Post-Truth Schooling and Marketized Education: Explaining the Decline in Swedens School Quality
Magnus Henrekson and Johan Wennström
August 9, 2018
Bijdrage van 46 paginas over de nefaste gevolgen van de socio-constructivistische hervorming/ontscholing van het Zweeds onderwijs die ertoe leidde dat Zweden een van de zwakst prestererende landen werd voor PISA en TIMSS
In de context van de nieuwe eindtermen en leerplannen van de jaren 1990 (b.v. Uitgangspunten eindtermen 1996) en in tal van recente rapporten over de toekomst van het Vlaams onderwijs en over de nieuwe eindtermen werd/wordt zon nefate socio-constructivistische hervorming/ontscholing gepropageerd. Ook de inspectie, de DVO, tal van onderwijskundigen
deden hier de voorbije decennia duchtig aan mee.
Enkele passages uit lijvige bijdrage & histotische schets van de ontscholing van het Zweeds onderwijs
We starten met Concluding Discussion
What students do in school and how they react to their experiences during that time predicts long-term life outcomes above and beyond family background, broad traits, and cognitive ability (Spengler et al., 2018). Hence, it is essential that schools be as good as possible and impart the knowledge and skills that are critical for individuals and, ultimately, society. The structures, techniques, and methods that are crucial for efficient knowledge acquisition and skill development are well established.
The most critical factor for pupil achievementeven more important than teacher qualityis a detailed, coherent and carefully sequenced curriculum organized around subject disciplines. Indeed, a better curriculum can range from being slightly to dramatically more effective than a better teacher (Hirsch, 2016, p. 39).
Furthermore, guidance and repetition are necessary for knowledge to be implanted in long-term memory and not overload the working memory, creating frustration and disruptive behavior (Ingvar, 2017).
Teacher-centered direct instruction has been found to be the most effective method for achieving this outcome (Hattie, 2009; Kirschner et al., 2006).
Similarly, reading and math skills need to become automated for pupils to become proficient in using these tools. However, because strong reading skills and cross-topic reading comprehension presuppose domain-specific knowledge (Recht & Leslie, 1988; Willingham, 2009), a well-rounded and knowledge-oriented education is the basis for proficiency. The same is true of the development of other vital skills, such as critical thinking (Willingham, 2010) and problem-solving (Larkin et al., 1980; Simon & Chase, 1973) skills.
Moreover, the psychosocial environment in the classroom plays an important role. A lack of structure and peace causes pupils survival instincts to react to perceived dangers and crowds out cognitive capacity for knowledge acquisition (Ingvar, 2017).58 Testing and stringent and consistent grading are other preconditions for learning (Betts & Grogger, 2003; Bonnesrönning, 2004; Brown et al., 2014; Figlio & Lucas, 2004).
This pioneering analysis of the consequences of combining institutionalized social constructivism with extensive marketization of education has demonstrated that the Swedish school system adheres to a different philosophy regarding the goal of education and uses different methods in schools.
Nurture and the development of the childs personality are considered the primary purposes of schooling.
Starting in the early postwar period, official documents including the national curriculum began to call the very existence of objective knowledge into question. This process culminated with the 1994 and 2011 national curricula, which both assert that knowledge is socially constructed, emanating from within the individual, and therefore cannot be transmitted from teacher to pupil through direct instruction.
Instead, self-directed learning became the norm not only in theory but also in practice. Measurement of knowledge attainment was discouraged and, paradoxically, was even more discouraged when the education system was opened to competition from private schools in the early 1990s.
We argue that the broader problems of the school system explored in this study are to no small extent a result of this view of knowledge and the ensuing pedagogy.
It is unsurprising that a large number of teachers find their job unsatisfactory and want to leave their profession when subject knowledge is secondary and the governing documents confer extensive influence to pupils and parents regarding content and planning.
Teachertraining students are also not offered training in how to instruct pupils, likely causing worry about not being able to master the job and leading many to drop out of teacher-training programs. The fact that the academic component of teachers work has gradually given way to social responsibilities has likely contributed to the declining status of the teaching profession and a resultant decline in the quality of applicants
The falling results in international comparative assessments are consistent with the fact that pupils are left to discover knowledge on their own instead of benefitting from being taught according to what have proven to be the most effective methods. It is also logical that school competition takes place in dimensions other than educational quality if, in effect, there is no common core of knowledge that all pupils are required to learn and assessment is left to teachers, who are not provided with an external measuring rod to ascertain the validity of their grading.
The sharp rise in absenteeism, ADHD diagnoses, depression, and anxiety among Swedish pupils is not unexpected in a learning environment that continuously overloads the pupils working memory, as they have to piece together information on their own.
Supporting evidence for the view that the postmodern, social-constructivist paradigm has contributed to the increase in psychiatric disorders among Swedish adolescents comes from Québec. Haeck, Lefebvre, and Merrigan (2014) found that hyperactivity, anxiety, and physical aggression increased among Québecois pupils relative to pupils in the rest of Canada following a school reform in Québec in the early 2000s that was similar to the Swedish reforms. Sketching an alternative paradigm is outside the scope of this study. However, based on this account, it should be clear that the broader problems of the Swedish school system are likely not intractable and that a reform strategy including a paradigm shift in the view of truth and knowledge has the potential to yield radical improvement.
Evolutie van curricula vanaf 1994
The 1994 National Curriculum At least two factors made the 1994 curriculum stand out from its predecessors. First, the curriculum did not include a prescribed content to be covered in the form of detailed course syllabi; it merely established a number of goals and objectives that it expected schools to concretize at the local level. One set of goals consisted of general aims that schools should strive for, mostly emphasizing the facilitation of critical thinking and selfdirected learning and the development of personal opinion, while another set of goals were content-specific objectives for the individual pupil (see pp. 9 10). Both sets of goals were unspecific and open to interpretation.
Some content-specific goals included masters basic mathematical thinking and can apply it in everyday life; is familiar with and comprehends basic terms and concepts within the natural science, technical, social science and humanities knowledge fields; and has deepened knowledge within a few subject areas of his/her choosing.
The second important feature of the 1994 curriculum and a precondition of the first feature was that it was based on an explicit social-constructivist view of truth and knowledge. In 1991, a committee consisting mostly of researchers in pedagogy and education was given the task of drafting the curriculum, and its final report emphasized what it considered the constructive and subjective nature of knowledge.
The report stated (SOU 1992:94, p. 63), what is knowledge in one place is not necessarily knowledge in other places.
In different kinds of societies, the content and form of knowledge are different. The report also claimed that there are no pure facts, only facts that take on meaning from what we can see or detect (p. 65). This view of knowledge was summarized as follows (p. 76; emphasis in original): Theoretical knowledge is not a reflection of the world, but a human construction to make the world manageable and comprehensible. Knowledge is hence not true or untrue but something that can be argued for and appraised.
Knowledge is up for discussion. To establish such a view of knowledge among the pupils, it is stated in the curriculum that the subjects should be given a historical dimension.
This means that knowledge should not merely be taught as set answers, free from a specific historical context, but as answers that have come about in specific contexts under specific circumstances and in specific ways. However, such detailed instructions were not included in the 1994 curriculum (Linell, 2007). 41 According to Linderoth (2016, p. 49), this report is a key text for anyone wishing to understand the development of the Swedish school system since the 1990s.
In line with these arguments, the report suggested that the selection of facts can vary locally and that not all pupils everywhere need to work with the same facts to reach a common understanding (p. 77).
The report recommended that schools not structure the content of education into different subjects at all in the early grades but to initially focus on sparking pupils curiosity and use the childrens questions as a starting point (p. 79). Indeed, what was most important in school was to facilitate the activity of knowing (kunskapande), which is a term for the idea of pupils as participants in a collaborative enterprise of constructing knowledge.
The report stressed that an integral part of schooling was allowing pupils to become involved in the processes that [knowledge] is an outcome of (p. 67) and insisted on the centrality of theorization and verbal communication to this work: Pupils need to be allowed to discuss a lot, be trained in expressing and formulating their views and appraising different arguments (p. 68).
An illustrative example was provided in a discussion on including the pupils media world, their knowledge and media interest in the content of education, in which it was suggested that pupils should learn to deconstruct the media, their messages and their ways of working (p. 98).
The 1994 curriculum was the first Swedish curriculum to include a discussion on the concept of knowledge (Wikforss, 2017). The curriculum stated (Swedish National Agency for Education, 1994, p. 8): The task of school to impart knowledge presupposes an active discussion in the individual school about knowledge concepts, what constitutes important knowledge today and in the future, and how knowledge develops. Different aspects of knowledge are natural starting points for such a discussion. Knowledge is not an unambiguous concept. Knowledge is expressed in different forms
which presuppose and interact with each other.
Schoolwork must focus on giving room for different forms of knowledge and learning in which these forms are balanced and become a whole for the individual pupil.
The curriculum also emphasized that pupils should assume successively greater responsibility for their learning (pp. 67): The structure of the learning environment shall be characterized by democratically determined learning processes and prepare pupils for active participation in civic life. It shall develop their ability to take personal responsibility.
By choosing courses and subjects and by taking part in the planning and evaluation of their daily learning, pupils will develop their ability to exercise influence and take responsibility. Ensuring that pupils would be given greater responsibility for and influence over the planning and content of their education was proclaimed to be the teachers main priority. He or she should assume that pupils are able and want to assume personal responsibility for their learning and their schoolwork (p. 14). In fact, the teachers official responsibilities were all concerned in one way or another with supporting self-directed learning and creating a democratic classroom environment. It is striking and indicative of the documents stance with regard to knowledge that there are no statements to the effect that he or she was expected to impart domainspecific knowledge to the pupils (see pp. 1214).
Hence, the 1994 curriculum transferred the responsibility for determining the content of and methods for elementary and secondary education from the state to individual schools and their pupils. This change was motivated in part by the decentralization reform at the beginning of the 1990s.43 However, the change was also due to the postmodern view of knowledge as subjective and locally constructed that was expressed in the curriculum committees report (SOU 1992:94).
Contrary to what had happened when new curricula were introduced in previous decades, the teaching methods used in schools gradually changed. The share of individual work during lessons increased from an average of 26 percent in the 1980s to 41 percent in the 2000s (Granström, 2003).
When the Swedish National Agency for Education asked 9th graders how often they worked individually in school in a 2003 survey, 50 percent of the respondents answered that they did so several times a day, which reflected an increase from 25 percent in the early 1990s (Swedish National Agency
In the corresponding paragraph in the official English translation of the 2011 national curriculum it is expressed as follows (p. 10): Democratic working forms should also be applied in practice and prepare pupils for active participation in the life of society. However, we find that an analogous direct translation from Swedish fails to convey the true meaning of the pronouncement.
In mathematics, 79 percent of the pupils reported working individually every, or almost every, lesson. These results added to an emerging image of an increasingly isolated and individualized education in which pupils are working in isolation from both the teacher and the other schoolchildren (Swedish National Agency for Education, 2004, p. 47).
In tandem with the 1994 curriculum, a new absolute grading system was enacted.
One of the systems defining features was that it eliminated the authority of centrally administered standardized tests and gave individual teachers full autonomy to assign grades. Teachers were in turn instructed to utilize all available information about the pupils knowledge
and arrive at an all-round judgment when assigning grades (Swedish National Agency for Education, 1994, p. 16), i.e., not just focus on test results and other traditional forms of assessment. Schools were also required to consider the curriculums goal that the pupils should develop the ability to evaluate their results and relate their own and others judgment to their performance and inherent capacity (p. 16), which implied some degree of pupil influence over grading.
These grading instructions were in line with the social-constructivist view that objectively measurable knowledge does not exist, a conception that was expressed both in the curriculum committees report (SOU 1992:94) and in the curriculum itself.
In effect, these instructions opened the door for arbitrary grading decisions and complaints about bad grades that could be easily dismissed as subjectively determined, leading to de facto negotiations between teachers and pupils or the emergence of a didactic conspiracy.
Most plausibly, the improvement in final grades during the period that PISA and TIMSS results fell sharply is due to this unlikely marriage between social constructivism and a full-fledged marketization of education. The lax institutional framework of the school system, which did not specify in detail what was to be taught or what criteria pupils had to meet to be assigned different grades, allowed independent schools to begin inflating grades. This phenomenon, in turn, gave pupils and parents an incentive to choose independent schools to receive good grades and forced public schools, as well as independent schools with high academic standards, to gradually adapt to be competitive for vouchers. It is now well established that wellfunctioning systems of school choice and competition presuppose that the state holds schools accountable for their performance by measuring what knowledge their pupils have acquired through, for example, external exit exams (Woessman, 2016).
But the regulatory documents issued by the
The Swedish Schools Inspectorate regularly expresses its disapproval of schools that teach in a traditional way and according to a classical view of knowledge.
For example, a recent report on common teaching practices within the natural science disciplines in inspected schools noted (Swedish Schools Inspectorate, 2017, p. 5; italics in original) that the emphasis has often been on
imparting what the natural sciences have concluded so farestablished terms and models. The scientific processhow one has obtained what we today view as received knowledge and how it is possible to gain suchhas been overlooked.48 The same report also made critical observations about inspected lessons in which teachers have the most speaking time and concluded (p. 9) the following:
An education in which the natural sciences are presented as a set of facts becomes misleading since rhetoric and argumentation are central aspects of natural science practice. Pupils need to be given room for active participation in which they have the opportunity to grasp the essence of the questions and develop their arguments. A greater understanding of natural science practice will also help pupils understand that the natural sciences are not about static facts and eternal truthsnew discoveries may discard what we hold true today. In a similar vein, a report on common teaching practices in history stated that good history education should encourage pupils to understand that all historiography is an interpretation of the past, which is affected by the senders experiences (Swedish Schools Inspectorate, 2015, p. 9).
The report also criticized inspected schools that did not allow schoolchildren to work like historians and create history (p. 22).
The 2011 National Curriculum With the current national curriculum, enacted by the then center-right government (20062014) in 2011, the state appears to have reclaimed some of its former regulatory functions. There are now more detailed course syllabi and grading criteria for each school subject. In theory, this change should lead to a more coherent education in schools and reduce the undesired side effects of school competition.
However, as the cited reports from the Swedish Schools Inspectorate have already indicated, a close reading of the current curriculum reveals it to be as influenced by a postmodern, social-constructivist view of truth and knowledge as the 1994 curriculum.
The curriculum does not explicitly specify what knowledge pupils have to acquire to be assigned a particular grade. The current curriculum contains an almost identical formulation that the task of schools is to promote learning presupposes an active discussion in the individual school about concepts of knowledge (Swedish National Agency for Education, 2011, p. 12).50 The curriculum also states that a historical perspective should be applied in all school subjects (p. 11).
Moreover, the list of teachers prescribed duties does not explicitly mention any responsibility to impart domain-specific knowledge (pp. 1416). Like the previous curriculum, the current curriculum asserts that pupils should exercise increasingly greater influence over their education and the organization of their schoolwork (p. 17).
The 2011 curriculum goes further in that it emphasizes that both parents and pupils have a right to exercise influence over goals, content and ways of working (p. 10). As noted by Enkvist (2017), this change raises the question of what a teacher should do if different families in a class make opposing demands and whether there are, in fact, any set goals for the education system if these can be continually altered and renegotiated by parents and pupils.
A cursory reading of the 2011 curriculum, which is just under 300 pages, gives the impression of a detailed description of the knowledge content of each school subject. However, a close reading clarifies that the curriculum in fact stipulates that the different subjects should not be taught in a traditional way according to a conception of knowledge as an objective phenomenon. Consider, for example, the following emblematic description of the primary purposes of teaching biology (p. 105): Teaching in biology should aim at helping the pupils to develop knowledge of biological contexts, and their curiosity and interest in getting to know more about themselves and nature.
Through teaching, pupils should be given the opportunity to put questions about nature and Man based on their own experiences and current events. In addition, teaching should give the pupils the opportunity to look for answers to questions by using systematic studies and different types of sources. In this way, teaching should contribute to pupils developing their critical thinking over their own results, the arguments of others and different sources of information. Through teaching, pupils should also develop an understanding that statements can be tested and evaluated by using scientific methods.
Teaching should give pupils opportunities to use and develop knowledge and tools for expressing their own arguments and examining those of others in contexts where knowledge of biology is of importance. As a result, pupils should be given the preconditions to manage practical, ethical and aesthetic situations involving health, use of natural resources and ecological sustainability.
Teaching should also contribute to pupils developing familiarity with the concepts, models, and theories of biology, as well as an understanding of how these are developed in interaction with experiences from studies of nature and people. In addition, teaching should contribute to pupils developing the ability to discuss, interpret and produce texts and various forms of aesthetic expressions with scientific content.
Teaching should create the conditions for pupils to be able to differentiate between scientific and other ways of depicting the world. Through teaching, pupils should get an insight into the worldview of science with the theory of evolution as a foundation, and also get perspectives on how this has developed and what cultural impact it has had.
This general and highly abstract description does not dwell on the specific biology knowledge pupils are expected to learn. Instead, the description emphasizes that pupils should ask questions and seek answers based on their own subjective experiences, learn to express their thoughts verbally, and develop a critical mindset.53 When the text, almost en passant, mentions familiarity with the concepts, models, and theories of biology in the third paragraph, the meaning is not clearly defined regarding what pupils should know and how the level of their understanding should be gauged. The reason for this vagueness may be found in the official commentary on the biology course syllabus.
The commentary explains that concepts, models and theories are the result of peoples observations and thought and because theories have been developed in social and cultural contexts, they are changeable, making biology an open and creative enterprise (Swedish National Agency for Education, 2017, p. 8).
Hence, according to school authorities, there is no objective knowledge of biology to be acquired and subjected to examination and grading. The same concept is stated in relation to physics and chemistry. Moreover, elements from other subjects are incorporated into biology. For example, the goal that pupils should learn to manage practical, ethical and aesthetic situations involving health, the use of natural resources and ecological sustainability seems to belong more in the social sciences than in biology.
The goal that pupils should develop their ability to produce texts and various forms of aesthetic expressions would appear to be more relevant to the study of their native language and the arts, respectively.
Other examples of mixing of disciplines can be found in the subjects core content (Swedish National Agency for Education, 2011, pp. 106109),54 which, for instance, prescribes verbal discussions on current societal issues involving biology. Furthermore, the statement that pupils should be able to differentiate between scientific and other ways of depicting the world and have insight into the worldview of science with the theory of evolution as a foundation implies that the facts of biology can be described as a worldview competing with other equally valid theories.
The national curriculum presents all school subjects in this ambiguous way. Critical thinking, verbal expression, and discussion are integrated into every course syllabus, usually in combination with social science perspectives. For example, teaching in art includes analysis of pictures dealing with questions of identity, sexuality, ethnicity and power relations (Swedish National Agency for Education, 2011, p. 24). Physical education and health (formerly denoted gymnastics) includes talking about experiences and outcomes from different physical activities and forms of training as well as discussions about how the individuals choice of sports and other physical activities are influenced by different factors, such as gender (p. 52).
Even the teaching of the pupils native language is predominantly focused on verbal communication. Civics is, predictably, almost exclusively restricted to reflection, analysis, and expressing standpoints.
Grading in the 2011 National Curriculum
That the knowledge content of each subject is less emphasized becomes evident when studying the grading criteria, which are based on the view of knowledge expressed in the curriculum (Swedish National Agency for Education, 2017, p. 29). The grading criteria are entirely subjective and open to interpretation.
The knowledge requirements for grade A in biology use the same vocabulary but with different adjectives, such as well developed and good. Again, and in line with the social-constructivist view of knowledge,56 it is not clear on what grounds teachers should determine pupils grades.
According to the Swedish National Agency for Education (2017, p. 30), this ambiguity is intentional to ensure that the grading criteria are manageable and not unnecessarily strict. However, there is an obvious risk that pupils will attempt to game such vague grading criteria, i.e., spend more time on trying to determine what their teachers read into the criteria and meeting that subjective standard than on improving their understanding of the subject. Grading conflicts between teachers and pupils are also likely to arise.
Summary of Section
To summarize this section, we have demonstrated that the Swedish school system is governed by a postmodern, social-constructivist paradigm. The teaching methods used did not change much before the early 1990s, but when they did, it became successively more difficult to deviate from the prescribed view of knowledge and the ensuing teaching methods. We have also argued that paired with competition from corporate and nonprofit providers, a social-constructivist national curriculum incentivizes schools to compete in dimensions other than educational quality. The current national curriculum is merely a more detailed version of the radical 1994 curriculum. The current curriculum does not even once mention the word truth, which suggests that post-truth schooling remains the official doctrine of the Swedish school system.