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The Texturing Work of “Thinking Schools, Learning Nation” Speech: A Critical Discourse Analysis

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This chapter and the next focus on analysis of education-related policy documents. These documents include a political speech, and an episode of a TV documentary from Learning Journeys. I have chosen to analyze these education policy documents as “data” because each of these documents constitutes a stage in policy implementation. The Thinking Schools, Learning Nation (TSLN) speech was delivered in 1997 at the opening of the 7th International Conference on Thinking. The speech is significant because it was at this conference that the TSLN policy was first publicly announced. It was then translated as a policy for making education change in Singapore.

In 2000, a documentary entitled Learning Journeys comprising eight episodes was produced and broadcast on national TV. In each of the episodes, schools showcase what they had done or understood the TSLN policy from the ground up. Taken together, my analysis of these two documents constitutes a “multi-modal” discourse analysis that involves a blended analytic approach that draws from Critical Discourse Analysis and Visual Semiotics.

I begin the chapter by discussing the relevance of Critical Discourse Analysis (hereafter CDA) as a “toolkit” for policy analysis. While CDA is widely used as a methodological and analytical resource for conducting policy analysis (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010; see for example, Taylor, 2004; Thomas, 2005; Adie, 2008), I argue that CDA analysts have overlooked the importance of context for doing CDA. In reviewing the relevance of CDA for policy analysis, I argue that there are inherent “risks”, and that doing CDA in authoritarian contexts can be a risky enterprise.

Taking the Singaporean context and the practice of CDA together, the second section leads into a discussion of the politics of risks involved and the barriers to CDA as a critical practice. This is followed by a third section that provides a narrative account of “the Catherine Lim saga” – an example used to show the latent risks involved in critique of government discourses.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2010

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