Responsibility and Accountability

“If you take away the responsibility it is replaced with accountability,” Pasi Sahlberg, the educator, author and scholar, said in the context of education.

This phrase in a school setting can be better understood when we talk about GERM, which is another term that Sahlberg came up with which stands for Globalized Education Reform Movement. GERM is characterized by competition, prescribed curricula, standardized testing, and privatization of schooling – and many countries have moved more and more towards this approach, including the United States. GERM is not an accidental acronym – it can be seen to be spreading like a virus.

By saying, “If you take away the responsibility it is replaced with accountability,” he was talking about teachers. If you do not let teachers be responsible for what and how they teach, then you need to replace that decreased responsibility and trust with accountability. Public schools (or government schools) rely heavily on standardized tests to monitor student, teacher, and ultimately, school performance. This accountability often determines pay and school funding and is limiting and demoralizing for teachers who go into the profession to help young people and to teach them in a way that best meets their needs. It should not be that their jobs or pay are on the line if their students do not achieve certain levels of attainment. Teaching is a vocation and an incredibly demanding job. I can hear some of you saying, “What’s wrong with teachers being held accountable – many other industries hold their employees accountable for performance?” I do agree, teachers need proper training, experience, pay and a level of accountability in terms of performance to help them meet the needs of children. But too much prescribed curricula, testing and accountability takes away the creativity and personalization needed in the profession.

Now given this same phrase with students, “If you take away the responsibility it is replaced with accountability,” it can have similar affects. Children too, need to be given the space, time and freedom to be responsible for their behaviors and learning. Schools increasingly are not giving students time to be with each other. Students are not given a voice in the running of their schools, a voice in what they learn and so on. And with this increasing lack of choice and forced teacher/curriculum-driven environments, students are being held more and more accountable by an increasing number of standardized tests, as well as replacing free time with ‘academic opportunities’. If you increase the responsibility for students in schools, they will feel much more a part of the community. They will feel that their voice and opinion counts, and they will start enjoying the learning process.

The ever-changing world we are preparing children for requires for them to be collaborative, agile, curious, imaginative. This requires a school that shows agency for the students, that helps them find their passion, and offers a broad range of choice, as well as fostering autonomy and leadership. These skills are vitally important in a world that is changing fast, where technology will transform jobs and life beyond what we can narrowly imagine.


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