Today, for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we celebrate the progress made towards reducing the gender gap in computer science, and we urge schools worldwide to help balance the scales in this critical 21st century subject.
Two years ago, 23-year-old Pedro Flores became a technician specializing in renewable energy—all thanks to a degree from a technical institute in Maule, located in one of Chile’s poorest regions. After completing his degree in just two years, Flores became the only person in his family to obtain an advanced degree. Today, he lives in Santiago and works for a private solar energy multinational corporation, where he earns a competitive salary that is only slightly below the average for entry-level professionals in his field, most of whom spent over five years in university.
All schools are different. I’m not referring to the building, the number of students or teaching practices. I’m talking about the school’s spirit. When you walk into a good school, the building is often well-organized and clean. The students look busy and happy. You don’t see strict discipline; ideally, you see organized chaos.
When you see a well-functioning school, most likely, there is a good principal behind it. A leader who sets a vision for the school and sets clear objectives. Someone who creates the space that fosters teachers’ professional and personal development, and encourages students’ personal growth, creativity, and their own journey of discovery.
Running a school efficiently is a very difficult challenge. A principal must be a pedagogical leader to dozens of teachers: observing them in the classroom, evaluating institutional performance, and helping them get the professional development opportunities they need. Principals have to deal with hundreds of students and their personal and academic challenges. They need to respond to parents, each with their own expectations for the school. And principals also need to contend with the administrative and financial burdens imposed by the bureaucracy.
Todas las escuelas son distintas. No hablo del edificio, del número de estudiantes, ni del enfoque pedagógico que siguen. Hablo del espíritu de la escuela. Al entrar a un buen colegio, uno a veces ve que todo está bien organizado y limpio. Los estudiantes se ven ocupados, y al mismo tiempo, felices. No necesariamente se observa disciplina estricta, idealmente, uno ve un caos organizado.
Cuando una escuela funciona bien, en gran medida se debe a que existe un buen director. El buen director establece una visión y objetivos para la escuela, y puede hacer de ella un espacio efectivo de desarrollo profesional y personal para los maestros, y un espacio de crecimiento, creatividad y descubrimiento para los alumnos.
Lograr que una escuela funcione bien es una tarea extremadamente compleja. Requiere que el director se constituya en un líder pedagógico de decenas de profesores, observándolos en el aula, monitoreando permanentemente su desempeño con sus alumnos y en su contribución al trabajo institucional. Así podrá el director desplegar las capacidades de su cuerpo docente de manera efectiva y darles apoyo en lo que necesiten. Requiere lidiar con cientos de estudiantes y sus retos personales y académicos; y con los padres de familia de esos estudiantes, que tienen sus propias expectativas sobre la escuela. Además, debe lidiar con los retos burocráticos, administrativos y financieros para hacer funcionar la institución.
Last Wednesday, the World Development Report 2018, Learning to Realize Education’s Promise (WDR) was released. It argues that there is a learning crisis: in many developing countries, children learn very little, educational opportunities are unequal, and educational progress is still very slow. What do we need to change this? We need prepared learners, who receive adequate nutrition and stimulation in their early years. We need well managed schools that create an environment conducive to learning. We need adequate inputs so that schools can operate effectively. But above all, we need motivated and well-prepared teachers. In classrooms around the world, white boards and screens have replaced black boards and notebooks are increasingly commonplace. But in this 21st century, with increased use of technology, there is one constant that determines, more than anything else, whether children learn at school: teachers. Indeed, teachers remain central to the classroom experience. And yet in many countries, the teaching profession needs attention and reform.
The inefficiency and inequity caused by age differences in testing is not news. On the contrary, it is a well-documented fact. The proposed solution to this problem is to age-adjust test scores. But the truth is, we are nowhere near to implementing such a solution.
There is no denying that governments around the world are expanding investments in education technology, from inputs that students use directly (like Kenya’s project to put tablets in schools) to digital resources to improve the education system (like Rio de Janeiro’s school management system). As public and private school systems continue to integrate technology into their classrooms, remember that education technology comes with risks.
Anyone working in education is familiar with the story of Finland’s remarkable evolution into one of the world’s top-performing education systems. The country ranked fifth in science and sixth in reading on the 2012 PISA assessment, second on the 2012 PIAAC (the new OECD test of adult literacy) , and is routinely in the top five of practically every other international measure of education quality. To visitors from standards-and-accountability-heavy countries such as the UK and the US, or from low-performing countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), Finland’s formula can seem like magic. All teachers have a Master’s degree. There is no student testing. There are no school inspections or rankings. Students have little homework and teachers work few hours. Teachers are trusted professionals with full autonomy in the classroom.
My study tour to Finland in September 2015 convinced me that this formula is indeed magic. Why? Because the popular version of the “Finnish story” neglects elements of the institutional context that are so hard-wired into the system that the locals hardly register them. Three crucial elements, in particular, create an accountability framework that makes it possible for the “magic” to work.
It has been seven months since I joined The World Bank as a Lead Education Specialist coordinating their work on tertiary education. During this short period, I have met with people from across the globe, read a variety of reports, and participated in technical review meetings and missions with government officials and institutional leaders. In summary, I have been learning as fast as I can, about how this fascinating but complex organization operates, and about its unique contribution (not exempt from controversy) to development in the world.
These past few months have taken me across the world, from Latin America, to the Middle East, Africa, South East Asia, and Europe, on a journey that has provided me the unique and privileged opportunity to reflect on the challenges and opportunities that tertiary education is facing in the world. It is precisely such reasoning that led us, at the World Bank to organize a year-long lecture and panel series entitled “Tertiary Education at a Crossroads” during which we hope to engage in collective reflection on issues and trends in tertiary education, and confront them with an ambitious agenda towards eliminating extreme poverty in the world, by enabling shared prosperity in a sustainable planet.