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Symposium 2012

Proposal - Effective Investments in Education

The Challenge

Education is a fundamental right for everyone and key to the future of any country. Education has its price everywhere—but the only thing more expensive than investing in education is not investing ...

Education is a fundamental right for everyone and key to the future of any country. Education has its price everywhere—but the only thing more expensive than investing in education is not investing in education. Inadequate education produces high costs for society in terms of public spending, crime, health, and economic growth. No country can afford to leave too many of its children behind and not to help them achieve the competencies needed for a self-fulfilled life in economic independence.

Education is one of the most important issues of our times. But investing effectively in education is a very complex problem – and thus cannot be tackled with quick fixes. Local conditions, difficulties such as deprived neighborhoods or financial straits, and individual resources have to be taken into account to find effective approaches. Calling for a “silver bullet” or “one fits all strategy” will lead nowhere: effective investments are a matter of quality (i.e. in people) and not a matter of structure. Capacity building for high quality pedagogues is key, accompanied by strong political and institutional leadership to form a real collective capacity. There are hundreds of education systems and thousand types of education institutions world-wide – and all have their history, their learning cultures, their political and societal traditions, their advantages, and their flaws. In Germany, for example, a debate has been going on for years whether a tracking system or a comprehensive school system will enhance education outcomes – without any result, since school types or system structures cannot tell anything about the quality of a certain school or system. Putting aside structure debates is not equal to a call for “laissez-faire”: high quality education is a compound objective that needs complex reforms – and these complex reforms should be monitored carefully. Fair accountability and transparency as well as intelligent finance mechanisms, which take needs and pedagogical quality standards into account, are preconditions for any effective reform process. In the following, the main aspects of such a reform will be outlined with capacity as the key issue, accompanied by strong political and institutional leadership, and framed with fair accountability and transparency, and intelligent finance mechanisms.


a) Capacity building is key: effective investments are investments in pedagogues
Raising quality of education starts with capacity building. Most important for a high quality education system are excellent pedagogues in all schools and early childhood education institutions – especially in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Pedagogues should be trained to use methods of individual support; they should serve as “learning coaches” and help the children at their care to “learn to learn” instead of just teach them to know the facts or even to succeed in standardized tests. Capacity building starts with the individual, thus quality of teachers and other pedagogues is central. However, individual capacity needs to be combined with collective capacity. Collective capacity has to be established among the staff of each education institution and between all institutions in one neighborhood, district, or even region. Special trainings and strategies should help to establish real teamwork in schools and childcare centers. Education institutions are always integrated in their environment: the surrounding neighborhood, region, and country have an immense influence on children’s development and learning and also on how an institution operates. Especially local conditions play an important role – and it would be preferable if the education institution was actively involved in its neighborhood or district. Pedagogues should be trained to effectively work together with parents and local partners so that all these agents can combine their efforts to enhance quality in all fields of education. Different learning environments such as cooperation with local partners, sports clubs, music schools, churches, etc., can add to current curricula. Governments must provide enough resources to finance these local partnerships as well as the methods of individual and collective capacity building.


b) Leadership
An effective reform cannot happen by itself: it needs strong leadership. First of all, strong and continuous political leadership paves the path to install and monitor a reform process. Highly engaged politicians have to campaign for reforms in quality, back these approaches, and foster the commitment of everyone. Leadership is needed at different political levels (e.g. federal, state, and local governments), but also within each education institution. Individual and team capacity cannot build and maintain themselves, but have to be initiated, preserved, and encouraged. Everyone is responsible: teachers, principals, parents, local agents, and the public need to combine their efforts for higher quality in education and greater equity. Principals and local agents in responsible positions need trainings in leadership skills to fulfill these tasks.


c) Intelligent accountability and transparency
Systematic evaluation, intelligent transparency, and fair accountability are preconditions to building an effective whole system reform. In terms of input variables, that means a greater transparency on resources in the system, on how these resources are distributed, and on financing mechanisms. Also, education institutions should be held accountable to a certain extent for educational outcomes and outputs. Accountability may enhance competition among schools so that all schools need to increase their efforts to give their students a better education. Healthy, well-monitored competition may be an incentive to develop new pedagogical concepts to meet the needs of each individual child, to create approaches specifically designed to address local problems and special needs, and to work together closely with parents and the community. However, it is vital to design fair and intelligent accountability that takes into account starting points, local conditions, specific problems, the socio-economic background of the student body and neighborhood, etc. For example, a school in a rich neighborhood has very different resources and starting conditions than an inner-city school with a socio-economically disadvantaged and multi-ethnic student body. Thus, intelligent accountability aims at improving the whole system and not at unfair comparisons or punishing institutions in deprived areas. Improvement in quality and learning progress, but also specific problems and difficulties should be made transparent in order to create individually adjusted approaches and to implement reforms effectively.


d) New forms of financing mechanisms

We need a shared commitment that only inequality in resource allocation can compensate inequality of opportunities. New financing schemes should be based on both specific needs and on high pedagogical standards, i.e. a formula for the costs of high quality education has to be developed and adapted to local conditions (e.g. socio-economic background of the students, share of children with disabilities, share of children with migration background). Such mechanisms will foster intelligent transparency and accountability: they provide a greater input transparency and deliver research-based arguments for an unequal distribution of resources. Also, they help to discover where money is squandered in the education system and where additional resources are used effectively. In order for those financing schemes to work properly, local data has to be gathered to get to know education and living environments of the children in the concerned district. This data needs to be used carefully and always serve the goal of greater equity and greater quality in the whole system.

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