The World Development Report on Making Services Work for Poor People” [World Bank, 2004] illustrates the tension in the public conversation about primary education in developing countries. The report embraces universal primary education and describes in detail the dismal quality of the educational services that developing countries offer the poor. Policies which promote school enrollment may not promote learning. The recent evidence suggests that many interventions which increase school participation do not improve education for the average student. These interventions consist of buying materials for the teacher without showing the teacher how to use the tools effectively.
Students do not to learn more in the additional days that they spend at school. Efforts to get children into school must be accompanied by significant improvements in the quality of schools that serve these children. The first step is to change the attitude of the teacher who may or not be engaged in facilitating the learning process. Lecturing from a textbook and having students memorize for exams does not increase learning. Learning has to engage the teacher and student.
The people in the educational process are central to the success of students. The crucial role of the teacher’s determines whether students feel that they can learn. Many teachers in poor schools don’t prepare lessons adequately and expect the students to be silent and regurgitate on command what has been spoken by the teacher is not education. The problem is that we don’t want to hurt teacher’s feelings by telling them that they have to undergo a fundamental shift in attitude and ensure that the provide their pupils with quality instruction and facilitate the learning process.
In the case of the poor, they generally come from an ethnic group which the teacher considers inferior. The pedagogy, nor the curriculum, has been adapted to take into account the influx of children and their characteristics which may require different teaching strategies. Many first generation learners must work to help support their families and need practice activities to reinforce learning which may include games and oral learning, rhymes, songs etc. to remember academic concepts. Their parents can’t help them with academic work and feel embarrassed by the challenge. They may berate the child for making them feel inadequate with the demands of school.
In many countries, the school system continues to operate as if it were catering to the elite. When one digs further, we discover that the teachers want to only teach to the elite and feel that teaching poor children from lower socioeconomic groups lowers the teacher’s prestige and social status.
We can improve school quality in a cost-effective way through the use of technology. Technology allows students to practice without judgement or condenmnation. The child can watch the video as many times as it takes without the video losing patience. The child can complete the problems until she gets them correct without feeling like she has disappointed the computer. The key is making these tools available to poor children and allowing them to use them in they are designed to be used.
Textbooks are important. Practice makes perfect. Application requires teachers to challenge their students in ways that differ from past relationships. Many teachers never interact with the ethnic group of their pupils outside the school setting. They may judge the child’s culture as backwards or uncivilized. Outsiders view the teacher and student as sharing the same race and therefore no cultural issues exist. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Until the school system address cultural, ethnic and language differences between the student and teacher, no real progress in terms of increasing education can exist. Students and parents know when educators tolerate them in order to receive a paycheck. When teachers face a classroom of students from different ethnic, language and cultural backgrounds, the teacher has a responsibility to address the gap.
So I can’t get excited about comparing test scores in countries where 1 out of 5 children die from unclean water. I don’t see the value of focusing on some artificial index which may not assist solve the live or death problems in the immediate environment.
When one works with Educators from around the world, people constantly compare educational systems on the basis of International test scores. Test scores tell a part of the story. There are a sole criterion and should not be used as the only measure. Finland, with a population of 5.3 million boasts of some of the highest test scores in the world. The homogenous populations seems to enjoy a high quality of life and they place a high value on education. I don’t see myself giving up my citizenship and moving to Finland.
Countries must focus on the problems that interfere with their quality of life not some artificial index which compares their country to someone else. We overwork the data collection process. Test scores measure performance on a sole criterion which many feels gives them a chance at the lottery “the coveted government job”. This mentality becomes the problem and not a part of the solution. Education should be coveted because of it’s influence expanding one’s fund of knowledge to creatively solve the problems of today and tomorrow.
The 21st Century graduates must accomplish more than being able to pass an exam. Creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, entrepreneurship and sustainability rank as key components. Education, a tool to be used, not just a piece of paper to be proudly displayed on the wall. When one discusses education for the poor in developing or developed countries, one addresses the primary determinant of what happens in the classroom, the teacher and the problems which the students need to address in the environment.
Education must be meaningful and relevant or it is worthless. Education must facilitate people improving the quality of their lives and allow them to survive and thrive in the 21st Century. So once people can manage their existence in their own environment, can I turn my attention to comparing test scores.