Monday, November 25, 2013

Chile, the new education

Needed reform of education, which has occupied a central place in the Chilean presidential campaign, will not be enough if does not consider the opportunity for a paradigm shift in its objectives.

So far, the discussion has been focused on very fundamental issues that require urgent changes, such as financing and institutional arrangements, forms of provision (and constraints) and the effectiveness and efficiency of its procedures. However, if only (and is already quite) we stayed in these aspects, we can move forward with giant steps in making cosmetic changes to a system that requires rethinking the paradigm from which it is built.

Suppose for a moment that against all legislative veto, the new government that will take office in March in Chile, and most likely will be headed by Michelle Bachelet, does push its reform agenda, reaching agreements and resources necessary to ensure free education, the end or at least a stricter regulation of profit, and a significant increase in available resources to resume the expansion of preschool coverage, and still reaching for something to improve the salaries of teachers and principals. How much closer to a quality education be? My guess is that not too much.

If you look at what happens in the world, you will find educational systems organized in the most diverse ways, with a lot more resources invested per child which we invest today in Chile and those that will invest with the proposed reforms, with and without profit, with much stronger public systems, and are equally unhappy with the educational results they get.

There's more background in the lack of quality in education, which has to do with a concept, designed from the industrial era, as a long training course that prepares children for 12 to 20 years to work as employees, workers or executives in traditional production systems. Students receive an education  widely generalist and are early "oriented", based on performance, but mainly according to their conditions of origin, to contribute as workers, technicians or professionals with very strict adherence to the opportunities their parents were able to provide. Exception swallows fail to do summer.

But industrial society is past. We live and in full command of the knowledge society, where creativity and innovation are key to the full development of every person and of society, where the wealth of information requires critical minds and working for the development of new knowledge complex and interconnected, where the abundance of communications has shortened distances, has favored the expression of diversity and where it is essential to have the power to collaborate, communicate and build with others, even those who are far away, we do not see and do not speak our language and believe in our gods.

If we want to have a quality education system in any of our countries in Latin America, we have to take care of this enormous challenge and an education for the twenty-first century. Otherwise, we will only strengthen an outdated education in their background and meaning. For that, there are three key aspects that require more attention than they have had in the Chilean presidential campaign, to be at the top of the educational agenda:

First, the national curriculum. More or less adjustments made, in Chile we have a curriculum designed in the 90s, and built facing the mirror, trying to "update" the contents of 20 years ago, instead of thinking in the 20 coming years. It is a ridiculously overloaded curriculum, which makes it difficult for teachers to establish hierarchies and priorities, and where all the materials must be "delivered", so torments of hell for schools. An essential and flexible curriculum is required, giving more space for the development of different educational projects, enabling teachers and principals to be professional (and not mere robotic applicators of rule and standards), but above all, a much more oriented curriculum to develop skills in students rather than forcing them to memorize content.

Second, teachers and career development. We must be able to double the salary of teachers in the next five years. Yes, you read well, to double the base salary of teachers. Do all teachers? Yes, all ... that meet the most stringent requirements for practice of teaching, reflected on a certification of contents and pedagogical skills with the highest standard. Advance this includes higher barriers of entry to the pre-service training. Eg: you can not get to study education with less than 650 points in the access test to higher education (now admitted with a score less than mediocre 450 points). Stricter access, regular and enabling certification tests every 10 years, and much better salaries are prerequisites for improving the quality and working conditions of our teachers in the medium and long term. The rest is smoke.

Finally, the learning assessment and quality measurement. A few days ago, students from half a dozen educational institutions of secondary education in Chile decided not to filing the SIMCE, our annual standardized test. Some authorities accused the students by "blaming the thermometer for the disease". True, SIMCE is a thermometer, and what I read at the bottom of complaint of those students (and what not addressed will have a growing support in the coming years) is that although without the thermometer does not cure anyone, believing that the thermometer is enough to understand all quality problems does not help.

The sacralization of the thermometer, to the point of order by temperature the incentives to teachers, school rankings, parent information, until ridiculous idea of ​​semaphores from the former Minister Joaquin Lavin, is what has become unacceptable. If the new government, and the Agencia de la Calidad that administers the SIMCE, want to save it, they will have to be opened at once to consider more complex and more complete measurement collaborative systems. What sense make today a test whose results are known the following year, giving no opportunity for schools and teachers to take improvement actions on students that are measured? What sense does persist in tests that measure only a few subjects, which is seeking to establish the coverage and effectiveness of schools to meet the curriculum standards (see the first point, two paragraphs ago) but are unable to support improvement process in schools and in the practices of teachers?

Good education, to which we aspire in our region and it is a right of all citizens, not be achieved only with wider access, more efficient systems, and more investment. This is necessary, indeed essential, but if we miss the chance to think about the core areas of our educational paradigm, we could end up in the short term, with a new frustration in our hopes for fairer, more inclusive and better educated countries.

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