Strive to prioritize quality over quantity – a common challenge for schools around the world, according to new book

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Researchers analyze nine countries to identify common challenges and solutions to holistic school reform

BUFFALO, NY — School reform is a challenge facing nations around the world, each taking its own approach to improving the quality of education within its borders. A new book explores how nine countries are addressing the issue of inequality in education, sharing a critical analysis of school reform policies employed across five continents.

The book, “Centering Whole Child Development in Global Education Reform: International Perspectives on Education Equity and Quality Agendasexplores the cultural, social, and political factors that drive or inhibit the success of holistic school reform initiatives. The text identifies common challenges faced by countries around the world – from underprepared teachers to siled government agencies – and will help scholars support global efforts to improve holistic and equitable education.

Published in May, the book is co-edited by Jaekyung Lee, PhD, professor of counseling, school and educational psychology at the University at Buffalo Graduate School of Education, and Kenneth K. Wong, PhD, Walter and Leonore Annenberg Chair for Education Policy at Brown University.

“There is a saying that it takes a whole village to raise a child. Our premise is that it takes a whole system to raise a whole child,” says Lee. “The fundamental principle is that we need systemic reform to promote the well-being of all children alongside traditional measures of educational achievement.”

Nations analyzed in the book include Chile, Ethiopia, France, Nepal, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, United States and Vietnam.

According to Lee, one of the main challenges for countries is the focus on the quantity of education that children receive, rather than the quality. Low-income countries – as defined by the World Health Organization – such as Ethiopia and Nepal, focus on achieving universal primary education with high rates of literacy and numeracy; and middle-income countries, such as Chile, South Africa and Vietnam, strive to provide universal secondary education and vocational training; while high-income countries, including France, Singapore, South Korea and the United States, have universal education but prioritize academics over school programs dedicated to whole child development.

“Countries are at different stages of development and have different cultures and backgrounds, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution,” Wong says. “Once you focus more on how many years children have been in school, you lose sight of what’s going on inside the classroom. When governments focus on achievement, less attention is paid to overall child development.

Another common challenge is the extent to which educators are unprepared to teach soft skills and critical thinking that may not be necessary for the curriculum but are essential for children to succeed in society. Government agencies were also found to work in silos, although health care and socio-economic well-being each play an important role in child development and upbringing.

Each country also faced issues of equity in education, with gaps existing between racial or ethnic majorities and minorities, urban and rural communities, and high and low income families.

The solutions adopted by each nation vary. Chile has worked to reform its education system from a market-driven approach that allowed school choice to a community-based school model, alleviating the inequality created by wealthy families concentrating resources in selected schools. France is tackling growing socio-economic inequalities by concentrating funding for schools in disadvantaged and very poor areas.

“When we talk about equity in education, it used to be about access. Now we should focus more on quality. Even though disadvantaged children go to school, there are still a lot of inequalities in the quality of teachers and the learning opportunities offered,” says Lee. “The integral development of the child is a fundamental human right. We must go beyond academic skills so that students not only survive, but thrive in a rapidly changing global society. They also need socio-emotional, vocational and life skills. The bottom line is that education reform must be systemic to ensure equity and quality.

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