Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Lessons from education systems of other countries

In the journey to find the options to make a better education system, it is ideal to listen to such a good TED talk by Andreas Schliecher on the characteristics of 'good education systems' across countries. If we have to benefit from making such a comparison, we should be careful in concluding anything more than that is essential.

According to me ( and i could be biased!), here are five lessons that we could take ahead with us :

1. Be clear about the purpose of education system

Please see this PISA website to understand how this test is conducted every three years, and what do they measure in the 15 year old children. One  of the important aspect of the PISA questions is trying to measure 'not what is taught', but 'what should one learn'. Like the TED speaker says, 'the test of good school is not what we can remember what we learned in school, but whether we are prepared to use what we learnt in dealing with the changes that come upon us'. It is a beautiful distinction to remember when we are trying to evaluate an education system across different countries. By the way, in the last 2009 PISA test, India was at the bottom of the rank.

2. Money spend on education does not necessarily increase the quality of students

The TED speaker brings out an interesting observation that 'more funds in education does not necessarily lead to better quality of education'. The comparison of some countries is very good. South Korean example is very informative. South Korea has spend higher amounts, but has increased the class size to ensure that spend per pupil is low. In other words, larger class size does not reduce the quality of education.

You must also read this Mckinsey study which also reported that 'Class size is not inversely correlated to quality of education'. It reported that out of 113 studies, only 9 have found that small class size increases the quality of education. For India, this finding is important. Because our class sizes are more in line with South Korean class sizes than the European class size of 15 students in a class.

3. Proportion of students who complete high school is an important metric for a country

Another interesting finding was that the proportion of students who complete high school kept on increasing for South Korea since last two decades. And surprisingly, it has a positive correlation with the country's GDP. A very important correlation for us. I am not sure of the statistic of students in India which finish high school, but i believe it is in the range of 35% only. In other words, only 1/3rd of Students  in India finish High school.

4. Ensure Equity of education

This is surprising finding. This means that best school systems tend to ensure that the all the students in the education 'learn'. In some European and US systems, it was presumed that one can give quality education only for students who are 'good or gifted'. This finding that 'education in high performing school system is tailored to meet the differences in the status of children' is therefore important.

Finland example is often quoted in this context. It is reported that Finland has got lowest variability of 5% between its highest and lowest score of students in a class. Finland has set up some methods ( please read Mckinsey study to read more details ) to ensure that students who lag in a class are 'taught' quickly so that they are brought up with the rest of class. Measures include such as having feedback mechanisms to find lagging students, having additional teacher ( ratio of 1:7) to do additional teaching to the lagging students at the end of day and so on.

Once again, this observation is important for Indian schools. Given our Indian class sizes of 40+, it is perhaps necessary to use technology to get this feedback on the 'class students' to find out the lagging students quickly. The later we find them, the more difficult it is to bring them back with the class.

5. Spend money on improving instructional quality

TED speaker has mentioned lot of ideas in bits and pieces in his lecture on improving the instructional quality. According to Mckinsey study, improving instructional quality is the single most important measure that determines that quality of education system. Mckinsey study has reported many findings of good performing schools that make them high quality schools. Some of the ideas which Indian schools could use are

  • Having coaches - senior teachers - to help teachers to improve instructional quality 
  • Having subject teacher groups ( like maths across different class) meeting together regularly to share and improve each other's performance. For instance Finland spends one half day in a week, some other schools use week-round meetings and so on. 
  • Ensure that Principal of school plays the role of an Instructional Leader at least to the extent of 50% of the time ( so that he is not bogged down by the administrative work ) 
  • Spend lot of money and time ( it is reported that better performing schools spend 50 US $ per student per year on this) in improving the instructional quality through sharing research findings, attending conferences, meeting teachers of other schools, meeting experts in the subject and so on
Do any of you want to add any other characteristic that Indian schools could use? Have I missed anything which someone feels is more important?

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