Xavier Rambla Sociologia

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abr. 14 2014

Critical discourse analysis of education policies: skills and jobs

Current prevailing ideologies emphasize the importance of both the knowledge economy (i.e. ‘smart growth’ powered by high-technology) and the knowledge society (i.e. economic competitiveness improving the skills of the labour force). Unsurprisingly, these ideas have important implications for the design and justification of educational policies. Critical Discourse Analysis provides a set of very helpful tools to disentangle the messages that these ideologies are sending.

Assumptions and catchwords are two indexes of hegemony in discourse. In linguisitc terms, hegemony can be defined as a number of rhetoric traits that hinder dialogue by portraying a political project as an inexorable reality. Assumptions are implicit statements that discourses take for granted, and thus are often retrieved in indirect and varied ways. Catchwords are general terms that define the core themes of discourses. All of them contribute to shaping meaning by means of frames which are not explicit in the grammatic traits of a given discourse.

The following sample of very short videos shows a variety of hegemonic discourses on skills and jobs. Recently, I could discuss some of these examples with students of the Univ. Aarhus master’s degree on Lifelong Learning.

Significantly, three common catchwords can be detected in all these messages, which have been disseminated by diverse international organisations working in very different world regions. In all these cases the catchwords tend to overlook societal issues (e.g., inequalities in the OECD PISA and GMR reports). These catchwords contrast education with exclusion from the job market, entail that people live their biographies by choice, and look at the individual and the collective cost of early school leaving (before achieving an upper secondary education credential).

As a rule, two common assumptions underlie the use of these catchwords. They share these two statements about the causes and consequences of educational problems. Notice that the second one is an apparent statement of fact since it completely conflates diagnosis with recommendation.

·        Weak learning and early school leaving are a problem because they hinder economic growth.

·        Public- private partnerships are necessary to improve educational results throughout the world.


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