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What is the connection between education and the economy? For many neoclassical economists, the connection is found in Human Capital theory.

My guest today, Professor Steve Klees, thinks human capital theory and rates of return analyses are very problematic.

In our conversation, Steve talks about his new article, “Human Capital and Rates of Return: Brilliant Ideas or ideological dead ends?”, which can be found in the latest issue of the Comparative Education Review. He takes us through human capital theory, its internal logical fallacies, and proposes a set of alternatives.

Steve Klees is a professor of International Education Policy in the College of Education, University of Maryland.

Citation: Klees, Steve, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 54, podcast audio, December 5, 2016. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/steveklees/

Will Brehm  1:45
Steve Klees, welcome to FreshEd.,

Steve Klees  1:52
I’m very glad to be here. Thank you for having me.

Will Brehm  1:55
You are an economist by training. But you have spent most of your career in the comparative and international education field. How do economists typically think about, or look at education?

Steve Klees  2:12
That’s a huge question, but the answer really depends on what kind of economist you’re talking about; they’re different schools of thought. But the the main dominant school of thought is called neoclassical economics. And neoclassical economics is really about competitive capitalist market systems. And within that education is a very important piece of understanding education, economics and development. In particular, neoclassical economists have developed something they call “human capital theory” that is a framework for understanding education’s role in the economy and in society.

Will Brehm  3:10
And how is human capital theory measured? How do economists see human capital?

Steve Klees  3:22
Well, human capital is a latecomer to economics, to neoclassical economics. Neoclassical economics goes back to Adam Smith, and the Wealth of Nations in the 1700s and the term “neoclassical” actually was coined at the end of the 1800s, and it’s about how a competitive market system operates. Human capital theory wasn’t developed till the late 1950s, early 1960s. Prior to human capital theory, economists understood the economy in terms of supply and demand, you’d always see economists talking about supply and demand – of small companies, small firms, small households competing with each other – and trying to understand how that competition worked, what you got out of it, how a market system worked.

Prior to human capital theory, economists had a lot of difficulty understanding labor and work. Labor prior to human capital theory was an anomaly. It wasn’t something you could talk about in terms of supply and demand. The economists in those days, in the 50s, look more like sociologists; it was a whole field of labor economics where they studied real world labor, they studied strikes, they studied unions, they studied how large firms operated. But education didn’t really fit into that structure at all – that way of thinking. And there were odd people out in neoclassical economics because they were more like sociologists, and they weren’t talking about competitive market structures and supply and demand, and human capital changed all that

Will Brehm  5:28
How so?

Steve Klees  5:29
Well, it really made economists able to talk and think about education and labor. Labor, especially, as a commodity like any other commodity that’s bought and sold on a marketplace, that has a price, that’s determined by supply and demand in the marketplace. Human Capital theory developed because it was explaining puzzles. People were trying to understand how economies grew. And they understood that there were more workers, and there was more capital investment, but they didn’t really have any idea about quality of work. And the whole idea of human capital, was it explained better, to neoclassical economists anyway, why some countries grew faster versus slower. They called it a revolution in thought, and the idea behind it was essentially simple – that education wasn’t just a consumer good, it was an investment. It was an investment in individuals, and it was an investment by society and societal development.

Will Brehm  6:48
So in a sense, it would be that if an individual were to receive education, or more education than another, they or he or she would be more productive in an economy, and maybe measured through income? Is this the way the neoclassical economists were seeing this?

Steve Klees  7:12
Yes. They looked at two outcomes of education in particular They looked at earnings, and they weren’t interested in private benefits as much; earnings were a benefit to you, income is a benefit to you. But they were interested in, within their framework earnings as a proxy for people’s productivity, like you said. And so, they were trying to get a handle on education’s connection to individual productivity. And secondly, education’s direct influence on economic growth, its effect on gross national product. So you saw starting in the 60s, lots of studies of the “rate of return”, they called it, the return on investment. So education in terms of earnings as a proxy for productivity, and in terms of economic growth measured by gross national product.

Will Brehm  8:15
So based on the rate of return methodology is is some education better than other education for foreign economy or for foreign individuals’ productivity?

Steve Klees  8:27
Yes. I should explain a little bit about rates of return. Rates of return are a measure of benefits and costs. In neoclassical economics, the private sector is motivated by profit. Profit is a signal that this endeavor is valuable. Adam Smith talked about the invisible hand of supply and demand working in the public interest. That’s the profits supposedly representing where peoples’ benefits exceed their costs; where the outcome of whatever you’re making, tables or software or whatever, the benefits exceed the costs. And so economists were looking for something as analogous to that in the public sector. So the idea was to explicitly study the benefits and costs of public sector activities, whatever field, education, health care, environment, transportation, and rate of return is a summary measure, after you figure out what are all the benefits to an education investment, what are all the costs of that investment, and it’s a summary measure to try and get at  – gosh, you know, you’re making 20% on your investment, the benefits exceed costs by 20%. And so that’s applied to lots of different types of educational activities, and other sector activities, to study the returns to education, of various types of vocational education versus academic education; of higher different levels of education, higher education versus early childhood, or primary education; different programs of education. Anything where you can find reasonable monetary measures of outcomes. Sometimes you can’t do that, you’re just looking at test score differences between different programs. And then economists do a more limited array of what they call “cost effectiveness” analysis. But mostly economists really like to go after cost-benefit analysis, because that gives them a metric that they can compare with returns in the private sector: Is this a better investment to take your money out of the private sector, tax it and put in an education or health care or environmental protection?

Will Brehm  11:13
This sort of thinking of cost-benefit analysis of education to an economy, do you see this is problematic in anyway?

Steve Klees  11:24
Yes, the paper you mentioned that I did, and actually much of my work over the last – I hesitate to say it – 40 years (I’ve been working in this field for a while) has been with the problems of neoclassical economics, generally. And more specifically, with the internal dynamic, the internal problems with that field that gives you measures like benefit-cost studies of rates of return. My work has been recently basically saying that even not taking in a critical outside neoclassical economics look, which we can talk about in a little bit, of political economy perspective, for example. But even if you take the neoclassical economics perspective, there are so many problems within that framework, that for me, the benefit-cost analysis/rate of return type measures just fall apart; that they become almost meaningless.

Will Brehm  12:41
How, so? Let’s dig into it, human capital theory, rates of return analyses. If you’re saying that there are problems of the internal logic of neoclassical economics for human capital theory, and for rates of return analysis, can you can you dig more into that? Like how, so? What are some examples of this?

Steve Klees  13:05
I don’t know whether to start with the details or the broader picture. Let me just start with the broader picture, because I think, then the problems with the details become clearer. And the broader picture really revolves around one central idea of neoclassical economics, and that’s the idea of economic efficiency or societal efficiency. They sometimes called it Pareto efficiency after an Italian economist a century ago called Pareto, and it’s a complex idea that I find completely unsound and unreal. And I’ll try and explain the idea briefly, explain why I think it’s unsound, and then give you how it manifests itself in this cost-benefit/rate of return type studies. So efficiency is something, you know, it’s a common sense concept. So to us, people talk about efficiency of this or that; it’s an engineering concept, it’s a physics concept of, you know, you can do more with less somehow. But in education, you can talk about it sensibly, right? Limited ideas of efficiency, like you can talk about an educational system as inefficient because it has a lot of dropouts, or a lot of people repeating grades, or a lot of people who aren’t learning much. So there’s a common sense idea of efficiency that makes sense to all of us. And I have no objections to that. It’s the economist concept of efficiency that’s problematic. And that’s not about an individual sector or individual project, as much as it’s the overall society is deemed economically efficient if it operates according to the assumptions of a very highly competitive market framework that in abstract neoclassical economics discussion is called “perfect competition”. Perfect competition is a competitive system that is so highly competitive that you’ve got many buyers and many sellers of identical products: that nobody’s big, nobody can influence prices, they’re all taking prices in the market, they’re all small potatoes. Consumers and producers are the two major motivators and movers of the economy. Consumers are just out there maximizing their happiness, and producers are just out there maximizing their profits. And if everything functions according to, and information is perfect, you know everything about everything. If you operate according to these simple assumptions, the whole economy is deemed efficient. And what they mean by that is that somehow, not only is there no waste, you’re you’re doing everything as cheaply as you possibly can. But you’ve got the right balance of everything, the correct balance of everything. So you’re producing the right amount of chairs and tables, and movies and hamburgers, and software. There’s something called “correct balance”. And that’s what’s efficient in this. And it’s completely separable from their other major concept, which is equity or fairness or the distribution of these things. So the distribution is sort of irrelevant to efficiency. You can have an efficient society in which half the people in the world are starving. That’s that can be efficient, because efficiency is just about those people who have effective demand, meaning they have money. And they can wave that money in the marketplace and demand goods and services. And so efficiency is really to economists about forgetting equity, forgetting distribution. Are we producing as much as possible with the inputs of land/labor/capital/technology that we have? In the theory, and in practice, this is just simply absurd.

There’s actually in theory neoclassical economists have something called “second best theory”. And second best theory says that if you don’t live in the first best world of perfect competition with all those tight assumptions – unreal, impossible assumptions – but let’s say have one monopoly in one sector in which everything else is highly competitive, second best says in the second best world with just one imperfection, you have no idea if the economy’s efficient at all, there’s no idea if it’s close to efficient at all. Because this framework is so tight that you only get this overall efficiency of the correct balance of things if prices are the accurate signal sending benefit and costs signals to producers that act in the public interest. With one price off, all of the prices are affected. So in practice, efficiency demands, for example, that you have the correct balance, the correct inputs balance of producing yachts for rich people and rice and beans for poor people. Well, that’s just a distributional issue to me. That’s an equity issue to me. There’s no right balance of yachts and rice and beans; there’s no right balance of computer software, higher education, early childhood education, nutritional programs, roads building. There’s no correct balance of that. And in practice, there’s just no vantage point in the sky. That’s what this efficiency idea is. Where you could separate what we produce from who gets it. They’re all integrally tied in practice. And this is what in practice they’re trying to do with cost-benefit analysis of rate of return: get an idea of whether something in particular is efficient or not.

Will Brehm  20:06
Just hearing that, it just makes me think that the theory of the world in neoclassical economics doesn’t match the reality that I live in. I mean, certainly people do not have perfect information when it comes to to buying anything. But at the same time, I also think that this separation of equity and distribution from efficiency seems to have actually happened. The world I see today, there seems to be a huge gap between the rich and the poor, that those eating rice and beans and those on their yachts.

Steve Klees  20:48
Yes, absolutely. The real world today is very problematic in terms of distribution, as we all know. In terms of equity.

Will Brehm  21:04
How is this embodied in rates of return?

Steve Klees  21:08
The whole efficiency framework is translated into guidelines for the public sector through cost-benefit analysis. And not costs and benefits to private individuals they’re after, they’re after costs and benefits to society as a whole. Because they want to correct the market, to account for all the costs and benefits to society as a whole. And so if you’re thinking about education, you think about the benefits of education. They buy benefits in terms of earnings to an individual. That’s a benefit to society if earnings reflect productivity. That’s problematic because earnings are a price, and prices are distorted in real world economies. So there’s no reason to believe that earnings reflect productivity at all. Earnings are determined by market power, by the vagaries of who’s got skills and who doesn’t have skills, on where firms do their business. So the idea of earnings as a proxy for productivity is a problem.

A second problem is that even if you wanted earnings as a proxy for productivity, that’s just one individual benefit. That is a social benefit, because it measures productivity, but there are what they call externalities. There are benefits to other people who were not included in the market transaction, you decide how much education you’re getting, some supplier gives it to you, a public school or private school, a training program, the benefits to education go way beyond you. And those are not taken into account in the market. So when there are benefits beyond the individual, they’re called externalities, because the market doesn’t take them into account. And therefore, the market is making inefficient decisions, because it’s not counting all the benefits. So in education, you can think of lots of benefits that aren’t just to you, your education benefits other people through your coworker productivity, through your family, through household health decisions, through helping your children, through lowering crime rates, through lowering welfare rates. It’s got lots of these external effects. And the second problem with rates of return is measuring those all are very problematic.

And the third problem with rates of return is that even if we were trusting earnings as a good measure, it’s very hard, I would say impossible, to figure out the effect of education on earnings. This goes to our problems, not neoclassical economics, but our problems with research methods generally. Separating our causes from effect, impact evaluation is extremely difficult to the point where I think it can’t be done quantitatively. If, for example, you took 1000 people and you ask them what’s their income, and then you try to figure out what are the dozens of factors that make those incomes different. And then you’ve actually tried to build a mathematical model that would separate those dozens of factors, so that you could say, “Well, their income went up, because they were a union this much, because they had another year of education this much, because they were in a high demand field this much, because they were healthy that much.” I mean, it boggles the mind. I’ve done another paper on the economist statistical procedure called regression analysis that tries to do that – it tries to take the dozens of factors affecting some outcome and separate them out. And my view is that we just can’t do that. So that even the minimal idea of looking at the impact of education on individual earnings is problematic. Taking them all together, I find rates of return and cost-benefit analysis, generally not a good basis for decision-making.

Will Brehm  25:48
But yet, it has been. These methods and this particular theory have been dominant and have been used to make decisions in education systems, among other sectors. So what’s the scholarly track record of those using rates of return and human capital theory? All of the critiques that you put forward seem very plausible to me, but yet rates of return and human capital theory has had quite the long longevity in academic research.

Steve Klees  26:23
Yes, it’s certainly has. And just two things to say in response to that. One is you asked about their track record, and in terms of track record, there’s no testing this. This isn’t something you can predict and then find out was a true. Because, I say the rate of return to expanding higher education is 12% in your country at this time. Is that a good investment, if you decide 12% is a good return, and you put your money in. But there’s no validation of whether you got 12% or not, so there’s no track record in terms of these predictions. They’re making predictions now, for example, about education and GNP. And I just find those scary and absurd. There’s some very interesting economists, very competent economists doing this. Eric Hanushek and [Ludger] Woessmann, and they tried to do regression analysis to say if your PISA scores go up (the PISA being that international test that people take as a proxy for cognitive achievement), how much will your GNP go up? And they come to these conclusions like a 10% increase in cognitive skills gives you a 2% boost on GDP and if everybody moved a standard deviation on PISA, your GNP would grow seven times in the next 30 years. I mean, this is carrying this framework to an absurdity to me. They can’t separate out the impact of education from the dozens and dozens of other factors that influence GDP or GNP, and then to take that out as its influence now and project that 30 or 40 years in the future is just the height of irrational use of a framework of this kind. And I understand why they do it. These are reasonable people, you want good information for decision-making, and to economists, this idea of efficiency, separable from equity is the touchstone.

But the real question for me is the second question you asked: basically, why has this framework been dominant for so long? And neoclassical economists would say at the very simple answer – it’s because of its explanatory power. It explains differences in investments in health and differences in individual behavior. And it’s true, I mean, in differences in individual behavior, this is useful framework because your decisions are affected by the returns to you, and you make decisions about your educational investment versus your investment in health care, versus your decision to go to a movie or your decision to buy a house, about returns to you. And that’s fine. So there is some use for this framework in terms of understanding people’s motivations. But in terms of societal’s efficiency and investment preferences, this framework is bankrupt and it’s empty. So to me, and to many critics, it’s not the dominant framework because of its explanatory power, it’s the dominant framework because it fits. Human capital theory is embedded in neoclassical economics, and that’s embedded in capital market – it fits with a capitalist market economy. The critics would argue the reason there’s so much attention to efficiency and rates of return and technical views of whether you invest in this thing, or that and how much do you do is because it makes sense in terms of efficiency. If you lose that efficiency framework, you realize that this is just a way to support a market system. This is neoclassical economics is an ideological justification for capitalist market systems to be efficient. To act in everybody’s interests aside from equity. If you question that, then you can see neoclassical economics generally, and human capital theory, as basically an ideological framework and ideological bulwark.

The whole skills discourse today comes from human capital theory and a skills discourse seems like common sense. It says if people only had better skills, they would be better off, and their countries and societies would be better off. That skills discourse based as it is on human capital theory and neoclassical economics is very problematic. People today have talked about the “triple economic challenge” that we face, and they talk about the three things: job creation; poverty elimination; and inequality reduction. Human capital theory and neoclassical economics generally gives one simplistic answer to all three challenges: lack of skills or equivalently, the mismatch between what education is producing and what businesses in the economy need. For the critics, lack of skills is not why people are poor, are not why jobs are scarce, and not why societies are so unequal. The culprit for the critics is that the very structure of the world system in which we are living, capitalism most particularly, but patriarchy, racism and other structures. Those very structures are problematic. While capitalism has increased our ability to produce material goods tremendously, so it looks very productive in that way, in another sense, it’s one of the most inefficient and destructive structures that you can imagine. Why? Because almost half the world – the World Bank says 3 billion people – are relegated to the margins of society. Capitalism has not created jobs for them, livelihoods for them. For the vast majority of our global population, if capitalism was an efficient system, we would be taking advantage of the skills and develop the skills of the 7 billion people on the planet and produced a lot more. Capitalism in its 200, 300 years hasn’t done that, and isn’t doing that. You know, some people talk about we live in a meritocracy. What nonsense! These 3 billion people are relegated to the margins of society because they’re not meritorious? It’s not that at all. It’s poverty, unemployment and inequality, not to mention environmental destruction and other problems, are not failures of capitalism, as they’re sometimes seen, but the logical outcome of its inherent structure. So that that in many ways, contrary to prevailing economic views, human capital has been a very destructive discourse. This is contrary to what the majority of economists think as it’s been brilliant, but it’s been a destructive discourse, because it’s really blamed individuals for their lack of skills, their lack of investment in the right skills, the lack of good choices. And so instead of understanding problematic structures that we need to do something about, we’ve been directing attention towards the supply of individuals and how to fix that. And we’ve been fixing it for decades. And the payoff with poor countries is abysmal. And the payoff even within rich countries is abysmal. The inequalities within the US, the level of hunger in the United States, the level of marginalization, the level of poor dead end jobs, the level of insecurity, the level of environmental destruction, this is not an efficient system.

Will Brehm  36:04
Turning to alternatives. I mean, is it even possible, or can we even have an education system in a capitalist economy without human capital theory? It almost seems like many of these problems that we see in education in terms of equity that you were just mentioning stem from the capitalist economic systems that that are pervasive in most countries. So how can we envision and create education systems in alternative ways that account for equity while still being in capitalist economies?

Steve Klees  36:48
Yes. All you’re asking today’s tough questions.

Will Brehm  36:55
I apologize.

Steve Klees  36:57
That’s okay. Let me preface my response to education with a little bit on how these alternatives are viewed to the very structures in which we live. Because education can only be successful if it’s a part of a challenge to those structures in fundamental ways. And there’s a lot of alternatives. Everything is contested terrain in this world; everything is up for grabs, up for debates with different views. So I view the alternative to neoclassical economics as what I call “political economy”. Political economy is a contested term and people on the right use it as well as people on the left. I’m using it more from the left of center point of view of critics of capitalism, critics of other world system structures. And for me, a political economy perspective today raises questions about the structures of the world system in which we live.

It’s the intersection of feminist perspectives, of post- perspectives, postcolonial, post structural, neo-Marxist perspectives, queer theories about heterosexism in society, disability theories, critical race theories. Not that these theories are identical, not that these approaches are identical, but all of them see marginalization as central, and all of them see marginalization not as failures of the world system -they’re failures for sure – but more is a logical consequence of the structures of patriarchy and racism and capitalism in which we live. And while there’s agreement that reproduction is pervasive, that is this marginalization is not an aberration, systems are out there that reproduce and legitimate marginalization and inequality. And the education system is part of that, as are all of the systems in which we live.

But the critics, the political economists, as I label them agree that while reproduction is pervasive, there are lots of spaces for progressive action. Through exercising individual and collective agency. You have the ability, and especially collectively, we have the ability to challenge these structures. And collective challenge is perhaps the watchword of political economists. Social movements like the women’s movement, like the civil rights movement. These are worldwide now. Like the landless movement in Brazil and now other countries. The poorest people in the world are organized and having an influence on policy. The untouchable movement in India, not anti-globalization, but the alter-globalization movement and in human rights movements and the children rights movement. And so there’s lots of examples of contestation at the systemic level and in education.

There’s lots of examples in every education in every city, in every country, and in every school system of what political economists call more progressive approaches to education. The legacy of people at Paolo Freire, the famous Brazilian educator who founded a field that we call today “critical pedagogy”. Critical pedagogy is a political economy approach to education, arguing that while reproduction is pervasive in schools, there’s lots of ways to challenge that. And so people, individual teachers challenge that all the time. They close their doors to their classroom, they use different learning materials, they teach their students differently about fairness, about equity, about the structures in which they live, they raise questions on that. And it’s not just individual teachers, there are systems of it. In Brazil, the landless movement which I just mentioned, have their own schools that are Freirean, that are participatory, that are so different from the technicist technical approach to education that we have today throughout the world. In Brazil, something called the citizen school movement that, again, is very participatory, that involves the community. We say “community involvement” all the time, but this is serious community involvement. This is serious democracy for students, for teachers, for administrators, participating and directing curriculum, directing grading, making decisions at a local level together, and sometimes very explicitly challenging the types of feeding education into work and into the labor market that dominates so strongly. On the alternative, for most political economists, when you reject the sort of functionalist view of sociologists, of society, of efficiency of markets, and say, “This is not something in which everybody is benefiting, there’s conflict here, there’s different interests, and the only way that’s going to change is through struggle, through individual and collective struggle.”

What that means in terms of alternative system-wide is difficult to say. At a minimum, where we’re not a neoliberal form of capitalism. Capitalism in the 60s, and 70s was a much more liberal capitalism in which government intervention was recognized as necessary to correct the ills that were essentially built into the structure of capitalism. Neoliberalism starting in the 80s with Reagan and Thatcher and Kohl in Germany said: Government is the problem, the market is the solution. We need to get away from that. We need to restore the legitimacy of government action, we’ve got the sustainable development goals of the United Nations on the table. Goals that are very ambitious about improving the world, we’re not going to get there under neoliberal capitalism. We’re not going to get there when we think it’s illegitimate for government to direct action. We’re not going to get there if everything is a public-private partnership and depends on corporate profitability in order to direct that system.

And maybe we have to move beyond capitalism. At the local level there’s lots of alternatives. And  broadly speaking, it’s the subject to a whole another conversation. And I have a paper coming out next year on capitalism in education that talks about alternatives, so maybe we’ll do another podcast there. But the broad answer is, you need to build towards a more participatory democracy and more towards a workplace democracy. The problem with capitalism is that our workplace is authoritarian. We teach democracy in the political sphere; we don’t have a lot of that at a very participatory level either. But we need democracy in the workplace as well.

Will Brehm  45:28
It seems like a lot of what you’re saying is that we have to think beyond the connection of education as being for the development of human capital, and having a different value of education. And there can be many it sounds like, and many different ways of achieving those values or putting those values into action. But it seems like that’s the first step: decoupling, or de-linking the connection between education and human capital development.

Steve Klees  46:05
No, I would agree. And to be fair to human capital theorists, some of them recognize that broad connection. It’s got narrowed in practice so much that all we’re looking at as the connection to education to the workplace. But citizenship can be subsumed in that human capital framework. The problem is its basis in efficiency. You want to talk about the many things education does, the many more things we want it to do. We don’t want to just make education about workplace. We don’t want to make education just about literacy and numeracy. We need education for peacebuilding, for people to not be aggressive, for people to be fair with each other, for people to have resilience, and people to be creative. So there’s lots of purposes of education, and human capital theory and practices just narrow the field too much. And more broadly speaking about this political economy framework versus a more mainstream dominant human capital neoclassical framework, the political economy framework doesn’t offer the technical policy guidance that rates of return give. For neoclassical economists, policies are a dime a dozen. You just do your cost-benefit analysis and this year, vocational education is better than academic education, higher education is better than primary education.

If you reject that framework, what you have is human capital theory, neoclassical economics – our ideologies masking as science. It’s absurd to think that there’s some way to assess technically, the tradeoff between higher education and primary education, between education and health and the environment. All we have is a messy, participatory democratic struggle of individuals and groups with some common interests and some different interests. And for me, what we have to do is find ways to facilitate that struggle and in doing so, economics and the dominant scientific perspective says you need to stay neutral and objective. For me, I’ve learned that you always take sides. That when I write a paper, when I teach a class, when I’m doing research, when I engage in policy, when I engage in my life, I always have to take a side. And if you don’t think you’re taking a side, you are because this is a struggle. This is contestation. And I guess my concluding point is that for me, this is what I said in the paper you cited, neoclassical economics and human capital theory are ideological dead ends. But fortunately for all of us, there are lots of alternatives.

Will Brehm  49:29
Well, Steve, Klees, you gave us a lot to think about in this conversation. Thank you so much for joining FreshEd, and you’re definitely welcome back when that new paper comes out on capitalism in education.

Steve Klees  49:41
Thank you very much for having me.

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Today marks the first installment of a seven-part miniseries on Global Learning Metrics. In effort to promote the inaugural Symposium of the Comparative and International Education Society, FreshEd will air interviews with some of the invited speakers.

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How can we think about inequality and education? My guest today, Mario Novelli, dives into the subject by looking at the role of schools in the production of inequality.

Since 2010, Mario has researched issues related to the role of education in peace building processes, working with UNICEF on a series of projects.

In our conversation, Mario not only details how modernity, capitalism, and colonialism combine to create systems of inequality inside school systems but also publicly struggles with his role in the production of inequality through his work in international educational development.

Mario Novelli is Professor of the Political Economy of Education and Director of the Centre for International Education (CIE) at the University of Sussex. His latest article discussed in this podcast can be found in the most recent issue of the British Journal of the Sociology of Education.

Citation: Novelli, Mario, Interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 41, September 12, 2016. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/marionovelli/

Will Brehm:  1:58
Mario Novelli, welcome to Fresh Ed.

Mario Novelli:  2:01
Thanks very much for having me.

Will Brehm:  2:03
The British Journal of Sociology of Education has put out a special issue on the work of the French economist Thomas Piketty, who wrote a pretty famous book in 2013 called Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century. And you have a piece in this special issue. What is Piketty’s main argument in Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century? And why does it warrant a whole issue of an education journal?

Mario Novelli:  2:33
Okay, well, Piketty’s book is a big one. And it really focuses around the rise of inequality over the last 200, 220 years.

And his central argument is that, unlike orthodox economic belief that as capitalism has developed, and as nations develop, inequality reduces. In fact, what he highlights is that, apart from a brief interlude between the first and second world war, inequality has tended to increase and what that leads into develop is a kind of the assertion of an economic law, which is that private wealth, inherited wealth increases faster than productive investment or economic growth.

And that has a tendency to increase inequality in the long run. And I think that for education, there are lots of implications, there are lots of implications around the role of education in the reproduction of inequality, the role of education in potentially redressing inequality and being in a sense an equalizing factor in society. So there are many dimensions that we thought in the special issue we might be able to explore. And as you know, my particular work focuses on the relationship between education and conflict. So I went a bit more deeply into that area.

Will Brehm:  4:11
And we will touch on that in a second. But first, just generally speaking, in your opinion, does Piketty have any weaknesses in his argument that you were able to uncover during your research?

Mario Novelli:  4:28
I mean, I think there are a lot of weaknesses, I would like to say that I think it’s a great book, I think it’s a really important book. And I think that in an accessible way, despite the length of the book, and he puts on the table, some really important ideas around issues of inequality, which for many years, has not been a problem for orthodox economists, inequality seems to be something that should be embraced as a natural part of economic development.

In terms of challenges, I think the first one is that Piketty is an economist. And although he’s much more open than neoclassical economists, his focus is firmly on the economic domain and economic inequality, which, for me, is important, but insufficient. I think, if we look at the history of popular movements, who have struggled against the inequality over the last 70 years, economic inequality is only one domain of confrontation, it’s a key domain. But nevertheless, it’s just one site of contestation, I think, what we need to explore are other modes of inequality alongside economic inequality, cultural, political, national, and their effects on genders, identities, political rights, human rights, etc. So I think, you know, the big area is the kind of narrow economism within which we approach inequality. So I think there are lots of more depth different dimensions to focus on.
The second thing, and I think this is linked to his empiricism, the focus on numbers on evidence that is attainable is that I don’t think that everything that is important can necessarily be measured, and not everything that’s measured is necessarily important. And I think that’s why theory matters, because theory sometimes helps us to get under the surface of things that we can’t see unequal structures, social classes, racism, things like that, that exists, but are not necessarily visible in, you know, the classic, countable ways of empiricism.
And I think, then, the third difficulty in Piketty’s work, or the third omission, at least for me, particularly, is his failure to explore the issue of imperialism, the role of the north and the south, slavery, the history of colonialism in the history of capitalist development. It’s as if capitalist development unfolded through economic laws. But actually, what we know is that capitalism has also unfolded through conquest, colonialism, etc.

Will Brehm:  7:03
It sounds like he misses some of the, my guess, more complex issues of inequality as a social and cultural phenomenon. But how does Piketty or does Piketty bring up the issue of education in his work?

Mario Novelli:  8:07
Well, I guess as an economist, it’s not surprising that Piketty sees education as a kind of an engine of growth. And potentially, I think, an engine of equity and the reduction of inequality. And, you know, that’s linked to his understanding of human capital. And the idea that we invest in education in order to improve both our own personal economic wealth, but also the wealth of the nation. Though, of course, this is challenged, the relevance of human capital theory is challenged by himself in the book, because essentially, what he’s arguing is that inherited capital, debt capital is more productive than economic growth and productive capital. So investing in education may not bring you the returns that it might want have brought. So even for the human capital theory, there is a problem at the moment in terms of the nature of capitalist development. So that’s really where his focuses on the returns of education in terms of economic development and economic growth.

Will Brehm:  9:33
In your opinion, what is the relationship between education and capitalism if it’s not human capital?

Mario Novelli:  9:42
Okay, well, I think human capital is part of the story. Let’s be clear about that. I’m not saying that human capital is not important. But I think that if we look at the relationship between education and capitalism, it’s much more complex. I guess, I would start with Roger Dale’s work of the 1970s Education and the Capitalist State, where you need to think about education’s relationship to accumulation ie human capital, social cohesion – the role of education systems in making different population groups get on or not, and also in legitimation, the role of education in making students accept the situation that they’re in, the state of affairs that exists in society. So in a sense, it has a legitimating effect. It has a social cohesion affect, it also has an accumulation effect. And as Roger always pointed out, these three dimensions are not necessarily compatible. So if you focus on accumulation, you may undermine social cohesion, through selectivity etc.

And you may undermine accumulation and social cohesion by focusing too much on the legitimation. So there are range of contradictions in that. So that’s the first area that I think is important to return to. And I think the second area which is a more modern phenomenon is that education is not just human capital, in the terms of self-investment, and the production or the role of education in economic growth.

Education has emerged as an important commodity in the late 20th century, early 21st century whereby it’s one of the fastest growing industries and we can see that the expansion of universities and international chains of schools, so education itself is a factor in economic exchange now and I think that needs to be explored in much more detail and is completely avoided in Piketty’s work, as Susan Robertson’s article in the same special issue focuses on.

The third area, and I think this is, again, really important is the area of inequalities, the role of education in reproducing inequalities. And I’m not just thinking about class and gender, which is a lot of the focus but also about the way education systems reproduce north south inequality, you know.

How is it that Sub Saharan Africa, for example, remains marginalized in terms of the international economy. And I would say that the role of education, education actors, the International architecture of education, delivery, and policy also plays its role in the reproduction of those inequalities. So there are different dimensions. So in a sense, Piketty importantly looks at one area, but I think that if you’re going to take education seriously, you have to look at it much more broadly.

Will Brehm:  13:21
I think it would be very interesting for listeners to hear more about how education can contribute to inequality because I think on the surface that doesn’t sit well with a lot of people, because they would see it as education is the way to achieve equality and to achieve progress.

Mario Novelli:  13:47
Yeah, that’s right. Well, I guess you know, the simplest terms, particularly if you have a Western if we’re thinking about a Western audience, is the way that education privileges some actors and undermines others, the inequality in the provision of education in my own country, in the UK, depending on your postcode, the qualities of schools are often highly differential.

The differentiation in your parents’ salary may determine what type of school you go to whether you go to a private school. So education, in that sense, acts as a filter for social class, whether you can afford a house in a nice area, a wealthy area where there are good schools, or you live in a poor area. So those dimensions, I think, reproduced himself around the world in a sense that education is often highly stratified. But there are also other dimensions of the way education reproduces inequality in terms of, for example, language.

The language issue is a big one whose language gets taught in countries and whose languages get marginalized and what is the effect of that on those that speak that marginalized language? How do they perform in schools? Do they perform less well? If so, what’s the effect of that in the long term? And then in terms of even the content, the curriculum content of schooling, let’s think about you are from a minority community in a particular country, and you’re learning about the heroes of that nation, and none of your communities are ever represented. They’re always representations from other communities, how does that make you feel? What does it lead to? So there’s a lot of ways that education can reproduce alienation. And of course, vice versa, a highly equitable, inclusive open education system may be able to smooth over some of those inequalities that are inherited through generation.

Will Brehm:  16:17
And is part of the inheriting through generations related to imperialism, as you said earlier?

Mario Novelli:  16:24
Yes, certainly, if you’re looking at, let’s take the exploration of the African curriculum, what we see is a legacy of colonial interventions into the national education system. So take a country like Kenya that inherited its education system, from years of colonial rule where there was a highly elitist education system where for the vast majority were excluded and the minority were selected to play roles in the civil service, a small elite, that model of education still carries on to reproduce a highly unequal class structure, often justified by education attainment, but actually pre-ordained through social class.

Will Brehm:  17:27
I’d like to shift gears here to look at some of your work in educational development, particularly in countries like South Sudan or Myanmar and some more of these conflict areas as you said earlier. What have you found how inequalities kind of manifest and function inside education in some of these conflict areas or countries that have experienced conflict?

Mario Novelli:  18:00
Right. Well, maybe I should take a step back. I think that development itself as a field is a highly contradictory field. On the one hand, international development has this idea within it of the rest catching up with the West. This idea that through the study of development, national ex-colonial states, postcolonial states will eventually catch up with the West. But at the same time, international development for other thinkers is a mechanism through which the chains of colonialism were the armies were replaced by new mechanisms, new chains, which with far less visible, not necessarily less powerful than the troops. And so I think that the field itself reproduces some of these dilemma wherever it goes in a sense, the question of, is international development, doing good?

And redressing some of these inequalities or actually, is it there to reproduce them in different modes in different ways. And I think that you see that all around, you know, you see, for example, in Sierra Leone, the role of the international peacekeeping community that came during the war, and after the war in the 1990s, massively increasing the cost of housing and accommodation in the central rise, forcing prices of food up as the international community intervenes in the conflict. And it’s those kinds of things, you know, some would say, the unintentional effects of intervention, which often reproduce or exacerbate inequalities and the same you can go for looking at international intervention in education systems, are they improving the system? Are they reducing inequalities? Or are they actually exacerbating those? And, you know, depending where you’re looking, you have different answers. I mean, Kenya, come back to Kenya, just because I’ve done work in there recently. And the British government DFID has been promoting low cost basic education for poor communities and private schooling for poor communities, which is it seems to be having a demonstrable negative effect on poor communities. And that’s being pushed by an international development agency in the name of doing good, but actually seems to be having devastating effects. So I think that when I teach students of international development, which I do every year, and I always kind of ask them at the beginning of the class, how they feel about entering the field of international development. And they always say, you know, we’re really pleased, we want to, you know, help in Africa, we want to help in Asia. And I say, well, I hope by the end of the course, that you feel a little bit ashamed as well. And that by the end of the course, you actually think that some of the things that have been done in the name of development are actually just as bad as some of the things that have been done in the name of war.

Will Brehm:  22:02
Is that how you feel?

Mario Novelli:  22:06
Ah yes, largely I mean, as I said, it’s a contradictory field. If I thought that it was only doing bad I wouldn’t remain inside the field. But there is a strong sense that like many other terrains, there is a battle going on, it’s the terrain of contestation, and you fight your battles inside that field, to push it in certain directions, and dependent on different social forces at different times, development moves in different directions, so take the 1980s and the global policy of structural adjustment that had an absolutely devastating effect on African and Latin American communities, massively increasing inequalities, and I don’t think anybody can say that that was a positive period.

But the reaction to that was a period of, let’s say, more social democratic approach, a range of different reforms, a range of different challenges to that model. Although I have to say that, you know, a lot of the remnants of that model still remain, particularly within some of the big institutions like the World Bank.

Will Brehm:  23:30
In your article, you say that you have to manage your existential angst when it comes to the contradictions of educational development. Do you have any tips for someone like myself, who does a little bit of work in international development as well and feel similar, conflicting kind of emotions working in that space?

Mario Novelli:  23:58
I think so. I mean, I am uncomfortable. And, you know, I’m happy to say that and I say it to everyone. But on the other hand, what I say to myself as well, in the field I work, which is on the relationship between education and conflict and violent conflict, if I didn’t engage with organizations and in the field, then I wouldn’t be able to make any commentary on it. So I kind of say that you have to, in a sense, get your hands dirty, in order to have some legitimacy in the debates that you’re entering into.

And so in a sense, I wouldn’t advocate for people not to engage, but they would engage cautiously. The second area, I think that’s important is to understand that institutions I’ve been working for UNICEF, I think, for the last seven years, more or less, most of my research time, which is about half of my time, my work time, for the last seven years, has been involved with UNICEF. And I think that what I’ve learned from that experience is that these institutions themselves are not homogenous, there are different actors, different processes going on. And in a sense, often what happens is, you get picked up by certain actors, they kind of know what they’re looking for, and pick people that think that they can deliver that. So in a sense, you get caught up in political battles that are going on in institutions, and you often get picked up and then dropped by these institutions. But I think that you can learn a lot. And I think the good thing about yourself, myself, if we’re academics, and not consultants, we’re not only as good as our last job, we have our own job to go back to, we can select, we can be a bit more selective about what we get involved in. And I think that, you know, the problem with full time consultants is that actually, they’re always looking for their next job. And so they’re always trying to please the people who are paying them. And I think that leads sometime to some complicity in the production of information and evidence. So I would say for people to engage when they engage, within a sense, real world research that they enter into that domain cautiously, and also recognize, you know, some of the constraints.

Will Brehm:  26:48
So part of this work that you’ve done kind of straddling both the researcher and the consultant practitioner in educational development is that you’ve ended up with your team, putting together a framework of trying to understand inequality and education in ways that are probably more robust and complex than those being put forward by others. Can you talk a little bit about your framework and the value that you think it has?

Mario Novelli:  27:22
Yeah, well, as you were saying, I’ve been leading or co-leading a Research Consortium between the University of Amsterdam and the University of Ulster, where we’ve been working in a range of different countries on the relationship between education and peace building. So when we came in, we had a lot of initial meetings around how would we conceptualize peace building in education, and then how would we apply that in the field to start analyzing different countries.

Now, that project began on the back of an earlier one that I did with Professor Alan Smith, between 2010 and 2012. And in that we looked at Lebanon, Nepal, and Sierra Leone, and explored the relationship between education and conflict. And through that analysis, we develop to critique of the international community’s approach to peace building. And the location of education there in which was essentially that the broad approach of the international community to peacebuilding was a kind of security first liberal peace approach. And I’ll just explain those very quickly. And essentially, the argument was that you need to have security before anything else can move forward. So you need to retrain the military, retrain the police, sort the prison system out and then the social development, education, health can come later. And this is also tied with an argument that there was a kind of process of the reconstruction of a conflict affected state that you need to have security, then democracy, then open the country to open the markets up, allow the economy to develop, and then eventually, the rest of this stuff will follow. And basically, our critique of that was that it produced a kind of negative piece, the violence stopped. But the reasons that underpin the violence often remained, and the things that underpinned that violence was often inequalities. So I remember that we went to rural villages in Sierra Leone and ask questions around, you know, 10 years after the peace process, what has peace brought? And often the response was very little. So communities largely saw little benefit from peace in terms of their material lives, their access to education, their access to water, etc. And what we argued was that that approach, while short termly successful in the long term was laying the seeds for another conflict, that they hadn’t addressed the reasons why the conflict broke out in the first place. And we see that reproduced in many parts of the world. So that’s our starting point to say that we need a more social peace building model and more health and education are important.

So from that, with the new research project that we’ve done over the last couple of years, we developed a kind of social justice plus reconciliation approach, which we called the four Rs.

We took the first three Rs from Nancy Fraser’s work on social justice: redistribution, recognition, and representation. So economic inequality, cultural inequality, and political inequality. And we also added the fourth R of reconciliation, which was basically that you needed to address the drivers of conflict, which were often economic inequality, political and cultural inequality. But after a period of war, you also need to bring communities together, you need to have process of reconciliation.

And in a sense, those are often in contradiction. On the one hand, if you want to address those inequalities, you have to upset people, you have to redress, redistribute, reorganize. If you try to reconcile people, you need to deal with the legacies of conflict, which means often bringing them together. So those four different Rs, those four different dimensions working together, provided us in a sense, with the kind of roadmap to explore different countries approaches to education, so allowed us to look at different dimensions of the education system, how much money is spent on the education system? Where does it go? How is it distributed? Who gets what, where? Why don’t others get more? It also allows us to look at recognition which cultures are rarified, which languages which histories which communities are marginalized. It allows us to ask about representation, political issues, who gets to make decisions about issues in the education system that affect them? Who are marginalized and excluded from those decisions? And then finally, what is the education system doing in terms of reconciliation in terms of bringing communities back together after war? Is the school an obstacle to that process of reconciliation or a facilitator for that? So we looked at those different dimensions, and then produced a range of Country Reports around that looking at different aspects of them. And, you know, all kind of heuristic approaches have their limitations. But I think that it’s had some important policy effects. It has been taken up by a range of different national governments, I’m thinking South Sudan and South Africa, in particular. So you know, I’m pretty pleased with that.

Will Brehm:  33:55
One of your critiques about Thomas Piketty earlier was that he focused on empiricism. And in a sense, he wasn’t taking a critical realist approach about trying to realize that there are, there’s a social ontology more than empiricism. So some things we can’t see that that are important, or structures that exist that determine behavior and action that can’t necessarily be seen. How does your framework include a critical realist perspective?

Mario Novelli:  34:34
Well, I mean, I think that that framework, the four R’s is only a beginning, in a sense that all it is this kind of coat hangers to hang different dimensions of injustices and inequalities on what matters then is how you theorize and understand the underpinnings of those inequalities. Yeah, how did they emerge? What are their drivers, and I think that’s why in the sociology paper that you talk about on Piketty, I’ve tried to talk about the interaction between capitalism, imperialism and modernity and the complex and into weaved ways that these three phenomena intersect to reproduce those inequalities.

Will Brehm:  35:29
Well, Mario Novelli, thank you so much for joining Fresh Ed. It was really wonderful to talk on so many different topics.

Mario Novelli:  35:35
Thank you very much for inviting me.

Will Brehm:  1:58
Mario Novelli,欢迎你做客FreshEd

Mario Novelli: 2:01
感谢邀请,乐意之至!

Will Brehm:  2:03
针对法国经济学家托马斯·皮凯蒂(Thomas Piketty)于2013年的著作《21世纪资本论》,《英国教育社会学杂志》出了一期特刊。作为特刊的撰稿人之一,可否总结一下皮凯蒂在《21世纪资本论》中的主要论点,以及它有何特殊之处会使得一本教育期刊专门出特辑讨论呢?

Mario Novelli:  2:33
好的。皮凯蒂的书是一部很重要的著作,他主要研究过去200到220年间不断加剧的不平等现象。
传统经济学认为随着资本主义的发展,国家的繁荣,不平等程度会随之降低。皮凯蒂指出事实上恰恰相反。他强调,除了一战和二战期间曾短暂缩小外,不平等现象正不断加剧,而这种趋势恰恰印证了一条经济学原理,那就是私人财富,即继承财富的增长速度远超生产性投资或整体经济增长。
从长远来看,不平等程度将进一步增加。我认为,这将会对教育产生很大影响,尤其是教育在不平等再生产的问题和消除不平等方面起到了许多作用,甚至在某种意义上扮演了社会平衡的角色。我们觉得有很多维度值得在这本特刊里讨论。而我的重点主要关注教育与冲突之间的关系,因此我深入研究了那一领域。

Will Brehm:  4:11
在讨论您的研究之前,我想先请教一下,你在研究过程中发现皮凯蒂的观点有何不足之处吗?

Mario Novelli:  4:28
我得说这是一本非常出色、非常重要的书。虽然很长,但通俗易懂。而且皮凯蒂提出了很多关于不平等问题的重要观点。多年来,在传统经济学家看来,不平等都不是什么大问题,似乎只是经济发展过程中自然而然的一部分。

但还是有很多值得推敲的地方。首先,皮凯蒂是名经济学家,虽然比大多数新古典经济学家要开放一些,但他的重点仍然放在了经济领域和贫富差距上,在我看来虽然重要,但还不够充分。如果我们回溯过去70年来反抗不平等的民众运动,就会发现,财富上的不平等虽然很关键,但也只是其中一个领域。除此之外,我们还需要探究其他领域上是否存在不平等,例如文化上的、政治上的、民族上的,以及这些不平等对性别、身份、政治权利、人权等方面的影响。因此,我们不能局限于狭隘的经济主义去讨论不平等,还有许多更有深度的角度。

第二点不足之处和皮凯蒂的实证主义主张有关,他很重视可量化的数字和证据。而我认为,并不是所有重要的都可被测量,而可被测量的并不一定都很重要。因此我更相信理论的重要性,因为理论能帮助我们透过现象看本质,深入到无形事物的表面之下,例如不平等的结构、社会阶层、种族主义等等,这些是传统的、可量化的实证主义未必能触及的存在。

我个人认为,皮凯蒂这本书的第三点不足或疏漏是他没有讨论到帝国主义问题、南北关系问题、奴隶制问题,以及资本主义发展进程中的殖民主义的历史。在他看来资本主义发展是遵循经济规律的产物,但实际上我们知道,资本主义同时也是通过征服和殖民的方式发展起来的。

Will Brehm:  7:03
听起来皮凯蒂似乎忽视了社会和文化现象上的、更复杂的不平等问题。那他在书中提到教育问题了吗?是如何提及的呢?

Mario Novelli:  8:07
皮凯蒂将教育视作一种可以带动增长,同时还可以潜移默化地促进公平,缩小贫富差距的引擎。作为一名经济学家,他有这样的想法并不足为奇,这正体现了他对“人力资本假说”的理解,即教育投资不仅能提高个人财富,同时也有利于国家财富的增长。当然,这一观点并不被看好,包括皮凯蒂本人也在书里对人力资本理论的相关性表示质疑。因为,从根本而言,他主张遗产资本和债务资本的生产力要比经济增长和生产资本更高,因此教育投资未必能收获所期望的回报。即使是人力资本理论,目前在资本主义发展的根本属性上也依然存在问题。总而言之,皮凯蒂真正研究视阈是经济发展中的教育回报问题。

Will Brehm:  9:33
如果人力资本理论无法解释,那么还可以用什么来解释教育和资本主义之间的关系呢?

Mario Novelli:  9:42
需要澄清的是,人力资本是一方面,我并不否认其重要性,但教育和资本主义之间的关系要复杂得多。首先,我想引用一下罗杰·戴尔(Roger Dale)的观点,他于上世纪70年代发表的《教育与资本主义国家》一文中反思了教育与资本积累的关系(即人力资本)、教育与社会凝聚力的关系(即教育系统能否起到使不同人群和谐相处的作用),以及教育与合法性的关系(即教育使学生接受他们所处地位与社会现状)。所以,从某种意义上说,教育具有正当合法、凝聚社会和积累资本的作用。罗杰一直表示这三点未必能兼得。比如,如果强调资本积累,那么社会凝聚力可能会因为择优性而受损。如果过分强调合法性,那么资本积累和社会凝聚力也会被削弱。这其中有很多重矛盾。这是我认为第一个值得回顾的重要观点。

第二点是一种比较新的现象,即在自我投资和生产方面,或者说教育在经济增产中的作用不仅是人力资本,而是成为一种重要的商品形式。自20世纪末至21世纪初,教育是发展最快的行业之一,大学和国际学校不断扩张。因此如今,教育本身也变成了经济交换的一种形式。这一点需要更加深入仔细的研究,但正如我们的特刊中苏珊·罗伯森(Susan Robertson)强调的,皮凯蒂的书里完全忽略这一点。

第三点同样非常重要的是不平等领域,即教育在不平等再生产方面的作用。我指的不仅是已有广泛关注的阶级和性别不平等,还有发达国家与发展中国家间的不平等。例如,为什么撒哈拉沙漠以南的非洲地区会在国际经济中处于边缘位置,我认为教育本身、教育从业者、国际教育架构、授课方式和政策等各种不同因素都在不平等再生产中发挥了作用。因而从某种意义上而言,皮凯蒂只观察到其中一个方面。但我认为,要认真对待教育只有从更广泛的角度入手才行。

Will Brehm:  13:21
我觉得大多数人认为教育可以实现平等和进步,所以对于教育反而加剧不平等这一观点,听众朋友们乍一听或许会不太认同,但这是一个很有意思的话题,可否再多解释一下?

Mario Novelli:  13:47
的确如此。假设你是一位来自西方国家的听众,用最简单的话来说,教育会使得某些人享有特权,而其他人的权益则会受到损害。比如,在我自己的国家英国,教育供给是很不均衡的,不同地区的学校在质量上有天壤之别。而父母的收入可能决定了孩子可以就读何种类型的学校,是否能上得起私立学校。如果有能力在高档的富人区买房,那么就能上好的学校,反之在贫穷的地区教育质量也不会太好。因此,在这个层面上,教育充当了社会阶层过滤器的角色。

我认为,现在世界范围内,不论从什么层面,教育都是在高度分化的。另一个教育加剧不平等的层面就是语言。语言是一个很复杂的问题,国家课程里教什么语言,哪些语言被边缘化了,对那些使用边缘化语言的人群有什么影响,他们在学校表现如何,是否表现不太好,长此以往又有何影响?还有例如课程内容也会加剧不平等。试想一个来自少数族群的学生,学习自己国家历史时发现没有一个自己民族的英雄,都是其他民族的人物,这个学生该如何做想,会产生什么后果?总而言之,教育的异化方式有很多。当然,反之,一个高度平等、包容和开放的教育系统也许会缓和这些代代相传的不平等。

Will Brehm:  16:17
这种代代相传的不平等和你之前提到的帝国主义有关吗?

Mario Novelli:  16:24
这是肯定的,研究过非洲国家的课程体系就会知道,很多国家教育系统中都有殖民干涉的痕迹。拿肯尼亚举例,多年被殖民统治的历史使得其发展出一套高度精英化的教育体系,旨在将大多数人排除在外,只有少部分精英被挑选出来进入政府部门。这种教育模式进一步再生产了高度不平等的社会结构,看似公正的学历制度其实早就由社会阶层决定好了。

Will Brehm:  17:27
你之前提到你的研究方向是教育发展与冲突,那接下来可以谈谈你在教育发展方面的成果吗?尤其是在像南苏丹、缅甸这样的冲突地区。你认为在这些冲突不断的国家和地区,不平等是如何在教育中体现和发挥作用的呢?

Mario Novelli:  18:00
首先退一步讲,发展作为一个研究领域本身是一个非常矛盾的。一方面,国际发展中内含的一个思想就是世界上其他国家要向西方看齐。在这种思想指导下的研究认为,前、后殖民地的民族国家最终都能追赶上西方。但同时另一方面,也有人认为国际发展是一种新型的殖民主义,新的机制,新的“食物链”取代了过去军事力量的殖民,虽然不太明显,但威力不减。因此,这一领域本身就陷入囹圄,让人不禁发问,国际发展真的是对的吗?它到底是帮助消灭了国家间的不平等,还是变相地加剧了这些不平等?例如塞拉利昂,1991年爆发内乱后,国际社会的介入,维和部队的驻扎,使得粮食和房屋价格大幅上涨。诸如此类的事情屡见不鲜,这些影响虽说是无意中造成的,却往往复制和加剧了不平等的程度。

同样,国际社会对教育系统的干预是有利还是有弊?不平等到底是缩小了,还是扩大了?关于这一点,不同国家的情况还不尽相同。再拿我最近在研究的肯尼亚举例,自从脱离英国殖民统治后,在国际发展组织出于善意的推动下,肯尼亚致力于推行针对贫困社区的低成本基础教育和私立学校建设,然而这对贫困人口有着显著的负面影响和毁灭性打击。

每年教国际发展课的时候,我都会在课程开始前问学生们一个问题:“你们对于进入国际发展领域有何感想?”有学生说很开心,有人想要帮助非洲,还有人想帮助亚洲。而我告诉他们:“希望在课程结束的时候,你们会一点点惭愧。一些你们以为冠着发展的名头做的事,实际上和战争做的事一样糟糕!”

Will Brehm:  22:02
这是你的感想吗?

Mario Novelli:  22:06
很大程度上我是这么想的。不过就像我前面说过,国际发展是一个矛盾的领域。如果只有不好的一面,我就不会还继续留在这里了。我有种强烈的感觉,和很多其他学科一样,这各领域内正在进行着一场战斗,不同力量间彼此对垒、各自为战。随着不同时期的不同社会力量,发展也朝着不同方向移动。例如上世纪80年代的全球结构性调整政策,对拉丁美洲和非洲国家带来沉重打击,大大增加了不平等,我敢说没有人认为那是一个积极的时期。但也不可否认的是,这一模式也带来更多的社会民主,各种各样的改革,以及不同的反思和挑战。然而,我不得不说,这种模式仍然可以在一些大型组织,例如世界银行的做法中能经常看到。

Will Brehm:  23:30
你在文章中提到,每当遇到教育发展的矛盾时,你都必须要管理自己的焦虑情绪。我自己有时也会做一点关于国际发展的工作,也有这种类似的矛盾情绪。对于像我这样的研究者,你有什么建议吗?

Mario Novelli:  23:58
我同样感觉不是很自在,而且我很乐意告诉别人这一点。但另一方面,我也告诉自己,要想进行教育和暴力冲突之间关系的相关研究,就要不怕“弄脏手”。如果不参加那些组织,不与他们交流,是不能往下评价的。只有真正进入了这一领域,才有资格讨论。所以第一点,我不会劝阻他们,而是希望他们要慎重。

第二点我认为很重要的是要理解你所在的机构。我在过去七年时间里都是在联合国儿童基金会(UNICEF)工作,几乎投入了我全部的研究时间,占所有工作的一半左右。我从这段经历里发现,并不是所有机构都是一样的,不同的机构扮演的角色不同,过程也有所差异。经常发生的是,你可能会被某个组织选中,他们知道自己要的是什么,因而选出他们认为可以实现这一目标的人。从某种意义上而言,你就陷入了机构的政治斗争中去了。他们可能选中你,也可能放弃你。这中间有很多值得学习的地方。

而像我们这些研究者有一点好,那就是我们是学者,不是顾问,所以不用受限于要不断在工作上保持优异的表现,因为我们可以回归自己的本职工作,这就给了我们一些选择的空间,我们能挑选哪些工作是我们想做的。而全职顾问的难处在于,他们永远要寻找下一份工作,因此他们就要努力取悦付给他们薪水的人。这会使信息和证据的可靠性变得复杂起来。总而言之,对于想要踏入真实世界的研究者来说,我建议要小心谨慎、认清局限。

Will Brehm:  26:48
你既以一个研究者的身份,同时也是一名从事教育发展顾问事业的实践者。你和你的团队提出了一个更强大而复杂理论框架,来解释不公平和教育。你可否介绍一下这个框架,以及它的价值吗?

Mario Novelli:  27:22
就像你说的,我率领着一个阿姆斯特丹大学和阿尔斯特大学合作的研究联盟,是共同负责人之一,我们的联盟致力于研究各个国家的教育与和平建设的关系。所以在项目启动时,我们开了很多次初步会议,讨论应该如何构架“教育中的和平建设”这一概念,以及如果将其运用到不同国家的分析中去。

这次的研究联盟是基于我和阿兰·史密斯教授的一个早期项目。2010年到2012年间,我们调查了黎巴嫩、尼泊尔和塞拉利昂,研究教育与冲突的关系。通过那次调研分析,我们对国际社会现有的和平建设方法进行了批判。而与教育相关的研究基本上也遵循了这种以安全优先的自由主义和平的方式。我简单解释一下。这种方式主要是说安全是其他一切的前提,因此需要重新训练军队和警察,梳理监狱体系,在此基础上才开始社会发展,教育和医疗卫生等建设。与其相关的观点是受冲突影响的国家重建有一个过程,首先必须保证安全,其次是民主,然后要有开放的市场环境允许经济发展,最后才到其他方面。

我们认为这种方式有其消极的一面,即虽然暴力冲突停止了,但是造成暴力的原因依然存在,这个原因往往就是不平等。我记得在塞拉利昂农村,我们和当地人交流的时候,问他们十年和平都带来了什么变化,通常得到的答案却是没什么。大部分人并不认为和平在提高生活水平、增加教育机会和获取水资源等方面有积极作用。所以,我们认为短期内这种方式是成功的,但长期来看却会导致另一种冲突,世界各地都有类似的例子证明了这一点。因此,需要一个更加社会化的和平建设模式,更加重视教育和卫生,这是我们的出发点。

我们这个新的研究项目就着眼于此,在过去两年中,我们开辟了一种社会正义与和谐的途径,称之为“4R”。其中,三个R来自南希·弗雷泽对社会正义的研究,即再分配(Redistribution)、认可(Recognition)和代表(Representation),分别对应了财富不平等、文化不平等和政治不平等。第四个R是调和(Reconciliation),这是解决以上三个冲突成因的关键。因为战争结束后,要想把不同人群凝聚在一起,就需要有调和的过程。这中间往往存在着矛盾,一方面,如果要解决不平等问题,就需要重新调整、重新分配、重新组织,会惹恼一部分人;而如果要使人们握手言和,就必须解决冲突的遗留问题。

我们的4R框架首先可以将四个不同方面整合起来,可从多维度探索不同国家的教育体系。例如,财政在教育方面的支出有多少?都用在什么方面?是如何分配的?谁得到了什么?在哪里?为什么其他人没有?其次,这个框架还能帮我们认出已经稀释化的文化,以及被边缘化的语言、历史和人群等。第三,它还涉及政治和代表问题,例如谁掌握了教育系统的决策权?谁被边缘化或隔绝在外?最后,它还能探索教育系统对战后的国家团结的作用,学校会阻碍还是促进这一调和过程?研究了这些不同方面后,我们生成了一系列相应的国家报告。当然,凡是启发式方法都有局限性,但我认为我们的成果还是对政策制定起到了一定的重要作用,有很多国家采纳了我们的报告,尤其是南苏丹和南非。对此我非常高兴!

Will Brehm:  33:55
你之前指出托马斯·皮凯蒂的不足之一就是他的实证主义主张,也就是说他没有采用批判现实主义的方法,未能意识到在实证之下还有社会本体的存在,这产生的问题就是,我们无法观察到一些重要的东西,比如决定人们行为的某些现存结构。那你的4R框架是如何涵盖批判现实主义角度的呢?

Mario Novelli:  34:34
我们的框架仅仅是一个开始,就像是一个衣架,上面挂着各种研究不正义和不公平的方式,然后更重要的是形成相关理论来理解这些不公平背后的基础。例如,不平等是如何出现的?有哪些推动力量?这也是为什么在之前谈到的那篇关于皮凯蒂的社会学论文里,我试图阐释资本主义、帝国主义和现代主义之间的相互作用,以及这三种错综复杂交织在一起的现象是如何再现不平等的。

Will Brehm: 35:29
Mario Novelli,很高兴能聊到这么多的话题,感谢你的分享!

Mario Novelli: 35:35
感谢邀请,也是我的荣幸!

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