Education hones our consciousness. It makes us aware of our human existence, our surroundings and the questions regarding both these aspects which have plagued humans for ages. A school usually refers to education up to the higher secondary level where the basic foundation of the educative process is inculcated in students. In this sense, a school is a socially significant institution. The right to education is a basic right internationally recognised by the United Nations universal declaration of human rights. As UNESCO states, this is not an empty declaration of intent as its provisions are legally binding. All countries in the world have ratified at least one treaty covering certain aspects of the right to education (unesco.org). However, the stark inequalities in providing education within and among countries are a fact of concern. With costs ranging from zero to nominal fees, public schools run by governments are usually responsible for the education of the bulk of the population in all countries. Nevertheless, private schools exist in most countries in sizeable proportions to represent and remedy the dissatisfaction with public schooling. Home-schooling on the other hand is being increasingly recognised as a way to counter disillusionment with the institutional education system as such. We will explore each of these types of schooling and attempt to figure out the contents of a good education system.
Parameters of a good education
According to the major world ranking systems, the parameters for a good education system involve how well knowledge and human capital translate into economic development and prosperity (universityworldnews.com). While USA and UK usually top such lists, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland are recognised as game-changers in the education process. While Asian education systems such as that of China, Japan and Singapore consistently score higher in PISA (Programme for International Student Assessments) tests in the fields of science and maths, they also have some of the most laborious education systems in the world. Rote learning, extensive homework, after-school tutoring and standardized tests besides being rooted in traditional frameworks are some of the characteristics of these systems.
Finland: A case study
Finland, on the other hand, has introduced certain simple changes that have demonstrated consistent gains among students and projected it as “the best education system in the world”. At the same time inequality between students, which started out being considerable, was reduced to a minimum. Finland’s success in public education might be that it strikingly resembles home-schooling (zengestrom.com). According to Pasi Sahlberg’s book ‘Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland, the primary features which have enabled its progress are-
- Not only small classes but also small schools.
- Motivated teachers who get a great education and a lot of autonomy.
- The absence of testing and audits keeps the school stress-free.
- Shorter days and less homework mean there’s more energy left to be creative.
- Children learn to read early regardless of the school; their literacy provides a basis for other learning.
- The normalcy of special education: roughly half of the student population receives it at some point.
- Teachers are highly valued in society.
- Well-designed spaces and nutritious warm meals
- High social cohesion and trust. On average, a Finn belongs to three clubs or associations.
The education systems of Switzerland and Sweden share most of these features with the Finland system of education. Public schools are usually the focus of this data though private schools are present even if in small numbers. The common trait among these three countries is that they are all inhabited by small populations. Also, it must be noted that the alternative system consists of a strong public education structure. While that may or may not have an effect on effectively executing such education policies, it sure does not justify the continuing of exhausting study-work cultures in most economies when a healthier alternative has been demonstrated, namely, an education comprising the values of cooperation over competition.
Public schools and their problems
Public schooling, undertaken by the government differs in quality among different nations. For example- the USA spends around 7% of its GDP on education annually while India has been spending around 4% of its GDP annually despite a significantly larger population and lower revenues relative to the USA. This means that a student in a public school in the USA would have access to far better infrastructure and resources compared to a peer in India. However, though the American system provides far more opportunities, there is a wide opportunity-achievement gap for diverse reasons (theedadvocate.org). Many African countries, for instance, still have not been able to enrol a huge number of children on schools yet (un.org). Countries like Singapore, Japan and China which have high PISA scores, on the other hand, follow heavily standardized curricula thus restricting the creative potential of students. While public education problems vary from country to country, a few general problems come up among most public educational systems:
- High student-to-teacher ratio
- Traditional teaching methods do not prepare students adequately for professional and economic prospects.
- Fluctuating budget allocations for schooling expenses.
- Need for more quality teachers and the need for the initiative in classrooms.
- Lack of special attention to children who need it.
- The high degree of competitiveness orients students towards looking at education solely from the perspective of economic opportunities.
The problems of privatisation
In such a scenario, it is not surprising that private schooling has been gaining prominence. Some countries in Africa, for instance, or India actively encourage the private sector to leap into the education scene. The private sector, being more expensive than the public sector, offers to remedy the problems faced in public schooling. Moreover, if the individual ability is complementary to school resources in producing education, then talented individuals are willing to pay for more and better educational resources than those supplied by a public school system that caters to the median voter’s ability (voxeu.org). This leads to the inevitable segregation of students on the basis of economic class in nations around the world. Children from wealthy families are usually congregated in expensive private schools. Interestingly, private education has been found to increase literacy rates at all levels (schoolmykids.com, citeseerx). But, Bertola and Checchi (2013) find evidence in the 2009 PISA survey (OECD 2012) that private schools indeed do not everywhere deliver better schooling outcomes. However, it undoubtedly produces a class of elites and plays a role in furthering inequality in society.
Home-schooling: An alternative approach to education
Both private and public schools in most countries function in a ruthless and competitive environment. Home-schooling has cropped up as an external option to counter this vicious academic environment by providing educational instruction to students outside the institution of schools. Child safety is another primary cause for home-schooling (nces.ed, Wikipedia). The role of parents and their initiative in proper schooling of their children is significant. It may be the fastest-growing form of education in the United States (Nheri.org). Research on home-schooling show that the home-educated are doing well, typically above average, on measures of social, emotional, and psychological development. “The perception of homeschooled students as being isolated, uninvolved, and protected from peer contact,” therefore, “is simply not supported by the data” (Montgomery, 1989, p. 9). It is important to note that Finland, Sweden and Switzerland – the countries that have taken different approaches to education not only have a low rate of private schooling but also rare instances of home-schooling, if not none at all. Private schools, in these countries, are usually funded by the government or communities. In certain cases, parents with children in private schools tend to be more satisfied than those in municipal schools (simplylearningtuition.co.uk). However, the general pattern of education in these countries is less target-driven and more student-centred. Students have a chance to learn out of curiosity and interest instead of studying solely for better grades in exams and getting better jobs. The academic framework is tailored in a way similar to home-schooling. The primary objective is to let students channel their creativity and interests, thus finding them a suitable profession.
Challenges of modern education and solutions
Even then, these countries too face certain challenges in recent times as pointed out by Pasi Sahlberg in his book:
- Children are spending more and more time on their devices; they use them to learn different things at different speeds
- Devices are also changing how children spend time together face to face
- Children are no longer reading as much for pleasure.
- Older children increasingly feel the lessons at school are irrelevant
The key challenge now is personal media. Because children spend so much time on their screens, teachers find they are harder to reach. Sahlberg’s answer, which he calls the Big Dream, is school as a safe community where children are free to pursue their interests, learn more diverse things, and discover their unique talents. In the future he paints, classroom-based teaching gives way to customized, activity-based learning, personally meaningful workshops, projects, and the arts (zengestrom.com).
Therefore, we can safely suggest that a student-centred education, as demonstrated by the need for home-schooling and alternative educational policies, can and should be the foundation for any academic change undertaken in any country. That being said, there cannot be any ‘one size fits all system of education as cultural contexts and demographic statistics need to be taken into account for different countries.
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