Democracy as a foundational principle has a central place in the Norwegian educational system. However, as a theme it has been overshadowed by other national and international priorities. For example, globalization - the desire to be competitive in international comparison and adaptions aimed at making the public sector more efficient - has a strong influence on economic, political and educationally related trends, which have led to political and ideological shifts in our societal values.
International discussions have created a new agenda in several ways. For example, international trends have given us a global educational market with different trans-national concepts – “teaching programs” – which are promoted to schools and pre-schools and which in their basic suppositions do not necessarily fit into the Norwegian ideas about participation and critical thinking.
Moreover, the introduction of new governance and management forms (NPM) - inspired by the private sector – have led to more competition, increased control and reporting, and have challenged professional autonomy and responsibility.
The recent increasing inflow of refugees has also reintroduced the debate on democracy and the accommodation of society. In addition, the role of the educational system has been discussed.
The «Democratic Mobilization» (DEMO) at the University of Agder is focusing on democracy’s role in pedagogy and education in order to get democracy back on the agenda. It is important to understand how different educational interests interact with other national and international regulations and measures in order to gain a better understanding of democracy’s role and influence on the different areas in our educational system. The DEMO program aims to explore the perception of democracy and to examine democratic practice within pedagogy and education. DEMO is meant to cover diverse viewpoints and various research findings that shed light on current themes in relation to “democracy”. The primary goal is to give an impetus to research and network building in this area and to mobilize reflection and debate concerning democracy today.
Research will be by nature diverse and aimed at illuminating a variety of different dimensions in the relation between democracy and pedagogy / education. Key topics can include:
Democracy in the welfare state’s educational system
How does it address democracy in the country’s educational institutions? Is democracy seen as a way of living or is it seen rather as a social convention one should learn? Is democracy a priority issue or have other considerations higher priority? Is there a need for a new understanding of what democracy entails? Additionally, is there real room for alternative interpretations of democracy?
Knowledge and education in democracy
If democracy is to function, citizens must have knowledge on what is happening and why it happens. What type of knowledge and education creates citizens who can contribute and be active? What is entailed in being an enlightened citizen, who defines that, and is it a matter that can be a part of a democratic dialog? What type of knowledge is needed to be able to make decisions and exercise accountability? A relevant discussion concerning knowledge must be thought of in a broad democratic perspective. Discussions must occur about how knowledge is developed, disseminated and networked in light of democracy’s demand of an enlightened and critically reflective public. This discussion connects the responsibilities and duties of pre-schools, the elementary school curriculum, secondary and higher education’s content, as well as the function of democratic education.
Freedom of expression and the possibility to participate
Democracy as a process. Admission to power and the legitimate right to participate. Cultivation and education through debate and the exchange of views throughout the entire educational system. The possibility to influence and be listened to. Is this a possibility for everyone, or is there a distinction regarding who has influence? What characterizes the particular form of power that democracy invites? What do differences in language proficiency, country or city of origin, cultural background/experience, family education, gender or age make in the human experience of being able to participate? Moreover, what role does the educational institution play in relation to overcoming or supporting participation possibilities?
Individuality and community
Democracy as social living and a life style. DEMOs and ETNOs. Different community arenas, inclusion and integration questions. Which society and culture will children and youth identify with and attach themselves to? In what degree and by what means does one share with others in rituals, traditions, and norms? Individuality and difference, cohesion and affiliations. Who belongs to the community and how are the boundaries set?
Structure and management
Political governance and structural changes in the educational sector. Do centralized and top-down oriented management systems erect more challenges for a «democratic» educational culture? Is the Nordic comprehensive school’s position in the educational structure under pressure towards more decentralized management, privatization and NPM? What about the introduction of new management systems and of programs that regulate the content and means of delivery with the intention of increasing the quality of the educational offering: What are the implications for those who have directional authority for pre-schools and public schools, or university leaders areas of authority, and what about professional autonomy and responsibility? How does it affect the users’, employees’ and directors’ trust in the system and demand for loyalty at all levels of the educational system?
Research questions can address the elaboration of current theories and understanding, analysis of conflicts and tensions, investigations of new challenges and drafting of possibilities.
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