Fundació Jaume Bofill Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC)

Thinking about future challenges of education in Catalonia

Evolution of priority education policies and the challenge of equality

About the speaker

Jean-Ives Rochex

26/01/11 07.30 pm

Psychologist at the University of Paris VIII Saint-Denis and founding member of the EScol (Education Schooling) research group

Audio (in French)

Jean-Yves Rochex has participated in a comparative study conducted in 8 European countries (France, England, Belgium, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Romania, Sweden and Greece) to look at how priority education policies have evolved over the years. The study was funded by the European Commission.

According to the study, over time, the meaning of ‘education policies’, their political objectives and their scientific underpinnings have all changed. However, despite these changes, priority education policies continue to go by the same name.

For Jean-Yves Rochex, there are three educational ages/policy models:

First model. Compensation

• Priority education policies made their debut in the 1970s. They first emerged in countries that, following World War II, endeavoured to create a welfare state that would improve the social conditions of their populations. France and England were the first countries to implement them.

• One of the objectives of the welfare state model was universal access to education (i.e., primary and early secondary education). The goal was to end unequal access to education. However, this gave rise to a new type of inequality: unequal results. Access to education alone does not ensure positive results.

• The first priority education policies were put in place to remedy these unequal results. Under this initial model, these policies were of a compensatory nature: more was given (at the educational level) to students with less, to those with gaps in their socialisation process and who earned lower marks.

Compensatory policies target:

• Social differences (or linguistic differences, depending on the country)

• Regions or areas with higher concentrations of the groups affected by these differences. They are urban policies, targeting specific neighbourhoods, that are accompanied by actions at other levels (e.g., urban planning).

• Schools. Schools are asked to submit specific original ideas that can later be extended to other schools.

This priority education model sparked a heated debate among specialists, confronting those who advocated for compensatory aid with those who believed that such aid simply perpetuated inequalities and that it was more democratic to fight inequality by transforming it than by applying policies to offset the deficits of those who suffer from it (i.e. a transformational approach as opposed to a corrective one).

Second model. Equality.

• This model grew out of the idea that it was necessary to do away with the regulatory State. It tends to assume that the education system can operate under quasi-market rules, in accordance with the laws of supply and demand. Families should be able to choose a school and academic path, and each school should have its own unique offer to attract students. This will encourage competition, which will give rise to quality.

• Under this educational model, what matters are not the pre-established rules, but rather the subsequent assessment of results (hence, the creation of such gauges as the PISA report). These assessments are understood not as tools of knowledge, but rather as transformational tools.

• Under this educational model, priority education policies are geared towards equality: everyone must meet certain minimum standards; all students must master certain basic skills so as not to fall victim to social inequalities.

• This model is epidemiological in nature. It gave rise to the term 'students at risk of social exclusion'. Such students are viewed as if they were incubating a virus that could manifest itself at any moment. The 'disease' is treated, but no effort is made to identify its cause. The focus is not on social inequalities, but rather on what the future holds for students at risk of social exclusion today.

• The equality model has proven inefficient in terms of doing away with academic inequalities. In France, for example, the number of outstanding students has risen, but so has the number of students obtaining worse results.

Third model. Individual attention

• This model wipes away all references to area or region in order to focus on the individual. It does not attempt to fight social inequalities or exclusion, but rather seeks to maximise an individual’s possibilities.

• It does not consist of a certain type of priority education policies, but rather multiple actions. Programmes are fragmented (policies are established depending on students’ origin, sex, disabilities, etc.).

• It is likewise not a public service policy, but rather a series of policies each of which targets a given public.

• It has given rise to the concept of students with special educational needs. It emphasises detection and adapting curricula for each category of students.

Some considerations regarding the different models

• Economically disadvantaged students need not always be the ones to obtain the worst results. Moreover, material privation is not always as important as emotional privation.

• When education is geared towards achieving only certain minimums, and students obtaining poor results receive extra training on basic skills in order to pass a curriculum based on these minimums, there are repercussions, for these students have not made any real intellectual gains. They will continue on to the next year, but they will not pass their subjects and their feelings of failure will grow.

• Policies that allow families to choose schools on democratic grounds have increased social inequalities and segregation. As a result of such policies, in the end it is the schools that choose their students.

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