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Current Issues and Trends in Educational Administration (Part 1)
Society in Transition …. Education in Transition and the role of educational administrators

In this paper I will address the challenges of achieving high performance in education – in both schools and systems of education, I will refer in particular to the central role of the teacher in bringing about improved performance and the work of educational administrators in helping teachers to change the ways they teach so that their methods are more appropriate to the need of 21st century learners.

With each change in social and economic structure, has come a new paradigm, a new way of seeing the world and a new physical shape for the community. One of the great social transitions in history was the move from societies being based on agriculture to economies being based on Industrial production.

We are twelve years into the 21st Century. Around the world, countries are in a major transition similar to these great transitions of the past.

It is evident that there are new configurations of society giving people access to the means of knowledge production, land use and living space to satisfy their needs.

In 2005, the US Pulitzer Prize winning business writer Thomas L Friedman, wrote a book called The World is Flat [Penguin] in which he examined the shrinking size of the earth and the interconnectedness of people all around the world that has come as a result of the rapid spread of Information and Communications Technology [ICT].

It is now possible for people to work together and compete in real time with other people on the planet and on a more equal footing than at any previous time in history.

People can meet and collaborate by using computers, email, teleconferences, video conferences and many types of new dynamic software. For example, Thai students studying overseas are able to read the Bangkok daily newspapers on line, talk with family and friends on line and network socially in real time as though they were at home in Thailand.

Google, Apple, Micro Soft, the GPS, the mobile phone, Face book, Twitter, blogging, various programs and ICT facilities have “flattened” the Earth.

What about Thailand?

Although Thailand’s economy is still strongly agriculture based, a change has happened over the last thirty years. The change has been from a self contained agricultural system towards greater industrialized production, here in the old city of Ayutthaya, there is evidence of the older agricultural production alongside modern state of the art factories producing high quality goods for sale around the world.

The world of the Knowledge Age which marks the 21st century requires a new mix of skills. Jobs that require routine manual and thinking skills are giving way to jobs that involve higher levels of understanding of complex knowledge, and applied skills like expert thinking.

It is a worthwhile professional learning exercise for educational administrators to reflect on the way their society has changed, as well as the way the world has changed and look at the impact of such changes on their work as teachers.

In the West, schools have changed in different periods of history:
         - The village school was the product of the agricultural era
        - The large suburban school was the product of the industrial revolution
        - Borderless, internationalized, networked schooling; interactive campuses are more likely to be the norm in the future.
        - Life - long learning is recognised as an essential feature of the information age.

The 21st century is challenging and reshuffling the very foundations of society in new powerful ways. For example:
        • There is a truly global financial and economic system. This means that a disruption in one part of the world has serious consequences to economies all over the world.
        • There is a growing gap between the rich and the poor throughout the world; this leads to social tension, conflicts, extremism, and a less safe world for all. Probably the biggest challenge to the survival of the world as we know it is the threat to the environment.
        • Global population has risen from 2.5 billion in 1950 to a figure in excess of 9 billion in 2010.
        • There is an increase in the numbers of people rising into middle class lifestyles and this has a consequent increase in consumption of energy and other resources
        • This consumption causes a consequent increase in the global warming and other climate effects and poses a serious threat to the natural environment.

For Thai schools and Thai teachers it is useful for schools and teachers to examine where they fit, and how they can contribute to helping Thailand’s schools match the trends in 21st century education. How would you respond to this question?

        • How have schools changed in the different periods of Thai history?
        • How must they change in the future?

What about the contexts of the individual schools in the national education system? How do they have to change to meet the needs of the Information Age?

This is a crucial question for educational administrators who are “on the ground” in schools close to the educational action and close to the issues faced daily by teachers, students and the communities served by their schools.

It is very important for educational administrators to remember that education reform is a slow process and it must be embedded in the context of the nation undergoing reform. Thailand’s first Education Act promulgated in 1999 provided the legislative foundation for systemic reform.

Many reforms have been put in place and Thailand is learning from other countries and its own directions on how to go about reforming education, but there is still a long way to go.

Let me come back to this after a brief examination of high performing schools and systems

What is the secret high performing schools and systems?

Around the world, countries are trying to get better performance from schools and school systems; Thailand is no exception to this effort. We know that some systems perform better than others, and we know that the best schools and systems have a set of common things they do.

Therefore, there is no secret about the factors that lead to school and systemic excellence, but it is a reasonable question to ask that in any table or list of high performing schools or systems, what are the standards used to judge the schools?

There are several ways of making these judgments. Most countries conduct nationally benchmarked testing systems – mostly in the areas of literacy and numeracy. In Thailand, for example the O-net tests provide an indication of the academic performance of schools on a nationally comparable basis.

Internationally, there are benchmarks provided by such organisations as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD]. The OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) enables comparisons to be made between systems, and between counties.

The PISA assessments are designed to assess such questions as:

        Are students well prepared for future challenges?
        Can the students analyse, reason and communicate effectively?
        Do they have the capacity to continue learning throughout life?

The PISA data provides answers to these questions, through its surveys of 15-year-olds in the principal industrialized countries. Every three years, it assesses to what extent students near the end of compulsory education, have acquired in knowledge and skills essential for participation in society. The questions are related to literacy, numeracy and science and more recently, digital literacy.

Other sources of data come from research organisations such as social research company McKinsey and the Grattan Institute based at Melbourne University in Australia.

McKinsey and Company, looked at 25 school systems around the world, their findings being published in the report - How the world’s best performing school systems come out on top [March, 2008]

The data collected in this research, provides information about what it is that enables some schools to be rated as high performing, and through aggregation, what it is that makes some systems perform better than others.

Schools and systems seeking improvement can look to this evidence and use it to apply it to how they operate and they can also use the evidence to lobby for better support. The schools division of the Royal Thai Ministry of Education, OBEC uses the research and data to drive its reform agenda.

While there are several factors that lead to high performance, such as class size, demographics, budgets and so on, the research shows there is one factor that stands out above others. That factor is the quality of the teachers in schools.

There are three things which matter the most about getting high quality teachers into schools:
        - Getting the right people to become teachers
        - Developing new teachers into effective instructors
        - Ensuring the system is able to develop the best possible instruction for every child.

The McKinsey report found that in the 25 systems it examined, these three factors succeed in improving educational performance wherever they are applied.

Other studies provide strong evidence which support this.

In 2011 The Grattan Institute looked at the four highest performing Asian systems – Singapore, Shanghai South Korea and Hong Kong. Specifically, the researchers wanted to know: Why are these systems moving rapidly ahead of others?

Popular stereotypes about Asian education are strong in some countries. But this evidence challenges these stereotypes. In these four systems, high performance comes from effective education strategies that focus on implementing well-designed programs that continuously improve learning and teaching.

Neither cultural difference nor Confucian values can explain how, in just five years, Hong Kong moved from 17th to 2nd in PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) the international assessment of Grade 4 students’ reading literacy. Instead, in these four Asian systems, education reforms created rapid changes in reading literacy.

Success cannot be explained by what is often seen as an emphasis on rote learning, in Asian systems either. PISA assesses meta-cognitive content knowledge and problem solving abilities. These skills are not conducive to rote learning. In fact, rote learning in preparation for PISA assessment would lead to lower scores. Moreover, international research shows that classroom lessons in Hong Kong, for example, require greater deductive reasoning, with more new and advanced content. Success is also not driven by the size of the system.

The four high performing systems studied in the Grattan Report have introduced one or several of the following reforms:

        • Provide high quality initial teacher education. In Singapore, students are paid civil servants during their initial teacher education. Government evaluations have bite and can close down ineffective teacher education courses.
        • Provide mentoring that continually improves learning and teaching. In Shanghai, all teachers have mentors, and new teachers have several mentors who observe and give feedback on their classes.
        • View teachers as researchers. In Shanghai teachers belong to research groups that continually develop and evaluate innovative teaching. Teachers cannot rise to advanced teacher status without having a published paper peer reviewed.

The four school systems focus on policies designed to improve learning and teaching and they ensure that effective implementation connects policy to classrooms.

5.1 Selecting interventions

Effective intervention begins with a deep analysis of learning. The analysis compares the current state of learning (and then teaching) to where learning and teaching needs to be. To move learning and teaching to a higher level requires the design of policies and programs to target behavioural change. This requires effective implementation of programs that have been shown to make widespread and sustained improvements in learning and teaching.

5.1.1 Improved learning as the primary goal

While considerable research has emphasised the importance of teachers, reform in Hong Kong, for example, “clearly focussed on the ‘core business of learning’” .

The key criterion here is learning, not teaching or, more importantly, teachers. The difference is subtle but important, with substantial policy implications. For example, a focus on learning in Singapore, has led the National Institute of Education (NIE), which educates all teachers, to cut subjects such as history and philosophy of education, and curriculum and assessment design, from their undergraduate teacher education syllabus. Feedback from teachers, principals and the Ministry of Education showed that these subjects were not leading to sufficient increases in students’ learning. NIE now focuses more on subjects emphasizing practical classroom teaching.

5.1.2 Setting priorities

Successful implementation depends on careful prioritization. Implementation is resource intensive. It requires difficult decisions in allocating resources between programs. Financial resources are always scarce, yet are relatively visible. Teachers’ time and capacity for change are also scarce resources. The lack of correlation between financial resources and learning outcomes suggests that time and capacity may be greater constraints than financial resources.

Trying to do too much thus often results in very little being done at all. Choosing not do something is often politically difficult, but successful implementation requires prioritizing fewer programs, and cutting those with less impact on student learning. The process is vital. In short, doing what matters is easy. Only doing what really matters is hard

What about class size?

        - Evidence shows reducing class size does not have a great impact on learning outcomes. Reducing class size from 23 to 15 students improves performance of an average student by 8 percentile points at best [McKinsey].
        - Top performing systems recruit their teachers from the top 1/3 of each graduate cohort in their school system.
                • Korea’s teachers come from the top 5%;
                • in Finland it’s the top 10%;
                • Singapore and Hong Kong it’s the top 30 %.

        - The high performing Asian countries have the dual blessing of the high cultural place put on education, as well as traditional respect for teachers.

        - These play a very important part in getting the right people to become teachers.

        - Singapore – 100 applicants for teacher training – only 20 accepted.

        - In Finland, students do not start school until they are 7

                • They only attend school 4 hours per day, yet by age 15, they score top in the world in Maths, Science, Reading and Problem Solving (50 points ahead of Norway) [PISA results, 2006]

                • No National testing system in Finland. Teachers’ judgment is TRUSTED

                • Teachers all start teaching with Masters

        - It is not possible to make substantial long term improvement to the school system without fundamentally raising the quality of the people who enter the teaching profession.

Above all, the top systems demonstrate that the quality of an education system depends on the quality of the teachers in the system.

Teaching has the greatest single impact on education outcomes

To reach the global top tier of performance requires great effort involving improvement in student outcomes as well as comprehensive and complementary reforms across a range of areas.

Many elements contribute to lift the performance of an education system:

        • Relevant and well-designed curriculum and assessment are essential to prepare young people to participate productively in a 21st century economy and society;

        • Ordered and disciplined education environments where children feel safe and supported help student achievement;

        • Acting early and providing support for those with greater needs will prevent disadvantaged students falling behind; and

        • A coordinated and joined-up education system with strong partners across government and from business, community and non-government organisations will support better student outcomes.

But above all, other than a student’s socioeconomic background, the evidence shows us that the quality of teaching has the largest impact on student learning outcomes Hattie (2003)

Improving the quality of teaching schools is the single most critical factor that can push students to match the performance of the global top performers.

A good teacher can take an average child from the middle of the class to the top of the class within three years. Whelan (2009)

By the Royal Thai government Investing in the right reforms to support quality teaching, Thai students could bridge the gap within a decade.

These reforms require difficult actions which have been taken in some parts of the world including:

        • Improving the quality of new teachers entering the profession (through more selective entry and better courses)

        • Exiting the lowest performing 5 per cent of teachers (as occurs in many industries) and replacing them with more effective teachers could improve performance

        • Improving the day-to-day work of the teaching workforce (through professional learning, feedback, leadership) by around 2 per cent per annum would deliver improved learning.

High performing systems have shown, moving into the global top performer rankings require bold and sometimes difficult, reform.

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