Veikkamo, J. (2022) Education Policy and Research: One Mind or Many – Whose Mind?

Author: Jarmo Veikkamo, PhD researcher, Doctoral Programme of School, Education, Society and Culture, University of Helsinki.

Education Policy and Research: One Mind or Many – Whose Mind?

In fall 2021 Education and Society -research community and University of Helsinki organized an
international lecture series with four lectures and one panel discussion. The series was labelled
“FuturEducation: Future Trajectories of Education and the Emergence of Precision Education
Governance” (FuturEducation n.d.). This essay will reflect on articles written by the lectures: Malin
Ideland, Sam Sellar, Gita Steiner-Khamsi and Deborah Youdell. In addition, I will try to enrich, not
necessary clarify, the complex issue of education governance, which was at the core of the
FuturEducation lecture series. I will focus on the discrepancies and biasedness existing in different
levels of planning and decision making. I will argue with the lectures that we need more
multidisciplinary research on education, but I also want to emphasize that more detailed and targeted
analyses is needed of the connections, policies and lobbing existing between different levels of
education governance and education service providers.

Developing science and understanding of learning processes

Research on education has been enriched by many new fields of science. This is pointed out in
Youdell´s and colleagues´ article (Youdell et al. 2020) in which they plea for “an open orientation to
transdisciplinary working in sociology of education and a metamorphosis of the concept of learning”
with “a critical biosocial approach to research on learning” (ibid. pp. 881–882). Transdisciplinary
approach in education research is a demand well justified, but how much has the concept of learning
changed, not to mention metamorphosized? The definition of learning for Dewey (1997, pp. 4–6, 44–
45) is essential for communities and shared beliefs to exist, but also for innovative actions to take
place. It is about adjusting to learner´s society (Harva 1965, p. 35; Rauste-von Wright et al. 2003, p.
51), which in turn with its economic and social structure – and in interaction – modifies the learner (Sawchuck 2003, p. xiii). These descriptions explain the objective of learning, what the learner
accomplishes when learning takes place. For me, these are solid definitions and applicable also today.
They are also in line with a more processual concept where learning starts from encoding, leads to
the storing of this encoded information and finally, to retrieval of this information (Eysenck & Keane
2005, p. 189).

For Youdell´s group (Youdell et al. 2020) the point of analyses are the processes and what happens
in learning under the influence of multiple forces (ibid. p. 886), thus a situational and processual
perspective. These researchers combine Barad´s (2007) and Deleuze and Guattari´s (2008) thinking
and infer that the forces, under which learning materializes, work in intra-action, not just in
interaction. Forces are overlapping in complex formation. (Youdell et al. 2020, pp. 882–883.) This
demand of multiplicity and transdisciplinarity is deduced from our present: from the existing
multitude of approaches on learning processes. Science has advanced greatly during the last century
and has created new fields of research, but it has also provided us with new research methods, which
are utilized in the field of education. But if we have new technologies applicable in the research of
education offering us richer understanding of learning as a process, or referring to Youdell et al.
(2020, p. 895) who see “learning as a phenomenon that is produced through the intra-action of”
different learning conceptions, does it follow that the concept of learning has metamorphosized? I
leave this question open.

One perspective for understanding changes in learning processes is to examine the thinking in late
19th and the early 20th century. We can see the fields of sociology, psychology and behaviorism
advancing, with writers like Comte, Marx, Weber, Freud, Piaget, Thorndike, Skinner and Vygotsky
as architects. Historico-transcendental totality, aspiration to uniform causality in history, could not
anymore explain the world (Foucault 1972, pp. 3 –14). Critical theory started gradually to demolish
the borders between disciplines when we started to realize that we do not understand this complicate
system called life (Norris 1989, pp. viii–ix). And research on education also started to become more
transdisciplinary (Harva 1965, pp. 20–23). Simultaneously, we witnessed the growth of basic
education in Europe and in North America as nations faced both the demands set by the growing
population and the requirements the business and the national economy had for work force. This
provoked first the interest to promote secondary and later the tertiary education.

The question of employment and workforce demands which were and still are difficult to predict,
came to the fore in social planning. So, more information was needed for the planning of the society
and sociologists started to use and collect statistics which could facilitate them in making future
estimates. Data from the field and research in the field became more dominant and not just for
academic purposes, but also for different practical objectives and demands in the society. Similarly,
we are experiencing utilization of advantages and innovations of different sectors of research in
education (see Youdell et al. 2020). Though, it sometimes seems that the research results the
sociologists, also economists, have produced, can and is used for many and sometimes contradictory
purposes as the decision makers´ minds are blurred with selection biases.

It is argued that power is in the numbers. They are easy to use and simple enough to understand.
Godin (2006) finds a link between politics, statistics, and concepts. Politics need to encapsulate
complicated goals to understandable format, but also to justify these goals with comprehensible
information. Godin argues that complex objectives are compressed into usable concepts, e.g.
knowledge-based economy, and justified with clear statistics. For statisticians this “practical value of
statistics” for administrative and decision-making purposes has been common knowledge for some
time (see Mitchell 1919, pp. 231–235). Examples of statistical indicators for measuring the
performance of knowledge-based economy are expenditure on education and economic growth
(OECD 1996, pp. 41–42). This stance with clarity is well manifested in the first Key Data on
Education report by European Union, where on one page two charts display the education expenditure
one as a proportion of GDP and other as a per capita in population (European Commission 1995, p.
56). The OECD policy strategy of steering with numbers is evident also in Europe (Steiner-Khamsi
2021, p. 4) and for example in Nordic countries the planning of future education is framed and
communicated by numbers derived both from national testing results and international large-scale
outcomes, but also from the resources allocated to education and changes in economic growth
(Hansen et al. 2021, pp. 865–866).

So, statistics can be and are used tendentiously to make politics. Youdell et al. (2020) raise a similar
kind of worry when they are assessing the use of bioscience in education research. Neuroscience can
provide us with specific data on neurological functions in (partly) natural learning situations, but even
though the significance of these functions in a complex learning process is still unclear, there is both
commercial and political tendency to utilize these research results in learning process design (ibid.
pp. 886–889). This critic needs to be taken seriously. How much value or validity should we give to
bioscience in education research, if we only understand about 10% of the brain activity? Obviously,
in education we do need research and results bioscience can offer, but the threat could be the over
emphasis of results that are gained from research based on mathematics and natural sciences, like
bioscience is. All this information can in a computed “algorithmic abstraction” become obvious and
obscure more complicated assumptions (Parisi 2016, p. 473).

This simplification or bias on easily adaptable information is not necessarily researchers´ fault, but
more of the decision makers. We know that also behaviorism was at one stage overvalued. Bioscience
is likely to offer package solutions for those who need them, just like economic data and statistics
does. And bioscience can become politics, planning, and design, when, like Addey and Gorur (2020)
explicate, the science community is recruited to work in a policy project and the data is transported,
selected, and manipulated in back-and-forth stages between the science and policy delegates. What
then are the risks of neuroscience and education combined? How are we going to secure that the
possible future application of learning devices with neuroconnection to humans will not break the
barrier of security and provide somebody somewhere opportunity to influence learning process in a
hidden and uncontrolled means possible with questionable substance? In their research Clouter et al.
(2017) observed that episodic memories are mostly based on multisensory impulses collected from
different brain areas with specific time frames (Youdell et al. 2020, p. 888). Episodic memories were
effectively manipulated when, between visual and auditory stimuli only slight theta phase asynchrony
stimulus unobserved by the test persons, was administered to these persons (Clouter et al. 2017).

Episodic memory is about remembering events, but similarly to other memory system it is not
independent, but instead operates in connection to other memory systems (Eysenck & Keane 2005,
pp. 233–239). But as episodic memory is formed from mental footprints from the lived episode, it
also contains footprints from other earlier episodes, thus forming a “dynamic replay of spatiotemporal
trajectories” (Hasselmo 2012, pp. 1–2). Dokic (2014) argues that episodic memory consists of two
psychic states of which the first-order memory is the actual memory of an episode and the episodic
feeling of knowing is the metacognitive state based on feelings of knowing. Episodic feeling of
knowing will with the help of personal cues reflect to a person the information that this episode is
one personal earlier experience, but what is more, the metacognitive mechanism can also misfire and
create false episodic memories. This makes episodic memory in the future a seductive target for
manipulation possibly via varied brain areas and memory systems. It is important to understand that
even though actual event or episode happens only once, it is still relived, re-experienced and likely to
be retrieved to memory in a new form. Is politics ready to accept possible handicaps or dangers
involved in using neuroscience applications in teaching for example by manipulating selected brain
areas? Is there a tendency for quick fixes instead of estimations and planning covering long-term
future scenarios? Holli and Turkka (2021, p. 73) comment that the growing government influence in
knowledge production results to a research emphasizing perspectives favored by the state and limiting
alternative research objectives.

One mind or many

The aforementioned time frame challenges in planning, long-term or short-term, brings us to the
decision-making landscape where time is a limited resource. Time for planning and design and time
for preparing and producing. Speed and fluency are possible to obtain with sound arguments. Steiner-
Khamsi (2021, pp. 1–4) argues that referencing in documents has become more common the more
influential the evidence-based policy planning and selective selection of evidence/references has
developed. Based on her bibliometric analysis, Steiner-Khamsi points out that in policy documents
the referenced authors tend to express similar ideas with the referencing policy document, while
policy documents also have tendency to offer solutions vouched with the references. Obviously, this
like-mindedness in referencing is also observable in science articles and documents. This also relates
to funding in scientific research, of which there exists a severe competition. As we return to the wish
expressed by Youdell et all. (2020) for a more transdisciplinary process of research in sociology of
education, we can ask who decides the big lines of the research projects and where does the money
come from? Research funding institutions have their own specific research fields that they want to
support, and this focus is easily challenged by multidisciplinary applicants and unfortunately likely
to result in a negative funding result. Some of the funders, e.g. foundations, are forced to follow the
orders or stipulations regulating their action, but some, like Academy of Finland (n.d.) have different
changing “thematic, target-oriented and coordinated research programmes” lasting at least four years.
One can ask if the research fields and goals set by the funders steers the applicants in application
formation, and thus also in the actual research work?

Yet, in multidisciplinary setting the openness is the key for productive research (Youdell et al. 2020,
pp. 889–890, 895–896), which is to some extent in contradiction with the institutional funding
structure and policy targeted for specific research areas. Also, documents are validated with
references considered having “authoritative status” of which one widely used is OECD (Steiner-
Khamsi 2021, p. 2), which is assessed to govern by data and “consensual, subjective knowledge”
(Kallo 2009, pp. 61–64, 358–359). This fabrication of information for the purpose of promoting
politics is well unveiled by Candido et al. (2020) in their analysis of OECD´s PISA policy in China
during PISA rounds for results in 2009 and 2012 where the national esteem of Chinese education was
created by restricting the collection of PISA data to Shanghai, top education area in the country. So,
we can assume that the way authors with their documents identify to a particular concept of
authoritativeness, these authors also link themselves to the same authority groups and indicate their
position in a particular field of research or in a field in politics. This connection can also be either
psychological or financial or both.

Scandinavian welfare states offer an interesting field of a referencing policy and of openness. One
of the bases in these countries welfare policy systems have been equality and thus the aspiration to
equal opportunities in education, in addition to which they also have comparable comprehensive
school systems (Hansen et al. 2021, pp. 861–862). Also, the welfare state ideology typical in Nordic
countries is transforming to a narrative favoring the ideology of knowledge economy, marketization,
and differentiation of school profiles (Dovemark et al. 2018). Varjo and Kalalahti (2019) argue that
in Finland the idea of school choice linked to the right of schools to offer teaching in special subjects
like music, sports, and languages, which is partly a demand expressed by the parents, creates tension
among the local education administrators in comprehensive education system. This is because the
school authorities have to struggle between different goals like offering enough alternatives to pupils
and their parents, which then would keep both satisfied to the services of the local school, trying to
offer equal opportunities and choices in education for everybody in the municipality or to improve
the situation in under-achieving schools. All this while managing school costs and preventing pupils
from moving to private schools or to schools in other municipalities. This has created “a moderately
endogenously marketised and highly devolved education system with regulated school choice
policies”, where the municipal authorities use a wide set of data collected by themselves or by outside
organizations for administrative purposes and which data is partly not published even to parents or to
the political level of education governance. Varjo and Kalalahti also comment, that the lack of public
information is likely to give room for rumors and hearsays, that are in turn directing decisions about
school choices.

Based on Steiner-Khamsi (2021, pp. 13–14) the policies in Nordic countries stand for transparency
in public administration, but in contradiction to this principle the level of participants from different
stakeholder groups in different policy planning groups has been decreasing, more private knowledge
providers are attached to the planning resulting in increasing data production and the emphasis shift
from the goal of getting valid evidence to the aim of promoting research focusing on policy-relevance.
In Finland the ad hoc committee system with a long history and members nominated by the
government, and mostly from different interest groups, was liquidated in 2003. What followed was
partial outsourcing of policy planning, less academic participation, and more marketization. (Holli &
Turkka 2021.) Weingart and Lensch (2008, pp. 53–54) emphasize the risks involved in the dual
structure of science-based policy steering concept when policy recommendations are coming from
consulting institutions. For a consulting institution this dualism means either a commitment to science
or to politics because both with equal terms is not possible. But Weingart and Lensch remind us that
consultants can react to the demands and changes in the policy field and beat the odds by changing
their focus and thus secure their funding and business. This leads to a position where the consultants
can be exploited by political stakeholders or the consulting institutions might even be upgraded to a
scientific research institution. But, also in the state organized corporatist committees the researcher
members can act both as knowledge providers and decision makers (Holli & Turkka 2021, p. 59).

The reduction of researcher members in the Finnish public government organized planning groups,
stronger governmental steering and the increasing level of unofficial consulting might indicate that
the role of a researcher has shifted to a consultative mode and is separated from the policy making
status in the planning group. Government knowledge production in Finland is becoming more
controlled and build on assignments with guidelines of presupposed policy suggestions. (Holli &
Turkka 2021, pp. 70–72). Though, it is not untypical in decision making processes that the decision
to be made is already “constructed” and integrated to the planning phase (Steiner-Khamsi 2010, pp.
336–337). In state level policy formation – or maybe rather political government level policy
formation in cases where the government is organizing the planning groups and their agenda – part
of the decision making is shifted under the power of the consulting institutions or outsourced service
providers. This development is already reality in Sweden (see Ideland et al. 2021).

Artificial intelligence and abduction

The outsourcing and marketization in education and in the public sector in general is presently facing
a new ally: artificial intelligence. Digitalized technology is taking leaps to the form of artificial
intelligence and this development is building up new cognitive infrastructures and changing the
functions of education policy (Sellar & Gulson 2021). Gulson and Sellar (2019, pp. 360–361) argue
that the increasing need for information in education policy design and in performance measuring has
created markets for private companies specialized in data management technologies in internet
environment. This development has absorbed technology companies into the sector of education
planning and governance. Gulson and Seller point out that this is leading to a structural setting where
the technology companies are reacting to technological needs in education environment, offering
solutions, and gradually navigating the development with solutions, which exclude alternatives. It is
possible, that this influence from the technology companies is likely to be stronger the more privatized
and scattered the education system is, because it could denote an unbalanced customer relationship:
a small school and a big company. Gulson and Sellar (ibid. p. 362) emphasize the spaciality or “policy
topology” of these new structures, how they create new information and new methods for analyses,
influence thinking and disturb the border between public and private.

With the flow of digitalization and computerized applications our deduction is becoming
increasingly automated and deductive reasoning is being confronted or replaced by abduction (Parisi
2016). Parisi reminds us that the binary structure in computer information has limitations, which
results in a setting where some share of the information is not possible to code in a computable format.
What follows is that “[i]ncomputable states will proliferate and axiomatic truths will turn into
undecidable propositions” while these existing incomputabilities are concurrently influencing the
received information. Automated reasoning and machine learning are developed in “experimental
procedures” and the knowledge formation also actualizes in these processes. Parisi refers to Charles
S. Peirce´s thinking of referential reasoning and argues that there is a processual link between
theoretical and instrumental thinking, where one method is abductive. (Ibid. pp. 471–472.)

For Paavola (2006, pp. 32–33; 39–43) the concept of abduction in Peirce´s theory of reasoning refers
to “a weak form of inference” where instincts, perceptions and even guessing play an important part.
Abduction for Peirce is the first phase in a methodological process of inquiry and the phase where
hypothesis and useful ideas are generated. After abduction the hypothesis are explained in the
deduction phase and then tested in the induction phase. Parisi (2016, pp. 478–480) sees abduction as
a continuous process where order in understanding is pursued in the middle of multiplicity of
information. But in Parisi´s thinking, like in Paavola´s, order denotes to adequate understanding or
solution, not, as Parisi emphasizes, to a perfect alternative. And this logic in abduction, in Parisi´s
thinking, could able us to conceive the potential of “computational dynamics” in revealing some of
the possible and plausible alternatives from the unlimited information space. For Parisi abduction “is
a dynamic system of inference, whereby rules are conditioned by contingency, constrained by
material levels of randomness” and thus makes it a useful method for reasoning automated
information processing. But for Paavola (2007) abduction is a theoretical approach for analyzing
human cognition and innovative processes.

Relevant from the multidisciplinary, decentralization and outsourcing perspectives dealt in this
essay, is innovativeness and creativeness, both strong policy objectives. People can utilize discreet
information in their reasoning processes, but they are also biased and have tendency for alternatives
favoring their presumptions and offering benefit; ergo “attractive” options (Paavola 2007, p. 26). It
is reasonable to understand that we do not reason in a vacuum, but instead are doing reasoning in the
middle of impulses and information in a relational position both receiving and sending alternative
ideas (see ibid. p. 27). For Paavola abduction enables social nature in humans because it allows us to
perceive alternatives and supplies us with different options (ibid. p. 28).

Outsourcing and marketization

General compulsory education in Finland has traditionally been provided by the public authorities:
state has funded and steered the municipalities in schooling and the municipalities have organized
schooling. Sweden has similar history, but the present is different. Ideland et al. (2021) illustrate how
the policy shift from public to private production of compulsory education became reality in Sweden.
It could be described as a government led privatization project, where the goal was to manage public
critic, modernize schools and limit the growth of expenses in education. Ideland et al. (2021, pp. 85–
86) describe how state-run school system started to face growing criticism in 1980s and 1990s and
was considered unable to meet modern demands of individual choices and entrepreneurial
philosophy. This led to reforms in 1990s, where the centralized system was abolished by moving the
governance of the schools to municipalities and schools and establishing the right for school choice.
Sweden established publicly funded voucher system and this together with the right for school choice,
either public or private, created competition between schools and municipalities, but also broadened
the private sector services in education. Figures collected by Swedish Association of Independent
Schools (Friskolornas riksförbund n.d., pp. 1–2) from Statistics Sweden (Skolverket 2020) show at
least approximately that from the turn of the century the share of students in mostly publicly funded
but privately administered schools (friskola) from preschool to general upper secondary level has
sharply increased and in 2020 the share of private schools was 26% offering education to 19% of all
children and pupil. But 29% of the students in general upper secondary education (gymnasieskola)
were in privately run schools.

Ideland et al. (2021, p. 86) promote the concept of Public-Private Partnerships PPPs, which in their
definition means “a cooperative arrangement and understanding between public and private sector
actors in a specific field, such as education, in which actors cooperatively develop not only services
and products but also discourses and activities”. For Cui et al (2018, p. 773) PPP is a method for
enhancing “the economic value of infrastructure outputs” in public sector. What is relevant in Ideland
et al. (2021, pp. 86–87) definition is the focus on “discourses and activities”, to the structures and
“epistemic values” by and through which we think. This conception and structural setting of wide
arrays produced in mixed decentralized public-private constellations is likely to blur the lines of
liability between participants, but also the value this setting produces to the state, to a municipality,
school or individual. And, like Ideland et al. (2021, p. 87) point out, it obscures “what happens beyond
politically organized school reforms”.

Research-based education planning is in Sweden and in Finland the official basis for reforms. Based
on Ideland et al. (2021, pp. 90–92) in Sweden this idea of “research-based” pervaded to teacher
education and to the teacher quality demands. This in turn generated interest among the private sector
operators to produce and sell among other things development programmes for teachers. The
questionable thing in this development and an important finding by Ideland´s group was that one
company Arete Meritering build their teacher development program as an answer to the criticism
presented in policy documents and in media. We can say that Arete Meritering was sensitive to market
demands or that the programmes it offered were “a business materialization of the policy reform”
(ibid. pp. 91–92). This observation is in accordance with the above presented arguments by Weingart
and Lensch (2018) and Holli and Turkka (2021). With some provocation this could be described as a
process where the outside consulting inhales customer determined problems and exhales customer
convenient solutions. In Arete Meritering´s programmes, in Sweden, difficult issues in education,
which are addressing policies or philosophical and sociological perspectives are silenced as the
company offers solutions, which can be found in the classroom level and which are presented with
an optimistic tone (Ideland et al. 2021, pp. 92, 96–97).

One example of silencing issues could be the challenges immigrant children are facing in schools.
It is a challenge also in Finland, but understandably a much more severe in Sweden, where 19,7% of
the population in 2020 were born outside the country (Statistiska centralbyrån 2021) comparing to
Finland with 7,6% (Tilastokeskus n.d.). But, for example in Finland 2% of new general upper
secondary level students (thus underrepresentation if compared to 7,6%) in 2017 came from families
where parents´ education was lower than post-comprehensive level and half of these students´ native
language was other than one of the official languages in Finland (Finnish, Swedish or Sami). Also,
10% of those entering initial vocational education (thus overrepresentation if compared to 7,6%)
came from families where the parents´ education was under post-comprehensive level and the
students´ native language was other than official Finnish language. (Official Statistics of Finland
2019.) These figures show how the level of parents´ education and the language spoken at home
influences immigrant youths´ educational trajectories. Research has shown that the challenges these
students are facing are many and unique, starting from longer study times, interruptions in schooling,
and also, difficulties in general upper secondary level education, where good language skills are
needed (Jahnukainen et al. 2018). And yet the attitude on education among immigrant-origin youths
in Finland seems to be more positive than among Finnish-origin youths, even though the former group
has faced more challenges during they studies (Kalalahti et al. 2017). Also, presently in Finland the
resources targeted to educational support in general upper secondary schools are scant (Niemi &
Laaksonen 2020). The situation of immigrant youths in education is a complex sociological, cultural,
political, and economic issue covering the whole society, and I would also argue, impossible to
modify as a productive business unless we accept a service presented with a positive tone and offering
a simple solution. Of course, this would not solve our problems.

Interestingly, Hansen et al. (2021) in their research on “The Future School” -reports published by
Nordic countries, show that these official policy documents observe the future education through four
temporal topologies (numbers, adaptivity, technological development and child well-being), but
based on the article immigration is not mentioned. Authors´ analysis of the topology of child wellbeing
on the other hand explicates how this issue of child well-being is structured to a mental and
physical health issue, basis for educational and social success or good life (ibid. pp. 868–869). Ideland
et al. (2021, pp. 96–97) suggest that edupreneurs´ “happy language” bypasses issues which are
considered not important by private companies, but because these issues are neglected, they become
issues that need to be addressed and analyzed. This is because the “happy language” built as a reaction
to education critics in media amplifies both the presence of a supposed problem and a supposed
solution, thus keeping the issue on the agenda and business on going. This evidently vindicates the
importance of multidisciplinary research approach, because if there is something that is omitted and
not visible, then that something to be unveiled and analyzed, necessitates wide knowledge from
different sectors of society and research fields. With this ambivalence between “happy language” and
actual problems the concept “policy bilingualism” by Steiner-Khamsi (2010, pp. 331–332) is
applicable. Even though it refers to policies, where international funding and attached reform
demands together with even contradictory local policy goals are forming policies, it highlights the
policy formation, where mixed goals in a biased process are compressed to policies forming

An ultimate example of dramatic consequences following outsourcing of public duties to private
companies is available from the experiences of the United States Army in Afghanistan. American,
Afghan and international companies operating as U.S. Army subcontractors were estimated ten years
ago, based on information by The Associated Press, to have paid 360 million dollars to criminals and
to the Taliban as bribes or by wheeling and dealing (Riechmann & Lardner 2011). According to
Hartung (2021) this has been going on in Afghanistan till the withdrawal of U.S. Military from
Afghanistan this year. In his report Hartung argues that reasons for expensive and unsuccessful wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan has been the high level of outside contractors in the war zone. These
companies together with arms suppliers have had close connections with political and army leaders
and this is well manifested with revolving door phenomenon, where people are recruited from
political or army sector to companies providing services and material to the army, but also recruitment
taking place on opposite direction. But in addition, contractors have strongly influenced the decision
making in military sector with active lobbying, funding of politicians and think tanks. Also,
outsourcing of services has created an ambiance of degrading transparency and accountability. All
this, Hartung argues, has endangered operations, and caused severe human casualties and economic


Policy-borrowing can work as a way of finding compromises between opposing groups, but for less
developed countries it is also an economic issue and will go on provided, that there is foreign funding
available (Steiner-Khamsi 2010, pp. 324–325). So, the process of reforming education is endangered
when the funding stops. The situation in Swedish compulsory education where the share of private
education providers is growing has created to some extent a similar, but different stalemate situation.
The public education system has the money, but the system has only limited options when choosing
the service providers. Selection favoring more public production is also likely to lead to the growth
of infrastructure investments and more public spending. But favoring private sector would lead to the
mercy of business.

Clearly, in a war zone situation described by Hartung (2021), knowledge management and
knowledge-based decision making are also endangered. For Sellar and Gulson (2021, p. 311) the goal
in “information centric” approach is to collect and analyze data not only for a need to solve a particular
problem, but also to make this data an integral part of the information available in the organization,
and something to facilitate the learning in the organization. This goal of optimizing information usage
will be hampered in an organization where even the basic data is biased. War in Afghanistan is not
education in Nordic countries, but both are actions formed by human behavior, and influenced by
different stakeholder motives, objectives, and rationalities. Hartung´s (2021, p. 1) critic on “corporate
beneficiaries” in a war zone are applicable also on Nordic education sector, as it “raises multiple
questions of accountability, transparency, and effectiveness”. Precise analyses are needed to disclose
the connections, policies, lobbing, and partiality existing between different levels of education
governance and education service providers.

Steiner-Khamsi (2010, pp. 327–328) reminds us that dissemination of educational reform ideas
globally depends on where the people promoting reforms are “geographically and institutionally, and
how well they are globally networked”. This is important to account and reminds us that simply
explaining something as a result of politi, which is contaminated by neoliberal ideology, offers no
cues of the dynamics and contingency prevailing in different education systems. Always when
concepts like freedom of choice and competitiveness are combined, one is dealing with concepts
general enough to become obscure, but still undeniably self-evident and categorically unchallenged,
and likely to create polarized thinking where the former works as a vehicle of emancipation and the
latter as a truism par excellence. People who make decisions are, like the rest of us, constantly learning
and forming personal beliefs and rationalities, which are in many contexts influenced by their
subjective interests, but also by different actors with their agendas. So, what we need is theories,
research, openness, and trust. This signifies constant criticism on theories, research, and policies, but
sometimes also on decision makers. Also, we need to combine different approaches, and we need to
express willingness to take scientific risks to achieve potential paradigmatic leaps. All this in a
respective scientific and social environment.


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