Government has a lot to learn about teaching

Published 26/03/2014 | 05:36

Sir, It was with interest, I read your article in The Kerryman of March 5 re the concerns of secondary school teachers and the introduction of the new Junior Cert programme named the Junior Cycle Student Award (JCSA).

 No doubt, the Minister is correct in introducing this new programme, as we are preparing students today for jobs in the future and we need to be prepared. However, the teachers have a very real concern as to who is going to assess this work.

The Minister seems to be following the Global Education Reform Movement that is driven by business ideals and has failed throughout the world.

The UK, US, Australia and New Zealand along with many European countries have unsuccessfully tried to improve their education systems by introducing business methodologies into schools. Constant student testing on standardized tests, teacher bashing and firing, closing underperforming schools, payment by performance and results, giving government funding to private charter schools to try and improve grades.

The Bill Gates Foundation along with Walmart in the US, have invested billions of dollars into private education in order to change the education system in the hope of making it more business like. They employ business management personnel to run the schools and teachers with very little or no teaching experience to implement their business ideas. Might I humbly suggest, that the Minister and his officials, read the most recent research on education in the UK and the US.

He might look up 'The Death and Life of the Great American School System, How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education', by Dr Diane Ravitch who was a member of the Bush Education Dept. in the US when they introduced compulsory testing and closing of underperforming schools and, 20 years later, has publicly apologized to the people of America for the damage this caused to the Education system, the teaching profession and the children of America.

'Confessions of a Bad Teacher, The Shocking Truth from the Front Lines of American Public Education', by John Owens should also make interesting reading. The author was a high time publisher in New York, but in midlife decided to give something back to society and returned to college to become a teacher, This book tells the story of dishonesty, constant testing, teaching the test, children being taught how to fill in dots on a page in order to reach the standards set down by the No Child Left Behind Policy of the Bush Administration. After year he returned to his publishing business feeling he could no longer continue teaching a narrow curriculum that didn't allow him educate the children properly.

If secondary teachers in Ireland are asked to assess the JCSA tests of their own students in their own schools, might it lead the teachers to be over generous to their own students and ensure their school is seen as a high performing school?

It is not that I don't trust our teachers to be professional in their work but I feel the tests should be assessed just as our Leaving Certificate is assessed at the moment.

Is there another way? Yes there is, the Finnish Model. I recommend the Minister, his officials and any one interested in promoting quality education in Ireland should read 'Finnish Lessons, What can the world learn from education change in Finland', by Pasi Sahlberg.

The simple answer is that in Finland the Government trusts the teachers to get on with their work. Teachers are highly regarded in Finland with only the highest achieving students gaining entry to teaching programmes at University. In fact teaching in Finland is on par if not above medicine, law and all other programmes at university. It isn't that teachers are better paid than any other profession but teaching attracts students who have high ideals and know that they will be treated as professionals and trusted by their government.

Finland does not have standardized testing in schools neither does it have constant inspections. Teachers are not afraid of being fired or their schools being closed. They do not follow a business model. In fact very little funding comes from the private sector to Finnish schools. Where it comes, it is subject to strict guidelines so that the business community cannot affect the school curriculum.

As a result of this education system, Finnish students outperform all other students in the world in PISA and OECD tests in reading, maths and science.

How does it succeed? The answer is, they start early. Finnish children are provided with an excellent preschool programme. Children with learning difficulties are supported from day one and right through their school life. And yet Finland has an end of school exam, similar to our Leaving Cert, in which students must perform well in order to gain entry to university. Students not gaining the required results are given the opportunity to attend colleges of further education.

In closing, could I suggest our Teaching Council begin to support teachers. The Council recently announced a system for removing underperforming teachers from the classroom. More support and trust would be more appropriate and welcome.

Sincerely,

Dr. David O Grady,

New Street,

Killarney.

Kerryman

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