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Regular version of the site

About Global Leadership and Education

On September 10th the first after- summer seminar ‘Actual Research and Developments in Education’, took place as organized by the HSE Institute for Educational Studies Sir Michael Barber, member of the HSE International Advisory Committee, spoke on ‘Oceans of Innovation: the Atlantic, the Pacific, Global Leadership and the Future of Education’.

Oceans of Innovation

Sir Michael Barber is Chief Education Adviser to Pearson Company, and head of a global research programme on education policy and its influence on academic achievements. The seminar in which he participated was dedicated to discussing how and to where global leadership in education is shifting. The interest in this topic in Russia is very high, proved by the crowded room as well as participation by high governmental officials from the RF Ministry of Education and Science.

The world today is facing a number of almost unsolvable tasks: to provide food for the nine billion people who will inhabit the planet by 2050, to overcome poverty, to eliminate conflicts, and to sustain the environment… ‘Countries cannot face all these challenges alone: serious solutions demand reliable global leadership’, Sir Michael Barber believes. But who should it be?  G8 or G20? Or even G0 – when there is no leader at all?

Over the last thousand years, global shifts in leadership have often taken place. The global economy ‘center of gravity’ which arose in the East, moved to the West (and recent world history reflects this), but starting from the 1950s it started to swing back to the Asian Pacific region.

According to the speaker, countries become global leaders thanks to their ability to find and implement the innovations necessary for their economic growth.  Education plays a major role here. In ten years 30 percent of all university graduates will come from China. Seven out of the top ten countries participating in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) are Asian Pacific countries.

On the one hand, this statistic proves the global leadership should go to Asian Pacific countries. But is the region ready to take this burden? According to Sir Michael Barber, no, it is not ready. A powerful state machine administrated by a competent bureaucracy, a dominating governmental apparatus together with a culture of deep respect for the state, may be useful, but not enough for global leadership. This worked in the 20th century, but the 21st century requires innovations and a special environment for them. Asian Pacific countries will need to change their educational systems.

What should the new century’s education look like? Knowledge plus thinking plus leadership underpinned by ethics – this is the formula for success in education as promoted by Sir Michael Barber’s team.

In Asian Pacific countries, students receive excellent knowledge. Japanese, Chinese and Korean school students learn mathematics and physics perfectly, and also reach high levels of achievement in foreign languages. These countries’ results in TIMSS are good proof of this.

But as regards thinking, it is more complicated. PISA partly measures a child’s ability to think and apply knowledge in new and extraordinary situations. And here Russia’s results, for example, are somewhat poorer. How do we teach a child to think? ‘A person needs critical thinking, deductive mathematical thinking, free creative thinking, team thinking, as well as the ability to think and reach solutions under pressure and in the shortest time available’.

Leadership is an ability to influence other people and stand up for one’s point of view. According to the speaker, teaching leadership to Asian school students is particularly difficult. Young Japanese, Chinese and Koreans need to digress from rote-learning and pay attention to critical analysis.  At the very least, 21st-century-education needs a universal ethical basis. People should understand each other, respect other cultures and acknowledge the values of other ethnic and religious groups.

But before implementing this formula and these ideas in children’s education, it is necessary to create a special environment to support the work of the educational system.

First, universal standards of an effective educational system are necessary. Second, the human capital in education should be of high quality.  Teachers should be educated and motivated. And third, a clear and transparent organizational system is foundational for such a system.

According to Sir Michael Barber, the global problem of education development is complicated by disagreement among experts and politicians on this issue. For example, many experts are involved in hot debates about school standards. They cannot agree which is more important for studies: the teacher or the technology. Some people believe that the best education is provided at public schools, while others say that the future belongs to private schools. But those are false dichotomies, and that’s why it is necessary to try to take the best from different ideas and to think through the strategy of reform implementation.

At the end of his presentation, Sir Michael Barber said that the current situation gives Asian Pacific countries a chance to become the center of global leadership. Japanese, Korean and Chinese achievements in economics and education over the last 50 years are striking. But in order to respond to future challenges, to find solutions for the existing problems, and to really become the global leaders, the Asian Pacific region needs innovations which will be able to positively transform educational systems in its countries.

According to Igor Fedukin, Deputy Minister of Education and Science of the RF, who was one of the discussants,  humanity is very likely to produce revolutions: ‘Probably, the presentiment of global changes, which Michael Barber is talking about, reflects the uncertainty which prevails in the world today and which is a bit sharper than usual’. But what does the shift of the global economic center of gravity to Asian Pacific region really mean? What can it mean for Russia? What are the mechanisms of the ongoing changes?

The second debater, Isak Froumin, Academic Supervisor of the HSE Institute for Educational Studies, mentioned that if Sir Michael Barber’s formula were implemented only partially, if knowledge were supplemented by thinking and leadership but not underpinned by ethics, ‘we shall arrive nowhere’. Another important question for Russia is: can we, not being an economic leader, be a leader in educational culture?

Viktor Bolotov, Vice President of the Russian Academy of Education, mentioned that along with many other professionals in Russia, he hates the word ‘innovation’: ‘We have drowned this word in empty talk. Our new standards talk about ethics, thinking and leadership. And there are even many reports that the new standards have already been implemented! But all we have is imitation and profanation of innovation implementation.’

According to Irina Abankina, Director of the Institute for Educational Studies, ‘the speaker mentioned the drivers of global shifts and leadership. But there are also anti-drivers, they exist and they are very powerful. Today we see a massive counteraction to any reforms, a preference to preserve the status quo. Hence there is this feeling that we are moving not to progress, but to regression… We really see the false dichotomies mentioned by Michael Barber, but it is far more difficult to combine them into one in reality than to talk about the idea in a discussion’.

Alina Ivanova, specially for the HSE News Service

See also:

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Per Aspera — But Headed Where?

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