I had the opportunity in July to attend and present at the 6th annual International Symposium on Education Reform held in South Africa. It was a wonderful experience on many different levels. Delegates from South Africa, the United Kingdom, Finland, and the United States were able to talk about some of the major reforms occuring and being considered in their respective countries. While any attempt to summarize the events and dialogue of the symposium would be futile, I believe there were a few major themes that emerged and worth noting here. All of the participating delegations noted varying degrees of consideration and/or implemenation of education reforms in their countries involving decentralization, democratic decision-making, attempts to make bureucracies operate more efficiently, and minimizing the effects of inequity on children’s scholastic achievement. A brief description of these themes follows.
- Decentralization: The delegations talked of shifts in their nations of how accountability and decision-making authority are conceptualized. Across nations, it appeared to evident that decision-making authority is being devolved to the school building level.
- Democratic decision-making: Across nations, conversations dealt with the issue of engaging constituencies that have traditionally been external to schools, including parents, businesses, and non-parent community members. Engagement of these constituencies through school governing councils, parent-teacher organizations, and school outreach efforts were discussed, and the effectiveness of such strategies was also considered.
- Bureaucracy: The questions of making bureaucracies operate more efficiently was a major theme of conversations. Striking, was the degree of similarity between the bureucratic structures of systems around the world. Questions in these discussions centered on identifying and reducing redundancy in school bureaucracies, and reconsidering the positioning of human resources that have been placed in “central officies.”
- Minimizing the Effects of Inequity: Delegates discussed and considered strategies for the minimizing the effects of racial and economic inequity on student learning. Delegates aknowledged the indisputable reality that across the globe, families’ socio-economic statuses and parents’ educational levels factor significantly into students’ learning. They spent considerable time discussing strategies that hold promise for mitigating those factors.