Thursday, March 21, 2013

Thirteen Theses

Somewhere else in the proximate blogosphere, thirteen points were raised about education in Atlantis.
For ease of reference, I list them below in modified form (italics) and add some comments. You can always refer to the original post for the unmodified form.
1. Examinations should exist primarily to test progress/knowledge and should not be used to impart value/rank.
That's a matter of opinion, really — and the kind of society that sees a need for examinations and is deploying them. In practice, passing any examination affirms 'progress/knowledge', thus raising the perceived value of the individual and hence imparting value/rank.
2. Our current system of exams plus streaming creates elitism, stratifies society and demoralises/devalues much of our human capital.
This is true of any human process that validates progress (how ever defined), except to the degree in which human capital is demoralised/devalued (another social construct).
3. Since only 1% of those who leave primary school do not progress to secondary school, we do not need a Primary School Leaving Examination for promotion purposes (we may still need it to fill places, but that is a different barrier to be broken). We can look at through-train programmes to Sec 2 / Grade 8 (for 14 year olds) or something.
At which point, you'd deploy another examination? If the assumption is that we still need promotions and still need to measure progress (implicit in thesestatements), then it's only a matter of shuffling the standardised tests around. I don't think this particular statement adds much to the discussion.
4. Teacher 'key performance indicators' (KPIs) should not be weighted significantly towards the exam results of their students.
One major school of thought has it that the success of a teacher is measured by student outcomes. It's the most reasonable school, in general. The key point here is that certainly we don't have to use standardised exam results as the only indicator of teacher performance, and the debate should be on what else to use, in that case.
Indeed, if KPIs are not significantly weighted towards student results at all, then there aren't any meaningful AND useful criteria by which to judge teacher performance. For example, a great teacher is often considered so by the quality of her/his students' lives later on, and their concomitant attribution of their quality of life and deeds to what that teacher taught them. But that often results only in long-delayed (or even posthumous) recognition of teacher performance.
The opposite problem is selecting KPIs that are too short-term. This tends to lead not to performance (i.e. a cohesive, coherent and concerted exhibition of professional skill) but to performativity (teaching to the test in order to extract bonuses etc).
5. We need to lower the stakes of major examinations by relaxing cut-off points for schools.
The thing about this is that the cut-off points for schools are a matter of market forces. That is, if 350 students apply for 120 places, the 120 with the 'best' (how ever determined) results get in. To relax cut-off points normally entails deliberate loosening of criteria and may lead to accusations of lack of consistency — because progressive loosening means that different people would be able to justify the entry of different students on different grounds. You could also apply random or semi-random selection or just use centralised planning approaches. Otherwise, the main point is that schools and ministries don't set cut-off points — the 'market' does; the more people want to apply to a school, the higher the cut-off tends to get.
6. Change philosophies about the value of non-academically inclined students.
Well, first you'd have do define 'non-academically inclined'. You might also want to consider changing the values of society, the values of the students, etc. And lastly, consider how 'non-academically inclined' students might not want to think about philosophy at all.
7. Since all schools are good schools, we should pro-actively begin to dismantle the concept and influence of “elite” schools, starting by bringing the SAP, GEP and IB (note: various Atlantean elite programmes — Speech Alternative Plan, Greatly Exaggerated Plan, Intentional Baccalaureate) programmes (or elements thereof) into all schools (or a very significant portion of schools).
Background first. Yes, but some schools are good for other reasons. Especially those predating such programmes. They were therefore historically chosen to host such programmes.
The thing these programmes have in common is that they cost extra to run, which is why there are so few of them. They are sometimes culturally supported only in some kinds of schools (schools for the culturally well-defined, schools for the weird and peculiar, etc). And they aren't for everybody, so why deploy them everywhere?
8. There are alternative ways to fill posts in secondary schools.
Yes, there are. See point 5 above. We need to ask whether these alternative ways are acceptable to society. Otherwise, change society and/or admit you are trying to assert a perspective that society deems impractical. Good debate to have, though.
9. Restructure education so that the wealthy make only marginal/high risk gains from investing heavily in education.
Betrays a lack of historical perspective, or perhaps just an inexact formulation. In Atlantis, and many other parts of the world, the roots of mass education lie in the long-term vision of the wealthy who saw investing heavily in education as a route to great gain for society as a whole.
At present, let's consider what happens if the wealthy make NO (or insignificant) gain from investing heavily in education. Economic theory tells us that they will stop investing in education and invest elsewhere. Then you might get really uneducated and very rich young people out there, or you might end up with a society that sees no value in education relative to other pursuits, or any combination of similar deflationary possibilities with respect to the value of education.
And how would you restructure it anyway?
10. Fix teacher workloads, drastically increase supply of allied teaching professionals.
This is a great point, if by 'fix' we mean something concrete to reduce teacher workload to the point where it no longer compromises their professional duties. However, if by 'drastically increase supply' we mean pouring lots of money into recruiting teacher aides who would otherwise be running other essential parts of society, I would be rather concerned. Society needs allied teaching professionals like assistant teachers, administrators, special-needs educators, educational researchers, some kinds of counsellors, etc. But augmenting the supply shouldn't mean undermining the workforce in another key area.
11. Allow technical education to lead to degrees, or diplomas.
On the surface of it, excellent. But these routes already exist in Atlantis, so a bit of a non-point.
12. Skilled craftsmen and artists should have a separate basic qualification before moving on to tertiary.
This assumes that skilled craftsmen and artists NEED (presumably) paper qualifications at all. In many cases, the apprenticeship model and other models leave the creative production of the craftsman/artist as the only qualification needed. And why would they want to move on to tertiary education if they are already skilled? I hesitate to call this point wrong or irrelevant. It's just confusing.
13. Lower the cost of national university education further.
Well, see point 9 above. Also, consider the fact that Atlantean education is already very heavily subsidized. It's a matter of degree then, and whoever promotes this point must be set to propound a specific lowering. How much lower? And how justified?

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Blogger Trebuchet said...

A friend of mine, LHY, has pointed out that teacher workload can be much reduced by deploying student aides — students who have the requisite talents, skills, knowledge and time to handle some aspects of the teacher's burden. That would be great, especially if students are getting further educated while doing so.

Thursday, March 21, 2013 5:01:00 pm  
Blogger LoneRifle said...

Student aides? Wouldn't that create yet another point of contention amongst students (who gets to be chosen, abuse of powers, etc.)? Over here on my side of the pond they employ teacher assistants. You're probably in a better position to comment as to efficacy.

Thursday, March 21, 2013 9:12:00 pm  
Blogger Rock's Place said...

I wonder why you refer to the city as Atlantis

Friday, March 22, 2013 12:25:00 am  
Blogger boonleong said...

4. I'm not part of the inner sanctum that decides how KPIs are defined and whether particular teachers have met them, but it seems to be that they are scarcely weighted towards their students' exam performance. Instead it's weighted towards busy-work like committees, event management and so on. Which looks nice but has a negligible impact on student outcomes.

Friday, March 22, 2013 3:16:00 am  
Blogger Trebuchet said...

LR: I'm not an advocate of making students into teachers except insofar as doing such things might be deliberately made into part of their education process.

RP: You can start here. :)

NBL: My comments on #4 were general. However, my experience shows me that KPIs for teachers as opposed to schools are sometimes shoddily worked out by clueless principals dealing with clueless teachers. :D

Friday, March 22, 2013 5:32:00 am  
Blogger boonleong said...

Isn't it all there on the EPMS form? (And how little of the form actually has to do with students?)

Friday, March 22, 2013 1:45:00 pm  
Blogger LoneRifle said...

Er you might have misparsed what I said - teacher assistants as in working adults hired to assist the teacher. No students harmed.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013 2:46:00 am  
Blogger Trebuchet said...

NBL: having piloted the EPMS forms, I do realize how often selective interpretation plays a role — and yes, how little students seem to be the direct focus of all that effort. :)

LR: Wasn't referring to your 'side of the pond' statement. But yes, adjunct education professionals are always useful.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013 3:59:00 pm  

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