An investigation of high school teachers’ experiences and perceptions of the influence of neoliberalism in the Canadian school systems
1University of Oulu, Faculty of Education, Department of Educational Sciences and Teacher Education, Educational Sciences
|Online Access:||PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.8 MB)|
|Persistent link:|| http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:oulu-201308241627
|Publish Date:|| 2013-08-27
|Thesis type:||Master's thesis
Neoliberalism is a socio-political economic movement spreading over the world, supported by an institutional framework, and influencing many spheres, including education. There is an impact on the purpose of education, the role of teachers and teaching. In the Canadian context, there are many indicators of these influences being felt. In this thesis, neoliberalism is not only considered as a political philosophy, it is also extensively examined as a part of the social imaginary of people, giving neoliberalism the status of ‘common sense’ rather than ideology. In this way, it becomes ‘normal’ to expect the system to work following neoliberal principles, and to find neoliberal solutions to problems — even in spheres that it had previously never impacted. This thesis investigates high school teachers’ experiences and perceptions of the influence of neoliberalism in the Canadian school systems. In so doing, the main aim is to give a voice to teachers, so they can describe their experiences regarding neoliberal influences, in order to identify the problems as they perceive them. The study establishes how neoliberalism affects their work, their identity as professionals and the purpose of education. This research is a phenomenographic study, using Skype interviews from seven high school teachers having worked in Yellowknife, the capital city of Northwest Territories.
The analysis identified an outcome space where teachers’ experiences and perceptions were associated with neoliberal influences on education. A discrepancy between the rather liberal ideals and the neoliberal reality of the teachers was described as a problem. The corporate way of managing education was experienced as detrimental. Economy based agendas, and accountability for teachers were felt to be especially harmful. Neoliberal norms such as efficiency, competition, image, measurement, labels and performance were all perceived as negative influences on the profession and on education in general.
The thesis considers how the neoliberal social imaginary has created problems and disjuncture in education. This imaginary has become the new ‘reality’ for people, making problems look ‘normal’, ‘natural’, ‘inevitable’ or ‘common sense’. The participants saw problems triggered by neoliberalism, and most of them desired corrective changes, yet none of them were involved in instigating deep changes in education. To an extent, some of the problems perceived by the teachers have been integrated into their reality and normality; alternatives are difficult to imagine. The thesis concludes that problems caused by neoliberalism were commonly identified and perceived by the teachers, and this is the first step towards sustainable reforms implemented from the teacher level up. The thesis also concludes that if teachers gained a critical awareness of the neoliberal social imaginary, it could help them engage more with changes, shaping or reconstructing the social imaginary themselves, to make it more relevant to their own professional ideals.
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