No need to re-invent the wheel

The challenges in assessment, diverse abilities and educator development are things we do not face alone, but can be found everywhere

A month ago an important report was published by the Ofsted Chief Inspector in Britain, which gives an overview of the education system, and subsidiary areas, in the country.

It is a detailed report which analyses the positives and negatives of the system and tries to bring into focus the outcomes which improved the system, and which areas need addressing. It does not discuss education from an internal perspective, but looks into the wider variables that influence the system and its delivery. For example, domestic abuse is a common social ill which is taken into the context of a child’s performance. Very often we look into educational standards from an internal perspective, without understanding how the external factors play such an important part in the process.

It is a good read because it is not shy of going into sensitive areas, such as the challenge of religion-oriented schools and the sometimes difficult challenge of making sure they are in tune with British “shared values”. The British system, with its vast volumes, is much more analytical and results-oriented than others, but what works for them may not necessarily work in other societies. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t lessons to learn, especially in the use of data models to help in policy-making. Data is a big challenge in schools, however, the ability to measure and get data with limited input to save on heavy and time-consuming bureaucracy, is certainly interesting.

For a number of years, language and mathematics have been given priority in British schools. They are seen as the base on which to build. The report discusses the different models which were introduced, both in terms of curricula as well as private providers. The new models have had mixed success, with some particular private providers coming in for heavy criticism. This shows that the introduction of new models is very much dependent on the checks and balances of the system, and there simply is no guarantee of success.

Similarities between the British and Maltese system can produce lessons here. The parallels have to be taken with a pinch of skepticism, as I do believe each and every country has to find its own way on how to develop skills and educate. Education cannot be exported, and what works in Finland or the US will not fit or work in Malta. It’s also a question of culture.

However, I do believe we must look at what others are doing and understand their policies. What is very clear from this report is that education cannot be understood in a vacuum. Page after page of this report talks about social issues. School performance is inherently linked with the wellbeing of the community around it, and the report highlights many examples of how teachers can do very little if there isn’t the social foundation to put them in a position to teach and for students to learn. Schools are the reflection of the environment around them. Performances do go up and down with leadership changes, the report states. However, at the end of the day all is dependent on social aspects.

What is also very evident is that we share similar challenges. How to engage and appeal to students and motivate them to learn are challenges found across countries. The challenges in assessment, diverse abilities and educator development are things we do not face alone, but can be found everywhere. Sometimes the questions we pose at our end can be found as answers elsewhere.

Each and every school is a story of its own. Importing or exporting entire school systems from other countries is certainly not the way to go. But there are lessons to be learnt from other experiences. In some cases, we can mirror positive policies and we don’t need to re-invent the wheel. Moreover, it helps to understand ourselves better, and it also shows us the reality that some of the challenges we often discuss and debate in Malta can be found elsewhere. The shape and size of the boat might be different, but we’re all in the same sea.

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