Friday, February 20, 2009

Evidence Based Education

Evidence based education is the new buzzword in education. It shares an acronym similar to OBE but is remarkably different in its approach to teaching. We need to be careful in engaging in more edubabble.

At face value it sounds much like common sense. From what I have read it can be summed up as following: "Systemic change in education should only occur with valid, statistically supported evidence." Today, where information is so easily shared there is no excuse for implementing blanket change without scientifically verified support (note that I don't say pseudo-scientific).

You can imagine some resistance from teachers as this sounds that it might take any chance of introducing new ideas/methods into the classroom. To my mind it is hard to argue against a process that ensures that the majority of what teachers do is tried and tested (if it fails, it is easier to detect why) and new ideas are limited to a small portion of the curriculum/pedagogy.

The prescribed evidence based methods would be imbued at teacher training programmes. This ensures that the majority of teachers perform at least at a minimum standard by being educated in tried and true methods. Higher risk alternative strategies or optimisation strategies would only be used as an adjunct to the tried methods.

As a parent you would not want your child subject to scientifically unsound/unproven educational methods. But.. with proof comes a necessity for time to find proof and judge what level of proof is required. This is not conducive to the immediate political needs for success in education. The issue it brings to mind is, "can the need for evidence march at the pace required for results?" ..and will the need for results and commercial lobbying compromise any findings made to the point of irrelevancy. I suggest this irrelevancy and bastardisation of results is exactly what will happen.

Change of this type would take at least 15 years to develop content, rotate in new teachers, start new students on their 12 year journey and develop change management processes to effectively monitor progress. Can you imagine a minister standing up and saying we will start the process now and if a subsequent government doesn't mess with it, we will have a good educational results in 2024? The long term nature of education is a good reason to divorce it from political imperatives and place it into a vehicle responsible to government via regulated requirements. I imagine this was first intended with the Curriculum council or SEA.

OBE was an opportunity for teaching to become a true profession again with each teacher becoming a curriculum expert for a given range of students. For those trained in the concept and with the necessary horsepower and support to use it, OBE is a wonderful curriculum development tool. Unfortunately the poor implementation of OBE, the tangling of cooperative learning with OBE and issues with assessment/levelling made it an unmitigated disaster in WA.
Despite this it still would be a mistake to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

EBE is the pendulum swinging and brings a new range of opportunities with the pressure of performance on teachers falling back to professional curriculum writers and systemic decision makers. It too needs to be taken with care until any evidence of success justifies the hype.

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