23 SES 08 C, Markets and Commodification in Schools
In recent decades, many countries have adopted privatization and market policies in education (Rizvi, 2016; Verger et al., 2016). Nevertheless, both national and international actors have become increasingly concerned about the negative effects of these policies, particularly regarding inequalities. At an international level, organizations such as UNESCO and the World Bank have highlighted the need for more regulations and greater accountability measures to avoid unintended and negative consequences of these policies and to limit the opportunistic behaviours (UNESCO, 2017; World Bank, 2018). Some scholars, however, have stated that privatization and market education reforms are politically difficult to dismantle mainly because they generate interest groups (i.e., private providers and parents with children attending private schools) who have vested interests in maintaining the voucher system (Carnoy, 2003), as well as the fact they generate public opinion in favour of market logics (Busemeyer & Iversen, 2016).
In this context, the education reform which has taken place in Chile over the last few years provides us with a unique opportunity to analyse the possibilities and limitations of reversing or regulating pro-market policies. Three decades after the pro-market reform, students’ unions and other civil society organizations have called for a structural reform in order to decommodify education and to mitigate the negative effects of market dynamics, in particular with regard to the resulting educational inequalities and segregation. After the success of the protests, in 2014, a new government came to power in Chile with an ambitious educational reform programme (Bellei, 2016). Regarding basic education, the reform had two main dimensions. The first concerned the prohibition of student selection, cost sharing and profit generation, especially common among private subsidized providers. The second focused on strengthening public education by recentralizing the management of public schools from municipalities back to the state and investing additional funds in this field.
The main objective of this research is to analyse the process of education reform in Chile, exploring how material and semiotic drivers have affected the process of policy adoption (Verger, 2014). The theoretical framework of the research is mainly based on the Cultural Political Economy approach (Jessop, 2010). This analytical framework allows us to divide the process of reform into three evolutionary mechanisms, namely variation, selection and retention. These three mechanisms do not entail a sequential understanding of the policy process but are a heuristic device to analyse the process of policy adoption. The research has three main research questions corresponding to each mechanism:
- Which drivers explain the need for educational reform? Which actors have been influential in positioning market reform at the core of the political debate?
- What were the different political positions during the discussion around the educational reform? How did different actors (proponents and opponents) position their approach in the public debate?
- Why were some parts of the educational reform been ultimately adopted and others omitted from education reform? What was the rationale behind the selection certain policy solutions over alternative possibilities?
Beyond the academic interest of the analysed case, the Chilean educational market reform experience can inform and contribute to the political debate around the regulation of education markets and privatization policies worldwide. In Europe, where several countries have adopted such privatization and market policies in the past decades, debates over the unintended consequences of these policies and the need for new and better regulation have been part of the recent political discussion on education. The Chilean educational reform is the first international attempt to reverse the effects of large-scale quasi-market in education, and therefore it represents an opportunity to empirically analyse the possibilities and limits of these policy reforms.
The research combines two main methods to interrogate the political economy of Chilean educational reform. The first is the documentary analysis of the main documents produced by both the government and other influential stakeholders in the education debate, such as think tanks, teachers’ unions, student organizations, private providers’ organizations and parents (n=30). These documents include political speeches (5), government documents and reports (6), congress proceedings (3), think tanks and civil society public documents (8) and international organizations documents and reports (8). The documentary analysis was complemented by the analysis of different actors’ appearances in the Chilean Congress and Senate during the process of discussion of the reform. The second method used in the research is in-depth interviews with actors involved in the process of education reform (n=38). The sample of actors interviewed includes policymakers and Ministry of Education officials (12), civil society organizations and think tanks (6), academics and government advisors (8), private providers organizations (3), parents’ organizations (1), students’ and teachers’ unions (6), and international organizations (2). The analyses and coding of both documents and interview transcriptions have been structured with multiple dimensions in order to compare them across the different actors analysed. The analysis of the interviews has been organized into the main analytical categories of diagnoses of the education system, objectives of the reform, process of the discussion, strategies and the possible effects of reform. Furthermore, the documentary analysis has allowed us to explore how the government and main stakeholder discourses have evolved over time in order to understand how the actors adapt these discourses to the context and to the different phases of the reform.
The results show how the drivers that fostered of education market problematization (variation) overcame the social struggle generated by civil society’s mobilizations and it was influenced by other material and semiotic factors at national and international levels. However, the initial, apparently broad, social consensus around the reform has diminished gradually as the process of policy adoption progressed. As a result, the Chilean government, during the selection stage, reframed the objectives of the reform several times and sought legitimation from international organizations. It was also possible to observe a mismatch between the discursive framework (demarketization) of the government and the political initiatives developed (market regulation). This mismatch can be understood as a strategy to make the process of reform more feasible and therefore more successful. For their part, opponents to the reform focused their strategy on highlighting its possible negative effects for families and private providers as a way to impose their views on public opinion. In this sense, the results also show how, beyond the material factors of a socioeconomic and institutional nature, semiotic drivers played a significant role in the strategy of both advocators of and opponents to the reform. However, the final stage of reform (retention) was influenced mainly by material drivers, showing how the role of semiotics diminishes as the process of policy adoption advances. Considering the results, the Chilean experience highlights both the opportunities and limitations of reversing education pro-market reforms through public policy. Because of the political conflict that took place as the reform advanced, the government ultimately adopted an education market regulation approach, trying to reduce the level of commodification of the education system. The relevance of the results is not limited to Chile, since they enhance understanding of possible policy decisions within other education systems that went through pro-market reforms in the past.
Bellei, C. (2016). Dificultades y resistencias de una reforma para des-mercantilizar la educación. RASE: Revista de la Asociación de Sociología de la Educación, 9(2), 232-247. Busemeyer, M. and Iversen. T. (2016). The Politics of Choice: How the Introduction of Private Options Affect Preferences for Public Pensions, Schools, and Healthcare. Paper prepared for the Workshop on “Public Opinion and Policy Feedback”, University of Konstanz, July 28-29, 2016. Carnoy, M. (2003). Las políticas educacionales de Chile desde una prespectiva internacional. In Cox, C. (Ed.). Políticas educacionales en el cambio de siglo: La reforma del sistema escolar de Chile (pp. 115-124). Santiago: Editorial Universitaria. Jessop, B. (2010). Cultural political economy and critical policy studies. Critical policy studies, 3(3-4), 336-356. Rizvi, F. (2016). Privatization in Education: Trends and Consequences. UNESCO Education Research and Foresight Working papers, 18. UNESCO (2017). 2017/8 GEM Report - Accountability in education: Meeting our commitments. Paris: UNESCO. Verger, A. (2014). Why Do Policy-Makers Adopt Global Education Policies? Toward a Research Framework on the Varying Role of Ideas in Education Reform. Current Issues in Comparative Education, 16(2), 14-29. Verger, A., Fontdevila, C. and Zancajo, A. (2016). The privatization of education: A political economy of global education reform. New York: Teachers College Press. World Bank (2018). World Development Report 2018. Learning to Realize Education’s Promise. Washington, DC: World Bank.
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