Written by Lina Zuluaga
Every time that state or international exams results, such as PISA, are published, teachers are the first to be blamed by the public opinion for student’s weak performance. Their results still leave much to be desired, and although it is bad news for national education, it helps to highlight the issue in the public agenda. However, we need to go beyond the results: the test does not have the absolute truth. Limiting the definition of quality education to scores is narrow-minded. These data do not reveal the real outlook of Colombian or any other country’s education.
Quality is more than scores, assessment, and ranking. Education is more than the four walls of the classroom, more than the schools, the subjects, schedules, and teachers: Parents hold a big part of the responsibility of their children’s education. This is a phenomenon that has been widely researched. Social and family environments in which children are raised are the fundamental factors that affect the quality of their education.
According to a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in charge of the PISA tests (Programme for International Student Assessment), children’s academic results pertain more to their socioeconomic situation than what they learn in school. For example, the gap between the results of students of the lowest socioeconomic level and the highest level is of more than 125 points.
On another topic, according to a study by the researcher Kenneth Komoski, children spend only 19% of the year in school. What happens with the remaining 81%? With this simple calculation, Komoski was able to call attention on the real problem: children interact more with parents, friends, and the community than with their teachers. Thus, it is important to strengthen education through a link between education, the community, and the family. This way, learning will be a lifelong process and we would have better students.
Better students, but also better citizens because if there’s one thing you learn at home and in the community that is rules of conduct. Now, what can we ask from a child who grows in a conflict zone, who sees her father abusing her mother, and who has no rules of conduct and behavior? According to a 2014 report from Memoria Histórica, amongst the more than six million victims of violence in Colombia, two million are minors. These are children that cannot aspire to proper education. Most of them live in isolated areas and their studies are interrupted by attacks, town seizures, or are displaced with their families.
Schools should be converted into a peaceful, neutral territory for this vulnerable population. Quoting the OECD study, education can improve life in areas such as healthcare, citizen participation, political involvement, and happiness. The research states “people with a higher educational level live longer, participate more actively in politics and in the community they live, commit fewer crimes, and depend less on social assistance.” Family, society, and school should have this as a joint purpose.
In the same line of coexistence and values, education at home strengthens self-esteem in children. A home in which children feel loved reinforces their sense of identity and motivation, two fundamental factors of learning. For example, PISA’s qualitative studies students were asked how they were going to do in the math test. Most boys answered that they thought they were going to do well and the majority of girls, on the other hand, did not feel their grades would be outstanding: The results showed that both genders had the same performance level.
It is clear that schools cannot be blamed for everything. There must be a commitment to weave a social fabric to integrate school, society, and family. In the same way, you must look at the test results for the reference they are. For example, you cannot measure school quality just with the Saber 11 results in Colombia. Although it is a valid assessment, it does not represent the whole situation. Parents must also assume responsibility.
We appeal to companies to adopt flexible shifts that would allow parents to adjust their schedules to spend more time with their families. Telework may be a good option. This, instead of representing a loss for companies, is an investment for the present and for the future. On the one hand, an employee that can enjoy quality time with his/her family is a more motivated and happy employee, therefore, a more productive one. Similarly, if these men and women spend more time with their children, these will be better students and better professionals for companies in the future.
*This article was originally published in Semana Education Magazine.
Lina Zuluaga is a current consultant for the IDB Education Division. She is creator and former director of SEMANA Education Magazine @SemanaEd