When you look closely into the part of the Programme statement of the Slovak government devoted to Education, you will find many well-meant objectives and ambitious measures. The first approach encompasses optimization of the network of schools, opening the textbook market, unification and equalization of financing, de-bureaucratization, or simplification of rules guiding establishment of primary schools.
From the long-term perspective, the well-meant objectives will matter much more, eventually. The Minister plans to “update, make more attractive and improve” education at primary and secondary schools, “assess effectiveness of finance assignment” and support „open means of modern school management.“ On the other hand, how to achieve all that is a million dollar question.
After observing the Education sector in Slovakia, I’m sceptical of the two approaches. The first, I cannot imagine that minister will announce big reform of education. Nobody is interested in doing this. Nor teachers, headmasters, founders, not even the minister himself.
Announcing the biggest education reform is the fastest way how to get picked by a satirical page – Zomri.
But the second approach equally does not lead anywhere. Focusing on details and improving tiny parameters. An additional history lesson here and there, minus one music lesson. Indeed, such changes will deliver media coverage, but the train called Education will not get off the rails, not even marginally.
Thankfully, there is a third alternative – to enable the existence of a parallel system of autonomous schools. These could teach according to their own rules, without bureaucracy connected to state education programmes and without being bullied by the school inspection.
Bright and proactive teachers and headmasters will have the chance to act, while the rest can still choose the beaten track.
Some could argue that even the rest of the education system needs improvement. And I will nod in agreement. Let’s improve and push for a better quality of the whole education system, but why should not we enable those who want to do it two or five times faster to try their own way?
And let’s be honest here. If we want to establish changes in a colossus as huge as the Education, we need to find changes that many stakeholders will agree upon. And a change with which the majority agrees usually means no change at all.
Autonomous schools are no crazy experiment. They have already been established abroad. These schools are available in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom or the United States.
The most elaborate research comes from the last on the list. On average, these schools achieve slightly higher, or at least comparable results in tests compared to ordinary schools, while requiring lower expenditure.
Moreover, they satisfy not only the PISA-score oriented people but also those who see more in education than just results of tests. The higher degree of satisfaction comes both from students as well as their parents. This is especially true for the disadvantaged, or those living in urban ghettos.
If I were the Minister of Education, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second when it comes to autonomous schools. They create a relatively small opposition among the interest groups in Education, they can achieve a lot in the long-term perspective and at the same time, give chance to the bright and active people.
These schools have been widely tried abroad before and lastly, to please my own ego – there would be something left in Ministry of Education after I left – contrary to my many predecessors.