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Global Knowledge-based Policy in Fragmented Societies: the case of curriculum reform in French-speaking Belgium

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This article examines the relationship between knowledge and policy in French-speaking Belgium. It starts by describing Belgium as a consociational democracy, i.e. a society that is largely organised around integrated pillars of society (Catholic, secular), each of which provides a wide range of services (educational, training, health, health insurance, social care, family planning, leisure) to ‘its’ people. This special political-institutional arrangement has profound implications for the way knowledge circulates (or not) and the way it is used (or not) both within pillars and across the policy community. We argue that consociational democracies are not likely to generate knowledge-driven policy communities. Since knowledge could threaten the peace, some things are better left unknown: the co-existence of distinct communities requires a form of discretion ( Mangez, 2009).

Recently, however, globalisation has led to changes in this long-standing state of affairs: elites are now seeking more knowledge about systems and joint regulation is on the rise. In the education sector, several policy issues, including curriculum issues, have been subject to new joint regulation. In the second part of the article, we take curriculum reform as a case study to investigate these changes. Although all school networks from both pillars are now obliged to follow common guidelines (influenced by globalisation), they are still responsible for transposing them to their individual curriculum programmes. Lexico-statistical analysis reveals that when they transpose these common guidelines to their own curricula, each network reasserts its own values and cultural references (including its own view of the role of knowledge).
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Keywords: consociation; curriculum; education policy; globalization; knowledge

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium

Publication date: March 1, 2010

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