Early last year the New Internationalist published an interesting analysis, by Adam Unwin and John Yandell, on the development of international testing in education and how the process has afforded interventions for profit into new markets by large corporations.
Entitled PISA-envy, Pearson and Starbucks-style Schools, the Unwin and Yandell argument looks at how the intense focus on test scores is a vital, and neccesary, element ‘…in the neoliberal vision of education‘.
Since 2000, they argue, more and mores countries have engaged with the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, which are administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
‘PISA-envy inspires governments to look to higher-performing countries for solutions, ways of addressing their own schools’ perceived shortcomings’.
Panic develops, they argue, when educational entities begin to slide down the league tables created by an essentially competitive system. Whether in Singapore or Maryland, the contextual landscape, for both learner and institution is rendered redundant, they argue.
‘This is a pretty daft way of developing education policy….’
The authors do recognise that PISA has and is changing however. For 2018, PISA contracts are being awarded to the global conglomerate Pearson. Their critique is rendered at Pearson, who, as a body corporate operating for profit, are influencing educational policy and providing solutions for the problems it ‘recognises’. Thereby fostering the self created conveyor belt of continuous cash.
The article authors dwell on the role of Sir Michael Barber, a Blairite adviser, who developed an uncompromising, outcomes-focused market-based approach to public policy.
The article authors argue that an out of the box, vertically measured, performance driven system, that assumes the vast superiority of private entrepreneurship and solution creation of perceived ‘problems’ in education, is the apotheosis of the neo-liberal project.
In summary, Unwin and Yandell state that if…
… education is a commodity, deliverable with the aid of scripted lessons and the rest of the paraphernalia of an ‘Academy-in-a-box’ and measurable through a few simple standardized tests, then there’s probably nothing to worry about.
If education is something else, however, then policy and practice may need to change to overcome this self-prescriptive solutions machine.