Parallel session 1 (26th May) Digital Education Governance Beyond International Comparative Assessment
From Claire Sowton
Chair: Barbara Hof
How are Google and Microsoft Embedding Themselves in the Malaysian Education System?
Pravindharan Balakrishnan (Comparative and International Education initiative, Malaysia)
The Rise to Power of EdTech Brokers: New Ways of Governing through “What Works”
Carlos Ortegón (KU Leuven)
The ongoing digitization of education, enhanced by the pandemic shock suffered almost two years ago, has brought new actors into the educational landscape that are playing a central role in defining the type of education that is delivered at schools. This contribution aims to examine one of such actors, namely, the edtech brokers, and to critically explore the policy context in which they emerge, as well as the governing rationales they promote. Edtech brokers are broadly defined as the intermediary organizations that operate between the commercial industry (e.g. Google, Microsoft) and the schools. As it is portrayed by identified cases in Belgium (i.c. Flanders) and the U.K., brokers’ range of action includes the assistance on procurement processes, the recommendation of specific educational platforms, and digital skills training to teachers and staff. Brokers are “hidden” actors placed between the schools and the edtech industry, that nonetheless occupy a powerful position in guiding schools in the use of “what works” in edtech, and in promoting new types of professionality and expertise in practice settings. By analyzing locally embedded policy documents of Flanders and the U.K, and also transnational documents (e.g. World Bank, U.N.), we contend that the current policy landscape discursively constructs a space in which brokers are called to emerge as new type of educational professionals, strengthening and even actualizing overarching meta-policies of governing education through “evidence-based” solutions or though “what works”. A critical scrutiny will provide a richer idea of how these governing rationales can alter in novel ways the limits and boundaries between the (edtech) market and the schools.
Emma E. Rowe (Deakin University)
This paper examines digital education governance via the frame of venture philanthropy in public education. Digital actors are frequently working alongside, or with, venture philanthropy—such as Facebook, Google, Amazon or Microsoft. Focusing on Australia and policy mobility in public education, the paper identifies a central hub (named Social Ventures Australia) to map a structural shift in the governance of education, identifying how policy networks steer education systems, and in the process mutating agency and authority of public education. Drawing on a metaphor of the dingo-proof fence, the longest structure in Australia, the paper conceptualises policy networks and how they are assembled as hybrid digital actors—tying this to the assemblage of major policy reform in public education, namely a national evidence broker. Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) emerged in 2021, as modelled on the UK’s Education Endowment Foundation and the What Works Centre for Education. The logic of causation is publicly attributed to a government report, yet this omits a more complex policy network that lobbied for its establishment. Australia’s first national ‘evidence-broker’ is strategically assembled as an ‘inanimate object’ (Law and Singleton, 2005), and is reliant upon a range of governance technologies to uphold its scaffolding of impartiality, including tools and instruments, such as randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and public rubrics, or hierarchies of evidence. The evidence broker is tied to venture philanthropic networks, and these policy networks, as entangled with big banks, consultancies, and tech corporations, illuminate the heterarchical state, fundamentally affecting the materiality of public education.