Tag Archives: Covid-19

School Closures, Internet Access and Remote Instruction in Vietnam:  A Conversation with Chi Hieu Nguyen (Part 1)

This week, Chi Hieu Nguyen talks with Thomas Hatch about the after effects and developments in education in Vietnam following the COVID-19 school closures. Nguyen is the CEO, and co-founder of Innovative Education Group (IEG). Innovative Education Group is an umbrella group of more than 10 education ventures. The interview includes a brief discussion of IEG’s work before Nguyen discusses what happened in Vietnam’s schools following the COVID-19 outbreak, how the education system has responded and what has happened since.

Thomas Hatch: Before we talk about the school closures, can you give us a sense of the kind of work you and your colleagues at IEG do in Vietnam?

Chi Hieu Nguyen: We serve the entire spectrum of the education landscape in Vietnam. We work with policymakers, researchers, school leaders, teachers, parents, and students, and each venture tackles a different problem. We manage education consulting companies but we also run full scale K-12 school systems; we’re involved in publishing, assessment, online learning models, and after school learning models, and even a nonprofit foundation to rebuild public schools in remote areas or provide scholarships and mentorship to underprivileged college students. But the majority of my work focuses on K-12 schools in terms of building new schools, upgrading schools, and transforming old schools. I focus mainly on the academic operation side.

The School Closures in Vietnam

Thomas Hatch: Can you give us a sense of what happened in schools in Vietnam after the COVID-19 outbreak?

Chi Hieu Nguyen: I think Vietnam is a very interesting case. If you look at the data, for example, in South Asia in general, during COVID-19, Vietnam had a longer stretch of lockdown compared to other countries because we were quite late in getting vaccinations going. So the closures started in March 2020, and, in total, we were probably online for a year and a half, and, at least for certain areas, it could be longer.

Thomas Hatch: Was that a government-wide shutdown? Was there any discussion or planning up to it? Or was it one day the schools were open, and the next day they were closed and online?

Chi Hieu Nguyen: In Vietnam it’s usually a top-down decision of the Government to shut down. But this time, it wasn’t uniform across the country. They started shutting things down depending on where the outbreak took place. Shutdowns could also happen based on the district. For example, there are 16 districts, and when a district had an outbreak, that district got shut down, and the others districts could stay open. So the school system operated in a very flexible way, but only in the beginning.  Then there was an intense period with the biggest outbreaks in summer and fall of 2020. That’s when pretty much the entire country got shut down, including the schools. Then, as we recovered, opening schools was really based on the city again – which had the highest amount of a percentage of vaccination and things like that. But the Government decided to have a target of 100% vaccination, and that is the reason why when it got back to normal it was pretty much every city and every province that came back to normal schooling. That happened around February–March of 2022. It was almost 2 years or a year and a half on and off, but mostly off.

Source: WHO & Google, Temasek and Bain, e-Conomy SEA 2020

Thomas Hatch: Who was making the decision about closing down schools? Was it the central government who would essentially say, okay, if you have an outbreak, you need to close? Or was it up to the local officials?

Chi Hieu Nguyen: It was the local authorities. Each province or municipality made those decisions depending on the outbreak. The central government gave a very general directive, but it was the authority of the province or the city that made the decision to shut down.

Thomas Hatch: Is that typical of decision making in the Vietnamese education system? Or is it usually more centrally controlled than that?

Chi Hieu Nguyen:  Over time, they have tended to give more leeway for local authorities to make the decisions. In 2018, after many years, we had an entire revamp of the national curriculum. That revamp produced the first competency-based curriculum nationally. But before that there was only a “one textbook” approach. That meant that, before 2018, for the entire public school system, we used the same textbook. From 2018 onwards, there’s a set of textbooks to choose from, so there’s a lot more leeway and flexibility for schools in different districts and different provinces and cities. It’s still a centrally controlled system, but there is increasing flexibility for the local authority to make those decisions. Over the past 5 or 6 years, there’s certainly more loosening of regulations to support the growth of the private sector as well, but it’s more obvious in education.

“Like a Survival Instinct” – The Initial Response to the School Closures

Thomas Hatch: What was the first step, the first reaction in terms of the school closures? Was it that people said, “oh my, we’re going to have to teach online and nobody has broadband access? And nobody has computers?”

Chi Hieu Nguyen: That’s really what it was. It was like a survival instinct. Everyone got online as much as they could. It’s actually accelerated the speed of adoption of technology and the Internet in a lot of schools. Many people and schools got online quickly, within about one or 2 months. But in contrast to many other Asian countries, in Vietnam, most of the new adoption of the Internet and digital devices — almost 75% — were in the metro areas. That means that in terms of the continuity of education, the metro areas did pretty well, but that the gap between the metro areas and rural areas widened because of COVID-19. For the Metro areas, COVID was a big kick that got a lot of people online, and now there are a lot of new digital products and services that are available. But in my work, even now, we still have to provide computers and teachers to teach online for students in the most remote area of Vietnam.

Source: Google, Temasek and Bain, e-Conomy SEA 2020

Thomas Hatch: That’s a pretty incredible increase in digital use in the metro areas. How was that response possible? Was it led by the Government? Or by local authorities? Or business?

Chi Hieu Nguyen: For private schools, the schools did it themselves, but I think the local education departments were also very responsive. For example, my province, the leadership of the public schools didn’t even need to wait for the local government or the central government to decide. They got students connected very quickly. I think there’s also that agility in the teachers. It’s a very young generation of teachers in Vietnam, and many of them are technologically enabled in their daily life. I think there’s just this passion in Vietnamese teachers in general that might have helped even in more rural areas where there was less internet penetration and technology is very limited. But, overall, I think the infrastructure was in place except for the very poorest areas. Vietnam is a very fast adopter of technology in general, and we saw that kind of a quick transformation in education. Students at most of the schools I know, both private and public schools, get online very quickly within just about 2 months.

Vietnam is a very fast adopter of technology in general, and we saw that kind of a quick transformation in education. Students at most of the schools I know, both private and public schools, get online very quickly within just about 2 months.

Thomas Hatch: What about devices? Did the schools have to hand out devices or did kids have enough mobile phones?

Chi Hieu Nguyen: Phones are something very common in Vietnam. Vietnam is a very e-commerce economy so the infrastructure is there. Almost every house has a smartphone with a data plan connected with the Internet.  I think it’s only with those with the lowest incomes or in the most remote areas where infrastructure is not strong enough. The majority of the country is pretty much connected.

Managing through Remote Instruction

Thomas Hatch: Then what? What were some of the first steps in terms of making sure that remote education would be effective? Was it training teachers in zoom and things like that? Was it creating a curriculum? And was that done centrally at the national level or at the local level?

Chi Hieu Nguyen: For one thing, the Ministry of Education worked together with the national television station to produce learning programs for every subject from grade 1 all the way to grade 12, so that even when students didn’t have internet they could actually watch the TV and learn the programs. But at schools, the effort was focused on just getting kids online and using the internet as a medium to get connected with students within the first, maybe 6 months to 9 months. There was not much of any conversation about teaching methods. But then, towards the end of 2020, and for most of 2021, there were more conversations and conferences about pedagogies, methods, and how to use technology. There was also new explosion of technological products and services in 2021. But for the first 6 months it was pretty much just getting online as much as possible.

Thomas Hatch: That’s very helpful. It’s really interesting the way you describe the COVID-19 response in phases, with an explosion of edtech technologies and things that teachers could use. It wasn’t necessarily focused on pedagogy. Can you give some examples of some of the more interesting edtech developments from your perspective?

Chi Hieu Nguyen: In just about 2 months it seemed like Zoom or Microsoft Teams were in every school. Then in 2021 Microsoft education came in, and suddenly there was an explosion in the number of teachers going for Microsoft education training to become a Microsoft Education Expert or to learn how to use the entire suite of packages and services. Google education followed as well. Vietnamese parents in general are also very keen on learning English with technology, and suddenly there is an explosion of pronunciation apps, reading apps, grammar apps, tons of this. There’s even an investment company translating the entire Khan Academy in Vietnamese.

For me, I also started using ClassIn. It’s a product from China, and it’s a platform that was built for the classroom. It’s different from things like Zoom that were designed as platforms for meetings and were hijacked into the classroom. On Zoom, for example, if you want to us another education tool, you have to ask students to switch platforms: “Okay, let’s go to Padlet” or you have to share a screen. And the moment you share a screen, with limited broadband, you often can’t stream a video or anything. Everything is just disrupted. But ClassIn brought everything together in one platform. You have a blackboard. You have a timer. You can store your video and your lesson plan, or whatever you want to share in ClassIn. Even if the students have very low broadband, they can still watch the video without distraction. It’s called like an online-offline model.

Thomas Hatch: But are schools still using these technologies and online tools?

Chi Hieu Nguyen: There are different aspects. Schools are more aware that something like COVID-19 could happen again and disrupt everything, so they’ve converted from paper-based into more digital resources. Now you see Vietnamese schools are starting to think about learning management systems like Canvas and everything digital lives there.

Schools are more aware that something like COVID-19 could happen again and disrupt everything, so they’ve converted from paper-based into more digital resources.

The second aspect is the way they approach the lessons. There now might be a combination between online activities and in person activities. The students before class, during class, and after class spend a lot of time on the digital platform, and of course, in class, they have discussions and they have in-person activities. The third aspect is that classroom organization may be more flexible. It’s no longer just one teacher and the entire class. You can have the class study from a different location, doing something for a field trip and then have a class study online, for example. You can start to invite teachers from all over the world to teach and start to explore other possibilities. Of course, you see this most at pioneering schools. One I’m involved in is The Olympia Schools, a private K-12 school system that is a part of our school network. They’ve started talking about deeper learning, about virtual reality, how to take advantage of AI and virtual reality. Now they’ve started to bring ChatGPT into daily teaching as well so there is almost no resistance to the wave of technology anymore because of that COVID-19. Now they have that mentality that we have to be very agile with every new technology coming out.  I think every city, in every major city in Vietnam, there should be about 4 or 5 schools like that. They are really pushing the boundaries, and they become like model schools that others can learn from.

Headlines Around the World: PIRLS 2021 International Reading Results Edition

This week, IEN scans the headlines for the results of the 2021 PIRLS reading assessment. For related scans from other international tests see Around the World in PISA 2018 Headlines; Headlines around the world: PIRLS (2016)  Results; Headlines Around the World TIMSS 2015 Edition; TIMSS and PIRLS 2011.

The release of the PIRLS 2021 4th grade reading results provides another opportunity for education systems to see if and how the COVID-19 pandemic and school closures affected students’ test performance.  In addition to collecting data in the middle of what the PIRLS report called the “COVID-19 disruption,” the latest implementation of PIRLS also entailed a transition to “an innovative digital assessment with 23 colorful and engaging texts delivered to students using a new group adaptive design.” The 2021 PIRLS also included a questionnaire that provided information about the challenges participating schools and students faced during the pandemic, which can help put the results in context.

In all, 57 countries and 8 benchmarking entities participated in PIRLS 2021, providing data from about 400,000 students, 380,000 parents, 20,000 teachers, and 13,000 schools.  According to the report, “in general there are downward trends in PIRLS 2021that likely are evidence of the assessment taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

“in general there are downward trends in PIRLS 2021that likely are evidence of the assessment taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

As we have with previous PISA and TIMMS results, IEN scanned the headlines to see what media outlets in different parts of the world are emphasizing. Predictably, many of the headlines focus on rankings, often noting sharp rises and drops in performance. In this case, the headlines tout high performance in countries like England – rising to #4 in the rankings — but the reporting also acknowledges that rises like these reflect  “significant drops” in outcomes in some countries (like Finland and Poland) that are likely associated with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that some previously highly-ranked countries did not participate this time due to COVID. (At the same time, the headlines in Poland note that Poland, along with Finland, are still at the top of the rankings in the EU.)

In our google search scans, we found a number of headlines from media in the UK, Australia, and parts of Europe, with perhaps the largest number of headlines decrying South Africa’s dismal results. Although headlines in Brazil framed results there in negative terms, Nic Spaull pointed out that South Africa might actually do well to learn from Brazil, given that the results for 4th graders there suggest the that they were 3 years ahead of their peers in South Africa. Notably, no headlines from the US showed up in any of our scans.


Victorian students’ reading scores went backwards amid long remote learning period, international study showsThe Guardian

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds, in remote areas and First Nations students also lagged behind the national average

Year 4 reading outcomes steady despite Covid disruptions – major studyThe Educator Online

Falling through the cracks’: NSW boys fail to keep up with girls in readingThe Sydney Morning Herald


Brazil lags behind Uzbekistan and Kosovo in a reading assessment for elementary school studentsThe Rio Times


Students in Alberta outperformed several other Canadian provinces in reading scores during pandemicCTV News


PIRLS 2021: England rises up rankings, and 8 more findingsSchools Week

The country achieved an average reading score of 558, one point below the score when the tests were last held in 2016

Reading ability of children in England scores well in global surveyThe Guardian

English children are the most literate in Europe and shoot up the leaderboard to become fourth best in the world when it comes to their reading skills, study showsDaily Mail


European countries score well in international reading rankingsEuronews


Reading comprehension: France still falling short of European averageLe Monde


Germany: Reading skills below European average, and droppingDW

Hong Kong

Hong Kong Primary Four pupils take third spot in reading survey of 57 countries and territories around the worldSouth China Morning Post

Hong Kong students achieve remarkable results in International Reading Literacy StudyDimsum Daily

92% of Hong Kong P4 students were at or above the Intermediate International Benchmark, higher than the global average of 75%. The results also showed that 21% of the students were high achievers in reading literacy at the Advanced International Benchmark, which was only attained by 7% of students worldwide.”


Ireland’s 10-year-olds outperform internationally in readingRTE


The results of the 2021 IEA-PIRLS international survey were presented todayItaly 24


Poland tops EU in ranking of children’s reading abilityNotes from Poland


Scots ‘in dark’ over pupils’ reading as global study results publishedThe Herald


Serbian children achieve excellent PIRLS literacy scoreSerbian Monitor


Singapore’s Primary 4 pupils are world’s best in readingThe Straits Time


The problem sinking Spain in reading comprehension rankingsWorld Nation News

South Africa

South Africa’s massive reading problemBusiness Tech

SA produces one of worst global reading results among over 50 countriesnews 24

South African children come last in international reading assessmentThe Rep


Swedish reading skills fell in 2021 despite decision to keep schools openThe Local

A view from Poland (Part 2) – Jacek Pyżalski discusses the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on students, teachers and wellbeing

In the second part of this three-part interview, Jacek Pyżalski draws from his own research to discuss the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the well-being of students and teachers in Poland and discusses some specific steps that teachers and schools could take to support their students. In Part 1, Pyżalski provides an overview of the school closures in Poland and how the education system responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Part 3 will focus on how the Polish education system has responded to the influx of refugees caused by Russia’s war on Ukraine. Jacek Pyżalski is the Professor in the Faculty of Educational Studies (Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan). He is experienced in researching the problems connected to social and educational aspects of ICT usage by children and adolescents. He was a pioneer in Poland in the field of cyberbullying research, and he has extensively studied the impact of crisis remote education on wellbeing of students, teachers and parents.

Thomas Hatch: I want to turn now to what you’ve learned in your research in terms of the effects of the pandemic and school closures on teachers and students in Poland. Are there a couple of things that you want to highlight?

Jacek Pyżalski: The information is that it touched not only the students, but all the other groups. When we did our research in the thirty-two schools, we used a couple of indicators of mental health and also dynamic indicators. For example, “Do you feel better, worse or the same as before the pandemic?” Although people were mostly publicly talking about the young generation, when we used the same indicators for all three groups – parents, students, and teachers – for mental and physical health the teachers felt the worst, then the  parents, and then the students. So in some indicators adults were touched by the situation more severely than young people (Polish teachers’ stress, well-being and mental health during COVID-19 emergency remote education).

The second thing is it’s not justified to say that everybody in each group was touched the same. For young people, I would say that about 1 in 5 or 1 in 6 [about 15-20%] were touched severely. A lot of them were more or less indifferent as if nothing happened. But for 1 in 20, this was almost a blessed time, and they reported a lot of advantages. Some people wondered how in such an apocalyptic time anyone could have responded this way, but we found it was very consistent.  In all the questions we asked, there seemed to be the same group of 4-5% percent of people saying “I feel better”; “I have a better relationship with my peers”; “I’ve got a better relationship with this student.”

it’s not justified to say that everybody in each group was touched the same. For young people, I would say that about 1 in 5 or 1 in 6 [about 15-20%] were touched severely. A lot of them were more or less indifferent as if nothing happened. But for 1 in 20, this was almost a blessed time, and they reported a lot of advantages.

We said, “What’s going on here?” And we went deeper. When I was meeting teachers, I asked “Do you have any students who are getting better?” Nearly all the teachers could think of such students. I asked the details, “Who is in this group?” and I learned there were young people who were totally withdrawn, socially withdrawn, before the school closures; they would never say a word during the lesson before the school closed. Now with the computer mediated communication, it was easier for them to respond to their teacher. There were also some young people who were the target of school bullying, and this was a time when they were physically protected. They could be cyber bullied, but it’s easier to be protected physically. Additionally, some students from the autism spectrum were able to adjust the volume and the pace for example. There was a lot of diversity in this group. For these kinds of students, the threat was to go back. To go back and to sit at the table in the class means they could lose everything they had achieved. For example, you are not talking before the pandemic. You started talking and being active in education and in contact. What does it mean that you go back to the state you were before the pandemic when you go back to school? Some said this not a lot of people, but still it’s real people that are coming back, and for them, it was a real threat. As a result, when I was preparing the teachers for reopening, I was also saying “identify those students and give them specific support, because those are the ones that need the support the most.” 

There were some other general things we learned about. Everyone was saying that peer relations generally declined, but really it was about 50% of young people who said so. About 40% of students said their peer relations were the same, the same level and quality as before the pandemic. Why? One thing was that they were using computer mediated communication but the contact was not always that different. Some were meeting physically outside school for instance. There was also this five percent saying my relationships are better than before. It was the same with teacher-student relations. It was not everybody that said those relations declined a lot, the majority stayed the same. It was interesting, and in our research we found correlations between the quality of the important peer and student-teacher relationships and the mental health indicators. Those who said their relations declined suffered from lower indicators of mental health in many respects. So if anybody asked me, what would you do? I would invest in the quality of relations because this seems to be a factor that most profoundly impacts the well-being and mental health status of young people.

[I]f anybody asked me, what would you do? I would invest in the quality of relations because this seems to be a factor that most profoundly impacts the well-being and mental health status of young people.

Thomas Hatch: Earlier you mentioned the book you and your colleagues wrote: Education in the time of Covid-19: With distance to what we do as the teachers. Can you tell me about some of the advice you gave and the work you did to help teachers respond to the pandemic?

Jacek Pyżalski: We were really very practical in the book. We said let’s start with wellbeing, with contact with the students. What are some small things you can do in the lesson, not only to teach, but to create and keep the community in the classroom? We were really focusing not only on the teacher as the producer of the lessons, but as the context. Of course, it was not only us, there were also big NGOs supporting schools. For example, this book was followed by a series of webinars that went deeper into each chapter. Live, during the webinars, we might have 4,000 participants, and when we looked the next day we might see that it was opened by 60,000 people. It was so needed.  People were so lost in this new reality and were looking for solutions to achieve basic educational goals. There were a lot of these kinds of initiatives. People were organizing things like workshops where teachers would present some techniques and methodologies they used to keep the classroom together or to engage the students online.

People were also having a lot of problems, specific problems. For example, I would say one of the problems I heard many times from teachers of all levels was the issue of young people switching off the cameras. Some teachers were very angry about this, because for them, that was a sign that the students were not engaged and they wanted to withdraw from the lessons. But for me, it was not clear. So, with a colleague at my University, we asked our students anonymously if they were for or against switching off their camera. We were interested in the justification of both answers. What we learned was that those who were switching off their cameras were not just those who were lazy or who wanted to disengage, but they had many other reasons. For example I remember one student wrote something like: “I’ve got a scar on my cheek and normally it’s not seen in the physical classroom. But online, it’s magnified, and everyone can see it. So if I switch on my camera, I’ll think about nothing else.” Or young people said, “my home situation is not okay, and during the lesson someone could come in and scream or do something strange and everyone would witness it.” We learned that not everything is as easy as it seems. The most important thing during the pandemic was to have this kind of feedback, and to get the learners’ perspective, because sometimes we, as teachers, force our own understanding of what’s going on and it’s not necessarily true. It’s better to go deeper with other perspectives.

Thomas Hatch: Did you do a webinar that focused on how to deal with turning off the camera? Did you have a particular recommendation on how teachers could deal with students turning off the cameras?

Jacek Pyżalski: Yes, I had a lot of recommendations. The starting point is diagnosis, really asking how it looks in the student’s microenvironment. Then I would talk with teachers about things like using a step by step approach. They could ask their students, “Okay, if I’m talking directly to you, please switch the camera on.” That’s easier than having it on all the time. Some of the students also gave the argument that if everybody switched on their cameras and they see everybody moving, it’s harder to concentrate. So, step by step, and sometimes to find something funny. For example, tell the students “tomorrow, let’s have everyone wear something yellow. Maybe what I’m saying is very plain, and very modest, but actually those small things matter.

Also, I told them that it’s not that easy to make big generalizations like, “remote education is not engaging students.” For example, you can give a task like recording an interview with your grandmother, publishing it, and then listening to them and discussing them as a class. Or when we are teaching new vocabulary in a foreign language, go to the kitchen and take a photo of some equipment, and then we could create a PowerPoint Presentation together, showing photos with subtitles we’ve written underneath in Spanish, or any language. Generally, our message for the teachers was that remote education is what you make it. You can make it work based on your educational goals.

Our message for the teachers was that remote education is what you make it. You can make it work based on your educational goals.

Thomas Hatch: Despite some concerns about well-being in the US, I don’t think there has been as much talk about teacher-student and peer relationships, though I suspect we might find these same kinds of results. These relationship factors might help explain some of the findings related to learning loss. Have there been discussions of learning loss in Poland?

Jacek Pyżalski: There were a few threads of this discussion, including how to measure it. There was a big pressure on lowering the standards for the exam, because they said, “Okay, it’ll be impossible to use the same standards as in traditional learning.” They did some of this, and then they learned there was some loss. Another thing was the issue of assessment, that it’s not fair because you can cheat. It might not be mirroring the real situation because of this.

There has also been a big general discussion about whether you can do online education that is at the same level of traditional education. There was also the big question, to what extent should we use online education afterwards at all levels of education (university, secondary, primary, kindergarten, levels). We are so “zoom fatigued” that young people have problems with this. They use it too much, they use it at night, they use it all the time, they are multitasking. There are some indicators of this lack of digital wellbeing. We also had an interesting finding that these indicators were sometimes even more prevalent in teachers than they were in students. What is normally understood as the younger generation’s problem is also ours. So if you ask me about the most important factors for the wellbeing of all interested, I would first name the quality of important relations, and the second one, the quality of digital wellbeing.

So how do we tackle ICT? How do we tackle technology in our life in terms of multitasking and the length of what we are doing? This was also for teachers, things like work-home balance, there were a lot of factors. Not only Poland, but a lot of countries, took care of young people forgetting that the mental health of teachers is also really impacting young people even though we know there is a connection. You cannot aim for high quality wellbeing for young people without thinking about how the teachers feel, the teachers emotions, and how the teachers cope. I think it was neglected.

You cannot aim for high quality wellbeing for young people without thinking about how the teachers feel, the teachers’ emotions, and how the teachers cope.

Thomas Hatch: This is really fascinating. Are there any other promising innovations from the Covid era in schools or other lessons that you think we should remember?

Jacek Pyżalski: Oh, yes. I think there are some hybrid methodologies like design thinking, projects or some things like innovative usage of technologies for cooperation or technologies for producing some common things by the students. But I would say that the COVID situation was really a kind of cold-water bucket on the heads of Utopian people who thought that just digitizing education would be a big step into the future. They learned that that technology itself is nothing, and I think we learned, and we are more realistic about what technology can do, what it cannot do, and how to use it. I think that those who are wise should have learned – and I know that some of them have learned – that we really have to learn how to use technology.


Pyżalski, J., & Poleszak, W. (2022). Polish teachers’ stress, well-being and mental health during COVID-19 emergency remote education–a review of the empirical data. Lubelski Rocznik Pedagogiczny, 41 (2), 25-40.

Scanning the headlines for results from OECD’s Education at a Glance: October 2022 Edition

This week, IEN scans the headlines of stories reporting on OECD’s Education at a Glance for 2022. OECD’s Education at a Glance 2022 provides an annual overview of comparative education statistics. The scan includes aspects of the report emphasized by media outlets around the world. See IEN’s Education at a Glance 2021 Scan and Education at a Glance 2019 Scan for comparison.

The unparalleled growth in tertiary education was the focal point of this year’s Education at a Glance report. The OECD notes women now make up the majority of young adults with a tertiary degree, at 57% compared to 43% for males. Across all 25-34 year olds, tertiary education has become the most common educational attainment level, which the OECD attributes to the labor-market advantages tertiary degrees provide. The indicators in the report included student participation, progress, and outcomes, as well as the resources countries invested in tertiary education. Additionally, the report explored educational outcomes from the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, described by OECD as “a return to normalcy.” Correspondingly, many of the headlines, both those discussing the report in general and highlighting results from particular countries, focused on the results related to tertiary education. As in the past, a number of headlines emphasized problems that the report revealed (Australia; Finland; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Japan) with only a few highlighting more positive findings (Portugal; Spain). 

Figure 1: Trends in the share of tertiary-educated 25-34 year-olds (2000 and 2021), OECD


Education at a Glance 2022: Higher Education Still Pays Off, OECD and NCEE

We must grow multiple pathways to success through an array of post-secondary options, including, of course, the rich array of some baccalaureate options and apprenticeships. ” – Amy Loyd, President of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

Tertiary education rates reach record high, with more efforts, Mirage News

“The share of young adults with advanced qualifications across the OECD, driven by the growing need for advanced skills in labor markets, reached a record 48% of 25-34 year-olds in 2021, compared to just 27% in 2000. Shares of tertiary educated 25-34 year olds are highest in Korea (69.3%) and Canada (66.4%), according to a new OECD report.”

Many students choosing useless decrees over learning skills, OECD official says, The National

“We have large shares of young people choosing degrees that actually may not exist when they graduate.” – Andreas Schleicher, OECD director for Education and Skills

Education at a Glance: Addressing the need to build a more effective and equitable education system, International Education

“Only three countries reported mainstreaming all four aspects of the SDG 4.7.1 on Global Citizenship Education and Education for Sustainable Development which includes policies, curricula, teacher education, and assessment, (Brazil, France, and Spain).”


Australia’s public education funding went backwards during COVID pandemic, ABC

“The latest OECD Education at a Glance report shows Australian public education expenditure was cut by nearly 2 per cent from 2019 to 2020, by comparison the OECD average rose by around 1.5 per cent.”


OECD comparison: educational attainment of Finnish young people fallen below average, Finnish Ministry of Education

“In 2000, the proportion of highly educated younger adults in Finland was among the highest in the OECD countries, in the same league as the United States and South Korea. In 2021, instead, Finland’s position had dropped well below the OECD average, ranking at the level of Chile and Turkey.”


Ireland is worst in OECD for education spending as percentage of GDP, report finds, The Irish Times
“Ireland spends less than 36 other developed countries on its education system, when spending is measured as a portion of countries’ gross domestic product (GDP), according to a new report from the OECD.”


The OECD report: about a quarter of the young Israelis are neither working nor in school, Globes

“According to the report, the rate of young people neither working nor in school (NEET) is considered quite high in Israel, standing at 22%, compared to 16% in the OECD average.”


OECD says 34.6% of 25-29-yr-olds in Italy are NEETS [Not in Education, Employment or Training], ANSA

“The proportion of young people in Italy who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) has increased significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic… the proportion of 25-to-29-year-olds who are NEETS climbed to 31.7% in 2020 and then rose further to 34.6% in 2021.”

Figure 2: Trends in the share of NEETs among 18-24 year-olds (2019 and 2021, annual date), OECD


Japan ranked last in women staff in tertiary education: OECD, The Japan Times

“Japan had the lowest share of female staff in tertiary education in 2020 among 32 comparable member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, at 30%…Women represent 45% of academic professionals across OECD countries on average.”

New Zealand 

How NZ education compares to other OECD countries, RNZ

“The number of young New Zealanders with tertiary qualifications had grown in the past 10 years, but not as much as in most other OECD nations… In New Zealand the percentage of 25 to 34-year-olds with tertiary qualifications rose 16 percentage points from 29 percent in 2000 to 45 percent in 2021.”


University graduates in Portugal earn more than double salaries of those that left school at 18, Portugal Resident 

“The findings appear to show that graduates everywhere receive higher salaries in the workplace than colleagues without degrees – particularly in Portugal where they can end up earning double the salaries of less qualified counterparts. The report cites Information Technology and Communication as the sector in Portugal paying the highest salaries.”


How do Scottish head teacher salaries compare?, TES

“Scottish head teachers tend to be paid more than the average earned by their counterparts in countries such as Finland, New Zealand and France – but they lag behind heads in England, new figures show.”


Nearly 50% of Spanish Students Aged 25-34 have a Higher Education Degree, Erudera News

“This was an increase of 8.4 points more than in 2011 and nearly 15 points or 34 percent compared to 2000. Moreover, the figure is above the average for the OECD countries, where the percentage is 46.9 percent, and also above the average for 22 EU countries (45.9 percent), Erudera.com reports.”


Vocational training drives tertiary qualification rise in Switzerland 
“The proportion of 25- to 34-year-olds with a tertiary qualification has doubled in Switzerland within 20 years, and at a faster pace than many other countries, according to an OECD study. A key factor in this: Swiss-style higher vocational training and degrees for apprentices.”

United States

U.S. Teachers work more hours than their global peers. Other countries are catching up. EducationWeek 

“U.S. elementary school teachers’ work hours haven’t changed much since 2019, but at more than 1,000 a year on average, American educators work more than 200 more hours than their peers worldwide.”

Are students going back to school without teachers? Scanning the headlines on the “teacher shortage” in the US

Teacher shortages, at least the news about them, seems inescapable this year. For the next two weeks, we share many of the teacher shortage related stories that we encountered during our annual scan of back-to-school headlines. This week’s post focuses on articles from the US that discuss the shortage, describe the problems with the available data, and explore some of the efforts to deal with the challenges of hiring and retaining teachers; next week, Part 2 will draw together headlines about teacher shortages in other parts of the world.

As students headed back to school in the US in 2022, education news from many major education outlets raised concerns about shortages of teachers. Predictably, headlines describing a teacher shortage crisis were quickly followed by articles questioning whether there was a crisis at all.  Matt Barnum, for example, noted both the reports describing a “catastrophic” teacher shortage as well as those expressing skepticism that there is sufficient evidence to support those claims (Is there a national teacher shortage? Here’s what we know and don’t know).

“The public narrative has gotten way ahead of the data and is even misleading in most cases,” Chad Alderman quoted in The Atlantic

Scanning the stories from the US suggests that there are indeed many places where districts and schools are having difficulty finding teachers to fill available positions. But whether or not and how much of a shortage there is varies from place to place, and by differences in the nature of the position (National Teacher Shortage? New Research Reveals Different Realities Between States). One recent report from the Annenberg Institute estimates that 36,504 full-time teaching positions in the US are unfilled — but shortages are localized in nine states. As one of the report authors, Tuan D. Nguyen, described it to Marianna McMurdock of The74 “There are substantial vacant teacher positions in the United States. And for some states, this is much higher than for other states. … It’s just a question of how severe it is” (National Teacher Shortage? New Research Reveals Different Realities Between States). Joshua Bleiberg and Matthew A. Kraft add in another analysis published by the Annenberg Institute that a lack of up-to-date, consistent data also makes it hard to track any shortages and complicates efforts to explain what might be happening and why (Inconsistent Data Inflate Concerns of Teacher ‘Mass Exodus,’ Paper Argues).

There may be many reasons for teachers to quit. In particular, one survey showed that fifty-nine percent of teachers say they’re burned out, compared to 44 percent of other workers. But it’s not clear the extent to which the number of teachers leaving the profession is significantly greater than it has been previously. Richard Ingersoll and colleagues have long highlighted challenges of staffing schools, pointing to problems with retaining as well as hiring new teachers (NEPC Talks Education). Furthermore, the shortages of teachers are being reported at the same time there have been recent declines in student enrollment and an increase in hiring of teachers and other support staff that has come along with the influx of federal funding to combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. “[I]s it useful to use the term shortage,” Derek Thompson wondered in The Atlantic, “when, compared with staff numbers before the pandemic, more teachers might be employed in America’s public schools right now than in 2019?” (There Is No National Teacher Shortage).


‘Never seen it this bad’: America faces catastrophic teacher shortage, The Washington Post

 Even Schools Flush With Cash Can’t Keep Up With Teacher Shortage, Bloomberg

PBS News

Teacher Shortages a Reality as Schools Struggle to Fill New Positions, PBS News

Is there a teacher shortage? It’s complicated, CNN

Is there a national teacher shortage? Here’s what we know and don’t know, Chalkbeat


Are Teachers Leaving the Classroom En Masse?, Vox

How bad is the teacher shortage? It depends on where you live, The New York Times

Teacher Shortages Are Real, But Not For The Reason You Heard, AP News

Yes, There’s a Shortage of Special Education Teachers. And That’s Nothing New , The 74

Why teachers are leaving and what we can do about it, Marshall et. al., Phi Delta Kappan

Respect, pay, support: Why these former teachers quit and what could have helped, Chalkbeat

Schools Are Looking in Unusual Places to Deal With Teacher Shortage, Wall Street Journal

Biden-Harris Administration Announces Public and Private Sector Actions to Strengthen Teaching Profession and Help Schools Fill Vacancies, U.S. Department of Education

Biden administration partners with job firms to address teacher shortage, The Hill

Breaking the Legacy of Teacher Shortages, Linda Darling-Hammond, Educational Leadership

Going back to school in 2022 (Part 3): Scanning the headlines from around the world

In recognition of the UN-sponsored Transforming Education Summit, Part 3 of our roundup of back-to-school headlines draws together links to the stories we’re seeing in some of the major sources of education news outside the US. Part 1 revealed some of the back-school issues highlighted in US (Hope and trepidation:  Scanning the back-to-school headlines in the US) and Part 2 looked specifically at the impact on schools of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic 2 (“Over it” but enable to escape it: Going back to school with COVID in 2022). A future post will survey some of the many stories we are seeing about the discussions, questions and challenges of the “teacher shortage.”  For back-to school headlines from fall 2021 see Going Back to School Has Never Been Quite Like This (Part 1): Pandemic Effects in the US; Going Back to School Has Never Been Quite Like This (Part 2): Quarantines, Shortages, Wildfires & Hurricanes; For fall 2020 see What does it look like to go back to school? It’s different all around the world…; for 2019 see Headlines Around the World: Back to School 2019 Edition.

A return to school after the COVID closures and hopes for a “bounce back” characterize some of the back-to-school headlines; but in Ukraine and some parts of the developing world, many of the headlines focus on critical challenges including violence, war, floods and famine that are continuing to keep some students, particularly girls, out of school.

“[F]or many students here and around the world, especially girls, there is no excitement around supply shopping or reuniting with their friends again — because none of that will happen at all. Between schools staying closed over fears of a new COVID-19 wave and other barriers to getting an education, back-to-school doesn’t look quite as bright.” – Back to school? Think again, Plan International


For most teenage girls in Afghanistan, it’s been a year since they set foot in a classroom, AP


Frequent blackouts, school and office hours cut: Is Bangladesh going way of Sri Lanka?, Firstpost

Seven classes a day during new school year in Bangladeshi high schools, bdnews24

“The government says it has changed the routines so that the students do not fall behind in lessons due to the two-day weekends”, bdnews24


French schools are back today: what changes for the year ahead?, The Connexion


Kenya postpones schools reopening a second time over vote tallying, The East African


Parents in India choosing homeschooling for the new school year, The Indian Express


Italy reopens schools without masks, Wanted in Rome


At the same time that the students are going back to school, a major strike is simmering, Norway Posts English


Over 2 million students could give up education due to floods in Sindh, Pakistan, Pro Pakistani

No back-to-school for thousands of children as nearly 19,000 schools damaged, destroyed by floods in Pakistan, Save the Children


Philippine kids back in school after 2 years lost to virus, AP News

Sri Lanka

Education Ministry in Sri Lanka announces change in conducting schools, Sri Lanka Internet Newspaper


Swiss apprenticeships bounce back after Covid-19 pandemic, Swissinfo

“Every August a new cohort of students begin their apprenticeships across Switzerland. The appetite for vocational training remains strong despite the impact of Covid-19, with experts pointing to a return to pre-pandemic levels.”


Thai schools, unis fully reopen after 5 months of lockdown, The Nation Thailand


Teenagers in Uganda offer insight into their return to school after enduring the world’s longest COVID school closure, NPR


The race is on across Ukraine to build new bunkers. Not for soldiers on the front lines, but students in schools, CNN

“The new school year is a day of celebration in Ukraine, where children dress up and give bouquets of flowers to their teachers. But Russia’s invasion has cast a shadow on the happy day. Now educational facilities across the country are racing to build bunkers and bomb shelters for returning students,” CNN

Pencil, chalk and first-aid kits: Ukrainian children return to school in the midst of war, New York Times

Traumatized and displaced but determined, kids in Ukraine head back to school, NPR

Ukrainian Refugees Head Back To School In Poland, Forbes

‘We are in this together’: the Ukrainians starting a new German school year, The Guardian

 “Ukrainian teachers vital for providing ‘welcome classes’ to 150,000 children who fled to Germany after Russian invasion”, The Guardian

Back to school for Ukranian Refugees, Expats means Fresh Start with Old Fears, The74


Children in war-torn Yemen skip class to survive ‘misery’, France 24


““Right now, I don’t even have a pencil for my children to start classes in September,” said Florena Delgado, who teaches first and fifth grades at two schools in one of the lowest-income neighborhoods of the capital, Caracas”- NBC News

 Teachers in Venezuela march, threaten to strike over low pay, few resources, NBC News

“Over it” but unable to escape it: Going back to school with COVID in 2022

Part 2 of this year’s back-to-school scan pulls together some of the headlines that highlight issues related to the continuing impact of the  COVID-19. Part 1 revealed some of the issues, fears, and (a few) hopes expressed in some of the major sources of US education news over the past few weeks and Part 3 will provide a roundup of the back-to-school headlines we are seeing from around the world. We will also follow-up with a post surveying some of the many discussions and debates about the realities and challenges of the “teacher shortage”  For back-to school headlines from fall 2021 see Going Back to School Has Never Been Quite Like This (Part 1): Pandemic Effects in the US; Going Back to School Has Never Been Quite Like This (Part 2): Quarantines, Shortages, Wildfires & Hurricanes; For fall 2020 see What does it look like to go back to school? It’s different all around the world…; for 2019 see Headlines Around the World: Back to School 2019 Edition.

“Over it” but also unable to escape it seems to capture the sentiment of many of the back-to-school stories that address the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on schools. A series of articles from the74 in particular highlight that although many schools and educators are making decisions to end closures, remote options, and masking, there also appears to be a recognition that those decisions could lead to more surges requiring schools to respond again. Education Week also highlighted how, in the US, those decisions have been supported with new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and the White House to help schools deal with the “new abnormal.”

‘Over It’: Most Educators Say They Won’t Mask This Fall, Education Week

Many Remote Learning Options Shutting Down as School Reopens for Fall 2022, The74

“According to a new review by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, the “approaches of America’s 100 largest districts suggest that most are jettisoning remote learning entirely, or reverting back to programs that existed before the pandemic forced them to swiftly provide all families with some sort of online option.”

‘Treat This as You Would Any Illness’ — Schools Downgrading COVID Rules, The74

“As students return from summer vacation, school systems nationwide are scaling back COVID masking and quarantine requirements — in some cases, eliminating them altogether. Many are simply telling students to stay home if they have symptoms, much as they did before the pandemic.”

School Mask, Vaccine Mandates Are Mostly Gone. But What if the Virus Comes Back? , The74

Student Absences May Spike Due to Low Vaccination Rates, Weaker Immunity Education Week

Thousands without childhood vaccinations unable to return to school, EdSource

CDC’s Latest COVID Guidance for Schools Ends ‘Test-to-Stay,’ Quarantine Recommendations, Education Week

“The White House followed the CDC’s lead, de-emphasizing the importance of masking and quarantining and instead focusing on vaccinations, testing, and air quality as major prevention strategies.”Education Week

White House Outlines Key COVID-Prevention Strategies for This School Year, Education Week

FACT SHEET: BACK TO SCHOOL 2022: Giving Every School the Tools to Prevent COVID-⁠19 Spread and Stay Safely Open All Year Long, The White House

Back to School: 10 Steps Schools and Districts Can Take to Address New and Ongoing COVID-19 Challenges, Learning Policy Institute

“My biggest concern is that we’ve seen a ton of viral infections just over the summer,” says Magna Dias, MD, a Yale Medicine pediatrician. “So, when we get back to indoor settings with kids being together again, it could mean that we will see more infections happening—both with COVID-19 and with other viral infections.”Yale Medicine

Respiratory Viruses, Colds, Fever, COVID: This Year’s Back-to-School Guide for Parents, Yale Medicine

Scanning the News on High-Dosage Tutoring (Part 2): Initiatives and Implementation So Far

“High dosage” tutoring has emerged as a common response, to help support student learning in the wake of pandemic school closures.  In Part 1 of a scan of some of the headlines on the related news and research since the start of the pandemic, Naila Shahid reported on the discussions of the emergence of tutoring initiatives, related research, and support programs, particularly in the US. This week Part 2 of the scan focuses on some of the tutoring initiatives launched in different states and questions about implementation so far. 

The emergence of high-dosage tutoring initiatives across the US

As students pile back into in-person learning settings, many school districts across the US are using COVID relief funding from the American Rescue Plan for high-dosage tutoring programs. A report from The Education Trust, FutureEd and Education Reform Now reveals that by the beginning of 2022, “at least 17 states have committed to investing in targeted intensive tutoring, at least five have committed to building statewide tutoring programs, and at least six have committed to providing state-level guidance and support targeted intensive tutoring programs.” According to the report, states that have committed to utilizing a significant portion of their funding on high dosage tutoring include: Louisiana, New Mexico, Tennessee, and Texas. Louisiana expects to spend  $90 million of its $4.1 billion, New Mexico $176 million out of  $1.5 billion, Tennessee $200 million out of  $3.9 billion; and Texas  $1.4 billion out of $19.2 billion.  

“At least 17 states have committed to investing in targeted intensive tutoring, at least five have committed to building statewide tutoring programs, and at least six have committed to providing state-level guidance and support targeted intensive tutoring programs.”

Promising Practices, Education Trust, Education Reform Now, and FutureEd 

Among the state programs underway or proposed: 

New Jersey

Two years ago, the College of New Jersey’s School of Education, in partnership with the Overdeck Family Foundation, launched the New Jersey Summer Tutoring Corps. The program hired in-service and preservice teachers to tutor students for a minimum of 10 hours a week. The tutoring locations were YMCA and Boys & Girls Club. Tutors earned $20 to $25 per hour. The NJ Summer Tutoring Corps  provided tutoring to 2,000 students in the summer of 2021 and expanded to 42 sites in the fall of 2022. 


Tennessee proposed spending $200 million to initiate a three-year tutoring project called Tennessee Accelerating Literacy and Learning Corps.  That project involves 83 districts across Tennessee participating in the Corps serving 150,000 students in either Math or English language Arts.  The program primarily targets elementary students who are below the proficiency level. 


The Arkansas Department of Education has also launched an Arkansas Tutoring Corps. That initiative aims to build a system to recruit and train tutors to meet the academic needs of students in their geographic area. Total compensation for tutors is expected to be up to $3,000 in their first year and $2,500 in subsequent years. Arkansas Tutoring Corps tutors can be students enrolled in the educator prep programs in institutions of higher education, retired educators, current teachers, and community members. 


The City of Indianapolis in Indiana also planned to expand a virtual tutoring initiative as part of their effort to help students catch up on reading and math skills. According to a Chalkbeat report, the results of two pilot programs showed improvement in participating students’ math scores of 12% to 26% and English/language arts scores by 4% to 9%. 

Quality of implementation and effectiveness 

Although it is far too soon judge the effectiveness of most of these plans, despite the promise, numerous questions about the implementation and effectiveness of scaling-up tutoring programs remain. In particular, some stories are already documenting challenges and progress of implementation, including basic logistical issues that are delaying the full implementation of these programs in some places. In Chicago, for example, tutors were hired before decisions were made on who will train the tutors or how they would be trained. Lack of space for tutoring as well as scheduling have also been problematic. Recruiting and staffing also remains one of the critical challenges (Schools need tutors and mentors. Can a new federal initiative find 250,000?). According to the Hechinger Report, in Tennessee, despite strong gains for students overall, the percent of students who were reading at the lowest level on the state’s proficiency test — the students who were the focus of the state’s tutoring initiative grew from 31% to 36% over the past two years (“Early data on ‘high-dosage’ tutoring shows schools are sometimes finding it tough to deliver even low doses“). In the UK, the National Tutoring Program has also been criticized for failing to reach some of the students that need the most help, and there are similar concerns that in the US it will take longer to scale the Federally-supported tutoring initiatives than expected. As Robert Balfanz from the National Partnership for Student Success told the74​​, “We can’t mobilize fast enough. There are still some lost opportunities.”

Scanning the News on High Dosage Tutoring (Part 1): A Solution to Pandemic Learning Recovery?

“High dosage” tutoring has emerged as a common response, to help support student learning in the wake of pandemic school closures.  Naila Shahid has been scanning the tutoring-related headlines throughout the pandemic, and this week she reports on some of the discussions of the emergence of tutoring initiatives, related research, and support programs. Later this month, Part 2 of this post will describe some of the tutoring initiatives launched in different states and related questions of implementation so far. 

What is high dosage tutoring and why is there a need for it?

Over the past year, a number of news reports have highlighted the expansion of tutoring initiatives across the US and in some cases other countries. Many of these initiatives have emerged specifically to combat fears about pandemic-driven “learning loss.”  Illustrating the interest in tutoring, an EdWeek Research Center survey reported that, on average, about 40% of educators and 45% of parents say their students could benefit from tutoring to address “learning loss,” and 97% of district leaders said that they expected to offer tutoring for this purpose in the 21-22 school year. Those leaders also anticipated that about 1 in 3 students would receive tutoring (equivalent to about 17 million of the 51 million public school students in the US). If that’s the case, the total national expenditure on tutoring this year could reach over 12 billion dollars.  

The tutoring solution, EdWeek Research Center

But what makes these initiatives – often referred to as involving “high dosage” or “high impact” tutoring – different from regular tutoring? According to Kevin Huffman and Janice K. Jackson, high dosage tutoring reflects some basic principles: student groups of four or fewer meeting multiple times a week, with a trained and consistent tutor, with a focus on helping students gain ground academically, improve attendance, and connect with trusted adults for support. Drawing on recent research, the Annenberg Institute at Brown University outlined a set of design principles (related to frequency, personnel, group size, focus, etc.) they argue will help make “high-dosage” tutoring effective.  SmartBrief  also highlights in a FAQ that what they refer to as high-impact tutoring should not be remedial. Instead, it should focus on scaffolding content so students can learn new skills built on their previous knowledge.  A related overview of the research from the Hechinger Report explains that the emphasis on “high-dosage/high impact” tutoring has been influenced by studies suggesting that tutoring is most effective when “the tutors are specially trained and coached and adhere to a detailed curriculum with clear steps on how to work with one or two students at a time. As Jonathan Guryan, an economist at Northwestern University who has studied tutoring programs put it, “it is not once-a-week homework help.” 

What programs have emerged to support tutoring?

Along with the growing interest in tutoring, after the start of the pandemic, a number of organizations and funders have proposed or launched initiatives designed to provide resources, financing, and other supports for new tutoring initiatives. In March 2020, for example, Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform started the National Student Support Accelerator to help give K-12 students access to tutoring. The late Robert Slavin and researchers at John Hopkins University also proposed an Educational Marshal Plan to scale-up tutoring initiatives. Based on the AmeriCorps model, the proposal envisioned using billions of dollars in Title 1 funding to recruit and train 300,000 tutors. Relatedly, the Center for American Progress also proposed an Opportunity and Counseling Corps to consist of high school graduates, college students, and community members to tutor students in high-poverty schools. The model suggests employing up to 17,000 tutors and resident teachers and up to 12,000 social workers, counselors, and school psychologists.

 “A Tutoring Marshall Plan would provide intensive funding to enable Title I schools nationwide to substantially advance the achievement of their students who suffered mightily from COVID-19 closures and related trauma” 

Robert Slavin

More recently, in April 2022, funders like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Arnold Ventures, and the Overdeck Family Foundation helped to raise over $65 million dollars to establish Accelerate, which aims to provide district and state education leaders with technical assistance for high dosage tutoring. As part of their plans to help students recover from the pandemic learning loss, the Biden Administration also announced a plan to provide schools with  250,000 tutors, mentors, and coaches. This National Partnership for Student Success aims to bring together school districts, nonprofit organizations and higher education institutions to recruit, train, and support tutors. A search for virtual and technology-based solutions is also underway, including efforts by non-profits and private companies to utilize artificial intelligence to address the challenges of finding enough tutors.

“The majority of students could never afford a private tutor, so we wanted to build a private tutor that mimics all the qualities of a tutor. We can help personalize the attention and assess a student’s knowledge continually.” — Miral Shah, CK-12 quoted in The74

The interest in tutoring as a response to “learning loss” extends beyond the US as well. The UK, for example, announced a £350-million National Tutoring Program even before many plans got underway in the US.  In China, in conjunction with plans to crack down on private tutoring, the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education has announced a plan to build an online tutoring platform where primary and middle school teachers can provide tutoring services in various forms, including one-on-one teaching, live-streaming classrooms, and pre-recorded videos. Each semester’s compensation for tutors can be up to 50,000 yuan ($7,880), and the platform is entirely free to use for students. 

Building equal learning opportunities for differently-abled children in Malawi: An interview with Patience Mkandawire on the evolution of Fount for Nations (Part 2)

In part 2 of this interview, Patience Mkandawire talks with Thomas Hatch about Fount for Nations recent evolution, work during the COVID school closures, and next steps. Part 1 of the interview focused on the origins and initial challenges in developing an organization that has developed school, hospital, and community programs to support the education and development of differently-abled children in Malawi. In addition to being one of the founders of Fount for Nations, Mkandawire was selected as an Obama Scholar at Columbia University during the 2021-22 year.

Gaining control of the program and focusing on schools
Thomas Hatch: You’ve told us about the origins of Fount of Nations in the activity center you established at a hospital; about the first two years after you established Fount of Nations with work in activity centers in several hospitals and in resource centers in schools. What was the next step? What was the next big transition point?

Patience Mkandawire:  At that point, we expanded to include more attention to community engagement, which also has its own set of challenges, but we also closed the hospital program. We narrowed our focus to working with schools and community engagement. At the same time, we realized that because we didn’t have our own space we operated basically on the whim of the schools and the teachers; we had no control over our programming. We started thinking that to really control our own program and maintain fidelity of our programs, we needed our own center, like our model school. We started planning for that and that opened in 2020, which was bad timing, of course, because that’s when the pandemic hit.

But when we started doing more work in the community, we realized the economic barriers that many of our parents faced, which was not something we had focused on. We started doing home visits and found that a lot of our parents had come from a village, left their land, and come into the city and were living in areas with very poor economic conditions. That started us thinking that we should develop an economic empowerment program. Initially, I was not too keen on this, but my field team insisted that we really had to do it because the parents weren’t listening to us. There was a time that one of the counselors went out for a group counseling session and when she came back her face was gloomy. “What happened?” I asked her, “Was the turnout not good?” And she said “This is by far the best turnout. I had close to 40 parents come to the session, but all of them are on my neck saying things like ‘words can’t help us because all you do is talk to us. We want money, we want a livelihood.’”

“This is by far the best turnout. I had close to 40 parents come to the session, but all of them are on my neck saying things like ‘words can’t help us because all you do is talk to us. We want money, we want a livelihood.’”

I was opposed to that because it’s not an area we knew anything about. Nobody on our team was an expert on it. But we began to do some research on micro-finance, and we tried a partnership with another organization that was already doing business and economic empowerment for mothers.That partnership however didn’t last long enough to yield results. We were stuck on logistics of how to train parents that often had to take care of their kids full-time. I am not sure what it really was but most organizations we tried to work with weren’t really willing to make adjustments to take into account the unique needs of children with disabilities or their families.  But we soon learned about Opportunity International. They had been training farmers and other populations in financial literacy, and we were able to get them to do financial literacy training for us. Then, once the parents were trained, we realized we needed to give them access to money…so we reached out to some of our funder friends, the Segal Family Foundation who connected us with a funder that was willing to give direct social cash transfers to some of our parents. We linked the cash transfers to the child’s education. In that way, we created incentives for increasing children’s attendance at school, and it turned out great.

TH: You said the economic impact program was successful, but what was your measurement of success? 

PM: We measured academic indicators such as attendance, progression and parent involvement in learning. We also measured social indicators like how many meals do the children eat a day. For example, before the program (and during the pandemic), 76% of the parents said their child ate once or twice a day because they just didn’t have any money. After the financial literacy training, the numbers flipped. Over 80% were able to eat three times a day. In addition, close to 70% of the businesses they started with the initial social cash transfers are still running.

The Pandemic & Beyond

TH: Can you talk a little bit about how the pandemic affected the development of your program. What did you learn and how has that influenced how you think about developing and sustaining the program in the future?

PM: The pandemic is why I am here in the US, as part of the Obama Scholars program. When the pandemic hit, schools closed. And that was the first time we had ever imagined that anything would happen to our schools, I just can’t describe the feeling… All our programming happened in schools; our teacher training happened in schools; our parent convening happened in schools; many of our community convenings happened in schools. Schools are central in almost every village so they were very easy access points for us to meet people and to convene people, and suddenly, schools were all closed. And our teaching was all paper and pen. We had started doing some digital data collection, but our teachers across the country still taught on the blackboard 

I remember one of the first things I did was give a break to the entire team. We just decided “Okay we’re all going to go home, and we’re going to take a two week break to think about what we’re going to do. Can we survive without schools? Like what sort of work can we do? How can we support our participants? Our community members? Our champions? Our advocates?” 

“Can we survive without schools? Like what sort of work can we do? How can we support our participants? Our community members? Our champions? Our advocates?”

Over that break, the Government started to respond. They said “We’re going to have remote learning programs and we’re going to have TV and radio programs.” But I was thinking, “How is this going to reach a child who learns differently? Who cannot process? Who cannot hear?” Fount for Nations needed to respond too, but at that point, our team was also at risk and there was a lot of fear that we might die. But the team realized “if we are this scared, imagine what our parents are going through?”

It was really a team effort, and my husband and I would check in with individual team members and ask, “How are you doing? What are you going through?” But one by one, they said things like “We need to come back to work.” First, we said “We’re going to support the government in doing remote learning, and our parents are going to be teachers.”  That was a gamble, but we brought back our volunteers and decided they would provide the support because teachers could not go in the homes. We had the volunteers meet with the teachers and learn about the typical lesson plans for the week and then the volunteers would call the parents, and the parents taught the children. Fount for Nations led a coalition of 4 education partners of the Segal Family Foundation to deliver remote learning to 3000 primary school learners across the country. One of our other long-time-partners, Rays of Hope ministries, released a handbook for teachers to support the school radio programs, and we used that to train our volunteers. Then we just started deploying SMS texts and phone calls, and that’s how the kids learned during that period. All this is happening on the phone. It was a surprise in some ways how well parents responded. Our volunteers would set appointments with the parents, and if our volunteers were late, we’d receive a phone call, “I just wanted to check with you because I’m looking at the time, and she hasn’t called yet. Is everything okay?” 

The second thing was the counseling sessions. We also did that on the phone. Our counselors set up a protocol for mental health screening, and we started calling all our parents.  They’d get a call – “How are you doing?” – to check in.  If the parents’ needed extra support, the counselors would refer them or consult with them. We were also taking a gamble because this was the first time we’d ever called the parents for counseling sessions. Our counseling sessions had been in person. If the parents needed to cry, the counselor was there to just feel that with them. Now the sessions were not only over the phone, some of them were with a person the parents had never met because we had to increase the number of volunteers to make all the calls. It was a much higher volume. 

It was crazy, and I was just upset at how in 2020, we still didn’t have any digital options for kids with special needs to learn in Malawi. In 2020, we didn’t have any psycho-social or mental health support for parents. In 2020, we didn’t have any therapists that could offer mobile services or online services. In 2020, Fount for Nations was one of three, maybe four organizations in the country that focused on education for kids with special needs. I just felt “I can’t do this,” because clearly people were not convinced that our work was as important as we think it is. That’s when the opportunity to come to Columbia came up. Joseph, my husband, said “Go. You need inspiration. You’re stuck. I think you need to go and meet awesome people. Meet experts. Get inspired. Come with ideas and then we’ll continue.” So I did, and I’ve been studying things like comparative policy studies at Teachers College, non-profit policy and advocacy, learning how international education policy is formulated. So now I’m thinking Fount for Nations is much more than a direct service provider. I’m thinking of Fount for Nations as a critical player in the ecosystem for inclusive education: as bringing all these stakeholders together to define and sustain the ecosystem and to inspire more actors to care about this issue.

in 2020, we still didn’t have any digital options for kids with special needs to learn in Malawi. In 2020, we didn’t have any psycho-social or mental health support for parents. In 2020, we didn’t have any therapists that could offer mobile services or online services

That’s been a big shift in terms of our plans and in our overall strategy. For example, in our training, we’re thinking of using a “train the trainer” model and focusing on being really, really good at that. We could offer that training to a wider range of organizations that can support learning and development for teachers and for children, particularly those who have learning difficulties. I’m also thinking about how to get back to the health care system because there’s still a role that they play, especially in assessment and diagnosis.  I’m also thinking more about research now. How do we collect action-oriented data? How do we apply evidence-based research and implementation? Now merging those three things – advocacy, training and research – is becoming the core of our future plans. We are now working towards Fount for Nations becoming the Center of Excellence for Inclusive Education in the country and bringing together all these elements to really reduce the inequalities that exist in access to quality education for these children. I want to acknowledge that from our journey we’ve learned that the child’s education has not really been what the child is taught, but who else is around them that supports their learning. If the teachers’ perceptions are wrong; if parents’ perceptions are wrong; if community perceptions are wrong; if healthcare is not supported; if research is not adequate; if the government does not fund social services, then, no matter how creative our approach is – which was our initial idea – kids still won’t be learning. They still won’t be succeeding.

“We’ve learned that the child’s education has not really been what the child is taught, but who else is around them that supports their learning.

TH: You really tied up that story beautifully and transitioned into where you’re heading. One thing you didn’t mention, though, that kind of brings you back to your initial experience with your brother, is your interest in growth monitoring because you’ve identified early screening and assessment as critical factors moving forward. Can you just say a word about your strategy with that? 

PM: Yes, it was like a light bulb moment when I realized we could build on that. Like I said before, children in Malawi go to see a community health care worker for the first five years of their lives. From birth up to five, every single month, they have to go for growth monitoring. They are just going to get their weight checked; they’re going to get their height checked. And it’s mostly for nutrition screening, deworming, vaccinations, but they never get screened for developmental delays or learning difficulties. But I realized it’s a great opportunity because we could intervene early. The project I’m working on right now is, first of all, to adapt the assessment tools that are recommended so they are simple to screen for developmental delays and learning difficulties. And then we’ll train the healthcare workers to administer those assessments at the regular checkups that the kids come to anyway. That way we’ll get to see how many kids are at risk of developmental delays or at risk of learning difficulties. Then we can design workshops for the parents, because, with the pandemic, we’ve found that they can teach and help support their kids. For example, now that we know a child is struggling to sit up, how can we support the kid early on? And how can we intervene early? For most of these issues, parents would not know or understand that their child has something like epilepsy or even cerebral palsy until they were in primary school or even later. For example, I remember Elisa, whom I met when she was 17, and she had to drop out because she was just too big to be in primary school, and no one knew she had epilepsy until she repeated the same class 4-5 times!  I wonder if we had met Elisa when she was six months or a year old? What difference might that have made? Could she have coped with her condition and been more successful?  We want to make sure that these kids have a strong start by giving parents the information about what conditions their children have and the information that they need to help cope. Hopefully this generation of children will have a much better start.