Twenty-four presidents, chancellors and rectors representing prestigious urban universities from all over the globe meeting for two days at New York University pledged to become more involved in the search to improve public education, which they unanimously agreed is in crisis all aorund the world.
“Higher education has an enormous stake in the ‘product’ of our elementary and secondary schools. It cannot remain divorced from the current debate on school reform,” said New York University President L. Jay Oliva. “Universities must play a greater role in these deliberations, in genuine partnerships with leaders of our elementary and secondary schools. There must be constant interaction between these schools and higher education if this crisis public education is going to be solved.”
The university leaders agreed that in most countries teachers in public schools are not given the recognition and the staus they deserve.
“Because of the critical importance of the first years of a student’s education the teachers of elementary and secondary grades are extremely important in our educational system,” said Ann Marcus, Dean of the NYU School of Education, who delivered a paper at the conference. “These teachers must be recognized accordingly in both status and income.”
The universities present pledged to assist in this process both within and without their universities.
The university leaders also recognized the need to re-examine methods of teacher training and to include a large component of clinical training in such education.
“There is no substitute for the experience of actually teaching in a classroom,” said Sir Claus Moser, Warden of Wadham College, Oxford University, who also delivered a paper. “In addition, the research done in universities must relate more directly to the learning process, to the interaction of teacher and pupil, and to the search for the most effective ways of motivating and teaching children.”
The educators expressed concerns about declining literacy in Great Britain, the negative impact of increased television viewing in Syria, the decreasing popularity of science education in Russia and the problem of changin social values in Nigeria.
“The crisis isn’t about schools themseleves but about families,” said Edward M. Walsh, President of the University of Limerick. “A study on what influences learning in the United Kingdom found the condition of the family unit first in importance, peer values second and teacher values, not competence, but values such as ethics and work habits third. Curriulum was fourth.”
Paolo Blasi, Rector of the University of Florence, agreed that student performance depended on family structure and values. “In Italy, children from lower class families often are the best students because of the motivation provided by their parents,” he said.
Consequently, Marcus suggested that schools would have to play an expanded role in society. “The break-up of the family, heavy divorce rates and working parents have put extra burdens on public education,” said Marcus. “Because school success is highly correlated to strong family support, our schools may have to become centers of social services with longer days, providing more counseling, day care, mentoring, health services and other nurturing services that were once provided by home and church.”
Michele Gendreau-Massaloux, Chancellor and Rector of the University of Paris, suggested that students be used to tutor other students when family can no longer provide that function. Dr. Oliva agreed that college and university students could also play a role in such tutoring, which might be one product of President Clinton’s National Service initiative.
Because of the critical importance of the first years of a student’s education, Gordon S. G. Beveridge, Vice Chancellor of the Queen’s University of Belfast, proposed that school systems put their best teachers into those grades.
And Stanislav P. Merkuriev, Rector of St. Petersburg University, said that the Russians have had success with extramural voluntary programs both after school and during the summer.
Another idea that drew support was community-based education. Although there are model programs of this sort in the United States, Yoginder Alagh, Vice Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University of New Delhi, said that many Indian cities and villages have successfully used community projects such as extending power lines or installing a new water system as educational tools.
Providing more autonomy to local school districts was also suggested as a method of involving teachers and parents more effectively in the school system, as was the idea of giving parents some choice in the selection of the school for their children.
Oliva concluded the meeting by announcing that the world university leaders would establish an information clearinghouse to keep one another informed of how they were implementing the ideas suggested at the conference. The institutions represented include the Universities of Amsterdam, Belfast, Berlin, Bonn, Damascus, Dublin, Edinburgh, Florence, Ibadan, Istanbul, Ghana, Limerick, London, Mexico, Paris, Prague, Sao Paulo, St. Petersburg and Tel Aviv. Also, National Taiwan University, J. University.
C. Duncan Rice, Vice Chancellor of NYU, co-chaired the conference along with Dr. Oliva.