The Good, the Bad and the Ugly? The Dynamic Interplay Between Educational Practice, Policy and Research

Paul Van Geert, Henderien Steenbeek


The notion of complexity — as in “education is a complex system” — has two different meanings. On the one hand, there is the epistemic connotation, with “Complex” meaning “difficult to understand, hard to control”. On the other hand, complex has a technical meaning, referring to systems composed of many interacting components, the interactions of which lead to self organization and emergence. For agents, participating in a complex system such as education, it is important that they can reduce the epistemic complexity of the system, in order to allow them to understand the system, to accomplish their goals and to evaluate the results of their activities. We argue that understanding, accomplishing and evaluation requires the creation of simplex systems, which are praxis-based forms of representing complexity. Agents participating in the complex system may have different kinds of simplex systems governing their understanding and praxis. In this article, we focus on three communities of agents in education — educators, researchers and policymakers — and discuss characteristic features of their simplex systems. In particular, we focus on the simplex system of educational researchers, and we discuss interactions — including conflicts or incompatibilities — between their simplex systems and those of educators and policymakers. By making some of the underlying features of the educational researchers’ simplex systems more explicit – including the underlying notion of causality and the use of variability as a source of knowledge — we hope to contribute to clarifying some of the hidden conflicts between simplex systems of the communities participating in the complex system of education.

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