Book review, Letters to a new minister of education by Fernando Reimers

Fernando Reimers has assembled a varied and highly readable compendium of nuggets of advice from 14 ex Education Ministers and Civil Servants representing 11 middle and high-income countries and should be considered required reading for any new Minister of Education.

To provide context to the insights shared in Reimer’s foreword, start first with the letters themselves. Our own highlights from the letters can be summarised as follows:

  • Don’t try to achieve too much, too rapidly: Since the average Education Minister’s tenure in democratic countries is only 2 years, the most practical advice is not to attempt to do too much too quickly and not to harm the inherited educational system.
  • Putting students first, winning over teachers and seeking to depoliticise educational initiatives are obvious mantras.
  • The most compelling letter is from Jaime Saavedra, former Peruvian Minister, who captures the enormous responsibility of the role, explains the difficulties of resolving competing interests and priorities, and recounts with humility how Peru was apparently able to make substantial progress in the short three years of his tenure if international learning assessments are a reliable guide.
    Peru’s PISA results in 2012 were so poor that politics and special interests could be put aside to focus the whole country on the importance of improving learning outcomes. As he says, this is the needed political alignment which has also happened in a number of Scandinavian and East Asian countries, even if in the latter, notably Singapore and South Korea, this was as much to do with autocratic leaders initially at least brooking no debate. Indeed, the book concludes with a contribution by Professor Tan of Nanyang University which confirms Lee Kuan Yew’s educational legacy and the ten commandments1 which should be obeyed with respect to teachers.

1 From Third World to First: The Singapore Story – 1965-2000