January 06, 2008

1/3: The best school systems in the world: it's not (all) about the money

It's no secret to those of us who teach, have taught or can remember being taught: the most important element in a child's education is... the teacher. So says the 2007 McKinsey report (pdf) which analysed what made the best education systems in the world, well, the best. Over the next series of posts, allow me to paraphrase for you... (Remember, boys, not my words...)

Money_and_ewan More money, smaller class sizes, lower impact
In 2006 there was $2 trillion spent on education by the world's governments. But money alone is not the reason we see improvement, not always.

Between 1980 and 2005 there was a 73% increase in spending in the USA, after allowing for inflation. The teacher-student ratio fell by 18%, class sizes were the smallest they had ever been, tens of thousands of initiatives were launched to improve the quality of education. Yet the outcomes didn't change at all. In other countries where similar cash and policy decisions have been made, flatlining or even deterioration has occurred.

Smaller class sizes actually mean that there is now less money per teacher for resources, for, example, than there was before. Worse still, smaller class sizes have had little impact, or any impact has been evened out by the little amount of money left for resourcing.

Less than 1% of African and Middle Eastern children perform at or above the Singaporian average - to be expected, you might believe, because those Singaporeans must hemorrhage cash into their education system. Wrong. Singapore spends less on Primary education than 27 of the 30 OECD countries.

Could do better...
The lesson here? Across the OECD countries taxpayers could expect 22% improvement for their education investment. "The world is indifferent to past reputations, unforgiving of custom or practice", the report claims, and I'd go with that. Success will go to those which are swift to adapt, slow to complain and open to change. There are three key points to getting this point of success:

  1. Getting the right people to become teachers
  2. Developing them into effective instructors
  3. Ensuring that the system is able to offer the best possible instruction for every child

Improvement is therefore possible in a very short period of time, if the will and brains are there, and adjusting these three areas will have an enormous impact on improving school systems.

Over the next series of blog posts here, I will look at all the areas that, according to the report, make a difference in education, and show how education bloggers could be, if they desired, at the forefront of profound educational change in their own countries, and across the world.

Related posts:
2/3: Finding the best teachers


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You look frighteningly like my Geography teacher @ Grove Academy in the 1970s — and also Hunter S Thompson — in that picture!

...Incidentally, have you seen Jeff Utecht's recent post about desirable qualities in a teacher? (http://www.thethinkingstick.com/?p=614)

I'd love to be able to use the whole thing... but will certainly being use part of the next time I'm interviewing for staff - which will probably be the summer.

I'm getting to the stage that I really don't want to hire anyone who doesn't have an online presence... the problem is getting my superiors to agree changing the advert to reflect this... Small steps!

OK, come clean. How many attempts to get the photo right?

Actually I think you and Andrew Brown have been working too closely together.
I witnessed this first hand when I visited the International School of Monaco.
Its all about a vision of what we want from an education system

The best predictor of educational outcome is socio-economic status.

The best predictor of national educational achievement is relative equality, and overall high level, of socio-economic status.

That photo is excellent! Well done.

1. Getting the right people to become teachers
In an era of 'people shortages' in the labour market - how will educational institutes be able to 'afford' the right people - surely they will be 'head hunted' by private enterprise training?

2. Developing them into effective instructors
This means that educational institutes will need to 'value' their staff, have good educational leaders and mentors for their staff, and develop a strategic approach to their staff development. At this stage in Australia, public educational institutes are more worried about their budget then their 'core business' of education/training.

3. Ensuring that the system is able to offer the best possible instruction for every child
With improved teacher/trainer training - perhaps this will naturally occur however, at this point in time teachers/trainers are more focussed on getting their student to achieve the course 'outcomes' and not focussing on developing them as individuals - as they're forced to compare their students against National Standards and benchmarks.

Perhaps the answer may be in the question:
Is learning/education more highly valued in a society like Singapore?

I like the question that Allison has asked about whether the problem really is how education is valued. Another problem that arises is that, even after you've got the right teachers, you have to be able to keep them and if they are undervalued and overworked (as many are)then retaining them is difficult. But hopefully that would be fixed somewhat by points 2 and 3.

What you said resonated with me. Thanks for the insightful thoughts.

Hi Ewan,
I knee jerked a tweet about this the other day and have a bit of time to think about it a bit more.
As a teacher smaller class size frees up time for the those quality interactions, frees up time for research, learning and planning. I was more likely to read about a new tool or idea last year when I had a class of 19 than this when it is 29, I've about 50% more marking and record keeping to do for a start.
In my opinion I was a better teacher last year than I am being this session class size has a good bit to do with that.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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