The global circulation of literacy policy: phonics, inequality and neo-conservative political movements

Year: 2019

Author: Windle, Joel, Batista, Simone

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper presents a multi-scalar analysis of educational inequalities in the global south, interrogating how reform of literacy instruction has become a key priority for contemporary conservative political movements. In Brazil, a right-wing populist Federal Government prioritized a shift to phonics, while in the US and Australia conservative advocacy of phonics has resulted in marked policy changes over the past three decades. Phonics policy advocacy (PPA) is examined as part of a shift in the terrain of political debate towards control of cultural and educational institutions, championed by new types of policy coalition who target disadvantaged communities through a discourse of crisis. Further, phonics policy advocacy (PPA) appears to have gained space as a result of transnational sharing of personnel, discourses and political strategy amongst conservative groups in some settings, while in other settings such alliances have failed to materialise. The analysis points to connections between religious, traditionalist and neoliberal components of contemporary conservative policy advocacy, and in particular to the necessity of an echo-chamber of authorised policy actors reiterating PPA for it to gain traction. The discussion is based on examination of media reporting and policy statements, focusing on the Brazilian case, suggesting that commercial and ideological interests are particularly close in this setting, relative to others, with implications for the reproduction of social and racial inequalities.