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The importance of quality education

Education and academic quality can mean different things to different people, depending on their perspective, role and context and, in part because of this, quality is notoriously difficult to evaluate. The question of how to do this has been pursued for many years.

Nevertheless, the goal of improving educational quality is agreed by all and stimulated further by the recent worldwide economic downturn and the need to counteract the impact of the crisis on economic growth and prepare for economic recovery.

In the UK, the quality of academic research is evaluated through a detailed and rigorous system of peer review, evidence of culture and esteem. And it has been rightly, in my view, proposed that the impact of research be evaluated. These evaluation systems, though not perfect, have enhanced the reputation of the UK’s research quality. In academic journal publishing, the need for reliable peer review systems, especially blind peer review, to improve the quality of publications cannot be overstated.

In contrast, journal articles not properly peer-reviewed in China may not include one or more of the key elements of quality research such as introducing the background literature and context of the research, outlining clearly the research aims, methodology and findings, and providing conclusions based on rigorous and systematic analysis of the evidence and recognition of different theoretical perspectives.

It is not only the number of journal articles produced that is important, the quality of research is crucial too. Implementing rigorous blind peer review where it is not practised is one way of enhancing journal quality, although not an ideal way, given it is still potentially open to subjective opinion. Moreover, high quality research should be published only for reasons of universal benefit.

Apart from improving journal quality, another way to enhance educational and academic quality, identified by policymakers, practitioners and researchers across all key policy areas including science, technology, health and education, is to develop more widely the capacity to conduct high quality research.

International collaborative research is an important way of achieving this aim. For example one such collaboration is being conducted by China National Institute for Educational research and the University of Bristol’s Graduate School of Education, UK, with financial support from UKaid.

The project is investigating the complex nature of schools’ effectiveness in China and how local context may play a key role in determining definitions of educational effectiveness and quality. We (University of Bristol’s Graduate School of Education) aim to provide new insights into the impact of student characteristics, school context and process factors on students’ attainment and progress in school using innovative quantitative methodology (multilevel modeling) and the relevance of these factors in the evaluation of schools’ performance in China.

A further collaborative project aims to investigate the nature and extent of teachers’ professional development and learning in China as well as the relevance of professional learning communities in Chinese schools. The projects seek to provide empirical data to enhance understanding of teachers’ development and learning and how these aspects relate to schools’ effectiveness and improvement of the education level in China.


Overall, the research seeks to promote the development of teacher and school quality as well as innovation in school evaluation and “value added” approaches through guidelines for implementation and bottom-up and top-down dialogues involving key stakeholders such as local and national policymakers, teachers and students. Such research is relevant because the quality of primary and secondary education is a crucial input contributing to the quality of higher education outcomes, especially in providing students with the necessary grounding in core knowledge and skills (and assessing these appropriately), in order to bring students up to the minimum level required for university education.

In these circumstances, building research capacity in China to enhance primary and secondary school quality, through, for example, teacher training and support for school self evaluation, is another important strategy to address educational quality issues. The key message is that higher education capacity development can play a crucial role in supporting and improving the quality of basic education, which then subsequently feeds back into enhancing the quality of higher education.

As the World Bank and UNESCO said 10 years ago: “The quality of knowledge generated within higher education institutions, and its availability to the wider economy, is becoming increasingly critical to national competitiveness.” They also rightly emphasized that “A strong research system at the national level opens up the possibility that substantial additional public benefits can be realized through international links.”

This is precisely why Chinese students and academics should contribute to these global benefits, reforming and improving evaluation systems for educational and academic quality. Original and good research, especially in science, economics and social sciences, has a trickle-down effect on society. And it offers additional benefits even without international links, though international collaboration and exchange of the best evaluation policy and practice can bring substantial advantages to all partners in relation to lessons learned elsewhere.

The author is a professor at the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol, UK.


By Sally Thomas (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-07-15 07:41


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