VIEWS & OPINION Education cargo cults must die

Comment by PROFESSOR JOHN HATTIE, Laureate Professor at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne; and DR. ARRAN HAMILTON, Group Director of Strategy at Cognition Education

Prior to World War II, the Tanna Islanders in the South Pacific lived in splendid isolation, used stone-age technology and fed themselves through subsistence farming. Then this era evaporated, and they were overrun with allied soldiers, resplendent in a cargo of chocolate, tinned food, textiles, Jeeps, medicine and roaring aircraft. When the war ended, the soldiers and cargo

vanished. Craving the missing bounty, the Tanna islanders concluded the soldiers must have powerful ancestors who shipped the goods from the spirit world. If they could replicate the soldiers’ practices, the spirits would be pleased, and service would resume. So, the islanders cleared runways, fashioned rifles from bamboo and radio headsets from coconuts, and marched up and down—but the cargo-laden airplanes still failed to land. The Tanna Islanders engaged in what physicist

Richard Feynman once called Cargo Cult Science. Not understanding capitalism or the internal combustion engine, they replicated only irrelevant surface features. This analogy applies to education. Like the

Tanna people, educators often spend time and money on expensive technology, training and

reform initiatives that promise the world but deliver depressingly little. We call these shiny interventions “education cargo cults”. By our estimate, education systems around the

world spend a collective $140 billion annually on teacher professional development programs, education technology and classroom resources. If this money were spent wisely, we would see remarkable results, but we’re not. In highly developed countries, many students are not graduating from secondary education; 2016 non- completion rates were 33% in England, 27% in Australia, and 17% in the U.S. The challenges in developing countries are far greater; according to UNESCO, at least 250 million of the world’s primary school children cannot read, write or do basic math. We fear this $140 billion is being misspent on

well-packaged toys that superficially look like effective educational interventions, and that’s one major reason the equity gap remains. If certain popular products and programs work,

great. But too often “it works” is assessed based on the author’s or developer’s conviction and classroom experience, or teacher satisfaction, rather than clearly demonstrated student impact. We believe many claims made by educational

product and service providers fall into the former category. Most are education cargo cults, and they should be ended. This is where the Visible Learning research

project can help. Over three decades, we harvested and synthesized the findings of more than 90,000 education research studies, involving more than 300 million students, to answer that elusive question: “What works best?” Our research showed many education interventions have some impact on student learning but wanted to know which produce the most impact. Our conclusion: It’s not so much about money,

class size, curriculum, technology or school governance. Rather, it’s about educators’ beliefs and their commitment to continuously, systematically and scientifically use research to evaluate the impact they have on learning. This research, which we regularly update and

make accessible, can help policymakers and educators understand which factors have the greatest impact on student achievement, so they can make evidence-based strategic decisions to maximize their time, energy and resources. The full white paper is at: _white_paper_john_hattie_final.pdf

Threats from within: ‘self-harm bullying’ Comment by MARK BENTLEY, Online Safety and Safeguarding Manager, LGfL

Schools and parents hear lots about self-harm and about bullying, but did you know there was such a thing as ‘self-harm bullying’, where children and young people are encouraged to harm themselves or worse? It sounds awful, but it’s important for schools and parents to be aware of this trend in order to provide appropriate guidance. When we carried out our online-safety survey of 40,000 pupils around

the UK earlier this year (read about it in Hopes & Streams), we asked pupils “have you ever seen anything that encourages people to hurt themselves?” which led to the striking statistic that yes, almost one in six pupils (primary and secondary alike), had seen something that encourages self-harm. Against the background of headlines about ‘self-harm epidemics’, with

GPs and schools reporting major increases in cutting and other forms of self-harm, we expected to hear about online material from groups that encourage cutting or also eating disorders (known as pro-ana or pro-mia). Unfortunately, these issues did feature prominently; however, this was not the only thing we found to concern schools and parents. Although we had asked separately about bullying (and found that one

in four pupils had been bullied online and one in 13 admitted to having been the bully) we were surprised to discover from pupils’ free-text answers that the two topics were linked more closely than ever before. Again and again, we would read comments such as the following: “People get told to commit suicide and sent pictures with the ‘correct’ way to do it.” Such self-harm bullying that occurs online can also be more insidious than a single comment on the playground, which is perhaps easier to


dismiss. Online bullying can have a multiplying effect – impacting every part of a pupil’s life, potentially again and again. We need the key technology players to be doing more to remove self-

harm material from their platforms, through human moderation and the use of technology. At LGfL we are delighted to see that the government is driving this as it works on legislation following the Internet Safety Strategy, which is a unique attempt to tackle some of the issues highlighted in the Hopes and Streams report. It’s great to see some of the proactive steps already taken by legislators and the industry alike to keep children and young people safe online. This Internet Safety Strategy aims to look at how Britain can become the ‘safest place in the world to be online’, examining the responsibilities of companies operating online, technical solutions to reduce risks, and the role of the government in online safety. Nonetheless, it is still important that parents and teachers understand

the current trends around these challenging issues and are ready to respond. Other initial steps that schools can take are developing and facilitating

upstanding (an anti-bullying term which means the opposite of a bystander; someone who stands up for another person) – and ensure that staff are up-to-date on all internal and external reporting methods. Senior leaders should review their schools’ policies to ensure that they take self- harm bullying into consideration. Undoubtedly, this is a worrying topic for carers and educators of young people. However increasing awareness of this new form of bullying is the first step towards combating its effects. For further information and resources on this subject please visit November 2018

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