 10) and Rizvi and Lingard (2010, 16) have pointed out that, ‘public policy remains a state activity and is produced in the bureaucratic structure of the education state’. The contributions to this symposium will show how policy-making is implemented at the local, national and transnational levels and is based on a history that is tied to particular individuals and agencies. This means that they will have their own views of what it is appropriate to implement. So, although a shared understanding of policy goals has been shaped by human capital goals, there is also resistance to this discourse.
The three papers in this part of the symposium focus on different teaching and learning contexts in which a range of curricula has been developed. They all demonstrate how resistance can be offered to the dominant human capital discourse. The first paper draws on New Literacy Studies and on the concepts of ‘precarity’ and ‘conflictual cooperation’ to examine the practices that are used by youth workers to resist an accountability regime and its bureaucratic literacies in Quebec, Canada. The next uses the context of a Further Education College in England to show how emancipatory learning spaces, that anchor research in the empirical experience of marginalised women, their families and communities, can create a dialogical caring community. The final paper is based on a case study of an Irish ‘Values and Comparative Religious Education’ curriculum for senior primary pupils and explores how problem-posing education using a ‘Participatory Action Research’ methodology can mediate between the local, national and global policy discourses.
Ball, S. J. (1994) Education Reform: a critical and post-structuralist approach, Buckingham: Routledge Becker, G. (1975) Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis, with Special Reference to Education, Second Edition, NBER EUR-Lex (2015) New priorities for European cooperation in education and training (2015/C 417/04) http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=uriserv%3AOJ.C_.2015.417.01.0025.01.ENG Grek, S. And Ozga, J. (2010) ‘Reinventing public education: the new role of knowledge in education policy-making’, Public Policy and Administration, 25,3, 271-288. Rizvi F. and Lingard B. (2010) Globalizing Education Policy, Routledge OECD (2013) OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills, http://www.oecd.org/skills/piaac/Skills%20volume%201%20(eng)--full%20v12--eBook%20(04%2011%202013).pdf OECD (2016), The Survey of Adult Skills: Reader’s Companion, Second Edition, OECD Skills Studies, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264258075-en Rubenson, S. 2015. ‘Framing the adult learning and education policy discourse: the role of the OECD’ in M. Milana and T Nesbit (Eds.) Global Perspectives on adult education and learning policy, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan Yasukawa K. and Black, S. (2016) Beyond Economic Interests: Critical Perspectives on Adult Literacy and Numeracy in a Globalised World, Sense Publishers
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