Key Variables for Educational Scenario Analysis


Download PDF | By Jean-Michel Saussois | Published in Think Scenarios, Rethink Education, OECD/CERI, 2006


To clarify the relationships and interactions between intertwined developments, Jean-Michel Saussois characterises scenarios as "ideal types" - simplified, exaggerated categories, pure Platonic forms that do not occur in reality - using a concept articulated by the sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920). These ideal types serve as tools to help compare, contrast, and experiment with empirical evidence and variables.


The Schooling for Tomorrow scenarios use an if…then rationale to describe specific dimensions of what could happen in a school system under different proposals. From his viewpoint as a sociologist, J-M. Saussois emphasises that the answers to the questions raised by the scenarios will vary depending on who is answering. The answers can not be expected to be objective, because they are built on assumptions and will thus always reflect a point of view. Teachers' answers, for instance, differ from those of managers. "Different stakeholders develop different and sometimes conflicting interpretations, filtered through their experiences of schooling, and their values as former students or parents observing their children." In the same way, scenarios are built on implicit assumptions and hidden variables. This is also their strength, because it makes them provocative, and hence useful for elucidating changing situations.


Awareness of hidden assumptions is especially important when using scenarios to compare school systems internationally, to ensure that the results reflect the societal and cultural dimensions. J-M. Saussois suggests ways to bring these assumptions to light. One example is to use the differentials in common standard indicators as a basis for analysis. Such analytical explanations of differential performance will expose hidden assumptions about social values and norms, including the institutional and organisational contexts of each school system, which can easily be overlooked and oversimplified when using common standard indicators alone.


J-M. Saussois addresses practical aspects of scenario creation, presenting a two-dimensional framework whose axes are marked "values" and "supply":

  • The "value" axis indicates a school's social orientation, ranging from societal (strongly focused on social aims) to individualistic (students as clients or consumers);
  • The "supply" axis indicates the approach to delivering services, ranging from closed (internally-oriented) to open (flexible and multiple) delivery systems.


These two axes combined provide a framework with four quadrants of key variables, producing four “ideal-type” scenarios: “conservation” scenario (closed + social), "survival" scenario (closed + individual), "transformation" scenario (open + social), and the "market" scenario (open + individual).


J-M. Saussois explains each variable and pole of the framework in detail, and uses it to discuss trends and driving forces in OECD countries that can shift the characteristics of a school system from one pole or quadrant toward another.


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