Tuesday, 22 March 2011

A New Shock-Doctrine for Education

It seems that Prof. Balcerowicz has to have a say on everything nowadays. The former Vice Prime Minister - who no longer has any possibility of being re-elected - has been haranguing the government of late for not cutting public spending quickly enough. However, if the present government has learnt one thing it is that repeating the experience of the government that Balcerowicz was a part of is the most sure-fire way to lose office.

And so last night we had to endure a painful 45 minutes of Balcerowicz debating with his former prodigy - and present Finance Minister - Jacek Rostowski about the pension reforms. Yet his public criticisms of the government and advice for further reform have not ended there. One of his favoured topics recently has been education. He has become so vocal in airing his ideas on this subject that the national teachers trade union (ZNP) has published an open reply to his criticisms.

Balcerowicz has stated that the education system is 'rotten' and that it is therefore ‘irresponsible’ of the government to believe that it could be improved through pumping more money into it. The ZNP go to great length to show how this is not just offensive but also factually wrong. We can therefore read:

Poland has been included in the small group of countries where the level of knowledge and skills has significantly increased in recent years. This is confirmed through the results of the renowned research carried out by PISA (The Programme for International Student Assessment), which is run by the OECD. In all the categories covered by the PISA research Poland is situated in the top 11 EU countries – 5th place for reading, 7th in the natural sciences and 11th for mathematics. In February last year, in the presence of PM Donald Tusk, Andreas Schleicher - Head of the Indicators and Analysis Division (Directorate for Education) of the OECD - explained that they had taken the decision to present its research in Warsaw due to the positive results achieved by Polish schools between 2000 and 2009. He said ‘After the second edition of the research we were astounded – looking at the Polish results – at how quickly the education reforms had improved Polish pupils for the better. Successive reports show that this is getting better and better.’

Balcerowicz has targetted his fire at one of education's most costly areas - teachers. He believes - inevitably - that teachers are paid too much and that they work too little. He has therefore opposed the government's decision to raise teachers' salaries and has added his own two main proposals:

1. Increasing teachers' lesson load to the level of that in Finland (from 18 to 25 hours a week)

2. Introducing a new system of incentives for the professional development of teachers.

The ZNP show how they have continually supported improving the training of teachers and at how

successive Education and Science Ministers have not been interested in taking the necessary legal steps in order to improve the situation and reform the training of teachers in order that they are orientated to transferring knowledge and not to providing encyclopaedic information.

This of course includes the government of which Balcerowicz was a part himself.

The ZNP also ask why it is that Balcerowicz has decided to choose the amount of teaching hours as an indicator for comparing teaching in Poland and Finland:

Why not look to the Finish level of salaries and system of supporting teachers, the level of education funding, the standard of equipping class rooms, its system of teacher training or at how there are 10 candidates for one place on pedagogical studies due to it being a highly paid profession?

They show how the reality of raising teaching hours like this would lead to around 1/4 (150,000) of all teachers losing their jobs in Poland. Teachers would no longer be able to take extra work to top up their low salaries and education standards would suffer as an average week for a teacher in Poland would rise from 40 to 50 hours. If teaching hours were to be raised then salaries would have to go up simultaneously as well as an increase in training, resources and working conditions.

The ZNP further wonder whether Balcerowicz is seeking to use the current debate on public finances to promote a new wave of liberal reforms based on the concept of reducing labour costs. The economic crisis is therefore being used as a means to argue that there is no alternative to such reforms and that the original architect of the shock-therapy reforms is now putting forward a new 'shock-doctrine' for education.

The idea that salaries are too high when the most qualified teacher - even after recent salary rises - earns just 2,700pln a month certainly makes no sense. Unless of course that is you are Professor Leszek Balcerowicz.

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