(English) Moving an Education System from … from poor to fair, fair to good, good to great, and great to excellent

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Moving an Education System from … from poor to fair, fair to good, good to great, and great to excellent.

Greg Cairnduff, M Ed, BA, Dip Ed, MACE, Deputy Managing Editor

When one looks at the international league tables of high performing systems as judged by such assessments as the OECD’s Performance Indicators of Student Achievement [PISA] and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) developed by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), it is possible to look at the high performing systems and discern what it is that puts them head and shoulders above other systems.

This web site has frequently referred to the international studies of the highest performing systems and the high performers in Asia – Singapore, Shanghai Hong Kong Japan and South Korea.

The McKinsey Reports [1] for example,  have been highly influential in raising the profile of the elements which bring about high performance in systems. The reports continue to monitor what some systems are doing to lift their performance often from a very low base to being in the middle of the international pack of systems on a demonstrable improvement trajectory.

The reports shine guiding lights on the way forward for countries trying so hard to become internationally competitive.

Student Centred Learning Thailand has as its core purpose the goal of being a constructive contributor in assisting Thai teachers, Thai schools and the Thai education system, to reform and improve performance against international standards. This is a long term, but not impossible task.

The most recent McKinsey report,  How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better”[2] examines 20 systems the research makes a unique contribution to this critical global agenda. The report is highly relevant to Thailand as it builds on the landmark 2007 study, How the World’s Best Performing Systems Come Out on Top. The latest report analyses 20 systems from around the world, all with improving but differing levels of performance, examining how each has achieved significant, sustained, and widespread gains in student outcomes, as measured by international and national assessments.

The systems examined did not contain many of the previously well known performers such as Finland, but contained the following systems Armenia, Aspire (a U.S. charter school system), Boston (Massachusetts), Chile, England, Ghana, Hong Kong, Jordan, Latvia, Lithuania, Long Beach (California), Madhya Pradesh (India), Minas Gerais (Brazil), Ontario (Canada), Poland, Saxony (Germany), Singapore, Slovenia, South Korea, and Western Cape (South Africa).

Based on more than 200 interviews with system stakeholders and analysis of some 600 interventions carried out by these systems, this report identifies the reform elements that are replicable for school systems elsewhere as they move from poor to fair to good to great to excellent performance.

It is the analysis of how these systems are moving that is relevant to Thai schools, teachers and educational leaders. What the researchers found was that six interventions occur with equal frequency across all the improvement journeys, though manifesting differently in each one.

The six interventions are:

  • revising curriculum and standards,
  • ensuring an appropriate reward and remuneration  structure for teachers and principals,
  • building the technical skills of teachers and principals,
  • assessing students,
  • establishing data systems,
  • facilitating the improvement journey through the publication of policy documents and implementation of education laws.

I would ask Thai teachers to look at their school and their local clusters of schools and ask how many of these six interventions are evident in Thailand? The answers will give an indication of how Thailand is going with its reform agenda.

There is much food for thought and action by educational leaders in the findings of the  report . In the future we will provide some practical examples of what can be done at the school, district and system level to give Thailand the educational lift it is seeking.

Greg Cairnduff, October 2012

Greg is Director of the Australian International School of Bangkok


[1] McKinsey and Company, OECD Paris  2007, 2009, 2012

[2] McKinsey and Company, How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better” Barber, Chijioke, Mourshed, London, 2012   


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