An important contribution to the debate on international educational development was recently published by publisher Pearson, entitled, "The Learning Curve". I had some time to digest and comment on some of the main themes of this report. The results are published below. Enjoy.
"Moreover, education remains an art, and much of what engenders quality is difficult to quantify."
The art of education and the ambiguity of solid connections between inputs and outputs in the world's schooling systems leads us towards the necessity of focusing on the cultural factors that have been so discredited by the world's developmental economists in explaining success and failure amongst nations. As we look to improve the schooling systems of the developing world, cultural sensitivity is more than needed; cultural sensitivity must be a core element of the changes themselves. Not an excuse, but a foundation for instructional activities, incentive programs, and management strengthening. None of these crucial factors can be imposed by proxy; they must be continually woven from the fabric of local cultures and societies.
"The Underlying Moral Cause" of successful schooling systems (South Korea and Finland's Parallels)-Korea's ethic of education was shaped in response to the war, and this has continued; however, in many African nations, schooling systems are seen as foreign inventions/interventions, especially in rural areas, and thus are prone to community disconnect; if these values propelling the worth of education are not ingrained into societies, the pressure on both teachers and students will not result in improvements in learning outcomes
In Finland, the moral purpose of education is an "act of social justice" that the society deeply cares about-equality and access are deep societal norms; in the developing world, we have a completely different outlook that has been shaped by both capitalist intervention and the carving out of elite urban enclaves-the movement away from equality and towards inequality.
School choice-studies have shown that Africa/India: private schools are better at providing results, despite LESS materials and less teacher training-the link is accountability to parents-the parents expect something and have the right of exit/voice in this system;
Thus, the missing linkage is not necessarily materials/training, at least at the primary level (as has been shown by Pratham)-it is accountability and linkages with exit and voice mechanisms. How can these mechanisms be introduced into governmental provision so that the majority, not the minority, of citizens can benefit from changes? This is the true issue-the targeting of the masses for improvement, not the further segmentation and stratification of societies.
Teachers are the Key: the biggest issue is the societal value of teaching, and how this can be created/shaped, especially in situations of limited resources, where personnel budgets already consume a huge amount of the educational budgets; shaping the societies' value of teachers can occur through official praise, higher pay, and more exclusivity in admissions (however, this is near-impossible in the schooling systems of the developing world, with the massive push for enrollment increases has actually caused a negative response in teacher quality)
Management Structures Matter, A Lot: "High performing school systems…combine demanding standards, low tolerance of failure, and clear articulation of expectations with 'a lot of professional responsibility within a collaborative work organization at the front line' for both teachers and schools" (25). However, for the schooling systems of the developing world, developing unrealistic standards can be a recipe for failure. Such can be seen with the extensively overloaded curricula that litter the developing world, which have acted as a huge demotivating factor for undertrained educators in both the unrealistic demands and their contempt for creativity and autonomy. Most of these overloaded curricula, have, in fact, been pushed upon these nations by educational consultants from rich nations which have, in fact, recognized the value of professional autonomy and responsibility.
"…the single most important input variable (in education) is the quality of teaching." -Robert Schwartz, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Pay has been targeted as a key factor behind successful teachers. However, this report refutes this claim, stating that the correlation between pay and results is "weak or nonexistent." The important caveat is performance pay, which "…does tend to lead toward better outcomes" (24). Thus, the implications for the schooling systems of the developing world and their professional teachers, often highly politicized and unionized and able to exert enormous power through national action/strikes, are rather grim. We must look for opportunities to manipulate this critical variable, performance pay, within the frameworks of existing systems to enact even a small degree of change that has the possibility for positive multipliers.