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How Prof Hattie’s research faults government’s education policies

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By Dayo Adesulu

WOrld leading education expert Professor John Hattie has questioned some of the key reform policies pursued by governments in the last 20 years. Hattie’s research promises to be useful for education policy makers in Nigeria, who are tasked with the significant duty of improving Nigeria’s struggling education system.

John Hattie in his report states that “school choice, teacher performance pay and reducing class sizes are part of a “politics of distraction”. The papers are published by Pearson as part of its “Open Ideas” series, in which independent experts from around the world provide their views on the big, unanswered questions in education.

In his report, Professor John Hattie expressed that; “Despite the best of intentions, education has become fraught with the politics of distraction, most drawing us away from the critical work at hand. That is, ensuring that each student makes at least one year’s worth of progress for one year’s worth of effort. If we truly want to improve student learning, it is vital that we shift our narrative about teaching and learning away from these distractions, and begin the critical work of building up collaborative expertise in our schools and education systems.”

Hattie continues by questioning widespread government focus on policies including longer school days, teacher performance pay, and reducing class sizes all of which he says are less important than the variability in education outcomes and teacher effectiveness within any school.

In the first report, titled What Doesn’t Work in Education: the Politics of Distraction Hattie calls out a number of popular, but low impact, policy “distractors”, describing; Longer school days as lengthening the school day or year, a very expensive fix and is shown to have little effect, as there is no positive correlation between instructional time and student achievement.

Hattie goes to describe performance pay as compensating teachers based on performance alone, is proven to only increase stress levels, while decreasing enthusiasm. He rationalises that a better solution is increased pay for increased expertise or helping fellow teachers improve their skills.

In smaller class sizes the evidence shows that teachers tend not to change their teaching approach, regardless of class size; therefore smaller classrooms do not have as much of an impact as anticipated.

Hattie continued that technology as a magic bullet, is mostly used in the classroom as yet another way for students to consume facts and knowledge. In order to have a transformational impact on teaching and learning, as such, technology needs to be seen as a tool to support teachers.

In choice of school, Hattie also states that too much attention is paid to the differences between schools, when the evidence shows that the greater issue is the difference within schools, particularly the variability among teachers.

Hattie thus closes that the classroom that a student is assigned to within a school matters more than the school itself. Studies show teacher education programmes have among the lowest overall impact of all the influences on student achievement. Instead, more focus should be placed on the first year of full-time classroom teaching, which is where the greatest learning happens for teachers.

Muthar Bakare, Managing Director Pearson Nigeria, in commenting on the insightful reports expressed that; “New technologies and innovations give us an unprecedented opportunity to bring quality learning solutions to the world’s most vulnerable children and with the right focus, remote communities in Nigeria and across Africa will be important beneficiaries”.

He said: “By convening development professionals, innovators and businesses at the Activate Talks, Unicef UK and Pearson, hope to broker a conversation that builds partnerships and develops solutions that contribute to the goal of giving the world’s most marginalised children the education they deserve”.

Professor Hattie, is an education expert at the University of Melbourne who has dedicated his career to opening up the “black box” of learning, challenges policymakers around the world to re-evaluate their strategies for improving learning using the available evidence on what does and doesn’t work in education.

Hattie asserts in his report that “it is our obligation to provide every student with at least one year of learning progress for one year of input, regardless of their academic achievement level when they begin”. He further identifies within-school variability – most critically, the variability in the effectiveness of teachers within any given school – as a fundamental problem to be addressed.

Building on Hattie’s world-renowned Visible Learning work, which examines the relative impact of various education interventions on student learning, Hattie shows that many of our most politically popular structural fixes, such as school choice or reduced class size, are simply “distractors”they have had little impact on student learning despite costing billions of dollars. The evidence tells us that a much higher impact strategy is to develop a culture of “collaborative expertise” in our schools and systems.

In his second report titled, What Works Best in Education: the Politics of Collaborative Expertise, Hattie further lays out a series of tasks designed to reduce the problem of within-school variability by seeking out and scaling up teacher expertise.

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