Numeric data shapes adult education policy – it produces not only knowledge but also ignorance

Numeric data has become an integral part of education policy instruments in Europe. Moreover, in the work of governments and policy making, numeric data use is increasing as digital transformation is proceeding and is producing increasing amounts of calculable data.

In Finland, far-reaching and wide-ranging conclusions are constantly made based on knowledge transmitted by using numeric data associated with education practice. However, while the country’s education administration is widely based on digital data utilization, the production and use of numeric data are rarely highlighted as elements of education dynamics. Moreover, the multifaceted adult education field challenges the process of reassembling education into numerals, counts and statistical presentations, although these tasks appear to be conceivable in formal education contexts.

Paula Alanen’s dissertation “The education policy instruments and numeric data modifying communication within social systems: The consequences of knowing and ignorance in adult education policy” focuses on exploring numeric data, its origins and inferences in adult education. Specifically, it examines numeric data and its linkages to adult education policy instruments. While observing numeric data’s usages and interpretations, the research aims at indicating how these knowledge formation processes affect decision-making and equal educational opportunities. This dissertation summarizes the results of four empirical research articles that focus on linkages between adult education policy instruments, governance and numeric data.

The research indicates how the value-driven choices that are made during decision-making processes and the policy instruments that are applied shape the data itself and the interpretations based on the data. Hence, these processes produce not only knowledge but also ignorance and may lead to epistemic injustice. However, the function of adult education in Finland is to enhance equal opportunities and societal equity. Egalitarian adult education should therefore guarantee everyone’s right to become a knowing subject. The current accelerating amount of data and increasing efficiency of calculations underline the importance of becoming aware of data’s implications. One of these implications, epistemic injustice, should be recognised at policy level as a barrier to fulfilling the focal task of adult education.

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