Sunday, September 26, 2010

Is there an education crisis in your country?

Some thoughts on reading
SCHOOLWORK by Nicholas Lemann
How there can be and NOT be an educational crisis in the US by Mark Guzdial

Three reasons why you might say there is an education crisis in your country:

1) We aren't as good as Finland. Your country is falling behind other countries on the international PISA test scores (link)

Finland envy is relatively new because PISA tests, the technical ability to compare educational achievement in different countries is relatively new. What does it mean? My guess is that Finland as a society values education and social equality higher than other OECD countries. For example, to become a teacher in Finland you need a Masters Degree and they are more generous in their treatment of Disadvantaged students and cater better for their needs at a younger age.

So, if your country is not like Finland there are grounds for saying there is an education crisis. If you are near the top of the PISA list then you might claim there is not an education crisis.

2) The gap b/w the knowledge rich and the knowledge poor is increasing, there is a long tail of educational under achievement for the Disadvantaged. For example, Australia does alright on the average PISA scores but we do have a long tail of disadvantage.

This one is driven by social class and a sense of social justice or fairness. Australian education is quite unfair because the children of poor people who live in low socio economic areas end up being grouped together in school classrooms. It doesn't matter how good the teachers are, these classrooms can't compete - other things being equal - with the children of wealthy parents who end up being grouped together in Private schools which have a completely different classroom environment.

So, if you can access the wealthy Private schools or the few elite government schools (the way it works in Australia) there is no education crisis but if you can't then there quite possibly there is a crisis in your classroom.

3) There is a perception that desired education goals (however they are defined) are not being matched with desired educational attainment. eg. declining enrollments in maths and science courses, with maths and science being seen as desirable by observers and not particularly desirable by many students. Or you might think computer programming skills or some other computing skills are really important in today's world and be frustrated at how poorly these skills are lagging in education systems.

(update 27th September: This section could be much expanded especially in a qualitative sense.
eg 1. Alan Kay has argued there is not a real computer science.
eg 2. The current economic crisis reveals that the real science of political economy has been suppressed in higher education for many years - a great evasion of past findings has been occurring
eg 3. the global warming issue has revealed that there is a crisis within the culture of science and how it connects to the politics of policy formation

So, if you can complete any old course and get a job there isn't a crisis. But if you are worried about the education system delivering a good education to all citizens based on your view of high quality education then there is.

Conclusion: Education crisis doesn't really exist on a country by country basis. update 27th SeptemberRather the education crisis is a barometer of an underlying crisis in social class and depth of awareness of knowledge development issues in your country. Finland is on top because there is less class division and a more caring attitude to the disadvantaged.

Education crisis exists on the basis of social class and your attitude towards knowledge. The education crisis is a class crisis and an epistemological crisis. It really depends on your point of view of the sort of society you see as desirable, so it cannot be measured "objectively".

Lemann downplays the crisis because his outlook is middle class, the crisis does not directly touch him the way it touches the disadvantaged. Guzdial, from his perspective in computer science and epistemology, acknowledges a crisis of sorts but there is no reference to the importance social class in his article.

maths education crisis in Australia - the long tail of underachievement
curriculum reform will not improve education without quality teachers

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