Meet the ministers...

4th November 2005 at 00:00
Sergio Bitar, minister of education, Chile Mr Bitar has been president of the Democratic Party in Chile on two occasions, a national senator, and he set up the Latin American Centre of Economics and International Politics.

Why did your ministry help to organise this conference with the OECD?

We have had a strong relationship with the OECD since 2003 when one of its teams helped to analyse the educational results of this country. We have been very impressed by the quality of their research and work and wanted to make a contribution to a useful international debate about standards in education.

Which country has a model educational system for Chile?

Chile has been trying to look outside Latin America for benchmarks. We are a member of Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation and have been studying countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Korea and New Zealand. We have also been looking at the very successful systems in the Nordic countries, especially Finland.

Why does Chile have one of the most successful educational systems in Latin America?

There has been a political will to improve schools and we have realised it.

The country has been governed by a coalition since 1990 and there has been considerable stability here. I think a country's governability is an important issue for getting things done. We want Chile to become a knowledge-based society and we are investing in human capital. For example, much of the profit made on copper exports is being re-invested in science and innovation.

What are you currently doing to improve the schools system?

We need a higher number of high-quality teachers. We are undertaking an assessment of all teachers nationally next year for the first time. We have also set up a school council in every school, which is closely involved in the management of the school. It is made of representatives of teachers, students, parents and the municipality or the owner of the school (if it is a private school).

Bertel Haarder, minister of education, Denmark He had previously been the Danish minister for refugee, immigration and integration affairs and was minister for European affairs during the Danish EU-presidency of 2000-2. He was a high-school teacher and college lecturer.

What do you think are the biggest issues facing teachers?

I think teachers need to base their work much more on research. We need much higher-quality pedagogical research and there needs to be a closer link between teaching methods and research.

How did Denmark fare in the OECD's Programme for international student assessment (Pisa)?

We discovered that in every primary school classroom of 22 to 25 pupils, there were three or four children who could not read. That is far too high.

There is a similar proportion of students leaving school with poor education. We are introducing a reading expert in every local government district and eventually we want one in every school. We are determined to get that number down to just one child per classroom.

Are there any specific communities who are not doing well at school?

Yes. Some 50 per cent of the children of immigrants - mostly from Turkey, Pakistan and Somalia - cannot read. The vast majority are Muslims. Because of the importance of the woman in the Muslim family, we are trying to reach out to mothers and improve their awareness of the importance of education for their children.

Paloma Petrescu, Secretary of State for Education, Romania Previously, Ms Petrescu was a chemistry teacher, school inspector, and deputy head. She was a member of the first National Council for the Approval of School Textbooks in Romania. She is a member of the country's Democratic Party.

What are the biggest challenges facing schools in Romania?

Romania will be joining the European Union on January 1, 2007 and we want to ensure that our schools are heading in the same direction as those across Europe. A new framework for qualifications has been approved - we want schools to become much more student-centred and for there to be individualised learning. From next year, schools will be financed differently - the central ministry will still be involved, but we want the local community to participate more. We want schools to decide where the money should go.

Why is individualised learning important?

Ethnic minorities, students with special educational needs or disadvantaged groups benefit from individualised teaching. There can be education in the mother tongue.

Do you think Romania will suffer from a "brain drain" once it joins the EU?

EU membership means that there will be much more mobility, but that is a good thing. Romanians who go abroad will pick up many new ideas and I think they will eventually return to their country.

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