A colleague of great experience in both TEFL and the UK education system, and whose opinion I greatly respect, once asserted that TEFL was at the forefront of educational experimentation and research, formenting new pedagogical techniques and ideas and pushing the boundaries of what is meant and expected by the terms “teaching” and “learning”. State educational systems, by and large, are forever caught up in the bureaucracy that attempts to administer, manage, measure and standardise them. Reaction times are correspondingly slower. Whether this is a fair comparison or not, I’m not sure.
The characterisation of state education systems as monolithic and unwieldy is perhaps a cliche. I’ve met some incredibly innovative, energetic and creative teachers working within their national state education systems. Possibly the difference is highlighted better in the following video – taken from the excellent BBC series “The Blue Planet”:
In this metaphor, the state is represented by the Sei Whale and the rest of us by the tuna. We have broadly the same goals and generally get there in the end – we just approach things in a slightly different way. This does unfortunately leave the learners cast in the role of the sardines, desperately trying to escape and be left to get on with their lives without too much further education taking place….
The internet has allowed teachers to connect with like minded individuals in ways not previously possible. In simple terms we don’t have to suffer in silence in a corner of the staffroom just waiting to have the eagerness extracted from you in the drudgery of daily routine. You can find and share ideas with people who think like you do. We can and have created these “Communities of Practice“.
That’s why I think one vital factor in The Economist’s Reforming education: The great schools revolution article has been overlooked. Governments might be learning from each other and “drawing on examples of good practice from around the world”, but governments don’t educate people. Teachers do.
I can see there is a role for governments in setting standards and goals to be attained. After all, if you take your car to the mechanic and he messes about for three weeks before handing you back you still un-fixed car, you aren’t going to be best pleased and I see no reason why the same principle shouldn’t be true in education.
I just can’t help but feel that the majority of good teaching in the world takes place despite the management systems set up in oversight – not because of it.