Test-rich, justice-poor: Australian education in the new era

Deans lecture series 2013

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About the lecture

The Theodore Fink Memorial Seminar in Australian Education

Presented by Professor Raewyn Connell
Faculty of Education and Social Work, The University of Sydney.

School systems have been seen as an engine of change, a ladder of social mobility, a wall for social exclusion, or an arena of privilege. Arguably they are all of these, at the same time, but the balance shifts historically. A generation ago, Australian schools attempted compensatory education for children in poverty, and became involved in pioneering work in gender equity and multicultural education. But before these could deepen into structural change, neoliberal agendas came to dominate Australian politics and set about transforming education systems on market lines. New policy processes, new politics of language, new technologies of testing and ranking, new dynamics of class formation and gender division, and new controls over teaching workforces, have arrived. The fragment of a social justice agenda that survives is a woolly project of 'social inclusion' that targets extremely disadvantaged groups while reinforcing the main dynamics of inequality.

Educational knowledge is now heavily discounted in a technicized and market-driven policy process, impervious to research and protest. Is the new order of test-rich, justice-poor schooling now impossible to change? It has its own contradictions and weaknesses; educators face the task of making these clear, and putting together new agendas for just and inclusive education, and pro-education, rather than pro-profit, coalitions.