Friday, December 9, 2011

Reforming Education: It’s Not Just the Teachers Or The Schools

Interesting nugget from the World Bank blog (excerpt):

Should developing countries shift from focusing on improving schools to improving parents?

I travel to many developing countries in the context of my work for The World Bank. I visit schools that receive financial support and technical assistance from the Bank to improve the learning experiences and outcomes of students. Each time, I ask teachers in these schools what they think would make the biggest difference in the learning outcomes of their students. The most common answer is “better parents.” I often wonder if this response is, in some conscious or unconscious way, an excuse to help teachers explain the poor outcomes of their students (especially those from the poorest households) and their low expectations of what their students can achieve. However, both common sense and solid research indicate that parents matter.

A new OECD study using PISA data highlights the important role of parents in the learning outcomes of students, and it has received broad attention from opinion makers (see Friedman's editorial in the Sunday edition of the NYT). The researchers look into more than the widely documented impact of parental (especially mother's) education level and explore specific parental behaviors. They find that some types of parental involvement are more conducive to stronger learning outcomes in high school – for example, reading to young children and asking them about their school day, is related to higher learning outcomes (as measured by PISA test scores), but volunteering at school or participating in the PTA are not.

A summary of the OECD study is available here (warning: pdf link).

This basically helps confirm my own suspicions – just having world class facilities and teachers (even assuming we ever get there) doesn’t replace the role of a parent. That’s not something that can be legislated or something we can expect the education system to compensate for.

Indirectly, this is also an argument against for-profit schools – it suggests that they don’t really make much of a difference, if the parents are not involved. In fact that point is made in another OECD PISA research note (here, also in pdf).


  1. I have been in the education field for almost 31 years and you hit the nail on the head. Better parents who are willing to teach their children the right values.

  2. Tuan Hishamh

    The TV in most rural homes, would be on all night long, until sleeping time. Kids thus watch TV and spend little tie for homework. The same behaviour could also be observed in low income urban homes.

    This is indicative that these parents are not only doing enough for their children's education, they are indeed a negative influence. How do we then prepare the kids to be productive members of the society when they become adults.

    Therefore, in the interest of building a productive and educated workforce, we need to keep the students at school until 5.00 pm from Mondays to Fridays. Then, they could do all the learning and extra curricular activities, at school. Parents role would then be a non-issue. Indeed it would be next to impossible to change parents' attitude.

    Malaysia has about 10,000 SK and SMK schools. However less than 200 schools (2%), mostly in big urban areas, have to operate two sessions - morning and afternoon. Thus, in 98% of our our schools, our vital national asset - our SK and SMK schools -- is empty of students and any form of learning by 1.30 pm, every day, 356 days per year.

    Our kids spends about 6 hours at school. Minus the the times for recess, waiting for teachers to turn up and begin classes, the actual learning time per school day, is probably about 4 hours. No wonder, private tuition is billion Ringgit industry in Malaysia.

    I have the opportunity to visit Taiwan schools over several years. Their schools are much better equipped and better run. Taiwan teachers enjoy the highest pubic sector salaries too!

    Although regular schooling ends around 3 to 4 p.m., students are allowed to stay in their school until 9.00 pm. Most students do. Teachers are rostered to also be around to oversee the students and to provide help when needed.

    Malaysian students who visited with me to participate in the ASEP (asian students exchange program) activities, never failed to comment that the teachers in Taiwan were like friends to their students. Very different to their teachers in Malaysia.

    Of course, in the Malaysian classrooms, there are 40 to 50 students. In some popular urban schools, it could be more than 55 students. Our teachers cannot be friendly when they have to manage (control?) that many kids in their classrooms.

    Not only do we need to build more schools to enable single session schooling, we need to build more classrooms to reduce the average number of students per classroom.

    The number in the UK is between 20 to 25. Serious plans were in place over a decade ago, to reduce the number of students to just 15. It must be noted also that there are two adults in every class in the UK - a teacher and an assistant teacher. Thus the students to adult ratio is 7:1. Imagine the opportunity and the capacity to develop human capital. This is found, not only in the UK, but in the rest of the so called developed world.

    Look around us. Most schools in Thailand and Indonesia are single session schools. Their kids schooling ends not earlier than 4 pm. And we think our per capita income could and would continue to be higher than theirs forever?

    We need to act on this NOW and remove the handicaps we had placed on out kids. If we have had no oil and other natural resources, our average national income and standard of living would be far below than what it is today.

    Time to allocate more money to build more schools. DO it NOW. At between RM2.00 million and RM3.00 million a piece (school), we only need about RM500.00 million for this. When we have already allocated RM2.8 billion to distribute RM500.00 to each family, by December 2011, surely we can find just 15% of that amount to build a better future for our kids and a better work force for our economy in our next budget.

    Thank you.

  3. Goldtrex, great comments. Hopefully, the powers that be are listening.

  4. Unfortunately,schools cost at least 6 mil nowadays.And secondary schools can exceed 15 mil a piece.I was informed that the trend started when they stopped using the standard design cos Pak Lah wanted aesthetically pleasing schools.Thus you get domes n such but the same functionalities in classrooms.
    Thats Malaysia. .project orientated.