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Tuesday 19 February 2019
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Commentary

Education system barriers to learning

TTUTA

Part II

AS WE continue our exploration of the findings articulated in the World Bank’s World Development Report, Learning to Realise Education’s Potential, with its total focus on education, we pick up where we left off last week – looking at the education system barriers to learning which they have identified.

To recap from last week, these were placed into two broad categories:

* Misalignment and incoherence across four elements: learning objectives and responsibilities, information on metrics, finance, and incentives.

* Technical complexities which make it hard to align education systems with learning. In addressing these complexities, the report points to what it describes as three characteristics of complex education systems – opaqueness, stickiness, and a lack of internal capacity.

The systems framework used to evaluate how well education systems are promoting learning revealed a crisis rather than advancement in learning. This was credited to what the report refers to as “technical complexities and political forces that pull education systems out of alignment with learning.”

This is what the report tells us about the value of alignment and coherence in successful education systems:

Successful education systems combine both alignment and coherence. Alignment means that learning is the goal of various components of the system. Coherence means that the components reinforce each other in achieving whatever goals the system has set for them. When systems achieve both, they are much more likely to promote student learning. Too much misalignment or incoherence leads to failure to achieve learning, though the system might achieve other goals (p.13).

Curriculum reform in Trinidad and Tobago may be one example of this misalignment and incoherence. The changes that have been made seek to focus on student-centred learning methodologies and encourage the use of formative assessment. However, this is expected to co-exist in a space where high-stakes testing in the form of the summative examination of SEA at the primary level exists and there is no real attempt to address this.

With the high-stakes assessment as the focus of teaching at the primary level because of the decisions associated with student placement, in addition to our multi-tiered education system that ranks schools and consequently student placement, the system inadvertently possesses inherent barriers to learning.

Teachers are not given the comprehensive training required to make the innovation embedded in the newly adopted curriculum work. Schools do not receive the resources that are necessary to facilitate effective teaching and learning. Support systems for assisting struggling learners to successfully negotiate learning opportunities are woefully inadequate.

Large numbers of students are being placed in secondary schools without the basic numeracy and literacy skills necessary for them to make sense of secondary education. We may not even be certain of what percentage of our students who enter secondary schools are actually making it through to the end or graduate with a certificate of competency of any kind.

The foregoing scenario emphasises what occurs when there is misalignment and incoherence and the systems actors are not all performing in concert with each other. Schools are being built to provide access, but access is not equivalent to learning. The technical complexities alluded to here are further compounded by political forces for which learning is not a priority. This is what the report says in this regard:

Key players don’t always want to prioritise learning. Many education actors have different interests, again beyond learning. Politicians act to preserve their position in power, which may lead them to target particular groups (geographic, ethnic or economic) for benefits. Bureaucrats may focus more on keeping politicians and teachers happy than on promoting student learning, or they simply try to protect their own positions. Some private suppliers of education services (whether textbook, construction or schooling) may, in the pursuit of profit, advocate policy choices not in the best interest of students. Teachers and other education professionals, even when motivated by a sense of mission, also may fight to maintain secure employment and to protect their incomes. None of this is to say that education actors don’t care about learning. Rather, especially in poorly managed systems, competing interests may loom larger than the learning-aligned interest (p. 13).

As we contemplate the foregoing, we must ask ourselves, “How much of this may be true for Trinidad and Tobago? Is our education system learning-aligned? Are there systems flaws to which we must attend if we are to realise the learning potential of education? If we continue on the path that we are currently on, what are the implications for our society’s development?” These are just a few of the questions that this report provokes.

To be continued

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