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When Politics, Philosophy, and Economics Collide in Education

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Politics, Philosophy and Economics is a fine old degree, and one I sometimes wish I’d tackled. I did get to wondering what the Politics, Philosophy and Economics of learning might be. What would your version be?

On the Politics side, I’d like to extend franchise. All students should be allowed to vote on education matters, or at very least have their voice heard and influence felt. When we wring our hands and wonder about the skills and knowledge needed for today and tomorrow, I am inclined to think a good start would be to ask our students what they think. A further step would be to have them spend the summer (or just a few days) reflecting on what they would choose as skills and knowledge for today and tomorrow and come back return to share and discuss their ideas.

Of course politics is often full of ideas, sometimes resulting in policies that are barely implementable. So it won’t be enough to have our students sharing ideas – I’d also be delighted if they thought through how best to implement their proposals.

Might this help learning in some way?

The OECD TALIS report launched in 2014 highlighted that,

when teachers have a say in how their school functions, they also tend to express higher levels of self-efficacy.  In 20 countries, teachers who agree that staff at their school are given opportunities to participate in decision making report greater self-efficacy.”

Could it be that the same is true for students – I suspect it might be.

So this is really something for both teachers and students. Organize education so that both groups are agents rather than objects. Teachers as the agents of change and student as agents in their own learning and I think we’d be on to something.

Moving on to what might loosely be thought of as Philosophy. When we manage people we seem to wish to ensure that all of their time is used up in what we are managing them to do. The same is often true with the way that curricula are organized. How about we leave space and time for teachers’ and students’ creativity to be more fully engaged and employed.  Such a step requires trust in students and in teachers.

Trust and responsibility are tied up together. I don’t know about your experience of such approaches. Mine is that that the more you take responsibility away, the less responsible people become. Share responsibility and it grows. Nancy Foy’s networks law captures something of this sentiment – the law is “The effectiveness of a network is inversely proportionate to its formality” – in other words if the quality of individuals and their commitment to the cause is strong, formality can be reduced as people do what they’re driven to do rather than following a rule book.

Technology seems to have helped to develop the importance of networks, communities and movements, understanding how these work and engaging them to improve education and learning seems to be a reasonable course to investigate and follow.

And so to Economics.

Innovation in education sometimes falters when people reflect that they may be taking unreasonable risks with children’s futures. Quite right too – everything though hinges on the world unreasonable. Reflecting on the World Bank/International Labour Organisation figures for Youth Unemployment should also make us wonder whether carrying on in the same way is reasonable.

Generally, levels of unemployment for 15-24 year olds are some 3 times those of older adults. Many countries have more than 25%  of 15-24 year olds unemployed and some over 50%. While education is not all about employment, it seems to me that when there appears to be an extraordinary gap between the two, something isn’t quite right. Indeed, perhaps we should be focusing hard on innovation in education to help address this change. Just doing more of the same, doesn’t seem to be helping and may a greater risk than innovating.

As the OECD’s Skills Outlook 2015 (Youth, Skills and Employability) states “the transition from school to work has never been particularly easy; but for millions of young people in OECD countries it has become nearly impossible.”  Surely this is a reason to re-consider how we, in education can at least help – by paying closer attention to the development of skills and behaviours that not only help in work, but often help in life in general.

While I am sure many good things are being done, we also must look at how work is today, and is likely to be tomorrow. The skills and behaviours needed for today and tomorrow are surely different from those needed in times past – are we sure that in education we are preparing at least for the world today, and better still for our futures?

While those are some of my reflections on the Politics, Philosophy and Economics for learning, I realize that every context will be different, and I’d be pleased to learn about yours.



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