Monday, December 12, 2011

Day 5 “The Seasons (Tchaikovsky)” – inspired by the closing concert

December – Christmas
Once upon a Christmas night the girls were telling fortunes: taking their slippers off their feet and throwing them out of the gate. (Vasily Zhukovsky)
After 5 days we are ready to go home and our thoughts regardless of Christmas or any other special day are with all those girls(and boys) in the world that have little more than their fortunes to talk about and how we can translate the ideas we shared in actionable initiatives to improve equity and social mobility!

January - At the Fireside
A little corner of peaceful bliss, the night dressed in twilight; the little fire is dying in the fireplace, and the candle has burned out. (Alexander Pushkin)
But this bliss keeps on being brutally interrupted by statistics such as that the average costs of a Starbucks coffee is 3 US $ compared to school fees in Africa that can be as low as 2 US $ and while Starbucks profit for 2009 was more than 300 million US $ in 2009, at the same time 70 million children around the world were still not going to school.

February - Carnival
At the lively Mardi Gras soon a large feast will overflow. (Pyotr Vyazemsky)
What a festival it would be if we manage to achieve a massive change in the teaching force, with massive investments in the preparation and the continuous education of the teacher, in wages and other measures to support a drive to attract and keep the best and the brightest into the teaching force.

March - Song of the Lark
The field shimmering with flowers, the stars swirling in the heavens, the song of the lark fills the blue abyss. (Apollon Maykov)
“La Pintana loocks bad , but it is not, and if it would be bad , we , the children of La Pintana School, will change it”.
Christopher Rojas , 8º básico

April - Snowdrop
The blue, pure snowdrop — flower, and near it the last snowdrops. The last tears over past griefs, and first dreams of another happiness. (A. Maykov)
Five seminar groups wrote executive summaries highlighting the most important aspects to focus on.  Together with the presentations and film footage this will be transformed in a Salzburg Seminar debrief and a new publication in the series of ETS policy notes to be found on the websites of the Salzburg Global Seminars and the ETS website.

May - Starlit Nights
What a night! What bliss all about! I thank my native north country! From the kingdom of ice, snowstorms and snow, how fresh and clean May flies in! (Afanasy Fet)
No plans can be implemented without proper financing that includes accountability and cost control. Developing specific policies that target equity and combining these with new ways of financing them can secure a fresh attention for education embedded in a strategy to support social mobility.

June - Barcarolle
June Let us go to the shore; there the waves will kiss our feet. With mysterious sadness the stars will shine down on us. (Aleksey Pleshcheyev)
One tool for social mobility identifies the concept of Global Competencies as overarching learning focus whereby Global competence signifies the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance. The overall aim is to ensure that all youth (especially those with fewer resources) can develop the capacity to understand and transform the world in which they live to contribute to their own and societal wellbeing.

July - Song of the Reapers
Move the shoulders, shake the arms! And the noon wind breathes in the face! (Aleksey Koltsov)
In all that is developed and implemented it is essential to include the voice of the learners and the community they live in. This can take the form e.g. of parental & community involvement; learning from families; making families stakeholders; schools as a reflection of where we want to be as a society; sense of community/social cohesion and the need to view education as a community/social issue

August - Harvest
The harvest has grown, people in families cutting the tall rye down to the root! Put together the haystacks, music screeching all night from the hauling carts. (A. Koltsov)
Social mobility is not just a human right, but also an economic motor. Inspired by the reference in one of the presentation herewith a quote from the 2010 PISA report: The High Cost of Low Educational Performance – The long-run economic impact of improving PISA outcomes:  A modest goal of having all OECD countries boost their average PISA scores by 25 points over the next 20 years – which is less than the most rapidly improving education system in the OECD, Poland, achieved between 2000 and 2006 alone – implies an aggregate gain of OECD GDP of USD 115 trillion over the lifetime of the generation born in 2010 (as evaluated at the start of reform in terms of real present value of future improvements in GDP)… Other aggressive goals, such as bringing all students to a level of minimal proficiency for the OECD (i.e. reaching a PISA score of 400), would imply aggregate GDP increases of close to USD 200 trillion according to historical growth relationships

September - The Hunt
It is time! The horns are sounding! The hunters in their hunting dress are mounted on their horses; in early dawn the borzois are jumping. (A. Pushkin, Graf Nulin)
The search is on for experts, policy and decision makers, movers and shakers in the world of higher education and post-secondary vocational training who can contribute to the understanding of and action plans for social mobility and equity issues in these fields.

October - Autumn Song
Autumn, falling down on our poor orchard, the yellow leaves are flying in the wind. (Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy)
From October 2nd to October 7th the second seminar on Optimizing Talent: Closing the Mobility Gaps in Education Worldwide will be convened in Salzburg, bringing again together participants from different countries to try to improve accessibility to education confront inequity and improve education quality.

November – Troika
In your loneliness do not look at the road, and do not rush out after the troika. Suppress at once and forever the fear of longing in your heart. (Nikolay Nekrasov)
With this three year effort to bind people worldwide who share the same commitment and dedication towards the injustices in society, ‘who follow the need and don’t suffer from lack of purpose’, and with a possible extension to a world congress on access,  equity and social mobility, it should become more easy to suppress the fear of an unchangeable triple A- lack of Availability, Affordability and Accessibility.

Gerben van Lent

Friday, December 9, 2011

Day 4 ‘A letter to the Minister’

This day focused on politics and policy-making. It provided insights in what is actually happening and how reality shapes the degrees of freedom one has to respect in defining and implementing solutions. With the growing exchange of research findings, experiences, models and strategies it becomes more and more apparent that whereas we are at the same time very different determined by social, economic, historical and cultural factors, on the other hand we share underlying principles, not in the least our passion, motivation and/or ‘craziness’ to care for those in our societies that struggle and don’t get the chances they deserve. Also whereas many agree that it is not effective to copy a solution one on one from elsewhere the mechanisms behind solutions provide insights in directions to take. 

  • First things first: Addressing the largest injustices such as reducing the  number of schools under trees, eliminating  the situation of children having to bring their own chairs to school, addressing  illiteracy, preventing exclusion of girls
  • Applying action strategies including cash or in kind transfers to poor families to keep their children at school, public investments in educational inputs for poorer schools, mix of investments in material inputs targeted to poorer schools (infrastructure, text-books, learning resources)
  • Linking education to jobs
  • Balanced role between central and local government including using central funds to spur and support reform where conditions for success exist, while avoiding risks of decentralization that foster inequity or exclusion
  • Focus on teachers, teachers, teachers
  • Communality in strategies to strengthen the education opportunities of minority, migrant and refugee groups
  • Commitment, dedication, patience and persistence

A simple exercise at the end of the day called ‘a letter to the Minister’ immediately demonstrated that knowing what is needed is one thing, realizing it is another. But after four days, we are ready to approach the last day where we will focus on transitions and next steps with shared values and a shared inspiration!

Posted by: Gerben Van Lent
Executive director for Knowledge Management,
Market Support and Governance at ETS GLOBAL

Day 3 “Only the sun rises for free”

On the third day, predicted to be the only day with sunshine during the seminar, coincidentally the focus was on finance. A number of things were immediately made clear; we are discussing funding, effective and efficient spending and accountability. Nothing helps better to understand a situation than what I would call some ‘in your face’ facts, so herewith a handful:

What does it tell you when:
  • 70% of the poor are not in low income countries
  • An authority spends more on prisons than on schools
  • the poorer you are the less is spent per pupil
  • Aid pays up to 50% of teacher salaries
  • Per 1 financial unit that comes from aid, 1.5 comes from remittance and 6.5 from south-south trade
  • For achieving literacy for everyone you cut costs by using ‘barefoot’ teachers and manage to achieve your initial goal and then you make the next step
  • The weakest regions refuse aid, because the conditions set cannot be met because these are the weakest regions
To borrow another term from the financial world another lesson of today could be to get the balance right. Find and/or fight for the right mix of financial support from federal governments, local governments, civic society pressure, legal action, community contributions private funding and/or aid without staying fixed on the traditional way of funding whatever form that currently takes. It is interesting to note that e.g. where in one country cost cutting takes place at the local government level and one looks successfully or not to the federal government for support, in other countries federal governments cut budgets and expect local governments to address the consequences. 

From China came an interesting example of implementation of finance policies over a period of more than 15 years based on evolving goals, monitoring of effects, learning from mistakes and pressure from communities and experts to change, leading currently to a division between local government and central government funding that is differentiated across regions and aspects (tuition fees subsidies, infrastructure, text books, effectiveness and efficiency measures in spending, etc.) 

Besides the right balance of current finance streams a number of suggestions can be made to look for developing and inclusion of other forms of financing of which a few are: Bond financing,  Voluntary consumer contributions, Earmarked taxes, Debt swaps, Impact investing. 

The challenge for education is to become more visible again and be ahead of the curve instead of being bogged down in amongst other conservatism, lack of innovation and lack of risk taking. More visibility also would help to make the case for including Education as part of broader innovative financing such as health, community development etc. These suggestions can only be successfully advocated if accountability and transparency of spending improves.

To finish on a cultural metaphor: During the late afternoon visit to the Mozart house in Salzburg, a small performance was given on the original pianoforte on which Mozart had played. The keyboard was smaller and the white and black keys were reversed, because at that time ebony wood was much cheaper than ivory. The music played however was just as beautiful…

Posted by: Gerben Van Lent
Executive director for Knowledge Management,
Market Support and Governance at ETS GLOBAL

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Day 2 ‘We are producing a lot of sound together’

A large and a small animal cross a bridge, says the small one smilingly to the large one: ‘We are producing a lot of sound together’

Today saw a constant switching between very successful examples of making a difference on a limited scale and introducing possible models and structures on a system level to help define direction and priorities: from the teacher, feeling motivated because she/he achieved a breakthrough with a struggling student to a tentative framework for Early Childhood Care and Development that potentially touch the lives of a billion children. On this day the theme of ‘What children should know and be able to do and become’ functioned as organizing principle for introductions and discussions about providing the best possible start for children, what children need to learn, how to help them to learn, how data and assessment can inform us about progress being made and how to include the voice of the student in his/her development.

From seemingly incompatible starting positions whether socially, culturally or structurally some elements surfaced that could be condensation points for a possible direction.
  • Education is not an isolated activity. Especially in early childhood development,  in socially disadvantaged settings and in the linking to the world of work, initiatives can be more successful and get more support if they are embedded in a wider context 
  • Putting a matrix together could help select/use strategies that ‘work’ elsewhere.
  • Literacy at an early age is critical for success. A worldwide finding is that lack of vocabulary has a negative impact on learning
  • Focus on the teacher seems crucial in enabling successful learning
  • Goals should be ‘relative’:
    - education prepares students for situations that don’t exist yet
    - focusing more on having everyone achieving a minimum level can be more effective for a country than increasing the level of top performance
    - how to link global objectives to local challenges for the disadvantaged
  • Education should embed the notion of lifelong learning from the start
In one presentation it was stated that ‘education is as complex as a human being’. This makes us look like psychotherapists that have to strike the right balance between analytical therapies that take a long time but allow the ‘patient’ to change behavior on the basis of a thorough insight in oneself and behavioral therapies where through protocolled actions ‘the patient’ learns to start behaving differently.

Posted by: Gerben Van Lent
Executive director for Knowledge Management,
Market Support and Governance at ETS GLOBAL

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Daily Reports: Closing the Mobility Gaps in Education Worldwide (Day 1)

Day 1:  ‘ … and the snow started to fall …’
At the start it sounds so deceivingly transparent what to concentrate on: Optimizing Talent: Closing Educational and Social Mobility Gaps Worldwide. This sense of transparency stays during Michael Nettles opening words in which he clearly sets out objectives and approach:
  • Identify gaps and why gaps are persistent and even seem to grow
  • Develop strategies
  • Create a vehicle to operationalize these strategies
Four perspectives:
  • a. Finance
  • b. Curriculum
  • c. Policy and Politics
  • d. Transitions

However once the program truly kicks off, the complexity and interwovenness within the context of education and in connection with other societal challenges becomes immediately apparent. Listed here are just ten of the many issues raised in the first group exchange:
  1. Is education competing for attention with other ‘big issues’ or should it be positioned as the underlying and correlated driver implying that investment in education addresses more or less directly other problems in society?
  2. How can we make the positive effects of education improvement visible if the world is focused increasingly on short time success?
  3. Even if more funds become available, redistribution is a key issue because currently those who need it most seem to have least access to it
  4. How do you strike a balance in producing enough talent to meet the immediate needs to support growing economies with education of the ‘masses’ which in the mid-term might be the largest contributing factor to the growth of GDP
  5. What is the benefit if you invest in education but there are no jobs for those who finish school or successful students leave their communities behind.
  6. How can you ensure that a policy change that might be positive (longer compulsory education) doesn’t create risks that completely undercut the aim of the policy (huge increased need for teachers, classrooms, books)
  7. Is there a balance to be found between the solutions that experts provide, the voice of the learners and the commitment of the parents?
  8. How can we defend the public good of education and the commitment to prepare learners for live against anti-intellectualism, utility focus and narrowly defined return on investment perspectives?
  9. Do we want and can we effectively transform ‘learn first-then work’ model to ‘initial learning – lifelong learning’ model?
  10. To make ‘all this’ manageable, the expert participants are challenged to isolate the major factors, present how they break it down, identify what the major contributions to change are and then try to come to consensus at the right aggregate level
In the next few days there will be a continuous tension between diverging on one hand in respecting the many facets of the topic and the expertise represented and converging on the other hand to be able to meet the objectives stated and to start formulating a ‘Salzburg Strategy’ that can function as a catalyst. The start of the seminar coincided with the first snow falling. However the snow disappeared as soon as it hit the ground. The evening followed with more snow, producing a thin white blanket covering the ground. The next few days when we will look up to the mountains we will see them clad in white. A nice metaphor indicating we started to exchange our first ideas -vulnerable and easy to dissolve - and in the next few days we have to rise in order to achieve a more robust response to the challenges we formulated…

Posted by: Gerben Van Lent
Executive director for Knowledge Management,
Market Support and Governance at ETS GLOBAL

Monday, December 5, 2011

'The hills come alive with the sound of ....'

Two days before the Seminar starts one more contribution to sharpen our minds for the days to come: The abstract of the seminar begins as follows: While education is essential for an individual to realize his or her true potential, ideally an equitable and effective education system also facilitates social mobility and leads to the development and increased prosperity of societies as a whole. Great strides have been made in providing enhanced access for children and young adults to education worldwide, but substantial gaps remain.

The quotes below taken from introductory papers illustrate huge risks that these ‘remaining’ gaps could be in effect indicators of deterioration rather than success:

• Education improves constantly and adapts to environmental changes, but the world of work changes faster asking for more;
• Through their social and home environment the higher social groups in society manage to keep the pace, leaving the lower groups behind;
• Continuously the most vulnerable groups in society are not reached by the educational aid that is made available thereby depriving the poorest of increasing their human capital.

Dylan Wiliam states in his paper: So if young people are so intelligent, and the teaching in public schools is at least as good as that in private schools, why is that employers are so unhappy? The answer is simple. Schools have improved, but the changes in the world of work have been even more extraordinary.

Jo Ritzen starts his paper by saying: The contribution of education to equality of opportunity is decreasing, because education adapts slower to the increasing complexities of our societies than the home and social environment of the upper class and the upper part of the middle class.

Birger Fredriksen summarizes: Human capital is often the only capital the poor can acquire. Therefore, the lack of progress on the neglected EFA goals has a disproportionate large negative effect on the life chances and social mobility of the poor.

The gauntlet has been thrown…
Posted by: Gerben Van Lent