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Reconstructing Education and ‘Knowledge’ in the Twentieth and Twenty-first Century: Scientific Management, Educational Efficiency, Outcomes Based Education, and the Culture of Performativity

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This article provides an analysis of the rise of ‘scientific management’ and ‘social efficiency’ theories in the early 1900s, traces their impact on the structure and administration of education systems, and critically analyses their contribution to the emergence of a new orthodoxy outcomes-based education (OBE) approaches to school curriculum and assessment reforms in selected twentieth and twenty-first century western public education systems. The article also demonstrates that the (re)emergence of outcomes-based education has won support from politicians, policymakers, and education administrators seeking to monitor and raise student achievement (by specifying performance targets and outcomes clearly) at the same time as exercising greater surveillance and tighter control over the professional work and lives of classroom teachers. The article concludes that the ‘scientific management’ and social efficiency theories of the past, and OBE more recently, have provided a convenient, hegemonic, and technicist rationale for implementing wide-ranging education reforms designed ostensibly to enhance not only educational achievement but also economic efficiency, productivity, and prosperity. Their joint legacy has resulted in a profound reconfiguration of what counts as ‘worthwhile knowledge’ in the twentieth and twenty-first century.

Keywords: curriculum; education policy; education reforms; outcomes-based education; social efficiency

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2014

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