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Symposium 2011

Proposal - Reinventing Education

The Challenge

Global competition and the global financial crisis have put additional pressures on education programs around the world—what they should deliver, how they should be delivered and how they should be ...

Global competition and the global financial crisis have put additional pressures on education programs around the world—what they should deliver, how they should be delivered and how they should be financed in terms of the relative contributions of the public and private sectors.

The ubiquitous phrase ‘back to the blackboard’ is often used to describe something that is deficient and that needs to be partially or fully reworked. Some economists like Wössmann or researchers at the OECD might apply the same reasoning to the education systems of many industrialized countries; hence the idea that education needs to be ‘reinvented’. From the empirical findings and commentary presented in the accompanying ‘Background Paper’ to this session, we have put together some solutions which we present to the panel as an input for their deliberations at the Global Economic Symposium in October 2011.

1. What matters most for good education are good teachers (Slater, Davies and Burgess, 2009; Sanders and Rivers, 1996). Educational professionals, childcare pedagogues and teachers must address each child individually and appreciate his or her level of knowledge, learning potential and personal background. In addition to their professional expertise, pedagogues must have the ability to serve effectively as learning coaches (i.e., with diagnostic, didactic, pedagogic, intercultural and advisory skills). They need to be qualified during their studies and in advanced on-going training courses to use methods of individual support in their classroom and to cope with the increasing heterogeneity of the children. Also, improved selection procedures, studies and trainings should help to recruit highly qualified young people to become pedagogues – for example Finland, high performing country in the PISA studies, has a very rigorous selection process so that the best graduates become teachers.

2. Equity and equality of opportunity are essential to promote high education throughout the whole society. In most countries, education achievement and participation in (early and/or tertiary) education depend largely on a child’s socio-economic background. No country can afford to lap the full potential of all children. Especially in socially disadvantaged settings, childcare centers and schools must cooperate closely with parents, religious institutions, medical professionals, immigrant associations, sports clubs, government job centers and the business community. Schools must be open all day as well as during school breaks for communal learning activities.

3. Investing early is better than fixing problems later. Making early childhood education available to all children is the key to equal opportunity and achievement later in life, as shown by James Heckman. Educational facilities must provide high-quality early education with sufficient and highly qualified staff and resources at their disposal. Efforts must be made to increase participation of immigrant children and those from socially disadvantaged families. Parents must be encouraged to enroll their children in a high-quality childcare center as early as possible. But as a child still spends most of its time in its family and as family is essential to all children, parents should also be encouraged and helped to foster cognitive and non-cognitive skills of their children at home. Special help, contact persons, courses etc. should be available to them easily and near their home or even at their children’s education institution. Childcare centers and other early childhood education institutions must collaborate with schools so that children can transition from one to the other without disruption.

4. Resources must be invested more effectively to achieve better educational outcomes. More financial resources must be made available for education as society benefits directly from what it spends on education (see e.g. OECD’s calculations on net public value of education, OECD Education at a Glance 2010). Effective educational efforts require a needs-based distribution of financial resources. More than in the past, funds must target those areas facing the greatest challenges.

5. Empirical findings of best practice for education systems in industrialized countries point to the benefits of “supervised autonomy” where secondary schools are allowed to take their own lead in teacher recruitment, curriculum design and finance. Such autonomy would on the one hand enhance competition between schools and on the other hand help schools to cope with their specific student body and their specific local situation. Such a solution is workable only if there are still national curriculum standards and minimum proficiency levels that have to be reached. Also, schools should make their work and results transparent. This transparency has to be intelligent; it should not only rely on the comparison of test scores but take into account the specific environment, the body of pupils, the starting point and the progress that children have made.

6. Different rules apply to schooling based on a country’s stage of development. A country should look therefore to best practice within its own reference group. This frame of reference is critical when applying ‘education metrics’ because a system which may be workable and deliver valuable outcomes in the United States might not offer the right ‘fit’ for a less developed country (McKinsey Education Report, 2010).

7. ‘Education metrics’ need to be carefully designed. If they are designed to encompass a broader set of outcomes than pure numeracy (e.g. which can favour rote learning and devalue skills which employers really need like non-routine, interactive skills), these broader outcomes need to be carefully thought through. It has been demonstrated by researchers like James Heckman that non-cognitive skills (concentration, will to learn, persistence) should be given equal weight as cognitive skills and the OECD Report (2010) has highlighted how the demand for non-cognitive skills in many jobs has increased. These skills can be imparted from the child’s home environment, thence the important role of parenting, but we must find also ways to teach and foster these skills in early childhood education and at school, e.g. via methods of individual support, project work and cooperation with clubs, companies, and other local institutions.

8. According to Aart De Geus, former Deputy Secretary General at the OECD and executive board member at the Bertelsmann Foundation, the quality of human capital and not ‘years of schooling’ is critical in driving a country’s long-term performance., (OECD report "The High Cost of Low Education Performance”,2010). One plausible interpretation of the human capital story would be to support programmes like the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), which measure the connection between skills and their social-economic outcomes.

9. Generally, more evidence-based studies are needed to help in the restructuring of education. Educational policy in many countries is still not based on evidence-based studies but rather on traditions and ideology. More research, evaluation of education reforms etc. could help to convince policy-makers – and citizens – to look closer at the research evidence when taking decisions for the education system in their country.

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