Educational change: Best practices and messy realities

Educational change: Best practices and messy realities

ARTICLE IN PRESS International Journal of Educational Development 28 (2008) 115–117 www.elsevier.com/locate/ijedudev Editorial Educational change: ...

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ARTICLE IN PRESS

International Journal of Educational Development 28 (2008) 115–117 www.elsevier.com/locate/ijedudev

Editorial

Educational change: Best practices and messy realities Planned educational change is often about the implementation of international best practices that are believed to have strong theoretical and/or empirical basis and to be universally true. These include a range of changes to the teaching and learning experience. However, as the papers in this issue of IJED make clear, educational change is more complex than this. As all comparative educators know, ‘‘context matters’’ (Crossley, 1999): for instance, in the ways that international ideas are mediated at the national level, or that parents, teachers, learners, communities and administrators respond to their local realities to construct practices. Nishimura, Yamano and Sasaoka look at how the international policy drive towards education for all (EFA) has been operationalised through the universal primary education (UPE) policy of Uganda. They note that the immediate effect was remarkable. Between UPE’s introduction in 1997 and 2004, Uganda saw primary enrolments grow massively from 2.8 to 7.6 million. However, they show that the broader impact of this has been another matter. There is still large-scale drop out because of fees even though primary education is officially free. Whilst UPE has significantly reduced delayed enrolment, this remains a major issue, which particularly affects orphans and those from female-headed households. Many of those who enter the school system drop out in the lower years of primary school. Thus, completion of grades 4 and 5 has only grown by 11% for females and there has been no increase in male completion of grade 5. As with other authors, they argue that the massive quantitative expansion of education has been accompanied by an equally striking decline in quality. Over time, this has served to depress retention rates as learning and attainment are so 0738-0593/$ - see front matter r 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.ijedudev.2007.12.001

poor. This is further exacerbated by the high indirect costs, which increase as children get older. Whilst EFA/UPE is widely criticised for its failure to address issues of educational quality, Chisholm and Leyendecker argue that there have been other policy borrowings in sub-Saharan Africa that have been more focused on such matters. Their paper examines the widespread adoption in Africa of a series of ‘‘international best practices’’, namely learner centredness; outcomes/competency-based education; and national qualifications frameworks. They suggest that the homogenisation of the progressive African educational discourse around these themes masks a major divergence of practice. Indeed, they suggest that these ‘‘best practices’’ turn out to have little impact on actual practices in Africa’s schools and classrooms (cf. Hardman et al., 2008—in the previous issue of IJED). In exploring this dichotomy, they note that the new ideas appeared to offer a way out of colonial practices. They argue that these new educational approaches seemed to resonate with democratic and progressive ideals. In Southern Africa in particular, they reflected elements of alternative educational approaches that had arisen in the anti-apartheid struggle, including ‘‘education with production’’. Moreover, they note that the new ideas were also attractive partly because of their vagueness and their ability to bring together divergent constituencies (cf. McGrath and Badroodien, 2006). However, this strength in policy and discursive terms has proved to be a weakness as far as implementation is concerned. There are at least five problems here. First, such policies are often donor inspired and may not really be locally owned (although this is clearly not the case in South Africa). Second, there is confusion at the epistemological level when it comes to some of the key concepts such as competency and learner

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Editorial / International Journal of Educational Development 28 (2008) 115–117

centredness. Third, these policies tend to assume a social democratic political economy that is far from the reality shaped by the Bretton Woods institutions. Fourth, there is a cultural gap between progressive educationalists and conservative communities. Fifth, capacity to deliver the new system is heavily constrained in terms of both teachers and learning materials (cf. IJED 28/1). Whereas the above two papers focus on the limitations in practice of massive policy interventions, three other papers in this issue tell a generally more positive tale about specific project interventions. Moore, Akhter and Aboud examine preschool provision project in rural Bangladesh. They remind us that preschooling has been shown to bring benefits to learners and this effect is particularly marked for the most disadvantaged. However, the quality of such programmes is highly varied and often poor. Their paper reports on an intervention that was designed to address the quality of preschooling. It shows how, in this project, quality improvements were achieved at minimal cost, hence, suggesting sustainability and replicability. Nonetheless, it does resonate with Chisholm and Leyendecker (and issue 28/1) in noting that challenges remained with teachers maintaining rather conservative approaches and lacking adequate support to change their pedagogical practices. An attempt to transform such practices through a project in Trinidad and Barbados is the focus of Layne et al. They remind readers of the very traditional nature of Caribbean education and its widespread problem of low quality. They note that under-achieving students opt out of classroom participation and this further undermines their social skills. This leads to increased drop out as well. In spite of the concerns raised by several papers in issue 28/1, they maintain that non-traditional pedagogies can make a difference. They report that the studied intervention to develop group work skills showed greatest attainment improvement for weakest of both genders but no negative effects on previously high achievers. They suggest that the project did stimulate greater ownership of learning by students and also had an effect on teachers’ perceptions of weaker learners. Thus, the teachers began to move away from self-fulfilling prophecies. Instead, they started to see that new pedagogy could reduce rather than produce problems of ill discipline. Layne et al. conclude that relationships need to be seen as of vital importance to learning and

teaching and that a well-designed intervention can make such relationships fundamentally more democratic and inclusive. Cueto and Chinen examine a school breakfast programme in rural Peru and its effects on learning. They note that malnutrition has been widely shown to have deleterious effects on learning. They find that the particular intervention did have a positive nutritional effect. It also had an attendance effect through reduced drop out. This is potentially important as drop out is a major problem in Peru and in many other developing country contexts. Moreover, this impact was stronger in multigrade schools, which tend to serve poorer learners. However, they argue for the need for caution as drop out has multiple causality. More seriously, they note that the quality of schooling remained poor. Already, time for learning in Peruvian schools is very limited and subject to multiple interruptions. Perversely, the breakfast programme became one of these factors reducing classroom time and so had a contradictory effect on learning. A third strand in this issue of IJED considers how major educational phenomena operate in spite of official hostility or indifference. Aksoy examines the case of multigrade schooling in Turkey. This is not at all seen as a best practice. Rather, the state sees this as something that needs to be ended. It has also been largely ignored by researchers, teacher educators and curriculum designers. However, this attitude is to miss the importance and potential of multigrade schooling. Indeed, Akosy argues that such schools play a valuable role in Turkish education, particularly amongst poor and marginalised communities. Thus, whilst multigrade schooling may not be a ‘‘best practice’’, it may be the best practice that is achievable in such a context. Paviot, Heinsohn and Korkman look at another apparently marginal element of education: extra tuition in Southern and Eastern Africa. Drawing on two large cross-national data sets of the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ), their paper shows a huge rise in extra tuition in the countries under study. In 1995, 49% of grade 6 learners were receiving extra tuition. By 2000, this had grown to 68%. Such growth may be due to pressure to compete successfully in examinations and hence get access to better secondary schools. This takes us back to the

ARTICLE IN PRESS Editorial / International Journal of Educational Development 28 (2008) 115–117

EFA intervention, which has led to a relative expansion of primary as opposed to secondary education. For instance, it is striking that Malawi (a leading EFA implementer at that time) saw extra tuition rise from 22% to 80%. It is possible that growing attention to post-primary education and training in Africa may reduce extra tuition (cf. King et al., 2007; Working Group for International Cooperation in Skills Development (WGICSD), 2008). Of course, as they note, the expansion of extra tuition may also relate to teachers’ attempts to increase incomes; desire to push up their pass rates; or their dedication. Whatever, the cause of the increase, the data suggest that children from wealthier, better-educated families were more likely to participate in extra lessons. Overall, there was a positive impact on learning outcomes of extra tuition, but this was contradicted in Kenya and Namibia. This may suggest that in some countries tuition is remedial whilst in others it is about getting ahead. The final paper in this issue, by O’Neill and Spennemann, considers the issue of education and cultural change in Micronesia, a region that has had little coverage in this journal. They argue that Micronesia has been hugely donor dependent in the USA. This has led to heavily US-influenced curricula; materials that are often poorly localised; a tendency to privilege English; and a reliance on expatriate teachers.

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They note that education was traditionally informal and concentrated in the family. However, it is increasingly formalised in schools that are not culturally sensitive. This is exacerbated by the increasing influence in the region of globalised culture. References Crossley, M., 1999. Reconceptualising comparative and international education. Compare 29 (3), 249–267. Hardman, F., Abd-Kadr, J., Smith, F., 2008. Pedagogical renewal: improving the quality of classroom interaction in Nigerian primary schools. International Journal of Educational Development 28 (1), 55–69. King, K., McGrath, S., Rose, P., 2007. Beyond the basics: educating and training out of poverty. International Journal of Educational Development 27 (4), 349–357. McGrath, S., Badroodien, A., 2006. International influences on the evolution of skills development in South Africa. International Journal of Educational Development 26 (5), 483–494. Working Group for International Cooperation in Skills Development, 2008. Post-Primary Education and Training. Discussion Paper 12, WGICSD, Geneva.

Simon McGrath UNESCO Centre for Comparative Education Research, University of Nottingham, Jubilee Campus, Wollaton Road, Nottingham NG8 1BB, UK E-mail address: [email protected]