11/28/2013 05:36 pm ET Updated Jan 28, 2014

Reforming Education -- Where to Start?

When faced with challenging issues, we all know that a good way to compile a selection of possible solutions is to look around and see how others have dealt with comparable matters. By sharing educational knowledge, experiences and policies, countries can gain key insights for how to address challenges in education. This may also inspire new ideas, help reflect on the best ways to implement policy reform and motivate change, while avoiding risks and possible pitfalls.

In reality, even when countries address similar educational reform issues, policy possibilities and perspectives may vary widely. For example, Chile, Finland, Mexico and Norway have all made early childhood education and care a priority, yet they have used different methods in accomplishing their respective goals. Chile and Mexico have increased funding and focused on quality -- aiming for widespread coverage; Norway has invested in increasing accessibility, funding and staff; while Finland has defined a core curriculum and moved early childhood education and care from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health to the Ministry of Education and Culture.

Certainly, many countries are concerned with responding effectively to the educational needs of youth from disadvantaged backgrounds. Finland has been successfully implementing a preventive approach to target low-performing students earlier on, relying on both the support of schools and welfare staff. Australia and Ireland have targeted disadvantaged students through educational strategies that identify and support schools and communities by giving additional resources. Additionally, Chile has chosen to address the needs of disadvantaged students through financial incentives, which are either targeted at schools via grants, or directly at students in tertiary education with a comprehensive scholarship program.

Similarly, ensuring that all students complete upper secondary education is another major priority for many countries: Finland, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway and Turkey have focused on improving their secondary school completion rates, as well as the transitions both into higher education and to joining the labour market. Mexico and Turkey have introduced reforms to lengthen compulsory education, while also reforming their secondary education. Finland and New Zealand have implemented an initiative to increase the engagement of youth and to ensure qualification completion and employment. Norway has aimed to increase the completion of upper secondary education with a specific measure that motivates low-performing students.

The transformative power of an excellent teacher is something everyone understands and appreciates on a personal level. High-quality teachers are essential for school improvement and extremely valuable for students' learning. Looking to the future, Chile, Czech Republic, Finland and Norway all want to attract high-quality teachers. Finland has developed teacher training into a selective and highly qualified profession, which is provided at university level, is research-based, having both a strong theoretical and practical content, as well as instilling pedagogical knowledge. For that reason, they only accept about 10 percent of candidates who apply to primary teaching studies and these teachers all acquire a master's degree. Chile introduced an incentives-based full scholarship to attract high-performing students into teaching. Norway introduced a new campaign that uses short films and a website to promote the teaching profession and this has helped increase applications by almost 60 percent. Mexico also recently introduced policies that aim to enhance the selection, appointment, promotion and future occupational possibilities for teachers.

Indeed, learning about these countries' experiences inspires reflection and action: countries may use them as support opportunities to map out specific educational reform processes and to explore co-operation with similar systems.

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