Future Trajectories of Education in Uncertain Times

Text: Sanna Toiviainen

AGORA and FuturEd project together with the Helsinki University Department of Education and Education and society research network organized a two-day international event to discuss some of the on-going and future changes in education, 23–24 September 2019.

What is Precision Education?

Kristiina Brunila setting the scene of the event by talking about precision education governance.           Caption: Venla Järvensivu

After Dean Johanna Mäkelä had opened the event by underlining the importance of looking at educational policies and practices through critical lenses, professor Kristiina Brunila outlined the focus of the following days with an introduction to precision education governance (PEG).

Precision education promotes the idea that human subjects are no longer defined by cultural and societal aspects, but as distributed cognitive systems with human, biological, technical and profitable components. Marketization and privatization, digitalization and datafication, psychologization and neurologization of education has brought new actors, new paradigms, and new ideas of knowledge, various services and products, and changing cultures and practices in education which all point towards a new engineering of learning.

In these knowledge regimes and practices children and youth are being positioned as objects for psy-knowledge, psycho-emotional interventions, neurotechnologies and plasticity programming. What is important for scholars in education, is to conduct critical research about the consequences of outsourcing essential parts of education into a private market, with new stakeholders and new paradigms.

Global changes and  educational ‘futures’

Fazal Rizvi discusses changes in education in a global context.  Caption: Venla Järvensivu

Professor Fazal Rizvi in his talk focused on global transformations and how these reflect educational futures thinking. Currently, a common global ethos concerning the future of education is in a sense of crisis in education, created by pressures to adapt to social forces. Educational values are no longer considered on their own terms but have become derivative of neoliberal economic thinking. In the desired future, according to policy texts, education is to meet the needs of the accelerating and rapidly changing global economy, satisfy the requirements of the labour market, meet the rapid growth in demand for education and align education to developments of technology and distributed processes of knowledge production and dissemination. Professor Rizvi talked about educational futures in the plural, referring to the existence of a multiplicity of ways for imagining the future. These ways of thinking about the future are possible, even if one of them might take the dominant position. Neoliberal discourses imagine only one future of education, but these imaginaries can be transformed through collective political agency.

From education towards science of learning

Ben Williamson talking about datafication in education.          Caption: Venla Järvensivu

Dr. Ben Williamson from the University of Edinburgh talked about how data-intensive technologies, neuroscience, genetic sciences and bioinformatics are reformulating the idea of education toward that of precision education. New psychological and neuroscientific theories and genetic science are reshaping the understandings of learning and have also begun to animate ed-tech development. Organizations with expertise in algorithmic systems are becoming new legitimized authorities in diverse educational matters. Commentator Associate professor Nelli Piattoeva reminded us that educational sociologists and governance researchers need to become interested in the digitalization and technologization of education. She called for more research on the sociology of edu-technologization.

Edu-technologies and the new subjectivies of teachers and students

Malin Ideland talked about edu-technologies and their re-structuring impact on teacher and student subjectivities. Caption: Venla Järvensivu

Professor Malin Ideland from the University of Malmö in her presentation “Google and the end of the teacher?” talked about an ongoing research project on edu-preneurs. She described the new cultural figurations of a teacher, the “googlified” teacher, which is also becoming a normative and more-than-a-discourse inscription concerning the teacher’s role and activities. The rise of a playful, fun, flexible, innovative, collaborative, engaging, anytime, anywhere, creative, dreaming, innovative learner – the new “googlified” teacher – is also de-politizing the idea of education. The new image of the teacher also offers an idea of education which is personalized, individualized, tailored and atomized. What is missing when the aim of education is seen only through individualized learning outcomes? What are the alternatives? How can we think about school, which is also about participatory practices, community building and social fostering? Professor Ideland concluded that there is a need for a profound discussion about the values and meaning of education. Education is more than individual learning outcomes constituting the flexible worker-citizen; it is also about learning to be in a community and becoming socialized into a democratic society.

Impacts of privatisation on early childhood education

Jaana Pesonen and Satu Valkonen mapping out the impacts of privatisation on early childhood education in Finland.                     Caption: Venla Järvensivu

Dr. Satu Valkonen and Dr. Jaana Pesonen presented their ongoing research on privatization and marketisation of early childhood education and care in Finland.

Private companies have already established a strong position in early childhood education in Finland. The right to make profit through early childhood education has led to significant changes and variability in the quality and equality of provision of early childhood education and care services. In many ways, the priority of the child’s best interest, as emphasized in Law on Early Childhood Education, is jeopardized.

Messages to take home

The two-day event with its different critical views on the ongoing changes in education was an eye-opener in many ways: it made clear that there is a need to scrutinize and problematize current processes of privatization, edu-technologization and learnification which are changing the ways we think about education. One aim of the FuturEd project is also to pay attention to the counterpolitics of precision education, which also means keeping our eyes open for the different forms of the political agency of children, young people and professionals. Democratic education can also be intentionally developed as a form of counterpolitics for precision education governance.