Scanning the globe

News in the last few weeks includes a number of stories on educational quality (often driven by international comparisons), with teacher quality again cited as a critical factor. The news has also included discussions of issues like early childhood education, private/supplementary education, and school inspections.  While there has been comparatively little recent news about educational issues sparking protests, the uprising in the Ukraine has been a major focus of attention. The Voice of America reports that university students there have taken charge of the Education Ministry where a “sign reads ‘Students Welcome.’ Just show an ID card and walk right in. Everyone else is expected to stay out, for now.”

Educational Quality

Stories focusing on “top performers” included a discussion with Elfriede Ohrnberger, Ministerialrätin of the Bavarian State Ministry of Education, in The Global Search for Education, about Germany’s recent improvements on the PISA tests. In a commentary on the Education Nation website “It takes keeping up with the competition,” Amanda Ripley argues that students in “higher-performing” countries like Finland and S. Korea have more challenging work than their peers in the US. (For IEN Editor Thomas Hatch’s take, see this commentary describing his children’s elementary school year in “lower-performing” Norway and the trade-offs involved – a powerful holistic, developmental educational experience, but less focus on basic skills and academics).

Although Finland is usually in the news as a “top performer,” this time in Education Week, Mark Tucker asks Pasi Sahlberg to explain Finland’s declines in reading and math on the 2012 PISA tests. The Calgary Herald reports on a former Canadian Deputy Prime Minister’s concern that “Canadians don’t express similar outrage and disbelief when international testing shows the country’s students, and adults, have been faring worse in math, science and literacy over the past decade;” an OECD report on Sweden’s poor performance on PISA was the focus of a story in the Times Education Supplement.  TES cited “everything from low teacher salaries to excessive spending on keeping class sizes small” as key contributors to the problems; and IOL news reports that the education department in KwaZulu-Natal – a province of South Africa – is getting blamed for failure to address long-standing problems in the schools.  A report presented to the legislature there identified problems including:

“Positions being vacant and the long process involved in getting substitute teachers appointed.

– Schools not having qualified maths, science and accounting teachers, or any teachers at all.

– Toilets being in a “terrible” state.

– Schools being without permanently appointed principals for years as disciplinary cases drag on.”

Teacher Quality

A yearly monitoring report from UNESCO suggests that inadequate teacher training and cutbacks in funding are key factors in underperforming educational systems. As discussed in Voice of America, the report suggests to achieve universal primary education, sub-Saharan Africa alone would need roughly 225,000 more teachers a year, or almost 60% of the number of additional teachers needed worldwide. That report also lists Rwanda, Laos, and Vietnam, as having reduced their out-of-school populations at the primary level by at least 85% over the past five years.  However, The Guardian also cites reports that explain that growth “has come at the expense of teaching excellence, with all three countries forced to recruit less qualified teachers.”

In Australia, on the other hand,  The Hechinger Report  suggests that improving teacher quality has been a key reform strategy.  Those efforts have included increasing standards for teachers to get accredited (the equivalent of certified) and work on a career ladder where teachers who take on more responsibilities can get paid more.

Private/Public and Supplementary Education

While the Asia Pacific Memo talks with Julien Dierkes about the changing status and growing popularity of supplementary education, a story in Airang News describes President Park’s recent call to reduce private education there, explaining:

“In an effort to reduce private tutoring and get students more focused on their schooling, the government will force universities to give a zero-mark on applications that include awards or certificates received outside of school.  These will include TOEFL or other English language test scores, math and science Olympiad awards, and extracurricular education prizes received from private institutions.” 

In Radio Free Asia, Andrei Lankov also shares his thoughts on the problems with private education and education in general in North Korea.

Early Childhood Education

In Slate, Claire Lundberg shares her thoughts on almost 200 years of attention to preschool education in France.  Recent legislation in Scotland should increase free childcare for three and four-year-olds, and BBC News describes the effort that will review the quality of the childcare workforce there.

Assessment, Accountability, and School Inspections

Ofsted, responsible for carrying out school inspections, has also been busy.  The Independent reports that there will be some new, unannounced one-day school inspections to try to address what the Chief Inspector called “a culture of casual acceptance” of disruptions in schools.  The Gaurdian also reports of a rift between Ofsted and Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, and, perhaps not coincidentally, a move by Ofsted to begin inspecting chains of academy schools.

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