Want to reform postsecondary education? Take a lesson, says Harvey…

I recently spent two days attending an International Summit of Education Experts listening to speakers from a variety of countries that have made great (e.g. Finland, Singapore) or somewhat less (e.g., United States) progress reforming their public education systems.  The conference was a welcome tonic for those, like me, who sometimes despair over the challenge of transforming a public education system.  I extracted several key messages.

First, reform of an education system is possible, it can happen quickly, and it can be measured using internationally accepted metrics and instruments.

Second, there is best practice for accomplishing whole system reform and countries that successfully transformed their education systems tended to use the same recipe.  The critical ingredients appear to be:  i) a deep and persistent government commitment to improving the education system; ii) clarity around desired outcomes and the setting of high performance targets; iii)   clarity around the measures to be used to evaluate performance and progress towards goals; iv)  a policy of greatest investment in areas where performance is the worst.

There are many calls for a transformation of postsecondary education coming from governments seeking more accountability for public dollars, students asking for a more affordable and engaging experience, and ex-university administrators writing cris-de-coeur about what is wrong in higher education (and, apparently, what they could not change while they were in office).  It is not obvious to me why change in higher education should be any more difficult than in elementary and secondary education.  Those affiliating with the need and urgency for change in higher education may be well advised to take some lessons and heed best practices from those jurisdictions that have successfully improved and transformed their educational systems.

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One reply on “Want to reform postsecondary education? Take a lesson, says Harvey…”

I am a product of the Ontario post-secondary education system – UofT BSc 1991, PhD 1996.
While it is obvious to many people inside and outside the Ontario education system that there needs to be change due to the pressures described, I think a major factor in making the change is to win the hearts and minds of those in the education system. I think that this requires a) their input into the decision making process b) their commitment to the common goal and c) allaying their fears (i.e. job security etc.). One final note. The comment that “change in post-secondary education should be as easy as changes in elementary education” suggests that changes in elementary or secondary education are easily done. Our recent experiences (albeit outside of Ontario) have demonstrated the steadfastness and resolve of school boards to maintain the status quo, even amongst pressure from many parents to improve the curriculum.

In spite of these hurdles, I think the discussion for change is a very important one that will have a significant positive impact on students and the economy in general

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