Uncertainty As an Asset in Education Policy

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 6:30 PM
Room: Booth 52
Oral Presentation
Radhika GORUR , The Victoria Institute, College of Education, Victoria University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
Education policies around the world are responding to increased perceptions of risk by attempting to reduce uncertainty. They are attempting to gain clear information and identify ‘guaranteed’ solutions by finding out ‘what works’ to develop policy accordingly. They are setting up clear measures of accountability and transparency. In order to understand states of affairs and identify policy issues, huge machineries of calculation have been mobilised. Regular surveys are used to track progress and to respond to the first sign of ‘decline’.  In this sense, we could say that the complexity and uncertainties of the world are transferred to the processes of calculation, which in turn render clear and less uncertain accounts of the world in the form of numbers.

In this paper, I take the notion of ‘uncertainty’ to the statistical translations of the education world and the attempts made through these translations to erase uncertainty and ambiguity and provide clear, certain accounts. I explore how complex such operations are, and how the uncertainty and complexity of the world constantly challenge and stymie the attempts to tame it. I support my thesis with several empirical examples from my research on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and on Australia’s Education Revolution.  I explore the dilemmas involved in these attempts to contain uncertainty (including through mathematical devices such as calculating ‘confidence intervals’), and the ways in which the world exceeds these attempts to contain its uncertainty.

Using Callon et al’s (2001) notion of ‘acting in an uncertain world’, in particular their argument with regard to ‘hybrid forums’, I argue in this paper that keeping uncertainties alive can have the beneficial effect of bringing more resources and expertise forward and adding new voices into the discussion. Uncertainty can thus be an asset rather than a problem to be solved.