23 SES 04 B, The Role and Impact of the OECD
In this contribution, I analyse the consequences that PISA (Programme for International Students Assessment) and OECD’s educational agenda have on schooling, and which is the conception of teaching that OECD feeds. I shall make my point conceptually, by analysing OECD’s publications and documents, thus unraveling OECD’s educational gesture and politics, and its underlying ethical framework. My attempt, then, is a theoretical one and its focus is, in a sense, narrow: I limit my analysis to OECD’s own words about PISA, teaching, and education.
However, despite such limitations, it is my contention that such an attempt is worth to pursue. This is so for, despite a huge number of publications about both the specific role played by OECD in educational arena, and PISA Programme (Gorur, 2011; Grek, 2009; Lewis, 2016; Rutkowski, 2015; Morgan and Shahjahan, 2014; Shahjahan, 2013), we lack a thorough understanding of OECD’s overall ethical gesture and of the consequences such a gesture may have over the very idea of schooling and teaching. If we wish to unravel the problematic mix of rhetorical seduction, scientific authority, and ethical disengagement put in place by the Organization, a close scrutiny of OECD’s own words is due.
In what follows, then, I wish to argue that OECD does not conceal its goal of shaping educational arena from above, thus establishing both aims, and means of schooling and education. Such a gesture, in turn, feeds a picture of schooling in which both teachers and policy makers just have to listen to OECD’s educational discourse, executing the related dictate, thus delivering OECD’s educational provision worldwide – and “deliver” is indeed a recurrent term in OECD’s documents about schooling and teaching (OECD, 2012, p. 11; Gurrìa, 2016a). In this way OECD narrows down schooling to a mere reproductive process, one in which aims and means of education are predetermined.
In this way we run the risk of losing sight of newness and surprise in education: OECD seems to know in advance the whole students’ living track, from school desk to workplace (OECD, 2016a; OECD, 2016b). PISA, importantly, also tends to erase what is distinctive of schooling, namely, the creativity and unpredictability that may emerge within that particular kind of relationships between teachers and students. By obeying OECD’s indications, teachers and students cannot even articulate their own discourse and way of framing living and knowledge. In this way, schooling is reduced to a perpetual training activity aimed at strenghtening students’ position in life (OECD, 2016b). Remarkably, OECD’ s narrative enacts what we may call the the loss of gratuitousness: the time and space of schooling is totally occupied by a rewarding logic, one in which everything is valued and benchmarked in terms of profit/benefit for the subject being taught or even in explicit monetary terms – and providing the “best value for money” seems to be a major educational concern of OECD’s authotitative members (OECD, 2012; Gurrìa, 2016b). Such a logic instills in students the convinction that both in education and living we perpetually dwell in a market arena (Ball, 2009; Hogan, Sellar, and Lingard, 2016), one in which everything is, in a sense, for sale.
Such a gesture is not only problematic from a democratic perspective; it is also problematic concerning scientific consistency about OECD’s framework. When reading statements such as “Every student knows what matters. Every student knows what’s required to be successful” (Schleicher, 2016) or “PISA tests provide a mirror to all countries and demonstrate what is possible” (Gurrìa, 2016a) one cannot help but think how such statements are inconsistent with any scientific logic, whatever such a logic may be conceived of.
My attempt is a conceptual one. I shall make my point by analysing OECD’s public documents – publications, webpages, and brochures – as well as videos and declarations of OECD’s authoritative members, such as Angel Gurrìa, the OECD’s Secretary General, and Andreas Schleicher, OECD’s Director for Education and Skills. Through such an analysis, I aim to shed a light on OECD’s rhetorical strategy, educational politics and underlying intentions and ethical framework.
Through my analysis, I argue that behind a plain and reassuring language, and an apparent detachment and objectivity, OECD displays a huge, all-encompassing project, which aims to shape what, when and how is to be taught, what, when and how it is to be learned, what the aims and purposes of boys and girls worldwide should be, what parents should care for in bringing up their children and even which desires and aspirations the new generations should nurture. In this sense, I argue that PISA is but another form of authoritarian teaching, authoritarian teaching being understood as any and every educational project which sets aims and purposes of education without giving the possibility to discuss and challenge such aims and purposes (Biesta, 2015). This is so because OECD’s educational order, with its commitment to the “right skills... for better works and better life” (OECD, 2016), sets experience before it occurs. Within OECD’s educational framework students are conceived of as a kind of recipient for such right skills, skills that, in turn, should conduct the students to a successful life – and such a strong commitment to success as an educational value in itself is one of the problems of OECD’s ethical and educational stance. In this way, OECD narrows down education to a mere reproductive process, thus hemming in teachers’ and students’ ethical and imaginative engagement.
Ball, S. (2008). Privatising education, privatising education policy, privatising educational research: network governance and the ‘competition state’. Journal of Education Policy, 24(1), pp. 83-99. Biesta, G.J.J. (2015). Resisting the seduction of the global education measurement industry: Notes on the social psychology of PISA. Ethics and Education, 10(3), pp. 348–360. Gorur, R. (2011). ANT on the PISA trail: Following the statistical pursuit of certainty. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 43(s1): 76–93. Grek, S. (2009). Governing by numbers: The PISA ‘effect’ in Europe. Journal of Education Policy, 24(1): 23–37. Gurrìa, A. (2016a). Webpage. Strong performers and Successful Performers. A video series profiling policies and practices of education systems that demonstrate high or improving performance in the PISA tests. Available at http://learningisopen.org/oecd/. Accessed January 15, 2018. Gurrìa, A. (2016b). Video Strong performers and Successful Performers. A video series profiling policies and practices of education systems that demonstrate high or improving performance in the PISA tests. Available at http://learningisopen.org/oecd/. Accessed January 15, 2018. Hogan, A., Sellar, S. and Lingard, B. (2016). Commercialising comparison: Pearson puts the TLC in soft capitalism. Journal of Education Policy, 31(3), pp. 243–258. Lewis, S. (2016). Governing schooling through ‘what works’: the OECD’s PISA for Schools. Journal of Education Policy, 32(3), pp. 281-302. Morgan, C. and Shahjahan, R.A. (2014). The legitimation of OECD’s global educational governance: Examining PISA and AHELO test production. Comparative Education, 50(2), pp. 192–205. OECD (2012). Education Today 2013: The OECD Perspective. Paris: OECD Publishing. Available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/edu_today-2013-en. Accessed January 15, 2018. OECD (2016a). PISA homepage. PISA – Measuring Student Success Around the World. Available at www.oecd.org/pisa/aboutpisa. Accessed January 15, 2018. OECD (2016b). PISA trifold brochure. Available at https://www.oecd.org/pisa/aboutpisa/PISA-trifold-brochure-2014.pdf. Accessed January 15, 2018. Rutkowski, D. (2015). The OECD and the local: PISA-based Test for Schools in the USA. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 36(5): 683-699. Shahjahan, A.R. (2013). Coloniality and a global testing regime in higher education: Unpacking the OECD’s AHELO initiative. Journal of Education Policy, 28(5), pp. 676–694. Schleicher, A. (2016). Use Data to Build Better Schools. Available at www.ted.com/talks/andreas_schleicher_use_data_to_build_better_schools/transcript?language=en#t-984031. Accessed January 15, 2018.
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