The following is taken from The Learning Curve 2012, (Pearson, 2012) and provides signposts to better educational results:
Strong relationships are few and far between education inputs and outputs
The research examined a wide range of education data, both quantitative – such as spending on pupils and class size- as well as qualitative- such as level of school choice. It also looked at numerous potential outcomes, ranging from the inculcation of cognitive skills to GPD growth. A number of inputs show a statistical link over time with certain outputs, notably between income and results, but the most striking result of the exercise is how few correlations there are. Education remains very much a black box in which inputs are turned into outputs in ways which are difficult to predict or quantify consistently. Experts point out that just pouring more resources into a system is not enough: far more important are the processes which use these resources.
Income matters, but culture may matter more
On the surface, money and education seem to create a virtuous circle, with wealthy countries – and individuals- buying a good education for their children, who in turn, benefit economically. A closer look, though, indicates that both higher income levels and better cognitive test scores are the results of educational strategies adopted, sometimes years earlier, independently of the income levels existing at the time. More important than money, say most experts, is the degree of support for education within the surrounding culture. Although cultural change is inevitably complicated, it can be brought about to promote better educational outcomes
There is no substitute for good teachers
Good teachers exercise a profound influence: having a better one is statistically linked not only to higher income later on in life but to a range of social results including lower chances of teenage pregnancy and a greater tendency to save for their retirement. The problem is that there is no agreed list of traits to define or identify an excellent teacher, let alone a universal recipe for obtaining them. That said, successful school systems have a number of things in common: they find culturally effective ways to attract the best people into the profession: they provide relevant on-going training: they give teachers a status similar to other respected professions; the system also sets clear goals and expectations but also lets teachers get on with meeting these. Higher salaries, on the other hand, accomplish little by themselves.
When it comes to school choice, right information is crucial
Recent research indicates that countries with a greater choice of schools have better education outcomes. Presumably, allowing parents to choose the best schools rewards higher quality and leads to overall improvement. In practice, however, finding the mechanism to make this happen is difficult.
Extensive studies of voucher programmes and charter schools in the United States indicate that, while both can be beneficial, neither is a magic formula. On the other hand, private for-profit education is providing students in some of the least developed areas of the world an alternative to poor state provision and showing the potential benefits of choice and accountability. Ultimately, as in any market or quasi-market, the real value of choice comes from people having the right information to select the option that is superior.
There is no single path to better labour market outcomes
Education seems to correlate with a host of personal benefits, from longer life to higher income. At a national level, too, education and revenue seem to go together. Finding the type of education that leads to the best economic outcomes, however, is far from straightforward. Differing strategies have distinct pros and cons. For example, some countries- but far from all, place considerable emphasis on vocational training as preparation for employment. Similarly, education systems cannot just educate for the present: leading ones look at what skills will be needed in future and how to inculcate them.
A global index can help highlight educational strengths and weaknesses
A significan output of The Learning Curve programme is the Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment, covering 40 countries. Based on results in a variety of international tests of cognitive skills as well as measures of literacy and graduation rates. The top performers in the index are Finland and South Korea. In some ways, it is hard to imagine two more different systems: the latter is frequently characterised as test driven and rigid, with students putting in extraordinary work time: the Finnish system is much more relaxed and flexible. Closer examination, though, shows that both countries develop high-quality teachers, value accountability and have a moral mission that underlies education efforts.
So what are the lessons for education policymakers that come out of this?
- There are no magic bullets
The small number of correlations found in this study shows the poverty of simplistic solutions. Throwing money at education by itself rarely produces results, and individual changes to education systems, however sensible, rarely do much on their own. Education requires long-term, coherent and focussed system-wide attention to achieve improvement.
Good teachers are essential to high-quality education. Finding and retaining them is not necessarily a question of high pay. Instead, teachers need to be treated as the valuable professionals they are, not as technicians in a huge educational machine.
The cultural assumptions and values surrounding an education system do more to support or undermine it than the system can do on its own. Using the active elements of this culture and, where necessary, seeking to change the negative ones, are essential to promoting successful outcomes.
- Parents are neither enemies nor saviours of education
Parents want their children to have a good education: pressure from them for change should not be seen as a sign of hostility but as an indication of something possibly amiss in provision. On the other hand, parental input and choice do not constitute a panacea. Education systems should strive to keep parents informed and work with them.
- Educate for the future, not just the present
Many of today’s job titles, and the skills needed to fill them, just did not exist 20 years ago. Education's systems need to consider what skills today’s students will need in future and teach accordingly.
(NZSTA, STAnews, March 2013)