"On the Opening of Society: Towards a More Open and Flexible Educational System"


Minna Takala, David Hawk and Yannis Rammos


The concept of an open society is based on the idea that even with imperfect information and knowledge people can still act. We find this preferable to the more common presumption that leaders have special access to the truth and thus should lead. We instead look to the history of science to remind ourselves that, since no one is in possession of the actual truth, it seems better to at least distribute responsibility along with information so individuals can seek their own truths. Standing in the way of this are long-standing traditions, such as the very important one found in higher education. This tradition is where the faculty, administration and accreditation authorities design curriculum structures for students and create learning environments for universities with a presumption that there is truth, that they know what it is, and that it is sufficiently fixed to be institutionalized. This idea of truth supports and exists within a relatively closed system, and assumes that the actors can also behave as if they are closed. Unfortunately, those that design and administer a university have the most to gain if they can keep the system fixed and closed, and those who are excluded from the management are those with the most to lose if the current managers are wrong. The current system operates with impunity. The administrative emphasis can be on finding and following educational standards that presume stability, not in creating learning environments that can accommodate change. This is consistent with the long-accepted theory that there is a hidden curriculum behind the explicit curriculum in higher education. It is set up to give strong messages about power, authority, control, obedience, hierarchy and related behaviors.

Herein we are concerned with how this reflects upon our current and future society, and how we might experiment with alternative educational systems that can perform better. Within the pessimism there are significant opportunities for creative improvement, but to realize such innovation educational systems need to be able to enhance cooperation and realignment between different disciplines and stakeholders. It is widely accepted that a flexible, customized curriculum that can be dynamic and accept decision-making involvement by students is desirable. Generally it gets rejected as being too expensive, requiring too much administration and being unfair to students. The tendency is to stay with the tradition of standardized and controlled education. Major organizational changes will be needed within the formal university to be able to address alternative agendas. Accreditation activities could be instrumental in setting the stage for these. They could address the limits in maintaining barriers between various stakeholders, and impediments for change, the ignoring of quality management and the distress of those who have the most to lose from participation in a defective educational system. Accreditation activities should, on the other hand, foster and enhance developmental improvement in higher education. In this light, the paper proposes two models of educational systems with empirical examples from the Finnish higher education system.


Minna Takala, David Hawk and Yannis Rammos, "On the Opening of Society: Towards a More Open and Flexible Educational System", Systems Research and Behavioral Science, Special issue on Designing Educational Systems for the Twenty-First Century, Patrick M. Jenlink (editor), Volume 18, Issue 4, July-August 2001, pp. 291-306.

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An earlier version of this paper is available in the conference proceedings for the ISSS 2000 conference.


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