OVERHAULING THE EDUCATION SYSTEM

Further to the brilliant paper by Jean Marc Poché titled "L'éducation sésame du développement " that raises some very pertinent issues, I will like to add that we are being given an excellent opportunity for an overhaul of the whole education and training system. We should also be thinking about "formation" – capacity building that prepares our teachers and kids for the future – as voiced out by some eminent  educationists. We should not limit ourselves to some aspects of the education system only. A holistic approach will demand that we also look at the system of allocation of resources in Mauritius and the whole salaries structure. We can revolutionise our education system if we are able to attract high quality graduates with the brightest of each generation encouraged to join. The PRB and such institutions that play more of an allocative role for resources must ensure, through a more dynamic wage structure, that the education sector is able to attract the talented, the ones with the drive and energy to teach, the ones to introduce the latest innovative solutions in education like the Escuela Neuva education model which places pupils at the heart of the learning process while teachers become facilitators with help of the latest technology.
Thus one of the first steps is to make the teaching profession more attractive to college graduates. People talk about accountability, measurements, tenure, test scores and pay for performance. Though these questions are worthy of debate, they are secondary to recruiting and training of teachers.  Our teachers are being mowed down by the high student/teacher ratio, low pay, students’ indiscipline, lack of support and respect.
     The consulting firm McKinsey recently examined how countries might attract and retain a talented teaching force. The study compared the treatment of teachers in the three countries that perform best on standardized tests: Finland, Singapore and South Korea. It turns out that these countries have an entirely different approach to the profession. First, the governments in these countries recruit top graduates to the profession.  In Finland and Singapore they pay for high quality training. In terms of purchasing power, South Korea pays teachers on average 250 percent of what most counties do. And most of all, they trust their teachers. They are rightly seen as the solution, not the problem, and when improvement is needed, the school receives support and development, not punishment. Accordingly, turnover in these countries is startlingly low: In South Korea, it’s 1 percent per year. In Finland, it’s 2 percent. In Singapore, 3 percent.
(There are those who think that the tough race to become a teacher in Finland is the key to good teaching and thereby to improving student achievement. Because only 10% of applicants pass the rigorous admission system, the story goes, the secret is to recruit new teachers from the top decile of available candidates. This has led many governments and organisations to find new ways to get the best and the brightest young talents into the teaching profession. Various fast-track teacher preparation initiatives that lure smart young university graduates to teach for a few years have mushroomed. Smarter people make better teachers … or do they?)
We have to understand the centrality of teachers in the education system and improving our education system begins and ends with great teachers. But world-class education costs money. If you pay teachers peanuts you get monkeys and the curse of private tuition. One more thing that we can borrow from the Finnish system (comprehensive schools, upper secondary schools and vocational stream), which may answer partly to some of the queries of Jean Marc Poché’s paper on remedial teaching, is its lower emphasis on "outperforming your neighbor". Everybody is average but they ensure that the average is very high.  With its teachers recruited from the cream of the cream this principle has  succeeded in making Finland an educational overachiever. In the international PISA test scores, Finland’s worst students did 80% better than the OECD average for the worst group; its brightest did only 50% better than the average for bright students. They make sure that raising the average for the bottom rungs has had a profound effect on the overall result. And here we are still bothered about competition and focus mainly on scores of the few at the very top – ( the Laureate system for e.g ) – and some still unashamedly dare to call them the elite.
That’s one reason so many Finns want to become teachers, which provides a rich talent pool that Finland filters very selectively. In 2008, the latest year for which figures are available, 1,258 undergrads applied for training to become elementary-school teachers. Only 123, or 9.8%, were accepted into the five-year teaching program. That’s typical. There’s another thing: in Finland, every teacher is required to have a master’s degree. (The Finns call this a master’s in kasvatus, which is the same word they use for a mother bringing up her child.) Annual salaries range from about $40,000 to $60,000, and teachers work 190 days a year.
“It’s very expensive to educate all of our teachers in five-year programs, but it helps make our teachers highly respected and appreciated,” says Jari Lavonen, head of the department of teacher education at the University of Helsinki. Outsiders spot this quickly. “Their teachers are much better prepared to teach physics than we are, and then the Finns get out of the way. You don’t buy a dog and bark for it,” says Dan MacIsaac, a specialist in physics-teacher education at the State University of New York at Buffalo who visited Finland for two months. “In the U.S., they treat teachers like pizza delivery boys and then do efficiency studies on how well they deliver the pizza.” (Time Magazine , 2011)