Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The biggest challenge in education today?

This post was stimulated by attending a talk about (yet another) review of the curriculum in Australian schools. The talk and following discussion was conducted according to the Chatham House rule, which I had never encountered before.

Previously I wrote about the iron triangle in education: access, cost, and quality.

What is the role and significance of curriculum in education?
I think it is helpful to make some clear distinctions in roles, responsibilities, and desired outcomes.

1. Students learning.
This is what it is all about! It is important to distinguish this from students passing exams, attending lectures, or completing tasks.

2. Effective teachers.
They need to be passionate and competent, both about their subject and their students.

3. Curriculum and resources.
This also includes textbooks, course handbooks, online resources, buildings, libraries, equipment, laboratories, computers....

4. Policies and administrative procedures.
This includes hiring and firing, retaining, training, and rewarding teachers. Funding.
Paperwork. Oversight and accountability. Assessment/grading. Course profiles.

I think the biggest challenge in education today is to have a smooth and efficient flow from 4 to 1. Unfortunately, sometimes/often 4. and even 3. can actually hinder 2 and stymie 1.

I claim that doing 2, 3 and 4 well are neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for 1 to happen.

A good teacher is not sufficient for student learning. If the students are not motivated or do not have the appropriate background and skills, it does not matter how good the teacher is, the students won't learn.
Some students (admittedly a minority) can be even learn with a terrible teacher. If they are highly motivated and gifted they will find a way to teach themselves.
Great teachers can be effective without good textbooks or fancy buildings or career reward structures.
A great textbook and curriculum and fancy facilities won't help if the teacher is a dud.
Strong accountability structures with high quality testing and ranking of students, teachers, and schools do not guarantee learning. Teachers will teach to the test. Bad teachers and schools will put on an amazing show when they are "inspected.".

A major problem is that there are influential individuals, organisations, and bureaucracies that strongly believe (or pretend to believe) that 4 and/or 3 are necessary and sufficient for learning to happen. This leads to a distorted allocation of resources and heavy administrative burdens that are counter productive.

1 comment:

  1. I think remedial massage is the most important thing missing from school curricula. Most people should know the importance of good joints.