Tracing the real value of education – Field work with 4th Wheel

Participating in field work was very exciting for me. Not only because I got to know another part of Gujarat and got insights into the living and working conditions in the Special Economic Zone of Mundra, but also because I see this as complementary part of my work at 4th wheel.

Being in an office and dealing with interesting topics in the field of human development is one side of the coin. On the other hand, actually experiencing development is at least as important and relevant for both my work and my learning experience. Being on field gave me the feeling of satisfaction and motivation and reminded me of the importance of our work; the reason why we are working in human development. It is not only the numerous smiling faces that greeted me every time we entered into a school and their interest in a foreign culture and language, it’s also the eagerness and motivation of the villagers to collaborate with us, hoping that things change for the better. I never saw boredom or hurry in the interviewees’ eyes. They’ve taken our experiment as important as we do, although they might be aware that change can be slow. Even if they won’t be affected, their children or grandchildren might be. And that is totally worth the effort.

I also got another idea and better understanding of schooling. How valuable it is to have a functioning system and how easily we take things for granted in the Western world. A school bench, for example, paper and pen and a place to study. Especially the last thing made me think further. The schools I’ve visited look nice. They are colorful and well built. The basis is giving for studying and learning. But still that is not enough. There are too many children in a classroom, there are too less teachers for the number of children. And the teacher might lack certain skills to make lessons more productive and progressive. There are two major challenges facing us. First, if we wanted to attract more people to become teachers, we needed to raise salaries. If we raise salaries, we reach a political level and depend on government actions. Second, if we want the teachers to be better skilled, we need to invest in teachers’ training. But who trains them? How can we improve the teachers’ education and guarantee a certain level of knowledge? Here we find both language and logistic barriers and in the end again depend on political decisions.

I see some parallels to the Western world. Teachers there are well-paid and enjoy certain security and welfare benefits. However, comparing salaries to other fields, teachers are most of the time worse off. A teachers’ education at university is good, but could certainly be improved. As a consequence the “brains” of society won’t become a teacher in Germany. They become a business man or an engineer. Isn’t the key for development to invest in education? Couldn’t an overall improved level of education bring more progress to a country? Even there we do not invest enough in education, starting from primary school and culminating in the overcrowded auditoria at universities. In both developing and developed countries, incentives for teachers, better control of curricula and intensive teacher training are missing.

A recent education study, tackling the grievances in education, caused lots of attention. John Hattie has been researching for more than a decade about the key question of what good education really is about. The result of his mega-analysis published in his database “Visible Training” was surprising. The key message of his study was that in the end the real progress of students depends on the teachers and their capabilities, being not only a facilitator but an activator for their students.

In my opinion this is the crux of educational development. I totally agree that a certain framework is needed to facilitate a learning environment. We need infrastructure and learning material. However, CSR of companies shouldn’t stop here. We should always keep in mind: What happens next?

After kindergarten, how do we ensure the transition to primary school? What happens after students reach the 12th standard? What kind of employment opportunities are there for them? Are their skills matching jobs provided in their local surroundings? The challenge is to improve the whole school system. This surely is a very eager goal and might require governmental support; however, it mustn’t be impossible. Companies tackling the long-term issue of educational projects would certainly be pioneers with international acknowledgment waiting for them.

To put it in a nutshell; what I take away with me from my field visit are unforgettable images, a change in mind towards the value of education and certainly new and fresh ideas of what could be done. I am very grateful for that.

About John Hattie: http://www.acer.edu.au/documents/RC2003_Hattie_TeachersMakeaDifference.pdf

This blog post was written by Tatjana Mauthofer, Research Associate 4th Wheel.

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