A recent conversation with a colleague in my doctoral cohort led to her posing the question: ‘what [would ] education . . . look like if it were void of politics and if it was truly seen as a “gateway to wisdom” rather than a “road to money”’. I immediately thought back to some readings I have been doing recently regarding global citizenship, cosmopolitan competency, and mindfulness education in K-12 contexts. After such a detailed look these past weeks at the “nuts and bolts’ of financing and accountability, pondering this question was a not only a welcome diversion, but also an important chance to re-center the focus on why so many of us feel compelled to dedicate so much of our lives to our careers in education. Ultimately, it should all come back to giving kids the skills they need to live a good life.
If education is to be seen as a “gateway to wisdom”, then it would be in the best interest of those providing education to at least try to answer the question “What is wisdom?” Not a small task, but an important one to pursue, given the need for school leaders to put forward compelling visions and work to ensure the coherence of school activities with those goals (Enacting School-Level Leadership Practices, 2014, Uplifting Leadership, 2014; Schleicher, 2015, p. 9). Unfortunately, a standard definition of wisdom is elusive (Staudinger, 2013, p. 6). Staudinger cites G. Stanley Hall who defined wisdom as “the emergence of a meditative attitude, philosophical calmness, impartiality, and the desire to draw moral lessons” (p. 4). Distinguishing personal wisdom from general wisdom, she goes on to define it as “individuals’ insight into themselves, their own life” (p. 4). Vervaeke and Ferraro (2013), approaching wisdom from the perspective of cognitive science, define wisdom as “a self-transformation of cognitive processing that enhances the quality of life in some way” (p. 21). They go further to state that wisdom involves insights into “one’s own cognition, the patterns and processes of one’s learning and perception, . . . involving] increased abilities of self-understanding and self-transformation” (p. 25). To facilitate the development of this capacity, they cite research findings that show that wisdom development is complex and involves inter- and intrapersonal factors as well as external factors across the lifespan (p. 30).
Given the above, how might educators go about developing curricula to promote the development of wisdom in their students? Luckily for us, many of the traits and skills put forward as components of global citizenship curricula and elements of cosmopolitan consciousness and international mindedness have correlates in personal wisdom development. Glick and Bluck (2013) see wisdom as being comprised of a sense of mastery, openness to experience, reflectivity, emotion regulation, and empathy (p. 80). Cushner (2016) posits that the skills required for intercultural competency are interpersonal in nature and require curiosity, open-mindedness, empathy, and the ability to cope with strong emotions that may result from intercultural communications (p. 204). Oxfam’s (2015) Education for Global Citizenship: A Guide for Schools offers numerous skills it deems meaningful to global citizens, such as creative thinking, empathy, self-awareness and reflection, and interpersonal communication (p. 8). Rizvi (2008), in defining epistemic virtues in support of cosmopolitan learning, also puts forward an empathic understanding of others and reflexivity as traits that should be developed in international education (pp. 32-33). There is quite a lot of overlap between wisdom and international mindedness in terms of the skills they comprise.
If the above are taken to be the skills and competencies required for the development of both wisdom and global citizenship, then how can educators approach developing these skills in their students? I’d posit that mindfulness training provides a good place to begin, as it supports the development of a number of the skills mentioned above.
Already, social and emotional learning (SEL) programs are being introduced in many schools and combined with modified mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programming to help students deal with strong emotions and be mindful of their actions (Mindful Schools, 2016; Hyde & Frias, 2015, p. 92). Such programs have been shown to positively address interpersonal challenges (Zoogman et al., 2015, p. 292). Students also reported “getting in touch with their inner self” and “feeling an intuition for me” (Cheek, Abrams, Lipschitz, Vago, & Nakamura, 2017, p. 2573) indicative or intrapersonal learning and development. Mindfulness programs, by design, seek to promote empathy and compassion (Mindful Schools, 2016, p. 4), Neuroscientific studies have shown a correlation between mindfulness training and the development of brain structures related to empathy and self-reflection (Meiklejohn et al., 2012, pg. 293).
For many of us, education as a “path to wisdom” is a concept at the philosophical root of our work as educators. However, the increasing focus on academic achievement as measured by standardized large-scale tests (Bruns et al., 2011, p. 29) runs the risk of diverting attention away from such factors of learning and narrowing our definitions of success (NORRAG, 2016, p. 9). Thankfully, in addition to supporting student academic achievement (Bakosh, Snow, Tobias, Houlihan, & Barbosa-Leiker, 2016, p. 65) mindfulness studies in K-12 contexts can also support the development of education as a route to greater personal wisdom.
Bakosh, L. S., Snow, R. M., Tobias, J. M., Houlihan, J. L., & Barbosa-Leiker, C. (2016). Maximizing Mindful Learning: Mindful Awareness Intervention Improves Elementary School Students’ Quarterly Grades. Mindfulness, 7(1), 59–67.
Bruns, B., Filmer, D., & Patrinos, H. A. (2011). Making Schools Work; New Evidence on Accountability Reforms. Washington, DC: The World Bank.
Cheek, J., Abrams, E.M., Lipschitz, D.L., Vago, D.R., & Nakamura, Y. (2017). Creating novel school-based education programs to cultivate mindfulness in youth: What the letters told us. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 26(9), 2564-2578.
Cushner, K. (2016). Development and assessment of intercultural competence. In Hayden, M., Levy, J., & Thompson, J. J. (eds.) The Sage handbook of research in international education. London: Sage. 200-216.
Enacting School-Level Leadership Practices. (2014). Canada: International School Leadership. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=13&v=PmeKIdw1-8I
Glick, J., & Bluck, S. (2013) The MORE life experience model: A theory of the development of personal wisdom. In M. Ferrari & N.M. Weststrate (Eds.), The Scientific Study of Personal Wisdom: From Contemplative Traditions to Neuroscience (pp. 75-98). New York:Springer.
Hyde, A. M., & Frias, E. L. (2015). Mindfulness Education and an Education in Mindfulness: Still Seeking a Less Coercive “Wheel in the Head.” Journal for Peace and Justice Studies, 25(1), 81–104.
Meiklejohn, J., Phillips, C., Freedman, M. L., Griffin, M. L., Biegel, G., Roach, A., . . .Saltzman, A. (2012). Integrating mindfulness training into K-12 education: Fostering the resilience of teachers and students. Mindfulness, 3(4), 291-307. doi:10.1007/s12671-012-0094-5
Mindful Schools (2016). Mindful educator essentials: Week 3 integrating mindfulness and social-emotional learning programs [pdf]. Retrieved from: http://www.mindfulschools.org/courses/mod/book/view.php?id=31295&chapterid=28497
NORRAG. (2016). Learning from Learning Assessments: The Politics and Policies of Attaining Quality Education: Roundtable Report. Geneva: Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies.
OXFAM. (2015). Education for Global Citizenship: A guide for schools. Oxford: Oxfam GB. Retrieved from: https://www.oxfam.org.uk/education/resources/education-for-global-citizenship-a-guide-for-schools
Rizvi, F. (2008). Epistemic Virtues and Cosmopolitan Learning. The Australian Educational Researcher, 35(1).
Staudinger, U.M. (2013). The need to distinguish personal from general wisdom: A short history and empirical evidence. In M. Ferrari & N.M. Weststrate (Eds.), The Scientific Study of Personal Wisdom: From Contemplative Traditions to Neuroscience (pp. 3-20). New York:Springer.
Schleicher, A. (2015). Schools for 21st-Century Learners: Strong Leaders, Confident Teachers, Innovative Approaches,. OECD.
Uplifting Leadership. (2014). [Online video]. International School Leadership. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=9V0GaLRmq20
Vervaecke, J., & Ferraro, L. (2013). Relevance, meaning, and the cognitive science of wisdom. In M. Ferrari & N.M. Weststrate (Eds.), The Scientific Study of Personal Wisdom: From Contemplative Traditions to Neuroscience (pp. 21-52). New York:Springer.
Zoogman, S., Goldberg, S. B., Hoyt, W. T., & Miller, L. (2015). Mindfulness interventions with youth: A meta-analysis. Mindfulness, 6(2), 290-302.
Despite attempts to address the global learning crisis, the widespread illiteracy and innumeracy persistent in developing nations worldwide, education systems in many low- and middle-income countries continue to be plagued by service delivery failures and programs that fail to produce effective learning in schools (UNESCO, 2013, p. 2; Bruns et al., 2011, p. 1). A number of factors contribute to these service delivery failures. Inequitable spending is often skewed to favor wealthy regions and individuals (Bruns et al., 2011, p. 7). Funding leaks see money diverted before it reaches schools, such as in the case of Uganda’s capitation grants, of which initially only 20% of intended funds made it to their intended recipients (Bruns et al., 2011, p. 7; UWAZI, 2010, p. 8). High teacher absence rates, low quality teaching, and lack of class time spent on instruction results in poor learning outcomes (Bruns et al., 2011, pp. 7-9; Watkins, 2012a).There is a need for increased accountability to address these and other issues in education service provision in developing nations (Bruns et al., 2011, p. 2).
Bruns et al. (2011) offer three promising routes towards more education accountability in developing nations: information for accountability, school-based management, and teacher accountability measures like contract tenure reforms and pay for performance.
Information for Accountability
Countries around the world, including developing nations, are increasingly carrying out national and international standardized learning assessments and leveraging their use in policy-making and reform and as indicators for monitoring and evaluating progress and learning achievement regionally and cross-nationally (Bruns et al., 2011, p. 29; NORRAG, 2016, pg. 4; Lockheed, 2016, pg. 8). Unfortunately, actual reforms and policies are often only weakly influenced by these assessments and data is frequently misused (Lockheed, 2016, p. 30; NORRAG, 2016, p. 4). Also, some mid- and low-income nations refrain from sharing results or participating due to feelings of shame or concerns about negative public confidence and pressure to turn towards private sector solutions over low scores (Lockheed, 2016, p. 27; NORRAG, 2016, pg. 7).
Information sharing at the community level seems fraught with fewer negatives. Citizen report cards and parent-teacher associations have been used to increase social accountability and parent involvement in a number of developing nations (Bruns et al., 2011, pp. 13–14; Watkins, 2012b), supporting parents and students in choosing schools and making parents aware of issues to empower them to lobby for reform (Bruns et al., 2011, pp. 14, 34). Key success factors when using information for accountability are ensuring widespread availability, ease of understanding, addressing the local context, and including paths for stakeholders to offer input (Bruns et al., 2011, pg. 72).
The decentralization of school-level decision-making is being implemented by increasing numbers of developing nations to improve efficiency and learning outcomes and overcome financial constraints (Bruns et. al, 2011, pg. 88; Arunatilake & Jayawardena, 2010, pg. 44). Parent involvement is often sought out, usually through creating school committees to monitor outcomes and processes and take part in planning and budgeting (Bruns et al., 2011, pp. 15–16). Attempts to decentralize effectively can be hindered by low-capacity local administrators and lack of ability of the community to voice their concerns (Arunatilake & Jayawardena, 2010, p. 46). Norms and values about education specific to local context may also reduce parent voice and participation (Phlong, 2018). Decentralization reforms are supported by accounting for such capacity issues, establishing short- and long-term process and outcome goals and indicators, and basing interventions on evidence (Bruns et al., 2011, pp. 129-130; Barrera-Osorio et al., 2009, pg. 101).
Teachers represent the most important input in the educational process, with great variations in student achievement and growth based on student experiences with individual teachers, but fixed salary schedules, lifetime tenures, and advancement based on inputs rather than performance provide little incentive for extra effort and innovation (Kingdon et al., 2014, p. 14; Bruns et al., pp. 18-19, 142). Teacher incentives such as contract tenure and merit-based pay bonuses offer the possibility of addressing such concerns without the need for broad, system-wide reform (Bruns et al., 2016, pg.19).Contract tenure leads to greater accountability, and localized hiring promotes closer monitoring of teacher performance (Bruns et al., 2016, pg. 19). The short-term impact of such reforms is good if power to sign and renew contracts is decentralized, but weak oversight, de facto guaranteed contract renewal, and ability to transfer off contract and into the civil service decrease its power (Bruns et al., 2011, pg. 156-157). Providing teachers with merit-based bonus pay based on inputs or outcomes is one of the strongest levers for influencing their performance and, when bonuses are based on student achievement, are an example of results-based financing that focuses on the learner rather than just schooling (Bruns et al., 2011, p. 2; Holland & Lee, 2017, p. 5). Key factors in the success of such reforms are the predictability of the incentive, which should be attainable but not unchallenging and the size of the bonus provided (Bruns et al., 2011, pg. 189). Care should be taken to ensure that the measured outcomes can be affected by the teacher’s work, as poor assessment outcomes may often result due to outside influences like widespread malnutrition (Bruns et al., 2011, p. 18; Holland & Lee, 2017, p. 12; Watkins, 2012b).
In this ‘era of accountability’, demands on education systems for transparency in demonstrating the efficient and effective use of public resources are common worldwide, and the importance of school effectiveness to the field of development means that developing nations are no exception (Shaked & Scheckter, 2013, p. 773; Bruns, Filmer, & Patrinos, 2011, p. ix). The challenges facing low- and middle-income countries in implementing accountability reforms, such as lack of local capacity, funding, cultural barriers to community engagement, and lack of political will need to be borne in mind, especially when tying the implementation of such policies to results-based funding disbursements (Lockheed, 2016, p. 26; Bates, 2013, p. 39; Phlong, 2018; Kingdon et al., 2014, p. 3; Holland & Lee, 2017, p. 14). Addressing the global learning crisis will require that students have access to quality resources, learning environments, and teachers, and ensuring accountability from school to ministry levels can help to make this happen. (UNESCO, 2013; Bruns et al., 2011, p. 2).
Arunatilake, N., & Jayawardena, P. (2010). Formula funding and decentralized management of schools—Has it improved resource allocation in schools in Sri Lanka? International Journal of Educational Development, 30(1), 44–53.
Barrera-Osorio, F., Fasih, T., Patrinos, H. A., & Santibanez, L. (2009). Decentralized Decision-Making in Schools: The Theory and Evidence on School-Based Management. Washington, DC: The World Bank.
Bates, A. (2013). Transcending systems thinking in education reform: implications for policy-makers and school leaders. Journal of Education Policy, 28(1), 38–54.
Bruns, B., Filmer, D. and Patrinos, H.A. (2011). Making schools work: New evidence on accountability reforms. Washington DC: World Bank. Available at http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EDUCATION/Resources/2782001298568319076/makingschoolswork.pdf
Holland, P. & Lee, J. (2017). Results-based financing in education: Financing results to strengthen systems. Washington DC: World Bank. Available at http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/715791489054110215/pdf/113265-REVISEDRBF-Approach-Final-Digital.pdf
Kingdon, G. G., Little, A., Aslam, M., Rawal, S., Moe, T., Patrinos, H., … Sharma, S. K. (2014). A rigorous review of the political economy of education systems in developing countries. Final Report. Department for International Development.
Lockheed, M.E. (2016). Measures that Matter: Learning outcome targets for Sustainable Development Goal 4 – An examination of national, regional and international learning assessments. Global Education Monitoring Report. Available at http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002458/245842E.pdf
NORRAG (2016). Learning from Learning Assessments: The Politics and Policies of Attaining Quality Education. Roundtable Report. Geneva: NORRAG. Available at http://www.norrag.org/fileadmin/Workshop_Reports/Learning_from_Learning_Assessmen ts_Roundtable_Report_June_2016.pdf
Phlong, P. (2018, June 16). Re: Policy vs Implementation, experiences from Tanzania [online discussion forum post]. Retrieved from: https://owl.uwo.ca/portal/site/55ec12c0-3680-4226-bafc-de0b479d74b3/tool/3802fa22-7d83-4060-988b-de19402d6e90/discussionForum/message/dfViewMessage
Shaked, H., & Schechter, C. (2013). Seeing wholes: The concept of systems thinking and its implementation in school leadership. International Review of Education / Internationale Zeitschrift Für Erziehungswissenschaft / Revue Internationale de l’Education, 59(6), 771–791.
UNESCO. (2013). The Global Learning Crisis: Why every child deserves a quality education. Paris: UNESCO.
UWAZI. (2010). Capitation grant for education: When will it make a difference. Policy brief TZ.08/2010 (Version Policy brief TZ.08/2010.). Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Retrieved from http://www.twaweza.org/uploads/files/Capitation%20Grant%20for%20Primary%20Educaton.pdf
Watkins, K. (2012a, July 26). Holding out for the super-voucher: Kevin Watkins responds to Justin Sandefur on private v public education. Retrieved June 3, 2018, from https://oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/holding-out-for-the-super-voucher-kevin-watkins-responds-to-justin-sandefur-on-private-v-public-education/
Watkins, K. (2012b, August 10). Education wonkwar: the final salvo. Kevin Watkins responds to Justin Sandefur on public v private (and the reader poll is still open). Retrieved June 3, 2018, from https://oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/education-wonkwar-the-final-salvo-kevin-watkins-responds-to-justin-sandefur-on-public-v-private-and-the-reader-poll-is-still-open/
Matthew Boomhower is a mid-career educator with 18 years of classroom teaching and educational leadership experience. He is Head of Innovation & Learning at an international school in Malaysia and is a proud husband and father.