The former director of ČEZ Martin Roman, after leaving the energy industry, devotes himself to education. He studied Effectiveness in Education at the Faculty of Education, University College London, and as a philanthropist he regularly publishes books for teachers on more effective teaching methods. Above all, however, he is the chairman of the board of directors and an investor in PORG, a network of private elementary schools and gymnasiums. After Prague and Ostrava, this week PORG also announced its entry into Brno.
In an interview with Nauzal, the fifty-four-year-old man stated several steps that, according to him, would lead to an improvement in the quality of Czech education.
“Moving education is not easy at all, but it’s not just about money. Ninety percent of what can be improved in schools won’t cost an extra penny. Today, we deal with a hundred things related to education, but few people deal with what the 45 minutes between two bells look like. Almost no one is interested in that, but that’s where 90 percent of success lies,” says Martin Roman.
You like to talk about teaching effectiveness. But we’re still measuring here, aren’t we? Exams in class, written work, evaluations, report cards, national comparisons between schools…
The most important thing in teaching is feedback. So that the teacher knows at any moment if the children have not lost their way while discussing the material. Do you know what the most useless question in education is? When the teacher asks: Anyone who doesn’t understand something, let them come forward. Because no one wants to embarrass themselves in front of the class and raise their hand.
We all know it from school: the teacher walks forward quickly to teach the material, asks a question here and there, and three hands of the winners go up. In order to make it easier for himself, the teacher calls one, who of course fires the correct answer and the satisfied teacher continues on.
And at least half the class is completely lost, or out of mind. What with this?
At PORG, we solve this using a popular tool, which is a whiteboard for 60 crowns including two markers and wiping cloths. The goal is to ask as many questions as possible to the whole class, not to call anyone out. Each student has to write the answer to the question on the board, that is, they have to think, they have to create something. It shows the result on the table and the teacher knows exactly who is lost and who is not. And there is one more very important thing, the student will not be embarrassed if he makes a mistake. The teacher generally sees what the students understand or don’t understand, he gets feedback with which he can continue to work. It makes them teach effectively, that’s the right way.
You are calling for curriculum revision. To remove the curriculum, to sort out the essential from the unessential – that is exactly what the commissions at the Ministry of Education are trying to do right now. But where to start?
If we want to give children basic knowledge and be sure that they will carry it with them later in life, it is not realistic, especially in “scientific” subjects such as biology and history, to try to teach them the content of today’s textbooks. In order for a person to really master a piece of knowledge, he must actively use it five to six times over time. Optimally again after a week, after a month, after three months, after a year and after three years. A factographic thinning of the curriculum reflected in the textbooks would be beneficial.
If you give students today a test on the facts they learned in school two years after graduation, the success rate will be up to five percent. No one remembers more.
Someone would object to you that you are the enemy of knowledge and that you are pushing it too far in a progressive direction.
I have a self-reflection – yes, for a moment I believed more in such and such a progressive direction. After my studies in England, where I got acquainted with the results of many researches, I came back to the fact that, in short, some data are really necessary. We call them knowledge anchors. The difficulty is in the measure. And we in the Czech Republic have a terribly scholastic education system that is based only on knowledge.
If you look at a history textbook for secondary schools, there are 3,000 pieces of information. Result? Everyone remembers only one date, and that is the year 1212 and the Golden Bull of Sicily. But very few people know what the content of this document is.
This is a general weakness of Czech education. But as it is fragmented, with school founders and directors having quite a lot of competence, we see that in some places they are doing it despite the system, in their own, modern way.
This is due to the fact that the curriculum was abolished and framework educational programs were created, where each school has to write its own educational program. I think this path is not ideal. Fewer than 10 people in the Czech Republic have the ability to write a good educational program, because that is, in short, an extraordinary expertise. Those who study history teaching do not automatically have the ability to create an educational program for the field of history, that is simply a different competence.
It is a mistake that there is not at least some educational program left that the ministry would offer to schools as a model. Schools would not have to deal with the creation of a curriculum if they do not have experts with a strong opinion on that particular subject in their ranks, who will create the curriculum and then be able to teach effectively according to it.
A traditional big pain in the Czech Republic is a weak knowledge of English, which is the way to a better position on the labor market. Why is it?
Overall, the bar for the level of English required to pass the matriculation is very low. Matura is set to level B1, which is the level achieved by all fifth-grade elementary school students at Nové PORG in Prague and Ostrava. You don’t have to have bilingual instruction to make improvements. In English, there are well-developed tests for measuring student progress. Let’s just ask the schools to give them to students every six months. The measurement itself will lead to improved results.
I am most surprised by your recommendation not to be inspired by Finland, which all politicians like to cite as a model. What do you see as the problem?
Finland became a model for the first time 20 years ago thanks to excellent results in the international PISA tests, it was the educational leader in Europe. Since then, however, it has moved lower in the ranking in every subsequent comparison.
What is good about Finland is the high social prestige of teachers, so the teaching profession attracts really the best people. But he still introduces some experiments there, there is no fixed curriculum, there is no school inspection, every teacher does what he wants in class. For now, it’s going a bit out of inertia, but I definitely don’t see any inspiration for reforms there.
Teachers need to continue their education
When you mention teachers – you always like to say that there is no other way to improve education in a decade or two than to educate teachers. Like they should have some regular mandatory courses?
In Great Britain, for example, it is even legislated that five days a year children are at home, teachers are at school and they are being educated. In our country, we call it director’s leave – and both pupils and teachers have it. True, in the Czech system, it is assumed that teachers have 12 days a year, during the holidays, intended for further development or education. But I’m almost certain that 12 days a year 98 percent of public school teachers don’t do it. At the same time, you improve the quality of teaching and can also prevent natural burnout.
I can imagine the riot in the assembly hall, demanding something like that…
At PORG, we try to organize five courses a year for teachers. But don’t imagine some boring and long seminar, it’s much easier. The most effective education is not a lecture, but so-called learning communities, where teachers try new things together and visit each other’s classes, actively exchange experiences. We need to create a platform where teachers can get all the information for their further development – publishing books, organizing courses and the like.
But still, it’s getting better, isn’t it? In a few years, teachers’ salaries have jumped, they have a guaranteed amount, so this will no doubt attract more quality people to study at the Faculty of Education.
Teacher pay has definitely improved, the growth is incomparable to any other sector. It is certainly a step forward, but unfortunately it is not enough. A future teacher spends five years at the Faculty of Education, and another seven years it takes to become a real teacher thanks to practice and experience. The first year, which will affect the current salary increase, will thus be reflected in twelve years at the earliest.
We can therefore assume that the positive effect of the salary increase and thus the prestige of the teaching profession will be fully manifested in some twenty years. We will lose at least one to two generations of children, so we cannot wait. That is why it is important to work with existing teachers now.