23 SES 11 C, Global Education Policy
Many governments, in Europe and elsewhere, have recently begun to allow public schools to cooperate with others in providing public education (e.g., Ball & Youdell, 2007; Lingard, Sellar, Hogan, & Thompson, 2017). For example, in Greece, an independent nonprofit organisation, the Athens Partnership, mediates the collaboration between the city of Athens and private partners in providing education in public schools (see Tsatsaroni, Sarakinioti, Koutsiouri, & Vogopoulou, 2018). Such private participation in public education has often raised concerns from both educators and scholars, especially in terms of its implications for equity (e.g., Burch 2009; Lingard, Sellar & Savage 2014). However, in Hong Kong, which has long employed public-private partnerships for public schooling provision, the phenomenon has been normalised. This is why, a new initiative which allowed for outsourcing of curriculum delivery - through the institution of about 20 government grants - failed to draw the attention of both researchers and practitioners. It is thus not surprising that studies which examine the implications of outsourcing for equity in public schools in the context of Hong Kong are rare (cf. Choi, 2018). This is particularly the case with regards to research which reflects the perspective of outsourcing service providers, and the situation is not different elsewhere. However, the voice of outsourcing providers deserves to be given listening ears. Despite the problems that may be associated with these "outsiders" – whether it concerns the reduced and discredited professionalism of teachers or lack of concern for social justice – it is a fact that curriculum delivery is now a joint effort between public schools and service providers in many contexts. This article therefore investigates the phenomenon of educational outsourcing and its equity implication, from the perspective of the service provider. It adopts a Foucauldian lens of governmentality (Foucault, 2008), an appropriate tool to critically review de-facto practice with an aim to explore alternatives (Dean, 2010). In an endeavour to understand the practice of educational outsourcing, the rationality behind decisions and technologies adopted to govern the outsourced education will be explored. The study draws on findings from mixed-method research involving document research and case studies, which was funded by the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong. It was guided by the two following research questions:
- How is educational outsourcing constituted under the neoliberal governmentality?
- To what degree does the constituted practice help achieve educational equity?
The study draws particularly on the concept of responsibilisation (e.g., Shamir, 2008; Peters, 2017) to explain what happens with educational outsourcing, to illustrate how the neoliberal governmentality unduly responsibilizes educational outsourcing providers in ensuring the equity of outsourced education while limiting their ability to meet the demand.
The discussion mainly draws on interviews with twelve staff members, both senior managers and front-line teachers, from six educational outsourcing providers which have collaborated with the four case schools. As the needs of students and resources have proved to be different across schools serving communities of different social and economic status (SES) (Choi, 2018), the companies serving schools of different SES background were chosen. In addition, out of the eight service providers which have served the four case schools, six were approached to reflect the diversity in terms of the nature of service providers. That is, two charities, one one-off project organised by a Chamber of Commerce, and four educational businesses of which two were involved in charity work. The interviews were transcribed, and analyzed through both inductive and deductive thematic content analysis. That is, while data was analysed focusing on the three themes of the outsourcing process in education, the experience of outsourcing providers and their effect on equity, the analysis was open to any themes emerging from the typical inductive analysis (e.g., Bogdan and Biklen, 2007; Miles, Huberman & Saldana, 2014).
This research has sought to understand the practice of educational outsourcing and its equity implications from the perspective of outsourcing service providers, adopting the concept of neoliberal governmentality. Neoliberal rationality redefined the equity of education as a commodity to be purchased and managed through monitoring system that prioritises financial transparency and quantifiable educational acts rather than learning itself. In its governance, service providers were irrationally responsibilised to deliver the goods of equitable education when the prerequisites of the delivery, e.g., communication with schools to understand students and necessary professional development opportunities, are often disregarded by the schools and the government. Some outsourcing service providers, despite the constraining environment, made efforts to realise the entrusted responsibility of equitable education, refusing to be simple vendors of educational acts. The equity becoming an individualised task, rather than an ideal to be collaboratively achieved under this neoliberal governmentality, learning of students and their life chances were sometimes side-lined. The outsourced education as narrated by the outsourcing providers captures the invisible problems of neoliberal educational governance and the limitations of overgeneralisation of third parties participating in public education in terms of their disregard for educational quality and equity. The findings in turn ask if researchers of educational privatisation should now be more inclusive of the voices of the ‘outsiders’ to capture our present (Foucault, 1988).
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