Exploring the Concept of Demand


Download article | By OECD/CERI Secretariat | Published in Demand-Sensitive Schooling, 2006


Debates surround the transforming educational system, which is in many OECD countries changing from the traditional “supply-dominated system” to more of a “demand-sensitive” system. However, since many in the education sector associate words like “demand” only with the economic market and dislike the application of such concepts to the educational system, these and similar terms are controversial. So why use such terms? Educational debates employ these terms because words like “demand” are “as much about rights, wishes, and participation” as they are about financial gain.

This study approaches the complex concept of demand through individual and collective dimensions and through mechanisms of choice and voice. Demand can measure the level of satisfaction of a collective group or individual, in visualising to what extent expectations differ from reality. Table 1.1 shows how the dimensions and mechanisms of demand interact.

Table 1.1: Dimensions and expressions of demand

 INDIVIDUAL Individuals choosing and changing a school or programme or leaving altogether like in home schooling.  Parents or students directly participating in schools’ decision-making and having an important part in the learning process (personalisation).
 COLLECTIVE Groups starting schools—whether private or publicly-funded private—based on religious, ethnic, linguistic, or pedagogic goals. Interest group influence on schooling issues, such as through curriculum consultation, lobbying, or pressure group politics.

For example, students use choice (also known as exit) and voice—the two methods available— to express their demands. Students voice their displeasure in class or exit the school system altogether.  Thus, not meeting demands can lead to problems such as in-class distractions, high truancy rates, and transfers to other schools. When families leave a school system, it loses individuals which could have made a difference in the school environment. On the other hand, the school to which the students transfer can further improve due to these families’ involvement; thus, the differing levels of participation in the schools can increase the inequality between the schools.

Expanding on the concept of demand-sensitivity, this chapter on raises many questions related to demand, including inequality and privilege. For example, which demands are met when there are several contradictory demands on one school system? Which particular members of society have a voice in the educational reform process? To whom are policy-makers most listening?

In conclusion, this article explores the meanings of controversial terms currently surrounding the educational reform debates and also outlines a framework which will organise the eleven countries’ case results that follow in the later articles.


Exploring the Concept of Demand