Keynote: The challenges for the Nordic Model

Professor emerita Mary James


This talk offers a perspective from someone outside of the Nordic Region, who nevertheless has been observing the work of the Education for Tomorrow programme for the past four years.

It attempts, first, to examine the assumption that a Nordic Model exists and how it is defined. The idea that there is a consensus across the Nordic countries is also, briefly, questioned, especially with respect to putative egalitarian principles. Current issues around the contestation of social values, increasing distrust of knowledge elites, the populist backlash, the ‘post-truth’ phenomenon, and the rise of social media as a key source of fact, lies, opinion and solutions, are explored.

Four challenges to professional educators and social scientists are identified: a need for conceptual clarity; doing research in the wild; making public engagement and communication a priority; and building multi-disciplinary teams and infrastructures to tackle complex and multi-faceted social and educational problems.

In the light the growth of localism in an increasingly networked global community, it is proposed that the key value underpinning any future ‘Nordic Model’ should perhaps be ‘inclusiveness’; greater participation in knowledge-building might be the best way to ensure greater equality, fairness and social justice.

Finally a few suggestions are offered for the further development of social and educational science, in the light of this.

About Mary James

Mary James was a Professor and Associate Director of Research at the University of Cambridge until January 2014. She is chair of the Scientific Advisory Board for the Education for Tomorrow programme.

She was President of the British Educational Research Association. From 2002 to 2008 she was Deputy Director of the UK-wide Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Teaching and Learning Research Programme and had responsibility for supporting school-based projects. In 2006 she was awarded an ESRC Programme Director's Fellowship to enable her to synthesise some programme findings and to disseminate outcomes internationally. From 2001-2005 she was also director of one of the largest ESRC education projects: 'Learning How to Learn – in classrooms, schools and networks'. She was a member of the Assessment Reform Group from 1992 until it disbanded in 2010.

Her research interests encompasses curriculum, pedagogy and assessment in schools, and implications for teachers’ professional development, school leadership and policy frameworks.

Mary James began her career by teaching Religious Education, English and Social Studies in three secondary schools.