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University of Belgrade, Сербия
It is emphasized in the text that the current approaches to quality of education have introduced assessment culture grounded on the external control of the outcomes relying on mechanicistic-technicistic oriented values and procedures, normative philosophy and pedagogy and, finally, on economic logics; as a consequence, it is necessary to create a different concept of “quality” which has to be contextualized, implying that all the actors should create a shared understanding of quality and search for more adequate ways of reaching so determined quality.
The argumentation in favour of the alternative understanding, defending the attitudes supporting the fact that autonomy of learning and development cannot be standardized, that the unique differences of an individual cannot be subject to achievement criteria, at least not in such a way defined, is given in the conclusions of previously conducted explorative research whose aim was to consider the efficacy of mentorship in the work with gifted students, modelling of instructions and learning opportunities, adjustment to uniqueness of each individual; indirectly, the findings could serve for reflection on justification of the standards or their purpose… (the sample is purposive, N-245 higher education teachers from 10 European countries; the method – non-experimental observation). The following conclusion seems to be rather significant: reaching of excellence of achievements cannot be determined, especially not as a standard. The aims of reaching of excellence are individual and in certain actiotopes they are foreseen for further individual development.
Keywords: education standards, autonomy of learning and development, social construction of quality concept, oxymoron character of standards.
The Problems of Defining Quality
Quality in education is nowadays an inevitable topic, having in mind that quality demands in all life spheres are increasingly higher; thus, it has become obvious that quality should be clearly determined, precisely measured and it is to become the distinctive feature of a product, a process, an institution. Even though there have been numerous discussions on quality, it is beyond dispute that there are difficulties to clearly determine what is it quality actually refers to (Stancic 2012: 289). R. Antonijevic has stated a number of approaches to defining quality (through the dimensions defining the essence and the phenomenon of quality in education), as well as the attempt to reach a general level of quality in a comprehensive way, which is similar to previous attempts, e.g. the UNICEF document considering children rights and integral approach also relying on the dimensions whose synchronized improvement should lead to the improvement of the general level of education quality (Antonijevic 2012: 22). In fact, these are nothing more but variants of the same approach – consideration of quality according to dimensions. The standpoints of M. Stancic are rather interesting, leading to a conclusion that quality is socially construed concept, permeated by the values depending on the context in which it is talked about it. In contrast, the same author holds that the current approaches to quality of education have introduced assessment culture grounded on the external control of the outcomes relying on mechanicistic-technicistic oriented values and procedures, normative philosophy and pedagogy and, finally, on economic logics (Stancic 2012: 289). The alternative to this has been advocated by the representatives of socio-cultural and critical movement within pedagogy, who have pointed out that in order to consider the problem of quality it is necessary to bear in mind uniqueness, comprehensiveness, development, complexity, dynamics, context and unpredictability as fundamental characteristics of educational process. Therefore it is considered that (Stancic 2012: 289) we have to create a different concept of “quality” which is to be contextualized, implying that all the actors should create a shared understanding of quality and search for more adequate ways of reaching it.
Stancic (Stancic 2012: 290) also emphasizes the expansion of neo-liberalism and globalization as a cause, but also as a consequence of unification and simplification of the measures and procedures people use in everyday life; as a contrast to this he points to the privilege of pre-industrial world to have a personal judgement; he also expresses the standpoint that modernism, on the other hand, strived for objectivity and elimination of human factor. Quantification has opened a way to standardization in which it is nowadays possible to more clearly see the danger of loosing the essence and the meaning of what we are actually looking for, what we are trying to “measure”. At this point a crucial question is raised, i.e. the issue of quality and standardization in education referring to pluralism as a determinant of the time we live in – i.e. postmodernism, involving mechanisms which may be suitable for numerous perspectives of various groups and individuals within different contexts and with versatile views on what quality is. What could follow as a conclusion is that it is difficult to get to unambiguous determination of the notion of quality. If it is not possible to reach a universal determination of the notion, its understanding remains to a great extent dependant on the context, further involving the features of education phenomenon (complexity, dynamics…), opening up possibilities to differently define the term of quality in education. Stronach (Stronach 2000: 134) even asks whether there is a sense of determining and defining the concept of quality in general, as well as in education, if we do not know what quality is, even though we know it is something desirable. The question is viewed as a warning against a danger to examine something which does not exist as a phenomenon, or to do so in an inadequate way, or with inappropriate intentions. Another question follows referring to the complexity of the phenomenon and its dynamics, apart from the problem to define it, i.e. the ways it is determined and used which make it even more complex. In the time of postmodernism and constructivism it does not seem impossible for quality to be shaped according to personal intentions and measures, thus ceasing to be a determined essence, but it rather becomes what we see in it; as a consequence, the attempts to establish the notion of quality fail to “deal with” its elusiveness, opacity, subjectivism, which are ultimately considered its inherent characteristics (Djermanov & Kostovic 2006: 254). Therefore it is today considered that the current evaluative research on quality in education talks more about the instruments evaluating quality and standpoints and intentions of those who have created these instruments than quality itself, which is in accordance to beliefs in the context or paradigm shift through which the world is observed; as it has been pointed out by Kapra – what we observe is not nature itself, but the nature we can learn abut according to the research method we have chosen, which can lead to a conclusion that we consider our own values universal (Kapra 1998: 67).
Oxymoron Nature of Educational Standards
The issue of quality in education interferes with understanding of education as a drive of development and empowering of an individual, i.e. individual development – individuation. However, in educational standards united is individual, actually never finalized with final, reduced to the most important, with the common, at the same time final and comparable. The opposite of unification in a single term is considered an oxymoron (S. Basic, op. cit). What is also related to the question of justification of educational standards, apart from what has already been mentioned, is the issue of competencies defined as “…cognitive abilities and skills individuals have or can learn in order to solve certain problems, as well as motivational and other skills they use to adequately respond to changing situations” (Weinert, E, according to Bojovic 2012: 98). Defined within such a conceptual framework which is in the essence of understanding of educational standards, they mostly refer to cognitive abilities; in other words, competencies and abilities are made equal, thus turning the notion of competencies towards cognitive nature of competencies. Other features of competencies (object, social, personal, etc) have mostly been neglected.
Educational Standards Contradicting the Nature of Education
The shades of the above discussed context talk about pedagogic legitimacy of educational standards. Standards are related to the idea of “qualitative school” which permeates them and differentiates between two approaches (1. school effectiveness – related to achievement – socially economic perspective – functionalistic approach and 2. school improvement – attempts to improve school culture), developing in parallel with different level of social legitimacy and having different interpretations of the intentions and ways to introduce educational-political and economic interventions into the change of school culture and pedagogic engagement (Basic, S. op. cit). Viewed from this perspective it might be said that educational standards have been established mono-causally, since the approach lacks the reflections on the ways leading to encouragement of the development of a new teaching culture, taking into account the comprehensiveness and all-roundedness of personality. Consequently, it is not a rare case to find in the literature the following frequently raised question: does a standard open up possibilities for schools to get rid of conventional stiffness or does it hide the danger of narrowing of content, i.e. educational perspective? Does this way of conceiving educational intentions lead to new culture of learning and teaching or does it lead educational system towards rationally planned entrepreneurship, making certain forms of technologically provided teaching absolute and, according to the opinion of many authors, leading to spiritual deprivation of learners? The implications the implementation of standards has for educational system, for school organization and quality of teaching are yet to be empirically examined; at the same time, even now we should take rather seriously the negative experiences of the countries that had introduced the concept of educational standards into their practice and realized the danger of potential reduction they can lead to if their interpretation should boil down to statistical dimension and the comparative studies like PISA and others should become the basic indicators of the quality of educational process (Gojkov 2007: 237). Functional perspective of educational standards and competencies understood as the standards of school achievement cannot be agents of comprehensive education of a personality, having in mind that education per definitionem means self-education and a ma owns both potential and competence for it, referring to individuality of a man as such, i.e. his/her character, multiplicity of interests and inclinations, his creativity, independence, interactions with others, ability to independently make judgements and decisions etc. (Roth, according to Basic, op. cit). This aim is formulated in pedagogy as “moral character strength” and “multiplicity of interests” “Muendigkeit” (maturity), “emancipated personality”, “free, self-responsible individual able to work”, “self-realized personality” (Herbart, Pestalozzi, Kant, Litt, Weniger, Steiner, Freinet, Montessori, Klafki, Kron, Benner... (Ibid)). So it is hold that educational standards in the sense of obligatory, individual developmental norm contradict the nature of the process of education, while as measures (of personality development) they do not make sense, since a person as an individuality can only be its own measure. Education has always referred to certain understanding of man, formulated in the form of educational ideal or highly abstract aims which are – in pedagogical perspective – “translated” into tasks, situations and experiences stimulating personal development. These are the tasks an individual masters through his/her own self-activity (Ibid). In other words, understanding of education as a result of self-activity and individual ascribing meanings and senses (to things, phenomena, people, the world) cannot accept “output” measured according to achievement tests as its reaches. Such measures are nothing more but punctual measuring of success, while processes and dynamics (as well as the drama) of acquiring and developing abilities, attitudes (standpoints) and skills remain in the shadow (Bruegel Mann, 2004, according to Basic, S. op. cit). As a consequence, quality or success of education can be viewed only from the angle of everyday life culture, professional behaviour of its teachers and students. They can be considered more or less successful, they can improve, but their abilities and actions cannot be normed – standardized (Ibid). Education has always referred to the ability (potential) to face the world, readiness to find your place in the world and form an attitude towards it, as well as the skills to do tasks or solve problems, but also sensitivity to problems, ability to perceive and define a problem, readiness to analyze and familiarize with a problems, efforts to solve them, ability to evaluate results, to reflect on alternatives and take responsibility for the consequences. In perspective of pedagogy, education is more than (technological) ability to successfully solve problems; in other words, it is not certain that the essence of pedagogic action will be available to objective measuring, having in mind that it is not certain that a student has reached his/her maximum through what has been established. Nevertheless, what is decisive in educational process is remains beyond objective measuring and extrinsic control, so that some are right to suspect that educational standards can be transformed – as opposite to the proclaimed ideas – into the means of giving up of the reform of education, having in mind that they are not an instrument which would be in the function of the process of individuation. Therefore the elements of the concept of educational standards should be thought over, pedagogical perspective of education should be reconsidered and the oxymoron grounds of “education standards” should be seriously critically reflected on, not in order to completely reject them, but for the standards focusing on achievement (output-paradigm) to be considered not only from the standpoint of economically-functionalistic instrument of control of the efficacy of the system, but to put more emphasis within them on pedagogical perspective, which as it seems for the time being remains neglected (Gojkov & Stojanovic 2012: 231). What should be positioned in the first plan is the optimal development of individual abilities, so that standards in this sense from the perspective of pedagogy – which per definitionem relies on “education” as category notion in the tradition of Von Humboldt (Humboldt, Weber, Klafki, according to Basic, S. op. cit) and notion development (Kron 1993: 243) – could fall under the field referring to quality of school life and teaching, rather than under the field of formulating achievement standards, possible to measure (Ibid). “If it manages to establish standards so that they reflect the vision of education process, philosophy of education with the omen of developmental perspective of students’ abilities, standard could become the incentive of pedagogic development of school” (Klieme, according to Basic, S. op. cit). This would in such case be the standard of quality of educational process, rather than the standard of “output” in the sense of (dominant) cognitive achievements of students shown in exam situations (S. Basic, op. cit). Without this there is no autonomy of learning and development. Encouragement is, essentially, the way it seems right now, directed by reconceptualization of contents; what has been done is neo-humanistic revision of the concept of general education, while knowledge has turned into intellectual capital, utility value, market goods and, in such a way it has been removed from the basic human right, starting to slip away from functionally equal significant competencies.
If education is understood as a result of self-activity and individual ascribing meanings and senses (to things, phenomena, people, the world) cannot accept “output” measured according to achievement tests as its reaches. Such measures are nothing more but punctual measuring of success, while processes and dynamics (as well as the drama) of acquiring and developing abilities, attitudes (standpoints) and skills remain in the shadow. Autonomy of learning and development remains beyond standards, as well as the efforts to exercise influence on the essence of education quality, while quality of education is subject to politically-economic interests. Knowledge is goods, created to be objectified in a new product and sold, rather than to have its own value and contribute to autonomy of a person. These and similar statements in the text are supported by the outcomes of some previous studies of the authoress of these modest reflections (Gojkov 2012: 56). A finding of one research seems to be rather important (Gojkov 2012a: 42) and it could serve as an indicator for reflection on the issues of achievement and excellence and thus achievement and standards. Necessary accents of the explorative research in question and its methodological framework refer to the following: its subject: mentorship of the gifted in order to raise the quality of higher education teaching for gifted students; aim: to assess how and to what an extent higher education teachers are involved in mentor work; reasons underlying the understanding of the efficacy of mentorship programs are examined, as well as the characteristics of efficient mentorship, modelling of instructions and learning opportunities, adjustment to uniqueness of each individual; indirectly, the outcomes could serve for thinking about justification of standards or their purpose; special angle is: how gifted individuals use self-regulating learning strategies; how they transfer these abilities to new tasks: to what an extent autonomy of learning can serve for identification of talent; to what an extent it is possible to notice the closeness and relation between the performances of more successful students and the performances of experts; how do we look at the role of knowledge for excellent performance; how is giftedness identified… Not more than these several questions are sufficient to consider the importance of holistic approach to the gifted and the same is true for all others, of course, in a different way, i.e. taking other aspects into consideration. This refers to the fact that unrepeatable diversity of individuals cannot be subject to criteria of achievement, at least not in the way they have been defined (Gojkov 2012: 75). The statements of mentors selected for this text point to certain specific features of mentorship of the gifted, which can serve as experiential proofs of specific characteristic of achievements of individuals, and it might be that this is even more obvious in the case of the gifted; this further can be an argument for the following question: are there criteria for excellence, is it possible to determine them, or even is it necessary to establish, or even anticipate them.
“Advancement of a gifted student is always significant and often impressive; Some of gifted students can do more than a professor, they can achieve academic aspirations their mentor himself was not able to reach.”
The research was conducted during summer of 2012, through electronic mail. Higher education teachers from Austria, Russia, England, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia filled in the questionnaire (MDUVN-1) construed for the purpose of the research. The choice of explorative research implied non-probability sample, i.e. purposive sample including 245 higher education teachers from the mentioned countries; the method of non-experimental observation was used.
One finding seems rather important and it refers to the issue of indicators of excellence achievement, or how far can excellence of an individual go, are there criteria for excellence, is it possible to determine them, or even is it necessary to establish, or even anticipate them. The finding shows that the subjects consider that achievement standards can bring about something which would contradict excellence as well as mentorship in its final outcome, its essential characteristic as a didactic method. The research findings are in accordance with Grasinger’s notions (Grasinger, according to Zigler 2005: 411-436) of “learning triad” the “grand four” and ACTIOTOPES, having in mind that they essentially support the standpoint that reaching excellence cannot be determined, especially not as a standard. The aims of reaching excellence are individual and in certain actiotopes they are foreseen for further individual development. New didactic impulses are necessary in order to moderate the negative assessments of quality in the reforms like, e.g. the Bologna process, emphasizing that the predominant issue is of administrative and organizational nature, stressing structural reform changes, while essential and crucial changes which would lead to quality culture in which dominant place would belong to encouragement of learning autonomy and development are still waiting for new didactic impulses.
The needs necessary to moderate the negative assessments of quality in the reforms of the Bologna process predominantly emphasizing administrative and organizational side, i.e. structural dimensions of the reform, and to guide essential changes towards culture of quality within which dominant place belongs to encouragement of the autonomy of learning and development are still expecting new didactic impulses.