“Don’t tell me how brilliant they are at education in Finland or Singapore! We don’t live there! It’s not the same! What works well there is based on their context, not ours! It works well because it’s there. Don’t compare us to them or try to make us do things their way!”
So react many when told about amazing results the education systems of those countries bring in general (Finland – dedicated students with great teacher working conditions) or in reference to particular subject areas (Singapore – maths, reading and science – see PISA 2015 results).
I do believe that you can’t necessarily implement what works well in one cultural setting into another and expect it to automatically work well in the different locale as well. There is more to it than that. If that is true, is there any benefit to looking at ‘best practice’ case studies at all? Are other people’s and countries’ lessons learned entirely unique to their own setting, or might there be transferable relevance?
I guess it might be similar to seeking help from an agony aunt or a counsellor. You might think that if you are going through a particular problem, issue or challenging situation that there could be benefit from seeking advice from someone else who has been through something similar or at least has studied how to help those in such situations as yours.
In the same way, perhaps doing a bit of research to see how problems and challenges have been approached by others could be useful. At least by understanding their cases perhaps something could be gleaned to apply in your own setting. Of course, I’m not advocating the seeking out and establishing of one-size-fits-all prescriptive methodologies. Rather, synthesising insights from elsewhere with a view to contextualising intelligent application in your own setting.
With that in mind, if we think education needs reforming, where do we look? Where should policy makers look? Can anything be learned by analysing and seeking to understand the dynamics and challenges of educational reforms in different places around the world in a comparative way? Might there be some common patterns that emerge that make such studies worthwhile? By engaging in comparative educational reform studies might we understand the influences that shape process in general in our time in the 21st century, right now? If we understand those influences would it help us get better leverage on policy making and outcomes from leadership where we are locally? How would leadership roles change? What impact would it make on policy? What would we do differently?
It seems perhaps that as a base assumption and starting point we need to accept that the interest governments have in education tend to relate directly to the future sustainability of the economy. In addition, there is usually some interplay between central government and local governments (or municipalities as they are widely referred to in many countries) as to how educational policy is implemented and education is administratively delivered. So it could be worthwhile to ask in what ways are different national government models related to different local government approaches to providing education services? As we know, in England, local authority control over schools is currently practically out of the window. If we compared the English case of academisation and the rise of free schools with the ways local government in other countries still plays a large role in improving access, equity and learning at various levels of education, would we find that more effective models of policy framing and development have led to better outcomes in the longer term elsewhere? What do they do differently and how? How are tasks divided and what coordination mechanisms exist between central government and local government in these different countries? What works well, how and why?
It seems reasonable to assume that unpicking these finer details may lead to beneficial insights. As to whether they were then of practical value in different local settings would need to be analysed on a case by case basis – at the end of the day you’ve got to admit there are lots of apples and oranges in all this.
Then of course there’s the cost. In England’s case, it seems funding is being slashed right, left and centre. Is there any money left to do anything anymore?
Perhaps educational social entrepreneurship is the answer after all…