23 SES 01 A, Globalisation, Markets, Performance
Parallel Paper Session
This paper discusses the role that comparative educational performance measures have in framing and steering education policy internationally using a case study of adult literacy policies in Scotland. A number of researchers have argued that the OECD, through its publication of education indicators, has become an accepted part of the policy lexicon across the globe and it has constructed a global educational policy field through the mechanism of governance by comparison. This paper focuses on one example of an international comparison - the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) that was organised by the OECD in partnership with national statistical research agencies in Canada and the USA. The overall aims of the study were to produce meaningful comparisons between countries, to understand the relationship between literacy and economic indicators and to inform and influence policy decisions. Two main types of criticisms have been made of the value of the survey as a comparative measure: that the collection and analysis of the data was flawed and that the approach to measuring literacy came from a particular paradigm that did not recognise the complexity of literacy as a social practice. This latter approach to literacy prioritises education that is based on a life-long learning approach and focuses on the learners’ own purposes and uses for learning literacy rather than externally imposed standards leading to education for all. However, despite these criticisms, the ‘league tables’ derived from the (poor) performance of adults from the participating countries have been strong drivers behind government decisions at the national level to invest in improving literacy skills.
Within this international context two aspects of the politics of policy making in adult literacy in Scotland is examined. First the decision in 2009 to replicate the IALS survey used in 1996 as a way of assessing the literacies capabilities of the population despite the well known criticisms of it discussed above and the fact that Scotland had adopted a ‘social practices’ approach to its literacy curriculum. The consequences of the result of this survey on subsequent policy development through the perspectives of both policy implementers and literacy practitioners are then examined.
The research question investigated is how the influence of the IALS approach to literacy (based on an information-processing model of reading and cognition) and the assumption of a strong link between literacy and economic success were enacted in Scotland. Two perspectives are examined: those of government policy actors and those of adult literacy practitioners and their managers. The focus on the latter group is on how the policy directives were implemented.
The theoretical respective taken is that international organisations such as the OECD are purposive policy actors, ‘governing by numbers’ (Grek, 2009) through its production of apparently authoritative statistics and its strong focus on the economistic, human capital approach to literacy. However there is always resistance to such dominant views and the paper reviews how literacy practitioners are also policy actors and the messy reality that results in policy enactment.
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