Policy Borrowing Ineffective in Improving Education Systems


A leading educational expert has warned governments against cherry picking and policy borrowing while devising strategies for improving education systems.

Tim Oates CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) is the man behind the overhaul of the National Curriculum in England and has been a policy advisor to the UK government for many years. He is currently group director of assessment research & development at Cambridge Assessment.

His comments came at the launch of A Cambridge Approach to Improving Education, a culmination of detailed study and research into ways of improving education. The Cambridge Approach is a guide to deliberations on policy formation and aims to encourage national policy makers to take into account numerous factors that affect education systems across the globe.

The Cambridge Approach highlights 14 ‘control factors’ and six ‘explanatory factors’ that can be used to “hold a mirror up” to education systems, from pedagogy to accountability and curriculum content, and from culture to political structures.

Oates said simply borrowing an education policy did not guarantee results. “There is a long list of things in education that have failed because they did not take account of national context and national culture,” he said. “The thing I would say to anyone who feels that there is an ineluctable historical process which leads inevitably to high performance once you have started improving your educational systems is just look at Finland.”

Finland has garnered accolades for its educational reforms and successes for years, but its recent performance in Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has been less than satisfactory.

Singular Strategy

Oates also said that there was no single solution to a nation’s educational challenges, adding the “myopia of single models” had to be avoided. He also cautioned policy makers to avoid trying strategies that had already failed. “Just as one country abandons something, another country thinks it’s going to be the saving grace of its education system,” the CBE said.

Oates said constant monitoring and evaluation was needed to ensure that an education system produced desired results.

Chair of the event, Policy Exchange Head of Education and Social Reform John Blake, said, “What’s interesting in the Cambridge Approach is that the answer is ultimately no, we shouldn’t be cherry picking, we shouldn’t be simply going around the world picking up on different things and desperately applying them. We need to take seriously the historical contexts and the value systems of other comparable jurisdictions and think very carefully about our own before we implement it.”

We think consulting A Cambridge Approach to Improving Education is a must for public and private policy makers in the Pakistani education system. Despite multiple systems running in parallel across the country, Pakistan has remained far away from the league of countries that rank high for offering the quality education. Case studies of successful overhauls of education systems by Finland, Singapore and England provide great insight to anyone looking for effective measures to improve the standard of education. Let’s hope the educational powers that be heed.

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