Making high-quality education accessible for all

17th September 2020

 Kim Schildkamp
As we launch a formal partnership with the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement, Emerald’s Senior Publisher for Education, Sharon Parkinson, talks to Dr Kim Schildkamp – President ICSEI – about the challenges in education at the moment, and ICSEI’s mission to champion quality education for all.


As the president of ICSEI, what's your mission?

ICSEI's mission is to enhance quality and equity in education, related to school effectiveness and improvement. We bring together policy makers, practitioners and researchers to exchange knowledge, policies, and practices focused on improving the quality and equity of education around the world. Discussion and debate are crucial in improving education for all children and youth. We need to critically engage with new and innovative ideas, if we want to make our educational organisations more effective, especially in the light of the pandemic we are facing. What policies need to be in place to support quality and equity, and the wellbeing of our students? How does policy influence educational practice? What are urgent questions from educators that researchers need to address? How can educators learn from research, and researchers learn from practice? It is my aim to cross boundaries to collaboratively improve education around the world.

What inspired your partnership with Emerald?

We believe this partnership will help us in striving for enhanced quality, equity, and excellence in education. By engaging in this partnership, we can further influence the quality of education by strengthening our international forum for researchers, policy makers, and practitioners. This partnership will help us in sharing and disseminating new knowledge across time zones and distances. 

What are the biggest challenges for education and schools at the moment?

Several challenges exist at the moment, for example: how to make schools more inclusive, how to increase the quality and equity of schools, how to deal with the impacts of COVID-19, and how to improve the quality of decision making in schools by using data. Let me focus on the last two challenges. A huge challenge is the unprecedented global impact of COVID-19 we all currently face. At the height of the pandemic, over 90% of the world's school age population was not in school. Now, as countries begin the complex process of remote learning and school re-opening, there are new challenges and risks for students, educators, families and school leaders. It is likely that this pandemic will impact unequally on people in our society, with particular concerns for people who are already vulnerable (e.g., suffering from existing physical and mental health problems). More than ever, policy makers, practitioners, and researchers around the world need to work together to mitigate quality and equity risks caused by the current pandemic.

Another challenge that I see relates to the use of data in education, and by data I mean all kinds of information available, not only standardised assessment data but also, for example, student voice data and classroom observations. In today's digital society, enormous volumes of data are available to help inform decision making. Although data use has the potential to lead to new forms of learning and development in school, it also comes with the risk of increased inequality in society. Data and evidence will be more available about some people, schools and communities than about others, and some schools and teachers will have better access and capacity to use these data, thus are more likely to benefit from it than others. We need to eliminate societal divides that bar certain individuals, or groups, from access to data, and the skills to use them (and not misuse and/or abuse them), so that all the different stakeholders in education (from students and teachers to educational policy makers) can access and use data to improve teaching, learning and wellbeing in schools.

How can taking an equity approach help to make education more inclusive and fairer for all?

Taking an equity approach is crucial. Powerful images of the difference between equity and equality come to mind here. In one image, you see three children trying to look over a fence; one child is really small and can't see at all, one child is a bit taller and can almost see over the fence, and the tallest child can look over the fence easily.  In the second image, every child gets the same bench to stand on, because from an equality perspective this means that you need to treat each individual the same. However, this means that the small child still cannot look over the fence, whereas the tallest child really does not need a bench to stand on. In the equity image, you see that the tallest child does not get a bench, because this child does not need one. The middle child gets a small bench to stand on, and the smallest child gets the highest bench to stand on, so now all the children can look over the fence. Equity means adapting education to the needs and requirements of each child. To be able to adjust education to the needs of the children, you need to combine the insights, experience, and expertise of the different stakeholders working with these children (e.g., teachers, parents, caretakers, school leaders) with different types of data on these children (e.g., qualitative and quantitative, assessment data and student voice data). Data-informed decision making is about using data to improve the quality of decision making in schools.

What do you think the main barriers to a quality education are?

Firstly, we need to guarantee access to high quality education for children around the world, which is still a problem in some countries. Secondly, we need to invest in our teachers. Studies show again and again that of the factors that we can influence, the teacher has the biggest impact on student learning in schools. We need to invest in teacher training, to make sure that new teachers entering our schools are effective, efficient, but also compassionate, that they care about the learning and wellbeing of their students. Also, we need to invest in the ongoing professional development of our teachers, preferably in professional learning communities and professional learning networks. Our society is constantly changing, bringing about different challenges and opportunities, which people in all professions need to deal with. This means investing in lifelong learning and development.

Coming back to one of my favourite topics, for example, this means learning how to make use of data and data systems to help students learn, but also to take care of their wellbeing and any other (21st century) skills or goals that may be important to the different stakeholders. For example, our data team intervention work (implemented in different countries around the world, including the Netherlands, Sweden, and the USA) shows that using data can improve the quality of teaching and learning in schools. Teams of teachers and school leaders can work together on using data to solve specific educational problems they are facing in their context (e.g., low graduation rates, low English language achievement, high number of students repeating grades). I think if I can share one takeaway from our studies that I would like people to remember that would be that: Data use does not start with data, but with the goals you want to achieve and the questions you need to ask.

How do you think poverty and education are interlinked? What steps can policy makers and governments take to ensure the poorest in our society have access to quality education?

In some countries, poverty leads to little/no access to high quality education. Without access to a high-quality education, the chances of success in society are bleak, leading to vicious circles of poverty and inequities. Policy makers and Governments need to invest in breaking this cycle, by making sure that all children, independent of their background, have access to high quality education. Moreover, they need to invest in the quality of our educators, both in-service and pre-service. The future of our society depends on our educational systems.

What will ICSEI be focusing on over the next few years?

We want to further focus on improving the quality and equity of education in the times of a pandemic, but also beyond. We believe in building bridges between policy, practice, and research and working in an evidence-informed manner. As an ICSEI community, we discuss different ways of conducting research and different sources of evidence. We discuss and debate innovative ideas, the latest research evidence, practitioner-based evidence, practices and strategies. How we can use all these different sources of evidence to improve education is one of our central questions.

ICSEI is a global organisation. We would like to disseminate our knowledge worldwide. As a global organisation, we strive to engage members from all continents in order to give policymakers, practitioners and researchers from around the globe access to everything we have learned collectively. Moreover, as we recognise that we may not be able to travel for a while due to COVID-19, we are also going to organise (more) regional and online events. Due to COVID-19, we had to cancel our annual face to face conference, but we are organising our very first online ICSEI in 2021, so stay tuned! As we recognise that there is still uncertainty about when we can travel internationally again, and we recognise that most policy makers and practitioners do not have the time or funds to travel around the world to attend an ICSEI conference, we intend to not only organise more online events, but also organise more regional events, where policy makers, practitioners and researchers can meet locally to work on improving the quality and equity of education in their country. It will shape the connections needed between different stakeholders and interest groups, locally and globally to enhance the quality of education in the region.

We also have seven very active networks, which play a crucial role in these online and regional events: Early Childhood Education, Educational Leadership, Data Use, 3P (policy makers, politicians, and practitioners), MoREI (Methods of Research in Effectiveness and Improvement), the Professional Learning Network (PLN), and our new network crisis response in education network (CREN). They are working on improving the quality and equity of education internationally. They collaborate, build bridges, learn with and from one another, and share their knowledge via different channels (e.g., newsletters, publications, webinars, twitter chats, research labs). By working together regionally and globally with different stakeholders at different levels of the system, we believe we can make a difference to the quality of education.

Find out more about ICSEI

Power of Diverse Voices

We've put together selected research on quality and equal education as part of our Power of Diverse Voices campaign.

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