Resistance to non-transparent governance in the education system

Resistance to non-transparent governance in the education system

by Urs Kalberer,

Democracy needs education, as education depends on democracy. So far, there is consensus in the Helvetic debate on education. However, opinions differ on whether the relationship between the two is damaged. The tension between school reforms and democracy was at the centre of an event in Wuppertal, Germany, which attracted teachers, parents and educational scientists from Austria, Switzerland and Germany.* In the following article problematic developments in the context of the discussion about competence orientation of the curricula are named.

In the run-up to the implementation of the new curriculum in Switzerland, uncertainties arose in various cantons as to the extent to which the people or parliaments were empowered to legitimise the work or parts of it. This uncertainty was reflected in parliamentary or even judicial decisions that sought to clarify the controversial legal situation. What strikes the eye is the fact that the governments have consistently and stubbornly resisted relinquishing power, with the support of parliaments if necessary. In the case of Curriculum 21 with its OECD-induced focus on competences, the curriculum was deprived of direct access of the people and thus a direct referendum was prevented. Even inter-cantonal agreements such as HarmoS or the Article 62 of the Federal Constitution, outlining the benchmarks of primary schools, now only allow the people to act to a limited extent. This “partial deprivation of power” is all the more disconcerting since the cantons continue to claim sovereignty in educational matters.
The weaknesses of competence orientation that have now become apparent aroused resistance to this controversial experiment. Competency-oriented teaching does not seem to bring the expected results, as assessments by teachers and evaluations show. PISA shows impressive crashes in countries that have been redirected towards competence orientation. In this context, the Austrian philosopher and cultural journalist Konrad Paul Liessmann speaks of a “result-secured/outcome-related lack of education”. A Swiss public, becoming more and more interested in education issues, learnt about unusable competence-oriented teaching aids and the associated, unexpectedly weak performance of pupils.

Innovation does not mean progress

In the Swiss context, it is remarkable how consistently a factual debate on this issue is avoided. The idea of democracy as a competition of arguments is thus overridden. In politics, new features can be seen as change, progress or innovation. In contrast to the value-neutral concept of change, progress is based on defined standards and is therefore measurable. Innovation, however, breaks down the old in the belief that everything new is better per se. From this point of view, it is inappropriate to accuse the reform critics of being afraid of change and innovation-they are justifiably afraid of deterioration and its effects on the primary school and the future of our democracy. Anyone who understands education, such as the output-driven Curriculum 21, as a measurable end product of a “manufacturing process““not only destroys education itself, but also damages democracy. Young people should learn to think and not just to function externally. Only an educational concept that allows both economically viable and unmeasurable qualities deserves this name. Volker Ladenthin, a renowned German educationalist, predicts that the growing inability of many students to study will result in consequential damage as a result of reforms, which would still occupy us for decades to come.

Intransparent steering strategies

In addition to the social ostracism of unruly teachers, the education bureaucracy shows us its further instruments to increase the pressure on possible deviators openly. With overlong, sometimes infantile training courses, even experienced and highly professional teachers are to be softened. The principle of freedom of methods – a principle of democratic pedagogy – is seriously called into question by the use of teaching aids that are compulsory and to be used throughout the country. Why is that the state prescribes a corresponding didactic method (individual, self-reliant/independent learning) on the basis of a theory (constructivism) across the board? What do officials understand about teaching?
Other means of steering are the “classroom walkthrough”, which has become known in Thurgau and is used for control and reprimand, or the prohibition for teachers from making direct contact with the media, as is the case in the Canton of Basel-Stadt. The decisive role of many school principals as vicarious agents of the administration must also not go unmentioned. Thus, the impression of hectic activity (steering groups, further training, exchange of colleagues) takes the wind out of the sails of any critics. Such manipulative control techniques need to be addressed and questioned.

Broken self-esteem

At primary school level in particular, the pressure on teachers has gradually increased in recent years. Inclusion, which opens the doors to the classroom for curative teachers, a largely ineffective foreign language teaching, new methods such as internal differentiation, writing by ear, team teaching and age mix, which artificially increase the already existing heterogeneity of the student body, put a strain on the teachers‘ resilience to the limit. What a miracle that they develop the feeling that they are no longer meeting the requirements and look for new recipes that will hopefully drive them into the arms of the reformers. Especially young and inexperienced teachers become willing executors of the healing practices already practiced during their training.
When the organiser of the conference, pedagogue Jochen Krautz, who teaches at the University of Wuppertal, calls on the participants to „do the hard work“ in view of the externally controlled, anti-enlightenment reform programme, he inevitably reminds of Max Frisch: what the named one referred to the state of the world at that time can now be translated into a pedagogical dimension: A call for hope today is a call for resistance.    •

*    Conference “Time for Change?”, 3 February 2018

(Translation Current Concerns)

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