Politics, Power, PISA: a genealogy of mathematics education policy at second level in Ireland at the beginning of the 21st century

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Kirwan, Elizabeth P.
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University College Cork
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This thesis traces a genealogy of the discourse of mathematics education reform in Ireland at the beginning of the twenty first century at a time when the hegemonic political discourse is that of neoliberalism. It draws on the work of Michel Foucault to identify the network of power relations involved in the development of a single case of curriculum reform – in this case Project Maths. It identifies the construction of an apparatus within the fields of politics, economics and education, the elements of which include institutions like the OECD and the Government, the bureaucracy, expert groups and special interest groups, the media, the school, the State, state assessment and international assessment. Five major themes in educational reform emerge from the analysis: the arrival of neoliberal governance in Ireland; the triumph of human capital theory as the hegemonic educational philosophy here; the dominant role of OECD/PISA and its values in the mathematics education discourse in Ireland; the fetishisation of western scientific knowledge and knowledge as commodity; and the formation of a new kind of subjectivity, namely the subjectivity of the young person as a form of human-capital-to-be. In particular, it provides a critical analysis of the influence of OECD/PISA on the development of mathematics education policy here – especially on Project Maths curriculum, assessment and pedagogy. It unpacks the arguments in favour of curriculum change and lays bare their ideological foundations. This discourse contextualises educational change as occurring within a rapidly changing economic environment where the concept of the State’s economic aspirations and developments in science, technology and communications are reshaping both the focus of business and the demands being put on education. Within this discourse, education is to be repurposed and its consequences measured against the paradigm of the Knowledge Economy – usually characterised as the inevitable or necessary future of a carefully defined present.
Foucault , Discourse , Genealogy , Knowledge economy , Neoliberalism , Mathematics education , Policy , PISA , Governance , Human capital , Project Maths , International assessment , Critical analysis , Politics
Kirwan, E. P. 2012 Politics, Power, PISA: a genealogy of mathematics education policy at second level in Ireland at the beginning of the 21st century. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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