Teachers, Pay and Working Hours

Here in Malaysia, we are undoubtedly faced with a very important issue in the next few years – a need to attract a greater flow of high calibre graduates and candidates to the teaching profession to meet increasing demand, especially for International and Private Schools that intend to provide high quality holistic education without pricing outside the means of most people by employing all expatriate teachers.

There are those who believe that if the profession is to attract in the desired talent, then two issues will be critical – pay and working hours. This is said so often, without necessarily being proved, to the point where few question the validity of the statements. So, it’s particularly interesting when there is hard evidence and data flowing from analysis. The following article and infographic come from the Economist:

Economist – Daily Chart – Do Shorter Hours Or Higher Wages Make Better Teachers?

The data is fascinating as it presents significant evidence that suggests that whatever is the ‘secret juice’ for great teachers, it seems to have very little to do with either wage levels or working hours. Schools with high or low achievements in the PISA examinations are spread throughout the range of salary levels for teachers and the range of hours teachers worked.

So, if it’s not wages and it’s not working hours ………….. what is it that leads high calibre people in adequate numbers in to the education system and creates the environment within which they can support students’ high achievements?

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International League Tables For School Learning

PISA-2012-results-snapshot-Volume-I-ENG
(Right click on the link above to either download the pdf document or to open it in another browser tab or window. You will need pdf reader software such as adobe in order to open the document)

With some justification, people will be tempted to say that parents and pupils can only aspire to the very best of International 21st Century learning, when they have access to an education that delivers on the most basic of fundamentals first to at least a decent standard. The fundamentals of reading, writing, mathematical skills and ability to think scientifically are the core foundational skills that need to be acquired by any student from their years of schooling.

It was in order to measure, compare and raise standards in these areas that the PISA tests started to be used by OECD countries, the results tabulated, compared and widely circulated. The tests are taken by children aged 15 and the last set of published results were for the 2012 tests (the 2015 results will come out in December 2016).

Inevitably, the reality is that the data can make for very painful reading and some hard questions for government. For example, considering the wealth levels of the country and amount spent on education, the US data has long been a cause for considerable concern in that country. It has the potential to inspire, motivate and encourage innovation, but too often i fear it motivates knee-jerk reactions and a greater tendency to make achievement in a test the goal in children’s education – rather than a means to an end and a tool.

Here’s an article that carries an interesting analysis of the data. It highlights the unacceptable numbers of children who are being failed by the education systems in so-called developed countries that spend considerable sums of money on public education. If these people cannot achieve even the acceptable minimum learning levels they are pretty much denied the ability to play a full and active part in the economy throughout life. The article also, quite rightly stresses that there are so many factors that impinge upon the performance of education systems that the best comparisons are those between countries which are geographically and culturally similar. Such a comparison makes Malaysia’s results even more intolerable (when compared with the likes of Singapore). The final article is one of optimism – where the will exists, positive change can be achieved that brings great benefit to young people’s lives and the society as a whole;

World Economic Forum – The Conversation – Where Are Children Getting The Best Education?

India took part (once), but sadly found the results so embarrassing that they simply withdrew and said they ‘didn’t want to play’. The government (read Sheikh Mohammed) of UAE took their typical approach – they decree from the top that something will be a certain way, and then just demand that others do whatever it takes to make that happen. In this case, they’ve set an ambitious target (considering where the country’s students scored in 2012) to see the country placed in the top 10 worldwide.

For Malaysia, the evidence is clear – there’s much work to do. I’m not aware of whether the original data reflects just students from government schools, or whether private sector students were included. Nevertheless, the data reflects an education system that is failing to give enough students an adequate grounding in education basics and fundamentals, let alone aspiring to deliver a truly holistic Twenty First Century education. As private sector schools, and especially as the expatriates within them I believe we’re duty bound to do all in our power to share knowledge, techniques, principles and ideas, to help people to understand and believe in what’s possible educationally. We need to be ready to share key messages about what’s required for children to be educated in ways that will enable them to excel and succeed in the wider world.

As I mentioned earlier, there is an inevitability that countries that jealously eye those top spots in the league tables look to see what they can emulate (copy), in the shortest possible time in order to drive similar results through their education systems. We see this in the UK and US conservative interests in the systems of Singapore and Shanghai. Where there are cultural similarities (Singapore and Malaysia) the temptation to simply mimic is even stronger.

However, here’s an excellently written article that delves in to the Singapore system that carries all the warnings about simple mimicry. In fact, it shows that Singapore, just like China has recognised that topping these league charts is only one element in a much more complex education equation and that, in fact, there are ways in which their rigid, teacher-centric, delivery based models carry fundamental weaknesses, however well they’re implemented. Thus, as others begin to see how to mimic Singapore, the small nation state is doing careful analysis about how they can reform and modernise the system they have;

The Conversation – Why is Singapore’s school system so successful, and is it a model for the West?

Among the senior team at Tenby in recent weeks we’ve been having a number of discussions about the critical importance of our educators (especially contractual expatriots) ‘leaving a legacy’. The growth in International education means that in the next few years there is going to be a shortage of talented, trained and motivated local talent. We have to play our part to make ours an attractive professional choice for local teachers and we need to ensure that the training, mentoring and support is there to enable the local teachers to understand and acquire the skills that put them on a par with teachers available from anywhere in the world.

Lots of work ahead.

Measuring Educational Impacts

BBC Radio 4 – The Educators – John Hattie
(Click on the link above to listen to the discussion)

Here’s a very interesting audio recording of an interview done for the BBC Radio 4 series – ‘The Educators’. The interviewee was Dr John Hattie of Melbourne University, Australia. He’s particularly talking about the large meta-analysis he’d carried out in to educational impacts of various things. In other words – research that pulls together the results of a large body of research studies from across the world.

Whilst it’s interesting, especially from an academic perspective, to hear him talk about the relative impacts of different things, such as homework, class sizes, streaming or parental choice of schools the burning question that came in to my mind was – “what are we measuring to define IMPACT/ EFFECT and are they the things we should be measuring?”

It is inevitable that during the discussion the PISA tests came up for discussion. To many educators, and especially those who want to believe that data and statistics are all that’s needed to enable them to drive change/ improvement in the whole education system it is a very simple piece of logic to say that PISA tests what children need to be learning in school and that, therefore, comparisons of relative performance on PISA are the right way to assess the quality of an education system.

How comfortably does this sit with ideas related to the need, in the Twenty First Century to develop lifelong learners, to develop high levels of EQ, empathy, communication skills and other softer attributes when its very clear that these aren’t figuring at all in the analysis of PISA or any other effects/ impact/ outcomes?

A school, District or even an individual teacher can decide to do certain things that will have a higher chance of producing higher PISA scores or scores on other standardised testing systems. However, does that mean that we must say that that automatically represents good education, the ideal? Well, arguably, when Shanghai scored top on PISA it was acknowledged by education authorities in China that their methods were very good at drilling the children in what they needed to know to do well in the exams, BUT were probably very bad at inculcating and developing the skills those young people would need to be effective in the 21st century. As a result, the Chinese have been looking outside their own education systems for ways to change so as to have an education system that prepares young people for the reality of the future they will face.

Here’s the problem – the future of children and their contribution to society doesn’t lend itself to being tested, picked apart for analytical debate half as easily as standardised test results. And this is why we can so easily fall in to the trap of being so comfortable with the kinds of debates here in this interview. All through, the discussion is about the relative merits of different actions that can take place in education, all based on a criteria of judgement about worthwhile outcomes that may not stand up to scrutiny.

Being able to climb a ladder better or faster is meaningless if we’re leaning the ladder against the wrong wall.

When You’re at the Top, Reform !!

Over the last 5-6 years we’ve been hearing lots about the education system of Finland, because it’s been the standout country, as the only one outside the Far East to consistently rank in the top 5 of country performances for students taking the PISA examinations worldwide.

Educators from many countries, both from private and public sectors have flooded to Finland to see what they do different and what others might learn from them to improve their own education systems. Books have been written on the subject and miles of newsprint.

So, when the world is beating a path to your door to learn whatever they can from you, what do you do next?

Well, if your’re the leading thinkers shaping the education system of the country – you change it, driven by dissatisfaction about whether your current education system and approach is effectively preparing young people for the Twenty First Century.

The changes they’re introducing are quite radical and very interesting – a big shift away from teaching ‘subjects’ towards thematic learning with a cross-curricular approach. The expectations are that teachers will develop skills across subject boundaries and will collaborate with their colleagues.

There’s going to be lots of curiosity about whether they can make these changes and retain their strong showing in the international comparative assessments.

Independent UK Article – Finland Schools

How Shanghai Schools Got to Number One

Here’s an interesting article from Thomas Friedman in today’s New York Times recounting his experiences from visiting a high performing Shanghai School;

New York Times Article

Oh, how this article will disappoint many. How some educators around the world will beat their chests about how PISA isn’t the only measure of greatness in schools or an education system. Oh, how many will hate the fact that the conclusions are that they don’t suffer from the complacency and the ‘plague of mediocrity’ that blights so many education systems. Instead, there’s no ‘magic sauce’. Instead they take some fundamental things that we all know make a difference and they work harder at them, more determinedly and with a mindset that says – you can’t get too good at these things and there’s always scope for improvement.

Wow, hard work and a never ending pursuit of excellence in fundamental areas might come back in to fashion!!

Could You Pass PISA?

The PISA tests are conducted on a regular basis across schools throughout OECD countries as a means of benchmarking the education systems of those countries (particularly State systems). It is, for example, the result of these tests that caused so much focus in recent years on the education system of Finland as many looked to see what they might learn for their own countries from the way the Finns approach education. When Chinese students first took the tests they performed extremely well, though there have been acknowledgements that the students all too often lack other skills having been drilled in a very rote-based education system. For an understanding of India’s position – see below!

This article is very interesting. Firstly, it offers access to the full “The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s 2012 Education at a Glance Report”. This carries a wealth of information about everything from the comparative levels of social mobility the education system creates in different countries (how possible is it to achieve academic levels significantly above one’s parents) as a representation of fairness to the relative levels of teacher salaries, training and other facilities in different countries (regrettably data not available for India).

This page also provides an interesting ‘hands on’ experience of doing PISA test questions so that you can pit yourself against the challenges it presents to class 10 students. I’m feeling kind, so won’t ask anyone to reveal their scores here (unless, of course, you can genuinely claim full marks!)

Huffington Post Article – Test Yourself Against PISA

So, what’s the Indian scenario? I’m afraid a very sad state of affairs that makes very clear the long road ahead. India agreed to take part in the 2009 test (taken a year later in 2010 for some technical reasons alongside some other ‘first timer’ countries. Two States were chosen, being those perceived to be amongst the most advanced in State education and development; Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Some complained that instead some top private schools should have been entered. However, that would have been out of line with the OECD objectives of comparing the education available to all in the country. When the results, came, they had performed second from bottom, better than only Kyrigistan. What happened next is contained in this Times of india report:

Times of India – PISA

What can we say – there’s a long and hard road ahead, but we must start somewhere.

How they do it in Finland

BBC Article – Finland Education System

Here’s a fresh, new article from the BBC that highlights the superb achievements of the Finnish education system, and throws up some potential explanations for their success.

As one reads it, it’s impossible to avoid finding many challenges to accepted norms and cliches that we see in schools around us today. Particularly, it casts doubt on the whole faulty logic that sees children here in India starting school so young.

Thought provoking, indeed ………..

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