I recently heard Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education, on the BBC World Service attempting to justify a reduction of school funding and the resulting deterioration of the teacher/pupil ratio in schools by mentioning the relatively high teacher/pupil ratios in East Asian societies.
This "raiding" by politicians of comparative data to provide post hoc support for education policies has a long tradition. But it suffers from limitations and selectivity. Although many East Asian countries operate with higher teacher/pupil ratios, the long-term trend is towards reduction. The higher ratios are more a reflection of the nature, structure and norms of those societies than a reflection of the efficiency or competence of teachers or the education systems.
To demonstrate the selectivity of the variables chosen for comparison three examples will suffice. In Japan teachers' pay is based on the Civil Service pay scale - plus 30 per cent - to attract able graduates into teaching. In the People's Republic of China, the fastest growing economy in East Asia, the average teaching load of a secondary school teacher is eight/nine periods per week. In most East Asian societies governments are strengthening the role of educational institutions in the pre- and in-service education of teachers.
Perhaps Mrs Shephard would like to consider also the implications of these features for current education policies.
PAUL MORRIS Department of curriculum studies University of Hong Kong