A quick review of the headlines on education and educational policy we’ve seen from around the world over the last few weeks reveals continuing concerns about issues of access and financing in both developed and developing countries. Australian Teacher Magazine reported on concerns about the extent to which the current Australian government will support the previously approved “Gonski” reforms, and Education International raised questions about a bill that will introduce an income cap to Japan’s tuition-free program for public high schools. An article in The Hindu described how school cancellations caused by excessive holidays and weather can interfere with the requirements for increased instructional time in India’s Right to Education Act. Euronews reported on the difficulties that students in countries like Uganda, Kenya, and Mexico face just getting to school.
Protests over the past few weeks included those over conditions for education and support for educators in the Ukraine that took place as part of the demonstrations against the government’s efforts to delay an association agreement with Europe; rallies against education cuts in Spain; and protests by students at the University of Copenhagen in response to a working paper from the University administration describing proposals designed to get students to complete their courses on time.
But the big news, at least for a moment, was OECD’s release of the 2012 PISA results including overviews, country-specific notes, full reports and data. We pulled together headlines from around the world, many of which labeled the results “bad news,” except in countries like Lichtenstein, Poland, Estonia and the usual high-performing Asian countries and portions of countries (like Shanghai). Alexander Russo rounded-up the responses in the United States and The Times Education Supplement put together their own list of news and opinion.
Concerns about the orchestration of the announcement and the media blitz surrounding it were raised on both sides of the Atlantic, by Paul Morris on the Institute of London Blog as well as Richard Rothstein and Martin Carnoy from the Economic Policy Institute in the US. While Marc Tucker and Tom Friedman agreed on some of the multiple factors that might contribute to Shanghai’s success, Adam Minter, Junheng Li, and Diane Ravitch pointed to some of the problems and concerns about the Chinese education system expressed both inside and outside China (as well with some of the concerns about vast numbers of students in Shanghai who are unrepresented in the PISA tests).
Although slipping a bit in math, Finland – along with several other European high-performers like Estonia (discussed by Pasi Sahlberg), Poland (discussed by Amanda Ripley), and Liechtenstein – still serves as a focus for some examinations of the ingredients of a successful education system. Given the domination of the rankings by the Asian high-performers however, some of the main story lines for the next few years seem to be set. On the one hand, stories about success on PISA will highlight how hard students’ work and the amount of time students spend on schoolwork while mentioning concerns about the amount of pressure on students and the need to support the development of higher-order skills. (See for example, reports from the BBC about South Korea and a report in the Japan News that credits Japan’s strong performance on PISA 2012 in part to a decision by the Japanese Ministry to back-off a commitment to “pressure-free” education and an increase in the volume of study content and the number of class hours). On the other hand, others will continue to point to the many issues of inequality and the social and economic factors that play into these results and other comparisons (see for example stories from France, and the US; while it does not focus on PISA, a recent article from the Asia Pacific Journal of Education explores the inequitable distribution resources across schools in South Korea).