Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Saturday, December 15, 2007

What Works in Education: Lessons According to McKinsey

Every country tries to put down the best plans and policies to improve the standard of education. But we find that there are variations in the education standard between countries. The findings of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) have shown that the countries performing the best in Education continue to perform well: Canada, Finland, Japan, Singapore and South Korea. McKinsey, an organisation, made some policy recommendations, based on the findings of PISA. They tried to find out the common factors between the successful countries. According to McKinsey, schools need to do three things: get the best teachers; get the best out of the teachers; and step in when pupils start to lag behind. These don’t sound like the most ‘innovative’ ideas but if taken seriously they would change education radically.

Hiring the best teachers is the first step. One South Korean official says, “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.” Studies have shown that, if you take pupils of average ability and give them to the best teachers, they end up in the top 10% of student performers. In Finland, all new teachers must have a master’s degree. South Korea recruits teachers from the top 5% of graduates and primary school teachers have to pass a four-year undergraduate degree from one of the dozen universities and getting admission there requires top grades.

Teacher training is also a crucial factor determining the quality of education. Singapore provides teachers with 100 hours of training a year and appoints senior teachers to oversee professional development in each school. In Japan and Finland, groups of teachers visit each others’ classrooms and plan lessons together. In Finland, they get an afternoon off each week for this. In Boston schedules are arranged so that those who teach the same subject have free classes together for common planning. This helps spread good ideas around.

The other common thing between top performing countries is the intervention they provide for students who lag behind or start failing. Finland has more special-education teachers devoted to laggards than anyone else - as many as one teacher in seven in some schools. Singapore provides extra classes for the bottom 20% of students and teachers are expected to stay behind – often for hours - after school to help students.

None of this is rocket science. Yet it goes against some of the unspoken assumptions of education policy. Scratch a teacher or an administrator (or a parent), and you often hear that it is impossible to get the best teachers without paying big salaries. But McKinsey’s conclusions seem more optimistic and are based on research findings: getting good teachers depends on how you select and train them; teaching can become a career choice for top graduates without paying a fortune; and that, with the right policies, schools and pupils are not doomed to lag behind.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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