Chapter 1: Setting the Scene

There are many ways in which to approach the aims and objectives of education. For example, many believe that the main task is to pass on our present body of knowledge to what will be the next generation and to make sure they learn the skills that will enable them to be a productive member of society.

Others take a different view, namely that the student already possesses abilities and capabilities and that the task of the teacher is to draw out these talents. Whatever view we take we can agree with one main objective, namely that we need to find and implement the most efficient way of optimizing the wellbeing and learning of students.

One thing is for sure. We have now entered a new age as far as the collection and dissemination of information and knowledge is concerned. Whereas in the past for most of the time each country could implement policies that would only be judged internally, today we have entered another world. For the first time it is fairly straightforward to research internationally what is working in education and perhaps, more importantly, what is not working.

Structuring our Research
First though we need to decide the best way to structure our research. There are many ways to do this so the following is but one approach among many.

Our emphasis is on two main objectives. Firstly, what content and methodology results in optimising the wellbeing and learning of students. Secondly, what are the best education administrative structures for facilitating the means whereby such content and methodology can be practiced and implemented.

However, one point needs emphasising. Although without doubt we all want the best for our children, I do not think any of us would argue that the main responsibility for any child is with the parents who brought the child into the world.

We all know of the enormous reservoir of love that we give to our children, and we know that without it children would grow up with deep psychological problems. So let us assume that whatever the circumstances, the majority of children grow up knowing they are loved not only by their parents but usually by various family members as well.

Why do I start at this point? Because it is clear that school cannot and should not replace the very close bond between parents and child. Yet the state takes the vast majority of children and has the responsibility of educating them. In one sense, they are gifted to the state by the parents. I believe that is the attitude we should nurture in our approach to children, namely they are a gift from their parents in order that they may be educated.

However, next to the parents and perhaps some other family members, who knows the children best? Yes it is, of course, the teachers who educate the children. It is clear that we need to give these professionals an excellent training and then empower them to carry out the task of educating the children under their care.

Please make a personal note of the following, namely that when we do this, we find that children learn and achieve. The more power we give teachers the more their children achieve. The less power we give them the less they achieve.

All politicians (and journalists for good measure) need to overcome their propensity for believing they know better than those who have made a considerable personal commitment to teaching (and/or those who have a spent a lifetime in education) about the most efficient ways on nurturing and balancing the learning process in children.

PISA (Program for International Student Assessment)
A relevant starting point is the international studies/programmes produced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). These Programmes for International Student Assessment (PISA) performance tables are based on tests taken by 15-year-olds and are published every three years.

In 2006, 57 countries participated in PISA, including 30 OECD and 27 non-OECD. The PISA rankings, based on tests taken by 400,000 students in 57 countries, are probably the most efficient ways, globally, of measuring the attainment of pupils in different education systems.

They were first administered in 2000 to cover reading, math and science, each study focuses in depth on one of these subjects. The 2006 study emphasised science covering concepts in physics, chemistry, biology and earth and space science but also included reading and maths.

Overall, Finnish students rank higher than students from any other country in the majority of assessments. For example (and this will be just one example amongst many) the Knowledge and Skills for Life PISA published 6th April 2004 showed that Finnish teenagers are the best readers; and Finnish youth excel in science and mathematics. All this in a country where per capita income is about three-quarters of the USA (IMF 2009: Finland $34,462, USA $46,443 with California higher.)

Remember what our priority is! It is to find the most efficient ways of optimising students’ learning and wellbeing. Let us place also in this mix, countries where politicians have totally different attitudes towards involvement and intervention in education.

For example, Finland where teachers are given a large degree of freedom to teach, and two countries where there has been an ever increasing intervention by politicians, namely the UK and USA. A large part of this intervention is the introduction of comprehensive testing to the point where the curriculum has become test driven.

One consequence of this and the fact that teachers both in the UK and USA have a decreasing freedom to implement what is best for their students is that a considerable number of teachers in both countries have voted with their feet and left the profession.

UNICEF
Another important international study from which we shall abstract data is from UNICEF. They published, “Child poverty in perspective (2007): An overview of child wellbeing in rich countries.”

We shall also examine evidence from a number of sources describing what is occurring in countries in the developed world and where the blanket approach adopted by the USA and UK has not been followed and comparisons of such countries.

Finally, from such evidence, we shall make conclusions as to some of the best ways to optimise students’ learning and wellbeing and perhaps, even more importantly, policies to avoid as they will have a result of diminishing students’ propensity and ability to perform at their highest level of learning.

Contents of The Task for NZ Education – Chapter 1: Setting the Scene
© ISBN: 0-909001-61-8
Preface
Chapter 1:   Setting the Scene
Chapter 2:   Where to Start?
Chapter 3:   OECD PISA Reports
Chapter 4:   UNICEF Report
Chapter 5:   Decline of USA
Chapter 6:   The UK Experience
Chapter 7:   My UK Experience
Chapter 8:   People at the coalface
Chapter 9:   Stressed out Children
Chapter 10: Finland
Chapter 11: The Interview
Chapter 12: Pointers for the Future
Chapter 13: Music – The Crucial Ingredient
Chapter 14: Conclusion

If interested, Mollet Learning Academy (MLA) and WideHorizon Education Resources (WER) produces Teaching Packs that are designed to appeal to the heart, head and hands. Original material is the Mollet Learning Academy (MLA) Teaching Packs (written initially for New Zealand teachers). On request from USA teachers, monitoring and assessment procedures were added and renamed WER Teaching Packs to distinguish them from MLA Teaching Packs. All lessons are designed to appeal to the heart, head and hands. Please visit 

Dr. David Mollet davidmetis@gmail.com
NZ: h 09-555-2021 m 022-101-1741, 41 Hilling St, Titirangi, Auckland 0604 
USA: 619-463-1270, 6656 Reservoir Lane, San Diego, CA 92115 (Skype waldorfedu)

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