Politicians from most countries will tell you that education is the cornerstone of a country’s future. They wouldn’t be wrong, of course. Education played a big role in giving the United States the economic edge over other countries in the late 19th century; they were the first country to offer free public secondary education to its citizens.
However clear cut the consensus upon the importance of our education systems may be, it often doesn’t translate to a transcendence of education over all other questions of governance and politics: concessions are made, budgets are rearranged, and priorities are adjusted.
Some countries, however, seem to have struck the right chord in terms of policies, budgetary allocations, and sets of priorities, while others struggle to understand what it is that they are doing wrong. Luckily, we can learn from each other. The McGraw-Hill Research Foundation has recently published a paper discussing the things that high-performing education systems are doing differently (and better) compared to others. They made the following observations:
- The status of the teaching profession is higher. The countries with high-performing education systems tend to pay their teachers higher amounts, tend to value educational credentials more, tend to offer better career prospects to teachers, and give teachers more responsibility as professionals and reformers of education.
- Academic standards are higher and are applied to all students. Countries with high-performing education systems have developed high-level academic standards, accompanied by high-quality curricula with clear paths for students to the workforce. These countries also tend to minimise overlap in curricula across grades, and reduce discrepancies in curricula across classrooms and socio-economic groups.
- A larger budget is not a predictor for a high-performing education system; how you spend it, is. This is not to say that the amount of money is not relevant; the size of the budget is an important part of the equation. However, both Luxembourg and the United States spend the most money per capita on education, but fail to place themselves amongst the ranks of top performers. On the other hand, New Zealand shows that better results can be achieved with less. Furthermore, countries that allocate less money to their economically disadvantaged schools seem to perform worse than countries that favour a more egalitarian approach.
From these observations we can conclude that even during an economic crisis, progress can be made on education, since money isn’t really the issue. If anything, the most important lesson seems to be that the teaching profession should be given more attention.
Finland, for example, does not pay its teachers much more than other governments do in their countries, but the teaching profession has status comparable to that of doctors, lawyers, and other professional occupations. This has the highly valuable effect of attracting some of the most talented people to become teachers. Furthermore, the selection process to join the teaching force is selective and highly competitive, keeping the standards high. The Finnish government also strengthens the prestige of the teaching profession by placing great trust in their teachers, and restraining itself from attempting to enforce performance. In return teachers take on the responsibility to excel and keep a high level of education. Finland is a great example of how elevating the status of teachers and giving them the necessary resources and trust can have a long and lasting positive effect on the quality of the education system of a country.
Nannette Ripmeester, managing director at Expertise in Labour Mobility (ELM), recently visited Finland and worked together with one of the country’s universities to improve the institution’s implementation of their internationalisation strategy. The work was based on the results of the International Student Barometer, which clearly highlighted the importance of teaching quality in realising high educational goals. The topic was received enthusiastically by members throughout the entire hierarchy of the university.
You can read McGraw-Hill’s full report here