One of the very best aspects of attending an international conference is the opportunity to gain a fresh perspective on 'home' through the lens of the experiences in different countries. Let me try to capture a little of the flavour of the work presented in three very different countries - Chile, Australia and Kenya.
The story and trajectory of educational change in Chile is important and s driven by genuine desire to improve quality and equity. Currently 39% of students attend municipal (public) schools, 7% attend privately owned schools and 54% attend publicly funded private schools. 21% of the total federal budget is spent on education - this represents the third highest per capita spending of all OECD countries. (Canada is slightly below the OECD average). The results of Chilean students on PISA, TIMMS and PIRLS are below the OECD average BUT recently Chile has been identified as one of the most rapidly improving countries in terms of education achievement and attainment.
During the dictatorship in Chile, privatization and choice were dominant policies. This lead to a highly stratified system with extreme gaps between the rich and the poor. Between 1990 ad 2007 Chilean education relied on the assumption that school improvement would be achieved by means of centralized programs prescribed by the Ministry of Education. Program evaluation showed that learning outcomes in disadvantaged schools could not be driven by these programs in any significant way. Legislation in 2008 created a subsidy law as a mechanism to improve quality and equity by providing additional funds to schools serving poor children. The law has four pillars:
1. To concentrate resources on the most vulnerable sector
2. A focus on learning
3. School autonomy - a focus on school teams and community engagement
4. Accountability - especially connected to the use of resources.
School participation is voluntary - but this statement might be somewhat questionable since the funding only comes with a signed agreement and, as of 2013, 98% of all public schools have signed on.
The preliminary results from the impact of the legislation are generally positive especially with regards to school culture, a focus on teaching and learning, and an increasing academic emphasis for school leaders.
What struck us most from this session was the clarity of the presentation from the Deputy Minister who outlined not only the moral imperative for action but also the specific theory of action underlying the legislation. He was also very clear about the challenges especially connected to achieving the right balance between autonomy and control and developing better quality support to build school capacity and technical expertise.
It was also great to hear the program evaluators presenting alongside the Deputy. Even as they acknowledged the significant progress that has been made, they highlighted additional challenges - including issues related to school classification, and the emphasized even more strongly the very weak state of professional development or technical assistance. In a sense this session is what ICSEI is all about - the convergence between research, policy and practice presented with honesty and clarity that creates the platform for additional thinking and responses. Next year in Indonesia, we will very much look forward to hearing more about the ways in which Chile is continuing to strive for equity and quality.
This takes us next to Australia. Currently Australia is launching a charter for professional learning through AITSL (the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership). Linda and I were part of an international team who consulted on the standards for teacher learning and the process for developing the standards was open, transparent and comprehensive. You can check out all the materials on the AITSL website and take a careful look at the standards. We'd be very interested in what you think. The presentation included a short video that is worth watching - created by the Innovation Unit in England for AITSL, it is entitled Why Great Teachers are Great Learners.
Finally, a quick trip to East Africa where Sarah Ruto, the director of UWEZO challenged all of us to think differently and deeply about using the power of citizens to create education change. Uwezo means Capability in Kiswahili and is focused on improving LEARNING in schools in Kenya, Mali, Sengal and Uganda through citizen involvement. While there has been considerable improvement in access to education in East Africa, the quality of learning, especially in public primary schools remains low. There are three pillars underlying the work of Uwezo - assessment, communication and action. Consider this - teams of volunteers go directly to the homes of students to assess them in basic numeracy and literacy. The parents get to observe the assessment (and to appreciate what their children and learning) and then the results are presented in simple, easy to understand forms. What started as a small citizen based movement is now having a huge impact. Last year over 400,000 student assessments were conducted - and more important, the media is paying attention to this work and so is the government. Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people! We were proud to see that one of the groups supporting Uwezo is ACCES. ACCES (African Canadian Continuing Education Society) was originally started by a retired educator from Surrey and now involved hundreds of BC teacher volunteers working to provide young Africans with the education and tools necessary to benefit themselves and their society.
Reflecting on 'home' we are struck once again by what we can learn from the varied efforts across the world to improve the lives of young people through quality education. We are proud to be from BC where we know we have some of the finest teachers in the world - and there is also much for us to do if we are really to achieve the goal of EVERY learner crossing the stage with dignity, purpose and options. Making sure we have quality policies that will ensure every child has access to the best possible learning environment, creating shared understanding of what high quality teaching and learning looks like, supporting capacity building at al levels, and then thinking about how we can better engage our communities and citizens in understanding and supporting public education - lots for us to consider.
Just in case you were wondering, not all of ICSEI is about papers, presentations, and sessions. There are lots of opportunities for fun as the Nanaimo smiling faces show. Enough for now! Day three beckons.