TOWARDS AN UNDERSTANDING OF EDUCATIONAL INDICATORS

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TOWARDS AN UNDERSTANDING OF EDUCATIONAL INDICATORS

International Organizations (IOs) are becoming increasingly influential in educational policy making at the national level. In education, the range of these organizations’, activities are many and diverse and include providing educational loans and grants, presenting education policy advice, creating tests and comparable educational data, developing and sponsoring projects and programs, and circulating information and instructing interested parties on how to use this information through meetings and conferences. Central to these tasks is the creation and dissemination of educational indicators. It is the purpose of this paper to introduce the concept of indicators, explain their history, demonstrate the work of IOs within the creation of indicators, and propose one theory toward explaining the increased use of indicators within IOs. In order to facilitate this understanding, the current paper first attempts to define indicators. This section provides a literature review of various definitions and suggests how to critically expand some dominant understandings of indicators. The paper then moves to a brief history of the social and educational indicator movement. This will allow for a better understanding of where these indicators are placed in time and their connection to economic policy knowledge and utility. Additionally, this paper will describe who I reason are the five major actors in the area of global educational indicators. These organizations play an important role in promoting indicators as a dominant and valid representation of educational systems. Further, the motivations for IOs to collect indicators and promote them as valid sources of understanding are diverse and many. While not an exhaustive account, the motivations to collect and disseminate indicators include a desire for comparative information, an aspiration to establish benchmarks, and an ambition to become the sole collectors of information. This list collectively suggests a culture of performativity as described by Lyotard (1984). Therefore, this paper will finish with a discussion of performativity, which I feel is a dominant motivation behind the sharp increase in leading IOs’, engagement in the creation of indicators. Through Lyotard’,s critique of performativity, I explore possible Understanding Indicators 3 underlying reasons for the ,dominant position of indicators as global educational policy knowledge and the risks associated with this limited view of knowledge. With an increasing demand for the explanation of social systems such as education through a set of quantifiable indicators, it is important for the educational community to understand why this is happening, who is promoting it, and what are some of the problems with it. In educational policy the prediction of Burnstein, Oaks, and Guiton (1992) that, “,what is measured is likely to become what matters”, (p. 410) may have come to pass. This paper will suggest that some very influential actors in the global educational policy community may now control what is measured and therefore have influence over what matters in education.

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