03 SES 01, Development of National Curriculum Frameworks
This paper argues that inclusion of all stakeholders in curriculum design, development and enactment is a highly complex task and whilst representatives of all stakeholders may be present at the table to consult on a new curriculum, this presence does not mean inclusion. The question that this paper explores is whether the system of lower secondary education in Ireland has the capacity for genuine inclusive curriculum reform? Inclusion in curriculum reform is dependent on genuine dialogue (Buber, 1947, p.113). This dialogue requires systemic knowledge and understanding, the recognition of the unique histories, traditions, agendas and biases of all at the table to enable the “fusion of horizons” (Gadamer, 1975, p.306-307). This research, drawing on a study of the lower secondary education assemblage in Ireland argues that the education system attempted new collaborative and consultative processes but sources of exclusion were precipitated by:
a. The weakness of the interrelations and interconnections in the lower secondary system of education.
b. A failure in the proficiency of the new language of the educational reform.
d. A lack of agency and capacity to carry out what the new curriculum proposes.
e. A refusal to learn by some stakeholders.
The theoretical framework used is a braiding or entwining of concepts from Complexity Theory. The lower secondary system of education in Ireland is viewed as an assemblage. An assemblage is not an entity or thing. It is a process of arranging, organising and fitting together, a process of knowledge making. It acts on semiotic flows, material flows and social flows simultaneously (Deleuze and Guattari, 2003, p.22). This assemblage of lower secondary has manifold histories, traditions, values and cultures. It uses its own language about education, has highly evolved concepts about what education is about and the assemblage is charged with emotion. This assemblage plugs into other assemblages as an open, adaptive system and the sum of the whole is greater than the number of its parts.
One of the clear insights that Complexity Theory offers curriculum reform is the need to visualise education as a learning system (Davis and Sumara, 2008). The lower secondary education system is a complex system that is concerned with learning. The curriculum is an emerging response to answer the human call to learn and survive. Complexity Theory helps to situate curriculum reform in what the system has learnt in its previous attempts at change, what it is learning now and how it may open spaces for the yet-unimagined in the future (Davis and Sumara, 2008). It offers the understanding of curriculum as nested, nested in the education system, nested in society and nested in the world. This holistic understanding offers a more inclusive lens to the researcher in their pursuit of understanding the importance of inclusion of every stakeholder and nested level in the reform(Mason, 2008). The emergence of a new curriculum in Ireland and in other European countries through an inclusive process of genuine dialogue can be assisted by the application of complexity theories concepts of diversity, connectivity, feedback loops, self-organisation emergence. This theoretical framework draws on the work of Mason (2008), Osberg and Biesta (2010), Cilliers (2001), Byrne (2005), Deleuze and Guattari (2003) and Jackson and Mazzei (2013).
In line with the understanding of Complexity Theory which argues for multiple voices, diverse understandings and viewpoints, this research is carried out through a post-qualitative study of the lower secondary assemblage in Ireland, which allows for participatory and a multi-perspectival approach (Cohen et al., 2011). This study takes the advice of Richardson, Cilliers and Lissack who suggest that no one perspective can capture the inherent intricacies of complex systems and therefore the investigation into complex systems require an exploration from several perspectives. The underlying premise for this is that by exploring a number of perspectives, a richer appreciation of the “state of affairs” or “problematic situation” of interest will be developed, resulting in more informed decision making” (Richardson et al., 2001, p.13). To gather a holistic understanding of the inclusive and exclusive nature of curriculum reform in the open and complex system of second level education in Ireland, the researcher engaged in thirty semi-structured interviews across all stakeholders in the assemblage and six focus group interviews with students in post-primary schools. In approaching all interviews, the purpose was to listen to the stories of how each stakeholder experienced the process of the design, development and enactment of the new curriculum. The choice of semi-structured interviews was taken to allow each interviewee the agency within the interview to construct their own story. It allowed the researcher the chance to unpack some of the presented explanations and to seek understanding. This process invited the researcher into what Husserl called “lifeworld” (1954, p.132), or what we call the “lived experience” or “lived textuality” (Denzin, 1995, p.197) of the people to be interviewed. Each of these lifeworlds are connected to, are nested in and relate to other lifeworlds in the open system of education. It is through the fusion of these interviews that a holistic picture of the inclusive and exclusive nature of the process of curriculum reform in lower secondary was researched.
This paper maps the complexities and challenges that curriculum reform in Ireland faced over a five-year period, despite its highly inclusive process of consultation. It suggests that for inclusion to occur in the curriculum reform process, an audit of the assemblage, a S.W.O.T., needs to take place pre-curriculum reform. This will serve to generate system knowledge on the unique stories and needs of each of the nested elements or stakeholders. This S.W.O.T. needs to draw on the expertise of the assemblage, especially the university as researcher and consultant, to offer an in-depth study of the capacity of the education system and outline the needs of all the stakeholders involved. It suggests an ecological assemblage of interrelations and connections generating knowledge, before the official pronouncement of a new curriculum and a continued process of evolution of this curriculum. From the study, it was clear that there were weaknesses in the interrelations and interconnections in the system which brought about negative feedback loops and generated emotional responses to varying reforms. This early lack of good communication was heightened by a lack of understanding of the language of reform and its main purpose. The deeply embedded mindset to learning in the assemblage was one of the main complexities encountered and needed to be flagged very early in the process of consultation. This early audit offers a map as to where the resources need to go from the beginning of the process of curriculum reform. It will offer a fairer opportunity for inclusion whereby there is an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of all at the table of consultation and the process is not sabotaged by misunderstood agendas and the generation of misinformation and knowledge.
BUBER, M. 1947. Between Man and Man, London, Fontana Press. BYRNE, D. 2005. Complexity, Configurations and Cases. Theory, Culture and Society, 22, 95-111. CILLIERS, P. 2001. Complexity Science: A "Grey" Science for the "Stuff in Between". Emergence, 3, 6-18. COHEN, L., MANION, L. & MORRISON, K. 2011. Research Methods in Education, USA & Canada, Routledge. DAVIS, B. & SUMARA, D. 2008. Complexity and Education: Inquiries into Learning, Teaching and Research, New York, Routledge. DELEUZE, G. & GUATTARI, F. 2003. A Thousand Plateaus, Minneapolis, University of Minneapolis Press. DENZIN, N. K. 1995. The Cinematic Society: The voyeur's Gaze, Thousand Oaks, CA, Sage Publication, Inc. GADAMER, H. G. 1975. Truth and Method, London, Sheed & Ward. HUSSERL, E. 1954. The Crisis of European Sciences and the Transcendental Phenomenology, Haag, The Netherlands, Martinus Nijhoff. JACKSON, A. Y. & MAZZEI, L. A. 2013. Plugging One Text into Another: Thinking with Theory in Qualitative Research. Qualitative Inquiry, 19, 261-271. MASON, M. 2008. What is Complexity Theory and What are its Implications for Educational Change. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 40, 35-49. OSBERG, D. & BIESTA, G. 2010. Complexity Theory and the Politics of Education, Rotherdam, Sense Publishers. RICHARDSON, K. A., CILLIERS, P. & LISSACK, M. 2001. Complexity Science: A "Gray" Science for the "Stuff in Between". Emergence, 3, 6-18.
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