Friday, April 20, 2012

Five key lessons from PISA to create a quality education system

These five key lessons are from top performing education systems: Shanghai, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Finland, Canada, Japan and New Zealand. (those identified by PISA surveys as success stories):

Lesson 1
First, make education a priority. A strong performer is a country that has made education one of its flagships. Yet, that alone doesn’t get you very far.

In some countries, students are separated into different tracks at an early age because of the erroneous notion that only a subset of children can achieve world class standards. However, PISA shows that those systems tend to be fraught with large social disparities and freeze such disparities over time. In top performing systems, most students achieve high standards.

Lesson 2
Second, don’t be shy. High performing education systems do not refrain from setting out clear and ambitious standards. They are focused on the acquisition of complex, higher order thinking skills, which they align across the system. As a result, everyone has a shared sense of what is required to move on to the next academic level, in terms of content and performance. Students know what they have to do to realise their dreams and they put in the work that is needed to achieve them.

Lesson 3
Third, teachers’ quality pays. Strong education systems pay careful attention to the profile of their teachers. Much like corporations, they make sure that their teaching force is the best.

Careful consideration must go into making the teacher profession attractive; recruiting and selecting teachers; rewarding and training them on the job; recognizing the best performers and helping those who have merits but are struggling to grow.

Lesson 4
Fourth, the importance of autonomy. High performing systems provide considerable discretion to school heads and school faculties in determining content and the curriculum. Indeed, PISA shows that autonomy is closely related to school performance, provided that this is achieved under conditions of effective accountability. That said, we do not see a performance advantage of privately managed schools, once social background is accounted for.

Lesson 5
Last but not least, equity is key. World class education systems deliver high quality learning consistently across the entire education system. To this end, they invest educational resources where they can make the most difference: by attracting the most talented teachers into the most challenging classrooms, by making effective spending choices that prioritise the quality of teachers.

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