Those who can…

Today, OECD released the results of the PISA examination, a periodical review of the skill levels in core subjects like reading, writing, mathematics and science. Since I’m a teacher by trade, I guess my opinion on this should matter. Even if it doesn’t, I’ll volunteer it anyway. Here goes.

The idea of unified testing standards is a means to establish which school systems are the best, so that everyone involved can pick the brains of the highest-achieving systems. Pretty neat idea, huh? It’s like a think tank with real-time data retrieval, optimized to pool resources and harvest the benefits of a grand total of millions of years worth of teaching experience.

If reading the above made you a little sick, you are still sane. We put kids through between twelve and fourteen years of mandatory education to bring them up to a certain minimum standard, enabling them to hold the simplest of jobs and participate in society on par with everyone else. The basics of an education. However, this is a theory-heavy education and as such, it is not suited to everyone. In fact, the one thing our current educational system does really well is create losers. To add insult to injury, the losers we create become self-loathing dropouts. I can’t say whether we create winners on a proportional scale, but I kind of doubt it.

First of all, school politics has become an easy score for politicians of all colours and flavours, and everyone has an idea to improve and revolutionize national schools so as to improve test scores. Right now, a popular fix is sending teachers off to school to raise their competence levels, ostensibly. Being a politician myself, I can only say that I know politicians from several political parties who know perfectly well what plagues our educational systems, and it isn’t our teachers.

Over the past fifty years, the Norwegian educational system has undergone a swathe of educational reforms, each vowing to finally remedy the weakness in the system by addressing the core concepts of didactics and pedagogics. All these changes have been at the hands of politicians. The one great change for the teachers over these fifty years is…

Bureaucracy.

While I appreciate the need for improvement in teaching practices, and in helping teachers, schools and administrations reflect upon these practices, what we are talking about is a top-heavy micro-managing system of politicized schools, where every year sees a ridiculous number of revisions to everyday routines.

We are at a stage where more than fifty per cent of the average school teacher’s working day is devoted to documenting his own practice in detail, and to treading water in an ocean of forms and documents. What’s left goes towards preparing classes, providing guidance, giving feedback… You know, teaching.

And the current government’s suggested solution is to strengthen teacher competence by sending them off to classes and courses, which in reality are little more than downscaled university courses intended to enable teachers to actually teach their classes. While this sounds like a really great idea, few schools actually employ teachers without a university degree in the core subjects mentioned above, so this is a perfect example of the Marx Brothers’ dictum:

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere and prescribing the wrong remedies.”

Like I said, I have a pretty good idea what it takes to make a good school, and so do many of my fellow politicians, but nobody wants to hear it:

Let schools deal with teaching. Leave the bureaucracy for the bureaucrats. If you keep picking at schools, they will become infected. You will produce kids that are not only lower-achieving, but actually so messed up they can document their own failings to within three decimal places.

Schools are meant to enable kids to interact with society, not deprive them of meaningful social environments and positive learning experiences. If the current trope of trying to create super-teachers by shackling them hand and foot with bureaucratic practices continues, it will kill the entire educational system.

Godi Keller has the right idea. Google him. Wonderful man, wonderful teacher.

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