INVALSI - Research Center E-CAS

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In a time of rapid social evolution the educational systems are asked to adjust quickly to change. An excellent school system is one that is able to adjust to changing needs of society and to help students develop their personality through the acquisition of knowledge and methods. Evaluation is usually undertaken both at national and international level, through the administration of tests or questionnaires to students. Without going in depth into the similarities and differences among the different types of assessment, it could be useful to make an assumption about their weaknesses and limits. First of all, the limited information these types of assessments provide, related to the degree of adjustment of the education systems to the rapid evolution of the cultural and social environment, that varies from one country to another and from school to school. The same context, sometimes, is affected by changes brought by the education systems. Indeed, these methods are not even able to provide adequate information regarding the influence of the socio-cultural background that effects the answers given by students, and also the mutual interactions among students in the same classroom, the so-called ‘classroom effect’. In simple words, they partially take into account the indicator of “human capital” of every student. The question we are called upon to answer is whether learning (the acquisition of knowledge) is a linear phenomenon. Are the schools closed systems, reliable and predictable? If the answer is negative, and, as it seems, the schools are complex organizations, composed of independent parts, governed by well defined behaviour rules that lead to stability, then, the current evaluation models do have some limits. The science of complexity suggests us to move away from the traditional linear conception of reality and to get nearer to a dynamic, non-linear and evolutionary vision, as for instance, through the definition of agent-based models , which allow to predict the collective behaviour of agents when changes occur within a complex-adaptive system. Hence, our decision to promote, also in our country, research into the theory of complex systems applied to education, in the hope that new and better instruments may help us in acquiring a more comprehensive knowledge to analyse and manage education systems.

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