A recent paper on the issue.
Jón Torfi Jónasson. (2016). Educational change, inertia and potential futures. Why is it difficult to change the content of education? European Journal of Futures Research, 4: 7 doi:10.1007/s40309-016-0087-z JTJ Published version
Seminar for the CRADLE group Helsinki University, Thursday, February 18th: 2016 abstract
Inertia in education
the problem of changing its content
The impediments to change within education
Why is it so difficult to develop the important ingredients of our education? There are ample reasons to move ahead with the content of a new curriculum, while preserving what is valuable, in order to ensure powerful knowledge and education for everybody for the decades to come. But if we want to change, we have to negotiate an incredibly difficult labyrinth, filled with hurdles of all sizes; these have to be seen (understood) and crossed, one after the other. I have enumerated at least ten categories of these, that I describe and discuss how we can tackle. But note I am not arguing that all change is for the better and we must combine creative and visionary thought with critical insight and wisdom while moving ahead.
The detailed approach here takes as a point of departure that there are very powerful reasons for change, both in the form, but particularly in the content of education. These are demanded by a whole spectrum of massive changes in the modern environment. The paper will, however, focus on three aspects of the dynamics of change story.
A) The envisaged agents of changes, as seen by the change literature and the problems inherent in the two main storylines, i.e. the top-down and the field-driven ones.
B) What changes are we talking about? What are the categories or dimensions of change
C) The inertia(s) to change, as defined by the cultural, historical or institutional reasons but also various social, and even organizational issues or agents that impede or resist change; if these are not understood by those advocating change, much less will happen than the proponents anticipate. We will briefly but critically discuss (explain) the following categories of inertial issues (they are not all forces or active agents) and match them against the theoretical stances suggested above. The categories can be characterized by the following description.
- The conservative character of the general or public discourse and sentiment. Thus tradition, respect and good historical performance, may hold change at bay. The academic discourse on subjects may also be included here.
- The conservative nature of standards and accountability may be quite forceful. A high-stakes competitive environment may become very conservative and thus impede change of these standards.
- It can be justifiably argued that new ideas, e.g. new content, are not always for the better; the old ones were very good and thus one should be vary of change. Also some of the new ideas are often somewhat fuzzy.
- In a policy borrowing environment, it may be noted that no substantial change is taking place elsewhere. Why should one change if those that one respects are not moving discernibly?
- One should not react as if in a panic. Nothing bad happens, even if don’t change? But the problem is, that one is preparing the young for a somewhat distant future.
- The vested interests have a firm grip. It should be discussed openly how strong vested interests, supported by tradition and wide ranging nets of interests may hold new ideas at bay, even if those have a good case but a relatively weak group of proponents.
- One of the interesting problems is that very few agencies within the educational edifice have the overview and foresight necessary to argue for change. The necessary expertise may not exist.
- Educational research that is often heralded as among the prime agents of change, may under close inspection for various reasons turn out to be more conservative than anticipated.
- The field workers within the system of education, which are sometimes seen as crucial agents of change, may not have the knowledge or capacity to take the initiative.
- The logistic problem of changing a system, irrespective of whether it shall be done from the top or by a field based synergy (or both) is enormous.