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Submitted by Karen Mundy on
Shanta I've enjoyed your provocative blog for some time now. But I am confused by this one. What exactly does an "exclusive focus on learning" mean? No focus on access at all? No planning for access issues? Raising the bar for all or raising the bar for some? While we can all agree that learning is important (otherwise why go to school?), to imagine that exclusion and inequality will be addressed purely by a focus on learning strikes me as naive. Indeed, when systems focus on learning "exclusively" we will find very quickly that other incentives and system features will emerge to exclude and stratify children into those who have the opportunity to learn and those who do not. We've got lots of examples of this: cream skimming, test gaming etc. are rampant. And all human actors - public teachers unions and private schools for the poor, are likely to game whatever incentive system we put in place. Your views of teachers unions, in my view, are also too simplistic. We do need collective actors to get things done - and teachers unions themselves have proved to be among the few robust collective actors supporting democratic transitions the world over. In many African countries they are the largest formally organized non state actors around - a huge civil society asset. They can also prove extremely valuable partners in major educational reforms -- see for example this thoughtful piece by Diane Viallant on the political economy of teachers unions in Latin American reform http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001410/141028e.pdf. Here in Ontario, bringing teachers unions on board with a new focus on literacy and completion has ensured the success of our learning (and access) strategy. Working with unions can in fact secure successful learning strategies - in Vaillant's examples from Latin America, and in Ontario, among many other examples. I'm not going to say that organized settlements with teachers unions are simple. But nothing I've seen or read from the research can convince me that we should lay blanket blame on teachers ad their unions and then expect greater fidelity to learning goals from private schools..... Finally, I believe we need to think of access and learning as two important dimensions of equity in our learning systems. If the education system places barriers to entry and persistence, learning can't happen. I'd like you to convince me that an "exclusive" focus on learning will get us to where we want to go. Or is this just another harmful simplification? Thanks Karen Mundy Associate Dean, Research Ontario Institute for Studies in Education University of Toronto