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Archive for May, 2011

In case you haven’t read it yet, please do read Linda Darling-Hammond‘s speech at the Teacher’s College at Columbia University. It is a profound lament while at the same time a sliver of hope that we may have a real shot at democratizing education through teachers education.

Linda paints a grim picture:

The United States now has a far higher poverty rate for children than any other industrialized country (25 percent, nearly double what it was thirty years ago); a more tattered safety net—more who are homeless, without healthcare and without food security; a more segregated and inequitable system of public education (a 10:1 ratio in spending across the country); a larger and more costly system of incarceration than any country in the world, including China (5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its inmates), one that is now directly cutting into the money we should be spending on education; a defense budget larger than that of the next twenty countries combined; and greater disparities in wealth than any other leading country (the wealthiest 1 percent of individuals control 25 percent of the resources in the country; in New York City, the wealthiest 1 percent control 46 percent of the wealth and are taxed at a lower level than in the last sixty years). Our leaders do not talk about these things. They simply say of poor children, “Let them eat tests.”

And goes on to state:

But public education has a secret weapon—a Trojan horse, if you will: the members of the profession like yourselves who have mastered a strong body of professional knowledge, who hold a strong ethic of care and who are determined to transmit this knowledge and this commitment to others throughout the education system.

I would love to be inspired like that!

Much of her rant against “scientific managers”, whose application of industrial models of business to education is leading to severe consequences, is valid and global is nature. And she understands that teacher education is one such weapon that can bring change within the system. She has worked enough at national policy level to perhaps believe that policy or the mitigation of the adverse effects of policy are equally important; as is equity.

However, I don’t think that the problem lies with the scientific management. That will happen as a consequence of scale and lack of educational leadership/vision to investigate alternatives to orderly systems.  I think one of the major problem is that education system itself is un-democratic. By that I don’t just  mean that education is imposed, but also that education imposition is accepted widely.

And that is because, though we may rail about the “badness” in the system, there isn’t sufficient motivation in the democracy to take action. Democratizing education means helping make education by, for and of the people. The people are an inseparable part of the system of democracy. And they are every bit as accountable as the governments they help elect.

That is why, choice needs to be in the hands of the recipient and the giver both; equitably. And governments should ensure that they have mechanisms to fund and facilitate that exchange.

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Educational systems do not scale well. We see that all around us. At smaller scales, these systems are far more effective than at larger scales. At larger scales, several constraints emerge rapidly – shortage of qualified teachers, lack of infrastructure, equitable access, degradation of learning experiences – that are primarily impacted by vision, capability and level of investments (government or private).

Since the educational system is, like Healthcare or even the government itself, primarily driven by the expert capability of human resources, there is even more pressure if we use the same systems to train/educate future human resources. Even with the promise of tools such as eLearning, intelligent tutors or e-tutoring that help reduce load on critical teaching resources, which is really a mode to reduce the adversity of scale, this primary capability is paramount.

I find this in my research over USA-India educational systems. The startling insight is that while there may be operational differences (learning autonomy is higher in the USA, teaching system is more transparent/accountable), fundamentally both countries are facing the same challenges (employability, access, equity, infrastructure, pressure on government funding, thrust on vocational training) despite there being a multiple of 4 in enrolments at school and projected multiple of 2 in HE enrolment (by 2020), if one was to compare the student population statistics (India has 4X school and will have 2X HE students as compared to the USA). We have 6 times the number of colleges. And so on.

In fact, the census (I am using this as a proxy for enrolment data which I have to find), shows that Finland, Denmark & New Zealand have a 05-24 years age group population of less than 1.5 mn people; and Australia has 5.5 mn in the same age group. But UK and USA have 15 mn and 85 mn respectively; while India has 451 mn! Finland, Denmark, New Zealand and Australia are the highest performing nations.

The UN Education Index gives these smaller countries the highest ranking in the world! Finland, Denmark, New Zealand, Cuba and Australia shared the top rank, USA is at rank 20, UK at rank 30 and India at rank 145. Not too surprisingly, the GDP per capita index by the IMF (2010) pegs the USA at rank 7, UK at 21, Australia at 10, Denmark at 17, Finland at 22, New Zealand at 32, India at 129. This showcases that despite having lower per capita GDP, all 4 top ranked countries have a better ranking. This is despite the general high correlation between the two indicators of nearly 0.81 (I took 169 countries and compared them), as would normally be expected.

This sort of questions positions like in this post, How does Finland’s Education become the Best in the World?, which tries to take what is good in the Finnish context and tries to apply it in the USA context, something I advise against for the most part.

From the Huffington Post comes another reiteration of do what works well elsewhere, Lessons from Finland’s Educational System. There is an interesting insight into the way the Finns think from what Dr. Pasi Sahlberg says:

Finns don’t believe you can reliably measure the essence of learning. You know, one big difference in thinking about education and the whole discourse is that in the United States it’s based on a belief in competition. In my country, we are in education because we believe in cooperation and sharing. Cooperation is a core starting point for growth. 

Zaidlearn points to some interesting comparisons between the Finnish and Singaporean Educational Systems in The Finnish Education System rocks!. What is interesting here that Finland GDP per capita lags behind Singapore’s, but Singapore is 52 on the Education Index rankings.

I am basically trying to make the argument that traditional educational systems are unlike traditional industrial systems and cannot scale. In which case, international lessons could be learnt for micro-strategy or operational considerations, but perhaps not for macro, policy level changes.

More importantly, this is one piece that contributes to the thinking on alternate systems of education or to change discussions.

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