Complexity, equity, and education: emergent issues and adaptive responses
Contributor(s)Swinburne University of Technology
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AbstractIn an increasingly dynamic and diverse environment characterised by bounded instability, complexity theory has extended an understanding of how group dynamics and processes operate to create understanding and generate order at an organisational and institutional level. A key feature of such complex and adaptive processes is the emergent nature of shared understanding around what constitutes appropriate values, practice and approaches to social change imperatives, increasingly defying linear, rational analysis. However, an emergent reality informed by practice is often in tension with cultures of centralised power. In the ongoing quest for educational equity (a core theme of this book) there is plenty evidence of attempts to sense-make the nature of and solutions to equity issues through a rational 'worldwide, postmodern shift toward discourses, models, technologies, and manifestations of accountability ... [including for example] ... reliance on standardized testing...' (Skria, 2001, p.15). Such an approach has been widely criticised in that standardised, top-down and formulaic definitions and approaches to achieving equity often make little sense, and can contravene a basic understanding of the emergent issues, compounding the problem with perceived solutions that create new forms of inequity. We discuss the theory-practice interface to conceptualise new and emergent forms of equity in increasingly complex environments. Our argument has three inter-related dimensions which demonstrate the synergy and tension between theory and practice. On the one hand we identify education practice around business curriculum and pedagogy that provides emergent, rational and intuitive insights into how students are prepared to operate effectively in increasingly ambiguous and shifting business and social environments. Second we argue that theory provides essential frameworks to help perceive, explore and explain the dynamic environments in which shared understanding around strategic and operational value drivers, including pursuit of equity goals, facilitate action amongst diverse and shifting stakeholder groups. This has significant impact on educational design and delivery. Third, our focus then returns to perceived equity principles emerging in this environment. We draw from a multi-disciplinary field of literature in economics, psychology and political philosophy, to argue our case for emergent equity principles. In presenting these arguments, we suggest that a critical capability to address complex real world problems affecting increasingly divergent stakeholders is the capacity to communicate across disciplines; trans-disciplinarity being seen as an effective way for managing complexity.