Is Uniformity the Best Policy?

The US is currently in the throes of a major educational debate: should it nationalise its curriculum or retain a system that allows individual states to create and deliver their own? For a nation that is currently in the top ten richest countries in a global economy which is becoming increasingly knowledge based it is a question that has never been more pertinent.

Chester E. Finn Jr., chairman of the Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education confirms why countries with significant international influence such as the US place such emphasis on education; “There is a reason big, modern countries care about education: Decades of experience and heaps of research have shown a close tie between the knowledge and skills of a nation’s workforce and the productivity of that nation’s economy.” Thus a question as significant as the future of the nation’s education system is one that is of great importance to most Americans.

In a 2012 world ranking of educational standards published in The Guardian based on the latest PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) study, countries including Finland, New Zealand and the UK were placed in the top ten. What is interesting is that all of these nations have an education system underpinned by a nationwide curriculum, suggesting it is a successful model. Many would argue that a homogenous curriculum enables all students to receive an education that is of an equivalent standard to those of their peers regardless of what region they are from. With an ever increasing degree of inter-state and even international mobility, such standardisation becomes ever more important. However the implementation and management of such a system is inevitably much more straight-forward in countries which are geographically smaller and less culturally diverse than the US.

Jay P Greene, department head of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas argues; “When it comes to education, one size doesn’t fit all. Yet that is exactly the kind of system we would get if the U.S. required all students to meet a single set of national academic standards.” Many fear that a nationwide curriculum would fail to account for the variations in relevance between states and take away the autonomy of individual schools and teachers. Indeed I have heard many UK based teachers bemoan the ‘shackles’ of the national curriculum which they feel restricts creativity and can create a learning environment that is stuffy and non-progressive.
Ironically, I believe a giant nation such as the US can resolve some of the complexities of introducing a state-wide curriculum by looking to Lilliputian Finland. At the top of the education poll, there is no doubt a lot be learnt from this small nation of over-achievers who spend less time in the classroom than most of their international counterparts.  So what is the secret?  For a start teaching is a well-respected and competitive profession in Finland with only one in ten applicants accepted on to teacher training programmes. In addition, all qualified teachers must be educated to Masters level thus breeding an attitude towards teachers that is refreshingly deferential.
From a student’s perspective, there is more time and space to develop creatively and academically without the constraints of regular standardised examinations (most students only take one test in their whole schools careers at the end of voluntary upper-secondary school) and homework is usually limited to half-hour for high school students and none at all in younger years.

Finally, unlike the US Finland does have a national curriculum which is intended to ensure the equality of opportunity rather than strictly prescribe curriculum content or teaching methods. In his article “Why Do We Focus On Finland? A Must-Have Guidebook” Jeff Dunn notes “Teachers are largely responsible for developing their own curriculum within (…) basic guidelines, assessing student progress, and running virtually every aspect of the children’s educational experience.”

Perhaps then it is possible to introduce a nationwide curriculum that will be flexible enough to accommodate the idiosyncrasies of both students and states and provide a sketch of a curriculum which teachers can then render however they see fit for their specific context, rather than an educational blueprint based on the findings of academic surveyors who have not tested their educational measures in the rich variety of grassroots contexts the US encompasses.

How to Successfully Chart the Seas of an International Teaching Career

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So you’ve slogged your way through hellish teaching placements where the status of trainee teacher is akin to wearing a massive ‘L’ plate (for non-Brits this an embarrassing sticker all learner drivers must have their car brandished with) and those more experienced and doubtless jaded shunt you at every turn. Your nerves have weathered the relentless storm of brutal observations and now the flickering light at the end of the tunnel which you have squinted at through heavy lids as a beacon of hope for the last year is in danger of being snuffed out by student debt, wages that make the work to reward ratio at the fast-food joint you worked at through college appear comparatively favourable and the ever-growing stacks of marking on the kitchen table.

The solution: go international. Of course we all know the dangers of seeking the balmy delights of sunnier climes or the adventure of an exotic destination to remedy discontent. However teaching abroad provides more than just an ex-pat oasis for knee-jerkers who have jumped shipped after a couple of bad placements. With a burgeoning new market for local international schools in many regions of the Middle East, the introduction of an IB curriculum in many more educational establishments in the West, the wholesale export of some of those very same establishments to locations such as China and the increasingly globalised perspective required of the highest-flyers in all sectors, international teaching experience really can be the fuel needed to propel your career quicker than your peers.

By carefully charting out your career as an international educator you will be able to navigate your career and steer towards bountiful new destinations like Columbus, however if you just stick a pin in the map and aim for the nearest international school that will take you, you may end up more like a half-cut Jack Sparrow festering away on some God forsaken island wondering what happened to the treasure. If you are serious about gaining valuable and career enhancing positions, it is important to do your homework and be realistic. As much as you would like that gold-plated job at that highly-esteemed international school in Hong Kong, inevitably they have the pick of a rather large bunch which includes those with years of experience under their belt. This doesn’t mean you must resign yourself to staying at home but you must identify the steps you need to take to climb a career ladder that has a slippery first rung. If you get your footing right from the beginning and keep your eyes fixed on where you want to end up you’ll have a much better chance of making sensible and rewarding career choices.

At Edvectus we work closely with each individual teacher to help them identify what they want to achieve professionally, how this balances with their personal lives and how they can successfully achieve these goals. If you play the game right you can secure that gold-plated job in your dream destination, just don’t expect to do it on your first move. The mistake often made by teachers is to view teaching overseas as a career break, rather than an opportunity to bolster their CVs, gain unique insights into teaching in a different context or a different curriculum and a chance to build a long-term international career if so desired. We are in it for the long game and are equipped with the knowledge and global contacts to support you in building a career whether you want your international teaching experience to be one stepping stone in your career path or the over-arching theme of your entire professional journey. We are your trusty navigators if you will!

So if you feel disillusioned with your native education system or simply desire the thrill and challenge of cutting your teeth in a new environment; do your research, make a plan and summon the courage that served you so well as a trainee teacher and in the words of Columbus himself “by prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination.”

Bon Voyage!