IN defence of Educational Development Agencies

Pasi Sahlberg’s blog is a very interesting and thought provoking. What I like about the way it is written, is the underlying analogy regarding GERMS (global education reform movement) and a virus in education education leadership and education reform. His opening statement regarding the success of his country’s education system sets the tone for the blog, ’the Finnish education system has remained quite uninfected to viruses of what is often called the global education reform movement or GERM.’

This helps make Pasi Sahlbreg’s blog accessible and informative to educators and non-educators alike.

According to the writer, education systems should be equitable and effective. ‘Curiosity, imagination and creativity at the heart of learning’ and education systems should focus on ‘cultivating development of the whole child’, while encouraging a love of learning.

With regard to the development and improvement of education systems, Pasi Sahlbreg believes in the need for ‘high confidence in teachers and principals as high professionals’ and ‘encouraging teachers and students to try new ideas and approaches’. According to Sahlbreg, education improvement and reform should be led by teachers and school-based educators – something I think the majority of professional educators would agree with.

In his blog, he goes on to be critical of international development agencies and organisations through their interventions in national education reforms and policy formulation.

He also points out GERM education reforms ‘focus on core subjects in school, in other words, on literacy and numeracy’ and sciences’. With the ‘main determinants of perceived success or failure of pupils, teachers, schools, and entire education systems. Something which he fears come at the expensive of ,’ expense of social studies, arts, music and physical education that are diminishing in many school curricula.’

His argument focuses on international assessments such as PISA and TIMSS, upon which. ‘Success or failure of schools and teachers is often determined.’

While i agree with much of this well written blog, i think his criticism of international development agencies is a little unfair. PISA and TIMSS have their flaws, and as countries strive to climb education rankings, they often introduce policies which focus too heavily on raising scores in Maths, Literacy and Science. I can see this and agree there is too often a focus on ‘core subjects’.

However, I am also well aware that education systems throughout the world vary greatly and for children growing up in countries with systems which are not succeeding, international assessments and educational development agencies offer an extremely useful gauge by which those countries can measure their progress, and can inspire improvement. I believe these organisations do help improve education systems around the world, and that many students’ schools would not have improved without them. The education system in an affluent western country, such as Finland, may not need to concern itself with measuring its educational improvement, but underdeveloped countries can use this data to make important steps towards change.

Furthermore, it is my understanding that OECD, the European Union and other development agencies regard the development of the whole child as essential. The rights of the child, access to education, the importance of the arts, well being and the need for children to play and explore, are embraced by the organisations which Sahlbreg criticises.

TIMSS and PISA focus on skills which are easily measured (numeracy and literacy) it doesn’t mean that these organisations disregard the importance of arts, creativity, social sciences and physical education. It is simply that they do not have the tools to measure the success of the areas of education throughout the world.

In conclusion, i think that Pasi Sahlbreg’s blog reminds us of the need for education to be well rounded and for children to have the opportunity to be inquisitive and develop a love of learning. However, his criticism of education agencies which are striving to improve the lives of children around the world is somewhat misplaced.

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