International Education: A teacher's view
I wondered, when invited to the Cambridge Assessment conference, what was meant by International Education. Did it refer to the educating of students in international schools to thrive in an increasingly globalised world? Or to what countries can learn from one another in improving the quality of education for all of their children?
Many international schools do a fantastic job at teaching their students to be critical thinkers, to understand different world views, and to be effective communicators..."
Both were discussed at the conference, and I was particularly interested in the intersection of the two. Many international schools do a fantastic job at teaching their students to be critical thinkers, to understand different world views, and to be effective communicators (commonly referred to as twenty-first century skills, although, as one speaker pointed out, skills that have been taught in private schools for centuries). There are still challenges to be overcome by these schools, such as handling the demands of both national and international curricula. But the much larger challenge for policy makers and educators across the world is to develop education systems that allow all students to access these skills and perspectives, not only those who can afford to buy out of their national system.
Naturally, an important variable that affects which skills and perspectives students acquire is who teaches them. Marc Tucker spoke of America’s relative decline in international test scores, where once they were a world leader in cognitive skills. He explained that this was due to America being overtaken by countries that realised ...an important variable that affects which skills and perspectives students acquire is who teaches them.
a new model of education was necessary, taking them from systems with cheap teachers and low standards for all but a few elite students, to systems which recognised that more expensive, better trained professionals are needed to teach all students in all schools. Having these professionals in place is likely to help with ‘21st century skills’ alongside the cognitive ones, as long as the right incentives are in place (or rather, so long as the wrong incentives are absent). Test based accountability systems for teachers naturally encourage teachers to focus solely on preparing students for tests, to the detriment of children’s broader education, and in the case of America, without improving cognitive skills either.
In contrast, the new model of teacher professionalism requires a professional model of school organisation and management. This was my one reservation about an otherwise encouraging idea spoken of at the conference, that the goal of universal, quality primary education could be met using low cost private schools. The ‘incredibly high pressure on teachers for results’ was mentioned, which I sadly didn’t get a chance to ask the speaker about further. This pressure may bring about an improvement in cognitive skills, and I hope it does, but, perhaps being a little idealistic (because shouldn’t we all be?), I hope it doesn't de-professionalise teachers and prevent students from developing the non-cognitive skills that are just as important for their futures as global citizens.
Researcher, Education Consultant and Teacher