Based on evidence…

I’m very interested in shool education and I’m chairing the board of the local school. My particular field of interest is education for children with learning disabilities. This is because two of my boys have ADHD with reading disabilities.

We’re looking for new ways to educate children with special needs here in Denmark, and the trend is to include them in the normal educational environment – not put them in special schools. There are two reasons to do so: One is that it’s cheaper, the other that the effect of special education is statistically not very good.

I’m regularly discussing the dilemmas of special education with local politician and social sciences professor Bent Greve, and lately he and I had a short e-mail discussion about whether education should be evidence based. This is also a public debate, similar in nature to the debate taking place in the testing community.

Bent Greve explained me why he, as a politician, requires education to be evidence based: He needs to know that the practices which are being applied actually works. I suppose it is about supporting his descision making, but he pointed out that it is also in the interest of those they’re trying to help. It can be done in health care, so he beleives it can be done in other areas too. However, it should never be an excuse for the individual professionals’ responsibility for what he or she is doing – the evidence should support them in making the right decisions.

This point of view is sympathetic if you’re engaged in politics or managing a company: You want your workers to do work that works. Not work that doesn’t work. Right?

On the other hand is the point of view of the professional, who uses his talent and creativity to research for and find solutions. Teachers generally argue against the focus on evidence and find that it limits their freedom and makes them less good teachers. I also argued with Bent that, sometimes the “right descision” turns out to be the wrong descision. For example: If you base your teaching on evidence of what works in general, we can be certain that there will be between 5 and 20% of the pupils who will not learn anything. So what should we do for them?

Bent Greve responded intelligently: Evaluation and evidence cannot be left alone. Continous experimentation and development is needed, as nothing can be said to be final truths.

I agree.

As a tester craftsman I follow patterns in my work which work for me most of the time, but sometimes I find that they don’t. If I test and don’t find any bugs, I feel dissatisfied and confused. I think I may have used the wrong pattern, but I’m in jeopardy and I don’t know what to do since my pattern failed. Eventually I may have to give up, or I may discover a pattern that works within the time that I have to test.

Managers don’t find bugs, testers do. Politicians don’t educate pupils, teachers do. So who should we trust? I’m not going to answer this question since it’s absurd: There would not have been schools if there hadn’t been politicians and there would not have been any software companies if there were no managers. But I think everyone can agree that by the end of the day, the thing that really matters is that we find as many of those annoying bugs as possible before the product is released, and that the pupils learn the most from attending school. Right?

Correct. But sometimes we find that the patterns we’re following in our worklife (whether that’s teaching or testing) are not working. Then what? We have to stop and think. Something is wrong. How do we progress from here. This is where the most important rule is: Don’t apply the same pattern again – try something different!

PS: I was not at Eurostar 2010 today so did not hear Stuart Reid’s keynote. I did, however follow some of the noise it caused on Twitter!

Copyright (C) Anders Dinsen
6 year old Troels learning by playing
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