Neoliberalism in education policy is pervasive, as are its mechanisms of accountability by measurement that drive performativity in practice. Though embracing the Great Education Reform slightly later, Japan has similarly developed sets of performativity tools underpinned by neoliberalism. However, education reform in Japan is developing along two tracks – one unmistakable in its search for standards, accountability as measurement, and competitive enterprise; the other significant track is reliant on local actors to design and implement, and is presented – even in policy documents – as inherently unmeasurable and cooperative. (That is, comparing against the four convergent themes of neoliberalism identified by Michael Apple, the latter set of reforms are not promoting measurability, enterprising individuals, privatisation or marketisation). I briefly present an analysis of two such examples from Japan: ‘relaxed education’ policy (1990s-2000s) based on secondary research; and the strengthening of moral education (2015-2019) based on primary research. Both were driven at cabinet level, through the Ministry of Education, to achieve change without measurement.
Rather than focus on the context or practice specific to Japan, I am interested here in considering how this counter example might contribute to the broader debate on neoliberalism. When is it possible in the 21st century for ideology – whether underpinned by conservatism, social welfare, etc – to take precedence over measurability? What, if any, is the importance of these developments to education practice?
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