23 SES 04 D, National Policy Making and Education Inequalities
Introduction - Future as a semantic reservoir for present education policy
Over the last few decades transnational organizations like OECD and EU have published various reports on the future of education. Reports, often written by nominated expert groups, have been highlighting various educational challenges and policy solutions related to a changing work life, digitalization, social equality, immigration, professional learning and policy improvement efforts. The future related semantic of transnational policy programs, like e.g. 21st century skills for instance, has also left its mark on national education policies where numerous future related white, green and grey papers have been published by different school authorities (e.g. NOU 2015; OKM2015; Skolens Rejsehold 2010).
In retrospect, there is nothing new about discussing education and the future. Since the birth of the modern conception of the future, education has been pursuing a better future for individuals and societies. For the contemporary observer this has meant dealing with the paradox of how to prepare for something that is, in fact, highly speculative and non-experiencable since the future can never begin; it is always a state of what can be (Luhmann 1976).
The inspiration for this paper derives from recent Luhmann-orientated comparative education studies, which have focused on how external references are used for national education agenda setting (Ringarp & Waldow 2016; Steiner-Khamsi 2002; Takayama 2010). The novelty in this study is the focus on the future as an external point of reference that is more or less beyond our present expectations.
In systems theory the idea of dealing with the uncertainty is often approached through the concept of contingency (Luhmann 1995). According to Luhmann the modern society has no external vantage point where the unity of the world could be observed. Instead, the modern society makes itself understandable through differentiated societal systems like politics, economy, law and education. Each societal system also has a unique way to deal with contingency. For example the contingency formula for education system is cultivation whereas the contingency formula for politics is legitimacy (King & Thornhill 2003).
Despite and partly because of their operational closure, societal systems have organized sensitivity for other systems in their environment (Luhmann 1992, 1432). These structural couplings between societal systems can be observed as a special form of social systems, that is organizations (see Andersen 2008; Nassehi 2005). Organizations and their programs hence reflect a polyphonic codification, which structure the way the past experiences (actuality) and future expectations (potentiality) are communicated (Andersen 2008). In the case of multi-professional and multi organizational future school -committees various societal expectations are brought together and negotiated.
By comparing future reports in three Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland and Norway) our research will shed a light on how Nordic educational systems, often considered to be alike for the rest of the world, have similar but maybe also different strategies for coping with transnational political influences. The future reports are here understood broadly as educational steering (Hansen 2006; Luhmann 1997) where present-future orientated purposive programmes are produced to limit and focus the observation of past-presence orientated conditional programmes (see Sivesind 2016). By projecting desirable and unwanted future scenarios, future reports constitute a contingency schema, which is straining the medium of meaning in which all experience and communication must find forms (Luhmann 1993). Or in other words, the future becomes a semantic reservoir for communication where the complexity and contingency of the present is reduced and reproduced.
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