New year, same challenges in education part 1, Writing Wisdom Tree

New year, same challenges in education Part 1

The article, ‘New year, same challenges in education part 1′ is the first in a six part series that examine the perennial challenges in the education system.

In this post, I will examine the overarching pervasive challenge with which education systems the world over grapple for much of their existence. That is, improving the performance of the education system. The education system has many parts which need to function well to yield the performance that government desires.

Therefore, in a number of other posts I will examine the performance of the following stakeholders in the education system:

  • Minister of Education
  • Workers in the Ministry of Education
  • Principals
  • Teachers
  • Administrative staff

It is the beginning of a new school year. However, some education systems around the world face the same set of challenges that have dogged them for many years.

What makes an education system perform? The OECD has the answers. It seems that the struggling education systems don’t yet have access to these insights. So, while some education systems are making much progress in coping with the challenges that beset them, other systems are stymied by these challenges.

Challenges in education part 1 – Improving performance

One challenge, and probably the most significant one that all systems have had to grapple, is that of improving the performance of the education system. This primarily means improving the performance of students.

This is a challenge that Education Ministers/Directors throw out to schools from time to time. This challenge represents the policy position of governments as regards their expectation of the education system.

School administrators react in different ways to this challenge.

Some administrators interpret this challenge as one that is intended to put pressure on them and their staff. They point to the quality of the students that they enrol in their schools every year. According to them, there are students who are performing below their grade level, students with multiple disabilities and/or disadvantages, among any other challenges that these students face. These administrators wonder how the education directorate expects them to work miracles with their limited resources.

Moreover, these school administrators point to the inability/unwillingness of parents to help their children with homework or to give them the resources that they need to do well in school. This puts extra pressure on teachers. Furthermore, they point to the severe levels of resource deficiency in their schools, noting that the government is giving them ‘baskets to carry water’.

Challenges in education part 1 – coping with the challenge of poor performance (Ignoring it)

As a result of these deficiencies, perceived or real, among a longer list of deficiencies in their schools that these administrators cite, they conclude that the government is talking ‘foolishness’. So, they go about their business as usual, doing their best to control the behaviour of their students until they graduate, while taking pride in the achievements of the few students who, in spite of everything with which they have to contend at home, at school and in the wider society, have done well.

Some of these students ‘pass’ examinations to enter prestigious secondary schools. Some of them ‘pass’ exams to enter other secondary schools. Some of them ‘pass’ some subjects in the school-leaving examinations. And, some students who entered their doors without being able to read are now able to do so. Therefore, they believe that their schools are performing. They are happy.

Challenges in education part 1 – Coping with the challenge of poor performance (Tackling the problem)

Other administrators stir themselves into action. The government wants improved performances. They will get improved performances. So, they begin to innovate.

Some of these administrators look at the statistics on the performance of their schools. If the experts believe their schools are performing satisfactorily or better, they continue to do what they have done all along, while devising and implementing plans to improve their performance.

If the experts believe that their schools are performing unsatisfactorily, some of these administrators allow their creative juices to flow freely. Therefore, they do the following:

Some administrators embark on a process of screening.

‘From now on,’ they tell their staff, ‘we’ll only allow students who can pass examinations to sit examinations.’ It doesn’t matter to them that those students who can ‘pass’ the examinations are only a small number of the cohort.

The fact that some students will be negatively affected by this decision comes up for discussion in staff meetings, but is eventually dismissed. So, they ‘send up’ to do the examinations only those students who have the potential to ‘pass’ them. The results are eventually published. Their schools get a significant pass rate. They are now ranked among the top performing schools. They are happy. Education directorate is happy.

Some administrators engage in communication and persuasion

Some administrators look at the statistics compiled on the performance of their schools and they, too, stir themselves into action. They agree that the performance of their schools need improvement and they believe that it is possible to make this improvement in spite of the challenges that their institutions face. So they, too, innovate – in a different way.

They manage to communicate their vision of improving the performance of their schools to the entire school community:

  • Boards
  • community members
  • parents
  • administrative and ancillary staff
  • students
  • teachers

They do this in a way that they can understand, and in a way that stir their spirit of cooperation, instead of their spirit of animosity.

They create a well thought out template for this change. Built into this template are systems of accountability for each stakeholder in the system. Monitoring of the performance of all stakeholders in this system is routine. Improvements to the system take place as a result of this monitoring.

Most important, though, is the leadership from these administrators. They lead by example. As a result of their initiative, these administrators, over time, see a gradual increase in the levels of performance of all stakeholders in the system. Most stakeholders are happy.


You can see that the reaction by school administrators to the call by the education directorate to improve the performance of the education system differ.

  • Some administrators believe that they are doing the best that they can with the resources that they get and their best is good enough – in their eyes. They do not take seriously anything the education directorate says. According to them, the education directorate doesn’t understand the reality in the schools.
  • Some administrators go about business as usual if their schools have ‘passed’ at inspection. ‘If it is not broken, why fix it?’ they ask.
  • Some administrators ‘game’ the system to give the policymakers the results that they demand. Having got the ‘good’ results that the education directorate demand, these administrator bask in their manufactured reality which is divorced from that of the school.
  • Some administrators accept the challenge of policymakers, dig deep in their resourcefulness toolkit and find solutions to improving the performance of students in their schools.

The answer to improving the performance of education systems lies in the response of the administrators who find ways to be effective and efficient, in spite of all the negatives in their schools which they could have allowed to derail their efforts, but didn’t. The question now remains: what action will the powers that are in charge of the education systems take to elevate the performance of those administrators who lack the will or the creativity to manage the number 1 aim of schools?

Click the links below to read the other articles in the series.

Coursera AH Purple Design 2
Scholastic Teacher Store Online

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