This is the final part of the series of 3 articles discussing about the strong and emerging education systems around the world which are taking effective measures to implement education reform for the betterment
of their socio-economic status. This part highlights the education policies and practices of four countries namely, Finland, Portugal, Germany and Singapore, based on the video series compiled by the OECD and the Pearson Foundation in accordance with the countries’ high performance in PISA evaluation.
Finland: Finland has one of the world’s best performing education systems. Owing to its progressive education reforms, its secondary school students regularly achieve high scores in PISA tests. In the 1970s and 1980s, Finland’s school system management was decentralized and upper secondary schools adopted flexible modular structures, to give their students more choice in what they study. Teachers were given freedom to design their curriculum and choose textbooks and were encouraged to share strong personal and professional commitment to helping students succeed. They assess their students on a regular basis, but at the same time focus on helping them to take responsibility for their own learning. Students are expected to work collaboratively on projects, cutting across traditional subject or disciplinary lines. A significant feature of the Finnish system is the ‘special teacher’ who is a specially trained teacher assigned to each school with a role to work with class teachers to identify students needing extra help, and then work individually or in small groups with these students to provide the support they need to keep up with their classmates.
Portugal: A national debate on education led to wide-ranging reforms in the Portugal education system. One of the most significant was a decision to reorganize the school network by creating school clusters by bringing together several schools in a single educational project. With a broader range of staff and better facilities, these clusters help to improve work organization and teacher collaboration, thereby providing better and more extensive services for students. Also, Portugal has raised teachers' salaries and extended the working hours. ICT and e-learning are being used more effectively with the support of investment in ICT infrastructure. There has been a generalization of full-time school and extra-curricular activities, with the provision of in-service training for teachers of Mathematics, Portuguese language, Science and ICT. A National Plan has been launched to improve students' reading proficiency and to foster good reading habits. Students in grades 4th, 6th and 9th are subject to annual assessments in Portuguese and Mathematics. The school leaving age was also raised to 18 in 2009. These reforms have significantly helped raise student performance. In the 2009 PISA tests, even though the performance of Portuguese students was still below the OECD average, they showed improvements in all areas. Results also showed a rise in the learning outcomes of students of a lower socio-economic status, signifying rising equity in the schooling system.
Germany: Germany's education system was largely fragmented and PISA revealed wide variations in standards and curricula across the country. The Federal Government responded by working with State ministries to develop common curriculum frameworks, performance standards and tests, and to enhance the use of benchmarking. It also introduced new legislation to expand the availability of pre-school for children under three and give all children from three onwards the right to a place in kindergarten until they begin elementary school. State authorities worked together to strengthen the educational content of pre-school programs. Individual states responded to the need for reforms in different ways and at different paces. In many states, moves were made to lengthen the school day and introduce extra-curricular activities, focusing particularly on the needs of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Efforts were also made to improve the quality of Germany's teaching force. Reforms negotiated with teacher unions built on the existing high standards to raise skills in key areas. New teachers are now trained to diagnose and address specific problems faced by struggling students, as well as to undergo extended supervision and mentoring by master teachers before taking up full-time teaching. Owing to the combination of reforms and a nationwide effort to raise performance, Germany's education outcomes are improving and are starkly visible in the recent PISA tests.
Singapore: Since 1990, Singapore has developed a comprehensive system for selecting, compensating, training and developing teachers and principals to ensure the delivery of high-quality education that in turn would lead to high-quality student outcomes. Teaching is a greatly honored profession, and the standards for teacher selection are high. All teachers are trained at the National Institute of Education (NIE), part of Singapore's Nanyang Technological University. There is a close working relationship between the NIE and schools. The Ministry of Education keeps a close watch on salaries to ensure that teaching remains an attractive occupation for new graduates, and high-performing teachers can earn significant additional amounts in performance bonuses. Also, teachers are entitled to 100 hours of professional development per year, mostly at no cost to the teacher. They are appraised annually and their appraisal takes into account their contribution to the academic and character development of their students, their collaboration with parents and community groups, and their contribution to colleagues and the school as a whole. Poor-performing teachers are also given help and leave the service only if they do not improve. All new teachers are mentored in their first few years in the service. Teachers with the potential to take up school leadership are continuously assessed for their leadership capabilities and given opportunities to learn and to demonstrate their abilities.
This concludes the article series highlighting significant reforms and progress made by 12 different countries around the world and the efforts which were made by them to become high performers on PISA evaluation tests. It is highly encouraging to see the amount of effort these countries have put in for the betterment of education which has become a vital element for the progress of economies. Educational reform is much required to sustain in the present global economy and more and more countries should start working towards it. Do the efforts by these countries encourage you and make you realize the significance of the implementation of positive educational reforms and policies? Share your views. The Comment Box awaits you.