What is the relationship between the education system and an emergency room?

What is the relationship between the education system and an emergency room?

Javier Luque 22 abril 2016 Comments

Written by Javier Luque


The New York Times published an article titled “A sea of change in heart attack treatment”  describing a decline of 38% in the death rate from coronary disease among Americans. Surprisingly, this was achieved without new medical discoveries, no new technologies, no payment incentives, and little public notice. The answer: a series of changes in procedures that slashed the time it took to clear a blockage in a patient’s arteries and get blood flowing again. Additionally, the decline was observed  both in elite hospitals and the poorest medical centers.


As I read the article, I could not help but ask myself: what could we, as professionals involved in the education sector, learn from this story? What if we improved the treatment of students with the same sense of urgency that patients with failing hearts are treated by the health system? Below, I describe five lessons that could be incorporated to boost student results inspired by these improvements in a place as unexpected as an emergency room.

Lesson 1: Identify top performers to extract lessons

From the beginning, cardiologists agreed that long delays between heart attacks and medical interventions have a huge influence on the patients’ survival rates. However, the true extent of delays was not realized until a national database on the topic was created, which allowed to pinpoint the top performing hospitals. Once these hospitals were identified, common practices among them emerged.

Several education systems in Latin America have made efforts to develop information to assess school performance, but the focus has been on average results rather than on identifying top performers. In some countries, authorities recognize top performing schools, but little effort has been made to identify their practices, losing an opportunity to gather knowledge to improve our education systems.

Lesson 2: Maximize and improve use of available data

Hospitals used to gather information about patients, but it wasn’t used in an efficient way. Despite being available, it was not promptly shared with those who could effectively use it. Top performing hospitals realized possible ways to improve the use of information, revolutionizing the process of information sharing among users, emergency rooms, and doctors.

In the education sector around the world, large volumes of data are being produced (from student results to enrollment rates and so on). However, significant gaps still exist between data collection and its effective use. For example, in Honduras, the national test is taken in November and the results reach schools at the beginning of April, when it is too late to use them to provide remedial support for the children who need it, or to make necessary arrangements in terms of teacher deployment.

Lesson 3: Make the decision-making process more effective

A decisive change that allowed hospitals’ response times to be reduced was the reorganization of the decision-making flows in the emergency rooms. Previous protocols required specialists to approve procedures, even if this meant that they had to be reached on the phone at 3AM.  Not surprisingly, although most requests were cleared, yet scarce time was lost.

This redefinition of the decision-making processes is, in a way, similar to the decentralization process currently in place in several education systems. Many decisions require multiple levels of approval that, unfortunately, add more time and little value. For example, all the paperwork and administrative time that a school has to process to buy a simple broom exceeds exponentially the direct cost of that broom. Besides, schools tend to solve those problems by themselves by the time the paperwork is solved.

Lesson 4: Open discussion of results as a quality control

The changes implemented in heart attack treatment were, in most cases, driven by common sense and involved very little cost, but their application still sparked debate. Some studies claimed that death rates did not go down as a result of shorter times of treatment. Evidence was revised, and the consensus reemerged stronger.

Similarly, education policy is not exempt of debate. In several cases, rigorous experiments show different results for similar interventions, making it hard to reach consensus. Nonetheless, once evidence is revised, consensuses can be reached. For example, evaluations of ICT in the classroom produced mixed results, leading to further examination on their impact in learning. Nowadays, the consensus is that effective ICT interventions require proper teacher training.

Lesson 5: Understand the sense of urgency

With coronary disease being the leading cause of death in the USA, it is not surprising that boosting  survival rates is an urgent matter. The need for immediate reforms in the education sector is less obvious.

Nowadays, solid evidence from neuroscience shows there are age related windows of opportunities to learn that are lost if not used. Additionally, each time a kid is not engaged in learning activities in the class, it is also a lost chance that could deepen the learning gap with other students. And that could place him or her in an unfavorable path than can lead to dropping out of school.

So, can we shape the conversation to make education a high-priority issue, even when the realization of its impact may not be as immediate as saving a patient? I think we can. Just like 38% less people die of coronary disease, let’s set our own goal:  improve student results by 38% and beyond.

    One thought on “What is the relationship between the education system and an emergency room?

    1. Barbara Bruns

      Brilliant, Javier! Best blog on education I have seen in a long time. Abrazo, Barbara

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