The correlation between educational standards and economic development is irrefutable. Proof, if it’s needed, can be found in Brazil’s investment in the 1960s and 1970s, when the country paid for PhDs abroad in oil exploration, agricultural research and aircraft design, three areas in which the country is now a world leader.
The problem for politicians is that an investment in education often takes decades, which is way too long for them to get the credit.
What’s really interesting is that money – that is direct cost for the government – only accounts for about 10% of any improvement in the standards of education. So it’s really a matter of finding solutions that work, rather than just throwing money at the problem.
Admittedly, it is not an easy subject to address. Educators do not agree on how success should be measured, or even what the definition of success is.
To complicate matters, the teachers’ trade unions are a powerful lobby groups, and their constituency is not made up of students. They are resistant to metrics.
There are measures of success. The most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranks countries that excel, and others, notably the U.S.A. and Britain that lag behind.
Within counties there are clusters of excellence. Ontario (Canada), Wroclaw (Poland), and Dresden (Germany) stand out, each with a different approach. What’s common is the decentralization of decision making, giving committed educators the autonomy to find solutions that work for their students.
The Kahn Academy is proving that novel approaches using technology to best advantage, and not technology for the sake of technology, can also be very successful.
The surprise of Germany’s standing on the PISA ranking contradicts the belief that education standards and economic performance are linked. The PISA ranking, however, ignores the substantial technical education system that forms the backbone of Germany’s manufacturing quality.
The other major factor influencing education standards that is not in dispute is quality of teachers. Again the metrics used to judge teachers is hotly debated. The argument is that the metrics can be manipulated, and they are.
The true measure of teachers is their motivation. There are those who love teaching, and those who think that the only hours that they should work are the hours that they are teaching.
Real teachers work hard. The result of that work can be seen by quietly watching the teacher with a class, sharing their passion for the subject and the pleasure of knowledge. They inspire.
There is no metric for that.
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