A child who starts school at the age of three and passes out at the age of 18 will spend roughly million plus minutes at school. What they learn at school is essentially the total sum of what they learn during million plus minutes.
There is enough evidence to believe that how much they learn depends mainly on the teachers they are taught by and schools they attend.
The universal belief that education shapes the lives of individuals and societies is not something new. Aristotle wrote that “the fate of empires rests on the education of youth. Fourteen centuries ago the imperial examination system was established in China.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about education at the beginning of the 21st century, two and a half millennia after the establishment of the world’s first compulsory school systems, is that answers to those questions are beginning to emerge.
New international assessments, improved data, and the ceaseless work of researchers and policymakers have produced a wealth of knowledge about what works and why.
Sometimes that understanding is inaccessible to those who influence and make decisions about education policy - hidden in academic journals or obscured by a fog of political controversy and popular opinion - but it is emerging nonetheless. Out of that understanding, the following areas stand out.
The first learning is that just spending more money and employing more teachers does not help much. Luxembourg, Norway and Iceland spend more on their schools than almost any other government in the world, yet they all perform below the developed country average.
South Korea, Finland, New Zealand spend less than most other developed countries, yet they achieve some of the highest performance in the world. Developed countries with the smallest class sizes are often among the best.
They show that achieving good performance is not about how much money is spent or how many teachers are employed, but how well that money is spent and how well those teachers teach.
The second area we know is that the key to transforming learning in schools is changing what happens inside classrooms. A child who starts school at age four and graduates at age 18 will spend roughly one million minutes at school. What they learn at school is essentially the sum of what they learn during each of those one million minutes.
The research shows that how much they earn depends mainly on teachers they are taught by and the schools which they attend. Students with the best teachers in the best schools learn at least three times more each year than students with the worst teachers in the worst schools. Unless reforms change and improve the detail of what happens inside schools, classrooms, they are unlikely to change outcomes.
The third area we know is that most school systems have struggled to improve, but a few prove that substantial and sustained improvement over time is possible. Research showed that across a range of developed-world school systems, few had improved over a 25 year period and several had got worse.
Singapore moved from low levels of education at its independence in 1965 to some of the highest performance in the world. Several school districts, states, and provinces in the United States and Canada have achieved big improvements in outcomes over the past decade.
Finland tops the world in educational achievement despite spending less on its schools than its neighbours. Together, those systems show that high performance and continuous improvement are possible.
The fourth area we know is how to do it. There are many things which a school system and the people who work in it need to get right in order to make sure that every child is able to learn. They need to ensure that school buildings are warm and welcoming, that school buses depart and arrive on time, that school meals are nutritious, that parents and community organisations are involved in schools, and that children are safe from harm during their time at school. However, when it comes to ensuring that children leave school with the values, skills, and knowledge they need to succeed, the school transformation must be organised around following areas:
· Having fewer but better teachers;
· Getting the right people to become teachers;
· Ensuring that every school has effective leadership;
· Setting high standards and measuring whether they are achieved;
· Creating structures which empower people, hold them accountable and encourage collaborations;
· Investing in building teachers professional knowledge and skills;
· Continuously challenging inequity in professional knowledge and skills;
· Continuously challenging inquiry in educational performance.
Tales of exceptional teachers fostering exceptional learning are as much part of the folklore of the every school child. Data confirms empirically that some teachers are massively more effective than others.
Research shows that more than anything else, how much a student learns at school is determined by how many good teachers they get, and how many bad teachers they get.
I am convinced that teachers determine, in many instances who will live in poverty and who will live with some measure of prosperity. Schools must ensure that every child gets million plus minutes of quality instruction without fail.
Dr. Farooq Ahmad Wasil, a published author and an educationist, is Consultant and Advisor to Thinksite, a Srinagar based educational services company. He has over 3 decades of experience in the field of education Management – setting up, operating and managing schools.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.