Another dot in the blogosphere?

Should we worry about school budget cuts?

Posted on: December 31, 2016

Some Singapore teachers returned to school over this last week of vacation to learn that budgets had been severely cut. This will affect operations and programmes, but not their salaries.

Combine this news with schools being shut down or combined [1] [2] and the message is clear: Do the same, or possibly more, with less.

How reasonable is this?

It is reasonable when you consider how belt-tightening has been the de facto practice in sunny Singapore just in case of rainy days. Our MOE and schools have been doing this by:

  • Conducting professional development (PD) in-house at various PD centres, e.g., AST.
  • Relying on school-based and and teacher-led PD.
  • Reducing dependence on vendors, e.g., not requiring compulsory subscription to vendor-hosted CMS and LMS.
  • Scaling down on teacher recruitment and encouraging, um, redeployment.

Elsewhere budget reductions send the message that schooling and education are lowered priorities. Perhaps not so much here. Again, do the same with less.

But we might heed a warning from another high-performing system, Finland. One reason they slipped in the PISA rankings has been the political deprioritising of education by reducing funds to entire school systems. This has led to the crippling of key programmes like early intervention.

According to Pasi Sahlberg, the go-to Finnish educator and “leading figure in education policy”:

Finland has been living with a very serious economic downturn since 2008 that has affected education more than other public sectors. Sustained austerity has forced most of Finland’s 300+ municipalities to cut spending, merge schools, increase class sizes, and limit access to professional development and school improvement. The most harmful consequence of these fiscal constraints is declining number of support staff, classroom assistants, and special education personnel. Finland’s strength earlier was its relatively small number of low-performing students. Now, the number of those pupils with inadequate performance in reading, mathematics and science is approaching international averages. In Finland this is probably the most significant driver of increasing inequality within education.

There is no single cause for Finland’s slide, but one might reason how budget reforms made the slope very slippery. No money, no teach. They cannot do the same, or better, with less.

We have something that the Finns do not. I am not referring to our teachers because both countries have very good ones. The factor that some of us love to hate (or hate to love) is tuition.

I am referring to tuition of the sort that helps those that fall between the cracks despite their teachers’ best efforts. I am talking about tuition that reinforces what happens in class and helps prepares student for their tests and exams. I am pointing at tuition that parents pay for, so never mind the official budget cuts.

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