Here’s my back to school wish list
As schools reopen we need to once again ask ourselves what constitutes success in our educational system. Increasing capacity, improving facilities in schools and aiming for high educational participation are all important indicators that need to feature in the balanced score card of our educational system. But the gold standard for any educational system must be its ability to help students enter the labour market.
Agreement on who is ultimately responsible for the success of an educational system is not easy. Winston Churchill is quoted as saying that “Education is too important to be left to politicians” while the American educator Francis Keppel borrowed and amended this expression when he stated that “Education is too important to be left to educators”. The reality is that success in education depends on various stakeholders that need to have a common vision of what we must achieve to make our system successful.
As our students go back to school the first item on my wish list is the need for parents to involve themselves more in the education of their children. I believe that the single most important factor that determines an individual’s success in educational achievement is the ability to make the right choices in what and where to study. Many parents are very effective in helping their children decide the route to follow in their journey through our educational system. Many others need help to guide their children. Politicians must speak out more vociferously on the value of education as an investment in our youngsters.
Students have to be supported to take the right decisions in the educational choices that they make. In countries like Switzerland all school children from the age of 14 have a one hour a week of mandatory careers education in school. They can also consult with careers advisers in their local region for one-to-one advice and guidance. If we were to introduce such a system we would go some way in overcoming the cultural weakness that still affects some parents and students in understanding the importance of taking the right decisions on their educational future.
Another important item on my educational wish list is the need to upgrade the standards of achievement in certain sectors of our system. High standards can only be achieved if proper quality assurance is hardwired in our educational system. This makes heavy demands on human resources as teachers and instructors involved in the coalface of the system will need to spend time to upgrade their teaching output.
Quality assurance needs to be reinforced by proper quality control by an external regulator entrusted with upholding standards. I fear that in the current system there isn’t the necessary segregation of duties between the educational regulator and the service provider to ensure that no conflict of interest arises in the enforcement of standards.
General educational qualifications serve as a currency in the jobs market. Parents, teachers, pupils and politicians indulge in mutual congratulation and are happy when higher rates of achievement are registered year after year. Some employers, however, fret that grade inflation is a result of easier exams and softer marking rather than the consequence of better teaching and more spending on education. They fear that grade inflation is hiding the reality that many job seekers are inadequately prepared for the workplace despite having achieved high grades. The decision not to participate in the PISA process this year should be reversed in order to give more credibility to our commitment to high standards in education.
Employers need to be more involved in the quality assurance process built in our educational system. We rarely hear the employers’ association commenting publicly on our educational system and this is not assisting our educators to understand what needs to be done to achieve excellence. Employers should also be more supportive of educational institutions who want to give practical experience to their students. This support needs to be mainly in the form of apprenticeships that are managed effectively to ensure that students gain the on-the-job skills that are so valued by employers.
The economic challenges ahead of us are daunting. An educational system that is really built on a commitment to high standards of achievement is indispensable if we are to achieve economic success. We also need to address the social issues that are behind the low educational achievement rates in certain sectors of our society.
The beginning of a new scholastic year is a good time to recalibrate our educational compass.