Friday, February 10, 2012

Lessons from the excellent school system of the world

Howard Gardner, the man who invented the concept of multiple intelligence( as against academic intelligence) was recently in India. In his lecture in Bangalore, which I happen to attend, he mentioned that India should follow Finnish or Singaporean Model of school system instead of US and UK. I went to the web to inquire about the Finnish Model and found some interesting information.

Here is a original paper of Mckinsey findings, who had done study of 25 of the top school systems in the world. ( Please remember that, in the last blog, we discussed education system, not the school systems) Governments spend about 2 trillion dollar in education, but despite this spending, the quality of education has barely improved.The study was meant to find the 'few' factors that significantly determine the quality of the education, despite the variation. Surprisingly, it was discovered, that money does not matter so much. Even though Singapore spends less on primary education ( it ranked 27 out of 30 school systems studied), it provided one of the best quality of education.

Even in the study of Finnish school system, the study discovered some surprising findings. For instance, it was found that although Finish school teachers were not paid as highly as German and Spain teachers, it did not matter. Neither the long duration of compulsory schooling period, or the extended daily school timing, or the small sizes of class improved the schooling system;  which were supposed to be primary determinants of school quality till then.  

The three factors that impacted the quality of education most were:get the best teachers; get the best out of teachers; and step in when pupils start to lag behind.

1. Get the best teachers

In Finland, the top 10% of the cream of the students join teaching. In Finland, it’s not the money but the status and prestige of teaching that attracts the best and brightest into the profession.

Even in India, you will find this to be true. If, for instance, you visit Kota, the town which sends about 4000 of the students to IIT ( out of 10000), you will realise the correlation of quality of teacher with the quality of education. Teachers in Kota are the best. Many of them come from IIT's. If you see the wait-list of the candidates wanting to join these coaching classes, you will find that best of the teachers queue up to the coaching classes to join them.

If you see the quality of teachers even in best of the private schools in India, it is barely above the mark. And more important than the high academic credentials of teacher, another quality matters more in teaching : Do the best want to teach? In schools, we need the best and the passionate teachers, not just best. In teaching, passion is more important than high academic excellence, I think.

2. Get the best out of the teachers

In Finland, groups of teachers visit each other’s classrooms and plan lessons together, in a system called “lesson studies” that include “rounds” just like the medical profession. Teachers learn from each other's strengths. Teachers also get an afternoon off per week for professional development (including for school substitutes).

Even if you see the best of the private schools in India, where best of the teachers are hired, hardly any time and effort is spend on 'improving and maintaining' the quality of the teachers. This is surprisingly the easiest 'location' to invest money and effort; but this is also the most neglected area in school education in India. It is my guess that this happens because the school administrators ( who run our schools in India) do not understand 'education' and therefore do not know 'how to improve the quality of teaching' by these coordinated efforts. 

3. Step in when pupils start to lag behind

Finland schools have an excellent diagnostic system ( called as formative testing) to find that a student has fallen behind, and then it has a special-needs teacher to ensure that the 'gaps' in the student are filled in quickly. Mckinsey report found that 33% of the students receive this early correction in Finland schools. This will give you an idea that even a best education system works well only when it has early feedback and correction incorporated in its design.

What comparable design do you see in Indian schooling system? If the teaching system is teacher-driven, there is hardly any effort by Indian schools to incorporate this corrective feedback into their teaching. If the teaching system is however student-driven, like that of Montessori, then the quality of education is obviously better ! Which teaching system is your school following?

If you want to know more about Singaporean model of schooling, please read this interesting comparison done by Yee Jenn Jong

Lessons from the above findings

If you are evaluating learning-centric schools ( visavis development centric schools which require different questions)  for admitting your child, you must ask these three questions to the school administration:

Question 1: Are your teachers best in their subjects? And if they are the best, are they also passionate about teaching?

Question 2: What mechanisms and tools have you adopted to develop your teachers on the continuous basis?

Question 3: What testing do you conduct to identify students who fall behind? And what do you do to fill the gaps in these students quickly?

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