28 SES 03, Beyond PISA: Social and Ethical Aspects of Key-competencies
Parallel Paper Session
Equity in education is a key national ideological and political issue. Education is seen as the passport to overcoming poverty and the crippling barriers of ethnicity, race and gender (Darling-Hammond, 2007; OECD, 2010). Links between human capital and GDP have made it an important economic issue (Rizvi & Lingard, 2011). Equity is also a prominent international issue, with organizations like the OECD, the World Bank and UNESCO involved in promoting equity. However, despite being an important focus of reforms, inequity has been stubborn where it has existed, and in some cases it has increased, despite considerable effort and investment (OECD, 2009).
Given its importance, national and international systems are in place to measure, monitor and compare the equity of education systems (McGaw, 2008). The increasing use of international comparisons of equity, such as the OECD’s Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) raises several questions with regard to the nature, usefulness and consequences of such comparisons, and the levels of specificity at which they may be meaningful (Goldstein, 2004) and useful to policy makers. Concerns have also been expressed that current measures mask inequities (Gillborn, 2010; Gorard, 2006). But while the rankings of performance and the ‘league tables’ of PISA receive much attention from policy makers and researchers alike, less well examined are the measures of equity of school systems in PISA. Given the enormous influence of international comparisons, further work is required to understand how equity is being understood and measured in such comparisons, and thought needs to be given to how better policy advice could be generated.
Using resources from STS, and thinking socio-materially, I describe how international comparisons of equity are produced. I trace how varied experiences of inequity are standardized, made commensurate and translated into graphs and numbers. Based on conversations with a number of PISA and other statisticians and on published analyses, I examine how sameness and difference are constructed and measured in PISA measures of equity, and some of the slippages that may occur in the process, with significant policy implications. Using examples from PISA, I argue that while statistical comparisons can provide useful information, the quest for precision might sometimes sacrifice meaning and usefulness of the data. I speculate about the gaps between theoretical, statistical and empirical understandings of equity, and question how we might think about and across these gaps.
Following Stengers (2011, p. 5), I argue that by pretending that statistical processes are disinterested and objective, we give up the possibility of debating them and collectively involving ourselves in their construction. Instead of routinely applying comparative methodologies to produce banal data, I propose that we should turn measurements of equity from ‘matters of fact’ to ‘matters of concern’ (Latour, 2004) and pursue some of the suggestions put forward as alternative approaches to comparison by several critics including Isabelle Stengers (active and interested comparison); Helen Verran (participant observation and comparison as ‘momentous’) and Sheila Jasanoff (comparisons of ‘civic epistemologies’), and explore how we might engage in more interesting and more policy relevant exercises.
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