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 Greens 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
peoples 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 peoples notion
that" people with more knowledge are more reactionary". Peoples 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 peoples 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 authors 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. Greens 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. Greens 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.