Education was in the hands of the very small and hard to access masses for the centuries. However over the last 200 years, humanity has made significant strides in education. In 1820, only 12% of the world population could read and write, according to the World Bank. Today, the global literacy rate has risen to 87% in contrary of the backdrop of an interconnected global community.
The Prussian educational model had left a sign in the way we can imagine and organise schools, which is hardly changed over the last century and a half. From those shared basis, the education systems of each country have developed different shades. Education in the Americas often mirrors the obvious inequality there, with more few resources dedicated to public education and schools being forced to compete against each other, while schools in Europe usually being more publicly managed and teachers publicly employed.
For centuries, a comparison of the education systems of Finland, Estonia, China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Canada, which ranked amongst the highest in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), revealed some similarities and differences between approaches to education.
The more developed the country of East Asia have traditionally placed greater preassure on the sciences and a teaching style heavily depend on repetition and memorisation. Recently, schools in these big countries have been more likely to obstruct students’ creativity, imagination, individual expression and thinks critically. Still, this is the case in China, which is represented by its 4 most developed regions, was being the top performer in the 2018 survey, which is the most recent to be conducted.
The OECD continues to recommend that countries like Spain, whose education system was disturbed by decades of dictatorship, less focus on memorising information and more on logical areas such as critical thinking, teamwork and creativity to improve its test results, while the opposite tends to be true in the Anglo-Saxon world and in many European countries.
Although the educational systems of the various countries overlap and deviate in several ways, it is fair to say that a general difference can be made between systems that treating students as a future human resources, whom trained to be able to compete against each other in the labour market, and approaches that emphasise the planting of fundamental rights, values, moral and also emotional maturity.
The neoliberal GERM spreading all over the world
The former general director of the Finnish Ministry of Education and also working as professor of education at Southern Cross University in Lismore, Australia, Pasi Sahlberg, is one of the world’s most experts in the global debate on how to fix education. He is being critical of the careless application of neoliberal dogmas of competition and free markets to education for years. Global Education Reform Movement, or what he calls the GERM, has indeed spread all over the globe like a virus, wreaking doom in its wake.
Like Sahlberg told Equal Times: “Market-based education policies and management models became very common in the 1990s as a consequences of what is known as New Public Management in England, the US and much of the rest of the Western part of the world. It is based on so simple logic of the marketplace : The schools’ quality will increase where parents can choose the best available school for their children.” The ability to chose meaning that schools are given greater autonomy for pupils to competing against one another, instead of collaborating within a common system.
“The need to do the measurement learning outcomes in a more proportional and understandable way” begin in the 1990s, way before the arrival of today’s measurement methodologies. As Sahlberg explains, subjects for which there has been recorded assessments since the 1960s instead of tests and evaluations for reading understanding and mathematics were used.
“These evaluations will soon become so dominant and will be widely accepted measures of the quality of education that so many people forgot that in fact schooling has many other outcomes and important functions. Some of them are creativity, collaboration, problem-solving, empathy and communication. But of course, we don’t know how these could be measured in school, we probably never will.”
For research coordinator from Education International, which is the global union federation for teachers, Martin Henry thought, the arrival of ‘New Public Management’ in education in the 1990s “caused absolute mayhem,” which he used to compare with Taylorism: “It didn’t work in Ford’s factories and certainly won’t work in a school,” he tells Equal Times.
Adjusting that ideas in the classroom is “limiting and insulting” for teachers and students “because you will end up in a wicked system of driving the students towards a limited set of outcome that can be recorded,” says Henry. “We are not training the students on a wheel and a hamster cage, we are trying to grow them whom can live in society, communicate with each other and be productive members at work of the society that we all share, and that’s a completely different thing.”
Therefore he recommends a return to originally education ‘humanistic vocation’. “I would quote a Hong Kong official, who said this in an OECD meeting to me: ‘if we have 49% of our students gaining success and go to university, that means the other 51% are failing, and that is really not a good outcome for a system.’ So, in the end, if your system is spesifically focused on the success at academic, then focused on guaranteeing university and achieves an academic degree, you will never going to achieve it for the majority of the students,” he says.
“Education is all about grows every individual and gives each person the ability to explore their own potential, their own talent, their own way of thinking, their own way of working, and then becomes familiar and comfortable with all that. It’s also about unifying the society, give the students an experience and the ability to be in it, so they can learn the values from the culture they are living in.”
Sahlberg said The PISA survey is far from measuring “the full quality of education systems”. Continue, “There is definitely a collision of opinions on what is good schooling be looks like in many parts of the world.” In his view, the controversy between traditional styles, which is teacher-centred models (where teachers teach and students absorb more or less passively) and more modern styles based on questioning and problem-solving, is a useless one. Well actually no one is absolutely right, he comment, as there is an evidence in favour of both trends: “We need to hear more to what the grassroots experts say about this,” says Sahlberg.
The Nordic model
Maybe the world can learning something from Northern Europe. Where there is no common ‘Scandinavian model,’ the answer to the region’s educational achievement may contain in “having a less competitive society” and “strong public education systems,” where teachers are listened to by students and empowered and where “a lot of attention is paid to unity and equity” in order to quality education for the whole big population,” As an advisor to the Union of Education Norway (Utdanningsforbundet), Bjørg Eva Aaslid, tells Equal Times .
As her Finnish partners Päivi Lyhykäinen, who is an advisor to the Trade Union of Education in Finland (OAJ), explains: “If we compare it with the France’s situation, for example, where students have to be at school for all day and then study when they are at home, it’s true that we don’t have that same situation. This is a unique feature from the Nordic countries: we really don’t want the students to be stressed about school; we want them to learn by themself what we are trying to teach them”.
Nevertheless, as Lyhykäinen explains, Finland may be Scandinavia’s “last bastion” where teachers feels respected inside their work, as witnessed by a current teachers’ hit in Norway. Aaslid explains, the GERM that Sahlberg describing shown to have infecting the Nordic heaven, with private schools become more common there and the quality of teaching jobs declining.
Sissel Havre of the Norwegian union’s secretariat qouted : “There is a common concern about this influence, from all across the world with increased pressure on measurable performance and outcome at the expense of a thorough view of education where values and attitudes are also very important”.