Unravelling the Complexity of Making and Unmaking Education Markets

Mariano Rosenzvaig

Neoliberalism has emerged as a dominant ideational paradigm globally not only in education but also in various other areas of social policy. The most visible outcome of the introduction of neoliberal policies is the commodification of social services and the emergence and expansion of markets as the mode of coordination of public services. Despite mounting evidence of its pernicious effects and multiple efforts to resist neoliberal policies, the expansion of markets and privatisation of education has not been halted. On the contrary, market-based policies, practices, and mechanisms continue to shape education systems worldwide, making it imperative for us to critically examine not only their impact, but ask: is it possible, and how, to unmake markets.

Unlike other highly privatized sectors (energy, telecommunications, transport), the process of privatising education does not necessarily entail a transfer of ownership. Instead, it primarily revolves around transforming the social relations in the provision of services and funding, while maintaining the existing ownership structure within the publicly funded education system, and in the case I am concerned with, schooling. However, this maintenance does not prevent significant changes in how educational systems are managed, financed, assessed, and controlled, and ultimately, to the nature of education and its impact in shaping society.

In this regard, the Chilean case enables us to see the processes involved in the implementation of neoliberal policies and their impact on education, on the one hand, and recent efforts to unmake markets, on the other. Two efforts in the parliament to redefine the constitution so as to rid Chile of its embrace of market policies in the social sector have both failed, despite a left leaning government. Why is this the case? What can we learn from this? By observing what I call “fault lines,” I argue that these limit the dismantling the market. How?

First, educational privatisation goes beyond a simple binary between public and private, encompassing various phases, impacts of crises, changing boundaries, and contradictory trajectories. To achieve meaningful change, we must move beyond market mechanisms and regulations and critically reflect on the values and assumptions that underpin education. Understanding these complexities is essential for policymakers and stakeholders committed to promoting equity, social justice, and quality education.

Second, we must question the neoliberal rhetoric of freedom and power and exploring alternative conceptual frameworks that consider education’s multiple links to society. Individuals play a crucial role in resisting neoliberalism, not just as consumers but as active agents in reshaping educational systems. Recognizing the importance of individuals within and beyond marketized societies is crucial. We need to present alternative visions that prioritize the public good, social justice, and quality education for all. I call this a quadruple movement, offering a political framework for reconstructing education, acknowledging the need to recognize individuals beyond market boundaries. This necessitates a critical analysis of the neoliberal subject and the development of a post-neoliberal framework. The education sector presents an opportunity to foster a different perspective on society, one that extends beyond market principles.

Third, unmaking markets requires the ability to create new subjectivities beyond the ideological borders of the market regime. By reintegrating culture into educational discussions, we can rethink education outside the confines of a marketized system. Openly discussing and debating education’s societal value and reimagining the role of the public in education are necessary steps toward building an equitable and sustainable education system that embraces diversity and enriches individuals and society.

As researchers and educators, we have a responsibility to challenge prevailing narratives and explore innovative approaches that foster inclusive and transformative education. By doing so, we can contribute to shaping a future where education serves the needs and aspirations of individuals regardless of their backgrounds. Let us join together on this journey, paving the way for a truly equitable and empowering education system for generations to come.

In conclusion, the process of making markets in education driven by neoliberal ideology has far-reaching implications globally. While resistance efforts persist, market-based policies continue to shape education systems. Understanding the complexity of educational privatisation requires a nuanced analysis of underlying values, assumptions, and power dynamics. Reclaiming education as a societal good and promoting alternative models prioritizing equity, social justice, and democratic values is crucial.