It would take you a bit more than ankle-deep wet into the academic world to realize that Chinese humanities are enjoying somewhat of a golden age. I saw first glimpses on a 2018 essay by Sonoma State Dean Dr. Hollis Robbins. She claims to have witnessed what will amount to “a real challenge to the academic study of [the U.S.] own literature.” Diverse backgrounds, freedom from Western academic fashion, and the undeniable strategic advantages of intimate knowledge of the adversary, are some of the main forces driving a prosperous and rising trend in both volume and quality of researchers and output, focusing on the Chinese and American societies, but casting a wide net overall.
It was only a matter of time before education systems, today more aptly called National Hybrid Learning Systems in some countries, were subject to thorough review. Released last may, “School of golden touch? A study of school effectiveness in improving student academic performance” provides 30 years worth of academic output on the success of educational systems. The implications on elearning, as systems transition into a new hybrid normal, are necessarily unclear. But the socioeconomic principles underlying the system will continue to be as decisive as ever. If not more: A basic infrastructure, a cohesive social network, and abundance of development opportunities demand new reflections on aspects such as inclusiveness and social rates of return.
№1. At the national level, quality of education is a matter of budget
№1. At the national level, quality of education is a matter of budget. Plain and simple. Time and again, rankings on quality of schools and educational achievement. By country and within countries. They are invariably rankings of economic power. The real value of rankings, as we have argued before, is not found at the top, but among countries with a similar or lower level of income per capita, ranking higher than yours.
At first look, China comes out as exemplary, as the only low-income country in the rankings. We’ll see how, while laudable, it might not be the success story we’re being told.
№2. There are ways to make education spending more effective. (Within a stripe.)
Be wary of technologies (and elearning technologies, to be sure) that can guarantee results in the most impoverished places. There might be an insight that could make them useful, don’t get me wrong. But just like apps require phones, and phones require electricity and internet connection, learning brains need nourishment and sleep.
And thanks to the inequal world we’re living in, some places —large metro areas mostly— have more resources than they know to do with. Or better said: Resources whose marginal impact are so low they barely make a difference on well-off students and communities.
Of course, most solutions cannot begin to be thoughtfully described without the word “redistribution” coming to mind. So even in the most accepting societies inequality will remain mostly in full force.
№3. Longer schooling is better. But what does “longer” mean?
Definitely any length that does not prevent kids from having plenty of sleep.
While research continuously supports the idea that longer schooling is beneficial, I believe little scrutiny goes to how actual schedules look like, and the contexts in which they work:
- Starting school earlier in life. Good if the children living conditions are precarious. We’re talking once again about nourishment, but also about stimulating environments. Plenty of families, even in the middle class, can provide better early age environments for their children. Generous parental leave helps.
- Staying in school longer throughout the year. Summer school programs can be beneficial, but as before, as long as they are better than what the home and family setting can offer.
- Staying in school for longer stretches of the day. A pattern emerges. If the value of the afterschool program is worth it, it might be worth to invest public funds in it.
№4. Universal access = higher national income. Top ranking schools = innovation and influence
Another important difference that most systems, and national system assessment tools, don’t seem to take into account. Priorities tend to reflect the stage of development of an education system in terms of their economic impact. With few resources, the optimal strategy appears to be to focus on a few good cases, that perhaps become inspirational. When the nation realizes education can increase the national output, the focus switches over standards and governance boards.