Type Review Article
Topic Education As An Institution
Yuquin Gong ygong@students.uiuc.edu
Citation Educational Achievement In Centralized and Decentralized Systems

Andy Green

Area of Research Reviewed
Major Conclusion Through comparison and analyses of international cases, Green concludes that the reason why some countries with centralized systems (like Germany, Japan, France, Sweden and Singapore) obtain higher educational achievement than other countries with decentralized systems (like USA and UK) may be because that the former have a "learning culture" and corresponding relatively standardized and tighter-regulated educational systems, which are not the characteristics of the latter.
Evaluation and Ideas:
Personal Critique

 

Because more and more people view education as a key factor in the development of economy and society, the reform of education itself is becoming the focus for more and more people. How can education be more effective? Some people advocate school decentralization (Chubb and Moe 1990, Sexton 1987), and the argument seems to have been accepted widely. However, the author doubts its credibility.

Through comparison of some international cases to which decentralization advocates do not pay much attention , Green states that in France, Germany, Japan, Sweden and Singapore which are thought to have centralized educational systems, the educational outcomes are better than those of the systems in the US and UK which have decentralized educational systems. Green does not simply draw conclusion that the centralized education systems necessarily generate higher achievement than the decentralized ones because of the samples’ limited quantity and the indefinite meanings of " centralization" and "decentralization". Instead, Green tries to identify which factors contribute to the result.

Green argues that the outcomes of different educational systems are the results of a set of factors. Some factors which are shared by the high-attaining countries and can not be found in the low-attaining ones may help to explain the different outcomes in different countries. The author finds that the high-attaining countries seem to have a "learning culture" which stresses educational achievement, encourages all individuals to obtain higher education, ensures all individual with various abilities to have the opportunities and desires to learn and rewards the people who perform well in education. With correspondence to the learning culture, these countries develop some "internal features" of the education system including prescribed curricula ( to regulate the contents), well organized and focused curriculum development and pedagogical research ( to encourage a more uniform practice ), clear identity and purpose of expectation and regular assessment, etc. These features make it possible for teachers to spend more time and efforts on the learning process instead of on preparing teaching contents, materials and managing individualized learning. Moreover, the high likelihood for the good performers in education to obtain valued rewards either in labor market or in higher levels of education reinforces the "learning culture" and "high aspiration". The close linkage, in Green’s term, the close articulation, between education/training and labor market is more important in the post-compulsory phase. Each high-attaining country has its own way which ensures people with higher qualifications or educational levels get more job entries and higher payment. It encourages people to aspire more education/training. The factors mentioned above altogether contribute to the high achievement of educational systems in these countries.

In contrast, the lower-attaining countries such as the US and UK do not have these factors. Green argues that, due to their liberal traditions and state structure (in the US), the central governments of the two countries do not have enough power to form national common education structure, practice and standards. So there seems to be a greater diversity in educational practices which could not help to form high expectation. Besides, the nature of labor market does not encourage people to obtain higher education/ training . In these countries, there is no mechanism which articulates the education with labor market as closely as those higher-attaining countries. Employers pay more attention to experience than qualifications. The more open labor markets provide successful chances for those who have no qualifications. In addition, both the US and UK failed to form an effective regulation system to encourage training. Poaching trained employees from other enterprises rather than training their own and shorternism in decision- making decrease employers’ incentives to train. So neither individuals nor the society is likely to invest in education/training. As to the market failure,

however, high-attaining countries take effective measures to eliminate its influence and encourage even force individuals and employers to put efforts into the training .

So it seems to me Green suggests that it is the interaction of a series of factors including internal features of educational system and social contexts instead of the simplified classification of centralized and decentralized systems that determines the different educational achievement of different countries. I really agree with this idea. Education, as an organic part of the whole society, is interconnected and interacted with other parts of society; as a result, its outcome is not determined by itself. It is not reasonable to simply think of decentralized education systems as more effective than centralized ones, or vice versa. Firstly, the two terms need to be defined more clearly. Secondly, even the same kind of education systems have different ways implementing it. Thirdly, even the same country has different achievement at different stages depending on the purposes of education. For instance, in ancient China, education was centered around morality and ethics. In such circumstances, even it had a "learning culture", the outcome could be obviously different from vocation-oriented education.

In modern society, among the series of factors which may affect the outcome of education, I believe that rewards form the labor market and society is the crucial factor. It provides the main incentive for people to pursue higher education. In order to meet people’s needs, education systems and the society will develop some corresponding culture and measures. China is a good example. Before 1977, especially during the period of Cultural Revolution, educational achievement was not valued at all, let alone be rewarded. For some time, it may even bring disaster because of some people’s notion that" people with more knowledge are more reactionary". People’s motivation for learning was greatly reduced . The education system was paralyzed and almost fruitless. However, after 1977, the society began to realize the importance of education and discarded those absurd ideas. The idea "Science and Technology is the most important form of productivity" has been applied to every line of people’s life. As a result, there ever emerged craziness for academic certificates and professional qualifications. The educational system has been rapidly reconstructed and developed. The outcome of the education system is obviously much improved.

While agreeing with author’s main idea, I still have some questions in my mind. I believe that it is very difficult, if not impossible , to compare educational outcomes between countries. Even within a country, it is also not easy to compare quality between education organizations. As mentioned above, the achievement of education is related to the purpose and function of education, therefore, the way of defining and measuring the outcome is worthy studying. Green’s indicator (rate of qualification) is creative and helpful. However, its reliability should be treated with caution. For one thing, just as Green notices, in countries like the US and UK where there is no national qualification systems and acquired skills are not all certified, "the data on qualifications may underestimate the true prevalence of skills." The degree of underestimation is important for the results of the comparison of international cases. Green’s method is obviously vocation-based, so its effectiveness for fully reflecting the achievement of education is open to question. This method may make people think of education as an institute of skill training.

Relevance to Topic

The article is closely related to the topic of " Education as a Social Institution". It puts education in the contexts of culture, society, economy and politics, examining its outcomes and reaching the conclusion that, the interaction of various factors rather than education itself determines the outcomes of educational systems. For this purpose, the paper even deepens its analyses into the historical background of different countries.

 

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