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
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
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
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
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
The PISA assessments are designed to assess such questions as:
Are students well prepared for future
Can the students analyse, reason and
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
- Getting the right people to
- Developing new teachers into effective
- 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
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
• 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
- 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;
• 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
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
• 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.