Tag Archives: Covid-19

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

Afghanistan

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

Bangladesh

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

France

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

Kenya 

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

India 

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

Italy

Italy reopens schools without masks, Wanted in Rome

Norway

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

Pakistan

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

Philippines

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

Switzerland

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.”

Thailand

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

Uganda

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

Ukraine

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

Yemen

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

Venezuela

““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

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. 

Arkansas

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. 

Indiana

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.

A call to action in the Netherlands: Addressing rising inequality in a decentralized system

This blog by Melanie Ehren and Martijn Meetern was originally published by LEARN!. Ehren is a Professor in Educational Governance and Director of Research Intsitute LEARN!, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Meeter is Full Professor, Faculty of Behavioural and Movement Sciences, Educational and Family Studies, LEARN!

Increasing inequality

In many countries, COVID-related school closures affected already disadvantaged students most in their opportunities to learn and progress. In the Netherlands, the Inspectorate of Education raised the alarm over how the pandemic is leading to further inequality, with alarming numbers of students leaving primary education without the basic skills in arithmetic, reading and writing. As in many countries across the world, the Dutch government is developing new policies to address learning loss from COVID and ‘build back a better system’. These policies include funding for schools to organize targeted support for students in need (e.g. tutoring, remedial teaching) with further investments for schools serving a disadvantaged population. In addition, a government-wide investigation is now underway to better understand the root causes of educational inequality and how to make the education systems more responsive to policies addressing those root causes.

A decentralized system and a coordinated approach

Improving education from the top is not an easy task, given the highly decentralized nature of the education system in the Netherlands and the value placed on school autonomy. The OECD describes Dutch schools as having the highest autonomy internationally. Freedom of education has been the backbone of Dutch education for decades, and is a core value for many policymakers and practitioners working in education.

A more centralized and coordinated approach is, however, crucial to reduce inequality, given that differences in learning opportunities and outcomes often lie outside a school’s span of control. Examples are of parents’ free school choice, which leads to highly homogenous schools with a concentration of social, behavioural and learning problems in some schools, or the early tracking in secondary education which tends to disadvantage children from poorly educated and/or migrant backgrounds. Various studies have mapped out the causes and consequences of the high inequality in the Dutch system with one clear message: this is a complex problem because of its multidisciplinary nature (spatial, social, economic inequalities interact and reinforce each other) where any type of measure to improve education will have multiple outcomes, a high level of interconnectedness, and non-linear outcomes. The high complexity requires a coordinated approach that goes beyond individual interventions or programmes, but where the goal is to change how the whole education system operates to reduce inequality.

Where should we start when trying to address high inequality?

Ideally we want a set of interventions that have a multiplier effect where their collective impact on reducing inequality is greater than the sum of single activities. As  good teachers and high quality teaching are the backbone of any education system, this is where we should start: We need to ensure that all school have sufficient high-quality teachers.

“The OECD TALIS report also indicates a sharp decline in the status of the teaching profession in the Netherlands… By reducing entry requirements, we unintentionally lower quality standards as well as the status of the profession.”

However, the Netherlands faces a large teacher shortage that will only become bigger in the future. Predictions are that secondary schools in 2023 will have a shortage of more than 1000 teachers with a further estimation of a shortage of 2600 fte in 2026, due to retirement. Certain subjects (Dutch, German, French, ICT, Mathematics, Science etc) will be particularly affected in the future, while schools in some urban areas in the country are already in constant crisis management to fill vacancies. Approximately 12% of primary schools in the large cities (e.g. Amsterdam) have permanent vacancies as teachers are moving to more affordable places to live and work. Even when a sufficient number of teachers enters the profession (which is unlikely given current student numbers on teacher education programmes), many of them leave due to high workload and stress, a lack of support and too much responsibility when starting to teach, an unsupportive school environment with too few opportunities for career progression and lack of communication with colleagues and school leadership. An average of 31% of beginning teachers in secondary education tend to leave teaching within five years of graduation.

Contradictory measures

The Ministry of Education has tried to increase the number of teachers by allowing schools to hire unqualified teachers while they train to be teachers on the job, but these teachers seem to be particularly prone to exit the profession. It’s also worth questioning this strategy for the message it sends to the profession at large: how should we understand the nature and status of teaching when we allow anyone with a degree in Higher Education to be a teacher? The Inspectorate of Education reports that an average of 7% of primary schools have unqualified teaching staff and this has detrimental consequences for the instructional quality and children’s learning outcomes. The OECD TALIS report also indicates a sharp decline in the status of the teaching profession in the Netherlands. This may well be an important factor in shortages, as low status affects the potential to recruit sufficient high quality teachers. By reducing entry requirements, we unintentionally lower quality standards as well as the status of the profession. Unfortunately, past policies have seen more of such inconsistencies, such as the introduction of a professional register which provides entry barriers but also increases the administrative workload of teachers without necessarily improving the overall quality of their work.

What can we do to increase the number of high quality and qualified teachers?

Various studies look at the types of interventions that can help build a strong and sufficiently large body of teachers. Here is a summary of the top 6:

  1. Ensure high-quality school leaders. School leaders play a critical role in determining whether teachers are satisfied at work and remain at their school (Kraft et al, 2016), while their instructional leadership can improve the teaching in their school.
  2. Ensure a good working environment for teachers. Sims (2021) review of empirical literature stretching back 20 years suggests that the quality of the working environment in a teacher’s school is an important determinant of retention. A good working environment includes limited administrative workload and marking, collaboration with colleagues and having a manageable classroom of students in terms of their behaviour and teacher-student ratios. The school leader will have an important role in shaping these conditions of work, but external stakeholders (e.g. Inspectorates of Education) will also have a role to play.
  3. Ensure that new teachers are supported when starting teaching and receive feedback and coaching from experienced teachers in the school. 
  4. Ensure teachers are paid more in the most difficult schools, in the most unaffordable areas to live in, and to teach the subjects that are least popular. Sims and Benhenda (2022) find that eligible teachers are 23% less likely to leave teaching in state funded schools in years they were eligible for payments with similar results reported in the US.
  5. Ensure that teachers have career prospects within the teaching profession, so that they don’t have to find these elsewhere. Singapore’s model is exemplary in this regard, while other countries (e.g. England) are also increasing the opportunities for a career in teaching (including formalizing professional development for the various stages).
  6. Ensure that teaching is valued as a profession and has high status in society (e.g. such as when entry requirements are high and the job is paid well).

And one final take-away message: policies and measures need to be coherent and well-aligned in both aiming to increase quality and quantity; compromising on either will not reduce inequality in the long term.

Is anything changing in schools post-pandemic? Scanning the news from around the world

What will change in schools and education post-pandemic?” Correne Reyes takes up this question in the 2nd part of a two-part post scanning news reports describing the proposals for “reimagining” education and chronicling what’s actually changing in a variety of countries. Part 1, “Is anything changing in US schools post-pandemic? Possibilities for rethinking time, place and supports for well-being,” focused on some of the key trends in policy and practice in the US. Reyes also highlighted some of the changes in education policy and practice in an earlier post: What’s Changing Post-COVID in Finland, New Zealand, and South Africa?

Hope remains that, despite the tragic losses and disruptions of the pandemic there may be an opportunity to reimagine critical aspects of schooling. Correspondingly, over the past year, a variety of news and research outlets have shared a wide variety of hopes and proposals for change. At the same time, some long-time observers, like Larry Cuban, argue that the proposals and visions for change may not find their way into practice. As he put it, “I don’t see COVID producing a lot of reforms. If anything, it produces this huge public and professional need to resume schooling as it was. I think basically schooling has much more stability than change in it. And that’s the historian’s point of view.” Cuban continues, “I think COVID has reminded us that all parents want is a return to face-to-face teaching and to let the teachers teach the lessons that they had before school closures. Let them do what they do best.”  To continue the exploration of the proposals and possibilities for changing schools post-pandemic, we highlight some of the related news stories we’ve come across from around the world, many of which echo trends in the US, including concerns about enrollment, “learning loss,” and well-being among students and teachers, and possibilities for digital/remote learning.

“I don’t see COVID producing a lot of reforms. If anything, it produces this huge public and professional need to resume schooling as it was.”

Larry Cuban, How Will COVID-19 Impact School Reform Movements?

Argentina

Educational catastrophe: the pandemic generated a critical dropout rate in Argentina, La Nacion

Australia

GoKid partners to address school transportation crisis, Benzinga

SA schools drop non-essential activities as teachers face ‘exhaustion’ through COVID shortages, ABC News

Bangladesh 

Combatting the impact of COVID-19 school closures in Bangladesh, World Bank Blogs 

Bangladesh is making a serious attempt to improve its schools, The Economist

Brazil

Brazil: 40.8% of children are illiterate, according to research, The Rio Times

China

China Aims to Upgrade the Country’s Overall Digital Competitiveness via Education, OpenGov

China’s education reform is resulting in overworked teachers, SupChina

Colombia

Young Latin Americans see career dreams crushed in COVID’s wake, Reuters

Ecuador

Recovering lost learning in Ecuador after two years of the pandemic, UNICEF

A safe return to in-person classes in rural Ecuador, United Nations Sustainable Development Group

France

Strike in National Education: “We carry the school at arm’s length and the arms will let go”, Libération

Hong Kong

Lessons in caution at reopening of Hong Kong’s schools, South China Morning Post

India 

Changes in education system after Covid-19 pandemic, The Times of India 

How The Pandemic Changed The Face Of Education In India, Babaji Vidhyashram

Netherlands

The Dutch are still happy but slightly less so, and young adults are hardest hit, DutchNews

New Zealand

What’s in the new New Zealand history curriculum, The Spin Off

Lack of ‘basic’ skills in new entrants concerns teachers, stuff

Paris

Parental Burnout Is Real — And Taking Leave Is Not An Option, Worldcrunch

Peru

Covid-19: Peruvian students have a hard time returning to school after two-year hiatus, Le Monde

Philippines

5 ways the Philippines can prepare its schools for health crises in 2022, Rappler

Spain

Teachers before the return to school: doubts about the new protocol and fear of an avalanche of casualties, El País

South Africa

Schools show shortfalls amid Covid-19 pandemic, Mail & Guardian

A teacher retirement wave is about to hit SA: what it means for class size, Sunday Times

3 big changes coming to schools in South Africa, BusinessTech

Uganda

Schools reopen in Uganda after nearly-two-year COVID closure, Aljazeera

Is anything changing in US schools post-pandemic? Possibilities for rethinking time, place and supports for well-being

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, numerous proposals to “reimagine education” have been made.  At IEN, we have been tracking both the news about those proposals for changing education and the discussions of what has (and has not) been changing in schools post-pandemic (see for example “What can change in schools after the pandemic?”). This week, Correne Reyes shares our latest scan of that news in the US and finds some media reports highlighting flexibility around “seat time;” increased attention to teacher wellbeing, and discussions of the ways online learning may serve as a substitute for classroom-based learning. A second scan will focus on educational changes reported in other parts of the world.

Rethinking Time in Schools?

The switch to remote learning in so many schools and districts prompted numerous proposals to rethink “seat time” – the conventional requirements for awarding credit based on the number of hours and days spent in classrooms. As Jonathan Alfuth put it , “While we agree that states must return to policies that ensure districts maximize the amount of time students spend on high-quality learning experiences, we also believe states must seize this unique moment to rethink the way in which they define instruction and credential learning.” These proposals argue for broadening definitions of what counts as “hours” of instruction, where instruction can take place, and how it can be measure (e.g. “How states are rethinking instructional time and attendance policies in the covid-19 era”; “Unlocking innovation in schools: Policies that create space for schools to better support their students”). Some states have begun reshaping their policies to adjust the barriers of seat time. For example, Minnesota proposed legislation that emphasizes personalized, competency-based education, which focuses on “outcomes—mapping to the pace of students’ mastery of knowledge and skills—instead of moving lockstep through time-based lessons and grades.” Arizona established an Instructional Time Model allowing school districts to adopt their own instructional hour requirements for attendance. Meanwhile, Washington created the mastery-based (or competency-based) credit as an option for high school students to earn credit for demonstration of learning on assessments that are tied to state learning standards.

Along those same lines, discussions of how time is used and organized have led some schools to add minutes and days to the school year but often without more substantial rethinking of the school calendar itself (see “Why schools see extra time as the solution to making up for lost instruction” and “Longer school days and years remain rare as schools fight learning loss with optional time” “Schools that switched to a four-day week saw learning reductions. what does that mean for the pandemic’s lost instructional time?”).

Going Beyond Classroom-based Learning?

Although the move to remote learning caused considerable distress for many students and families, it simultaneously allowed them to experience a variety of options for both digital schooling and other schooling arrangements such as pods and homeschooling. Moving forward, there are some signs that there may be a new desire to expand or at least preserve these options and arrangements moving forward. A 2021 Education Next poll, for example, reported that 48% of parents said elementary students should have remote learning options; 64% said the same for high school students. In addition, According to the Aurora Institute, nearly 3 in 5 families and 3 in 4 instructors preferred their “pod” over their child’s pre-pandemic schools (e.g. “Is there a future in the “learning pod” education model?”;Crisis Breeds Innovation: Pandemic Pods and the Future of Education”; “For Learning Pod Teachers, a Pandemic Paradigm Shift: Why So Many Now Say They Don’t Want to Return to Traditional Classrooms”).

At the same time, despite the calls to maintain some remote learning options, a report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (Virtual Learning, Now and Beyond) concludes that recent research on the relationship between learning mode and student achievement during COVID indicates that the shift to online education had negative effects on learning outcomes.  That report argues that “we have failed to build intentional on-ramps to virtual education” and “we remain unprepared to implement online learning when the need arises.” Another CRPE report (Crisis Breeds Innovation: Pandemic Pods and the Future of Education) noted that learning pods changed how some families viewed their children’s education, but points out most families sent their children back to their prior schools as a result of the costs of podding and the challenges of operating off-grid.

Building support for Teacher & Student Well-Being?

Teachers have always served a pivotal role in responding to students’ wellbeing, but the pandemic is contributing to low morale and high burnout, and, as one study described it, “a critical need to allocate more attention and resources to support teacher psychological health by strengthening emotional support, autonomy, and teaching efficacy” “Elementary School Teacher Well-Being and Supportive Measures Amid COVID-19: An Exploratory Study”).

Don’t Forget the Adults: How Schools and Districts Can Support Educator Mental Health, EducationWeek

As a consequence, educators are requesting more training and resources to support their own as well as their students’ mental health.  These concerns have fueled a variety of proposals for prioritizing well-being in schools moving forward (“The Mental Health Crisis Causing Teachers to Quit”; “How Schools Can Build a Culture of Support for Educator Mental Health“; With Teacher Morale in the Tank, What’s the Right Formula to Turn It Around?). Ronn Nozoe, the chief executive officer of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, has also advocated for districts and schools to use some of their federal COVID-19 relief funds to set up targeted support programs for school leaders’ mental health. However, the huge demand for mental health care professionals nationally has created a challenge for school districts. “It’s not for lack of want, it’s not for lack of ideas,” Nozoe continues. “It’s really a lack of available professionals who are willing and qualified to provide these kinds of services to help kids and families and ultimately educators.”

“It’s not for lack of want, it’s not for lack of ideas…It’s really a lack of available professionals who are willing and qualified to provide these kinds of services to help kids and families and ultimately educators.” Ronn Nozoe

Praxis, teacher education and symmetry: The Lead the Change interview with Sarah Fine

This month’s Lead the Change (LtC) interview features a conversation with Dr. Sarah Fine, an educator and scholar working at the intersection of practice and research. Fine currently directs the San Diego Teacher Residency, hosted at the High Tech High Graduate School of Education, and also teaches courses in educational leadership at the University of California San Diego and at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her recent book, coauthored with Jal Mehta, is In Search of Deeper learning: The Quest to Transform the American High School.

Lead The Change: The 2022 AERA theme is Cultivating Equitable Education Systems for the 21st Century and charges researchers and practitioners with dismantling oppressive education systems and replacing them with antiracist, equity, and justice-oriented systems. To achieve these goals, researchers must engage in new methodologies, cross-disciplinary thinking, global perspectives, and community partnerships to respond to the challenges of the 21st century including the COVID-19 Pandemic and systemic racism among other persistent inequities. Given the dire need for all of us to do more to dismantle oppressive systems and reimagine new ways of thinking and doing in our own institutions and education more broadly, what specific responsibility do educational change scholars have in this space? What steps are you taking to heed this call?

Sarah Fine: Paulo Freire offered us the notion of praxis: cycles of inquiry which involve thinking critically about how sociopolitical systems work, taking action to create positive change, and reflecting on the process (Freire, 1970). A number of brilliant folks have written about how educators can take up Freire’s ideas in K-12 classrooms (Duncan-Andrade & Morrell, 2008; hooks, 1994). To this work I would add my own conviction that scholars of educational change, too, need to engage in praxis — and I believe that this praxis must involve more than simply galvanizing our students to do good work once they are “in the field.” This enlarged vision is no small commitment. The academy tends to reward thought over action, description over transformation, and theorizing about rather than theorizing with those who lead and work in schools. Plus, postulating on paper or in a lecture hall is comfortable; the world of K-12 public schools — “the field” — is a muddy, messy, imperfect place where elegant theories are inevitably complicated by the human-ness of human systems. Talking about implications for action is vanishingly simple by comparison to the actual work of making change in schools. I would argue, however, that it is imperative for us to do both: to read and write and observe and theorize, and also to enter into long-term action-focused partnerships which become a “text” that informs our scholarship. One without the other is insufficient.

This desire to engage in praxis has been a guide for my own career choice. After nearly a decade spent exploring the notion of deeper learning through qualitative research, I chose to depart academia in order to road-test my ideas by designing and directing a teacher residency program run out of an alternative institution of higher education. I admit that this project sometimes runs the risk of straying from Freire’s vision; my days “in the field” are sometimes so breathless that they leave little room for reflection. But that, too, tells a story about what it will take to accelerate efforts at transformation. We must reimagine what it means to be in practice as an educator, providing support and incentives for those who spend their time in and around K-12 schools to contribute their wisdom and experiences to the field’s knowledge-base. It is these kinds of shifts that can help us all to move beyond patterns of siloing and exploitation and to make good on a collaborative commitment to positive change.

LtC: Through your work as the Director of the San Diego Teacher Residency at High Tech High Graduate School of Education, you support future teachers in creating justice-oriented classrooms rooted in deeper learning and strengthen the pipeline for teachers of color. What are some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience?

SF: In our recent book, Jal Mehta and I explored the idea of symmetry, e.g. the presence of guiding principles and practices which anchor the experiences of both adults and children in schools (Mehta & Fine, 2019). We argued that schools can make headway toward ambitious goals by cultivating symmetry — for example, by seeking to embed opportunities for extended inquiry or apprenticeship into adult learning as well as into classrooms. Based on my experiences designing and running the San Diego Teacher Residency, it turns out that symmetry is equally important in the context of teacher preparation. This is to say that novice teachers need the same things younger learners do in order to thrive and learn deeply: psychological safety, authentic purposes, culturally affirming pedagogy, tasks which lie within their zone of proximal development, modeling and support from expert mentors, opportunities to engage in productive struggle, and pauses to reflect on and celebrate their growth. On top of this, learning to teach for justice requires unlearning many of the normative beliefs and practices that dominate the field. This is true for white teachers and also for teachers of color, who may more easily recognize the myriad forms of oppression and marginalization that dominate traditional classrooms but still need to experience and learn new repertoires of practice by which to resist the pull of doing things as they have always been done. For example, we have found that with carefully designed coursework and expert facilitation, our teacher residents (white and BIPOC alike) are fairly quick to grasp why punitive and exclusionary classroom disciplinary policies are so inequitable. However, understanding what not to do does not automatically come along with the knowledge of what to do instead — and without viable alternatives, even teachers who recognize harmful practice will revert to the status quo. Thus, helping novices learn to “see” the problems of shallow, teacher-centered, eurocentric, one-size-fits- all pedagogy is the tip of the iceberg; the most important work lies in exploring and rehearsing new forms of instructional design and facilitation. This is where deliberate symmetry comes in, because every moment that our residents spend in our care is a moment to “walk our talk” by providing them with learning experiences that assist in the process of disruption and replacement.

“Learning to teach for justice requires unlearning many of the normative beliefs and practices that dominate the field.”

LtC: In your recent book, In Search of Deeper Learning, you argue for American high schools to create opportunities for deeper learning, teachers, administrators, parents, and educational communities need to unlearn ideas about schooling and set up organizational structures that value authentic problem solving and depth over breadth (among many other things!). In the past two years, how has remote learning and other school disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic changed this important work?

SF: During the long months of zoom school last year, those of us who spend our time thinking about teaching and learning looked on with mixture of apprehension and curiosity. Might the pandemic, for all of its awful-ness, finally open the door for the kinds of educational transformations that children so desperately need? Could this be the thing that would finally loosen the chokehold of the “grammar of schooling” that has persisted for more than a century? I wish I could say that the answer was yes — but in reality, the adjustments that I have seen schools and teachers make are subtle rather than dramatic. On the pessimistic side, at least from what I observed, much of what happened during remote schooling last year amounted to a doubling down on traditional practice. Elementary school teachers reverted to non-interactive read-alouds and assigned more than normal amounts of independent work; secondary teachers talked at their students even more than before; and everyone struggled to figure out how to get kids to interact meaningfully in breakout rooms. Things have gradually settled down with the return to in-person schooling this year, but I haven’t seen many examples of experiments or transformations. On a more positive note, however, remote schooling seemed to galvanize many teachers and leaders to make serious commitments to relationship-building, social- emotional learning, and trauma-informed practices. These things have always been essential, but until the pandemic forced the issue, they often took a backseat to academic content. I have been heartened to see this shift in priorities persist during this year, but I fear that all the talk of “learning loss” — not to mention the surge in staff shortages which are stretching all school staff extremely thin — could quickly return us to where we started. Still, I see the whole situation as being in-process. Perhaps there will continue to be opportunities for educators, parents, and policymakers to realize that the status quo isn’t something worth returning to after all. I’d like to believe that the pandemic has at very least increased everyone’s appetite for radical change, which could open the door for visionary educators (and scholars?) to try to do things differently.

“Productive change processes require disrupting traditional power dynamics.”

LtC: Educational Change expects those engaged in and with schools, schooling, and school systems to spearhead deep and often difficult transformation. How might those in the field of Educational Change best support these individuals and groups through these processes?

SF: As a start, I would argue that those who are spearheading educational change should start by focusing on assets rather than deficits. Ask: Where are the bright spots? Who in our system is already galvanized around doing things differently? If students or educators are not succeeding in certain ways or in certain spaces, where and under what conditions are they thriving? How can we develop what already exists into visible proof-points that help everyone imagine why and how to do things differently? Don’t get me wrong — it’s still crucial to explore and map out the root causes of dysfunction — but asset-focused questions are far more energizing and efficacious than their inverse. On a separate note, I would argue that productive change processes require disrupting traditional power dynamics. Get folks from all parts of the system at the table together — not just district and school leaders, for example, but teachers and special educators and paraprofessionals and even students — and construct agreements and group culture that encourages them to listen deeply and speak from what they know. This decision honors the idea that the ones closest to the problem are closest to the solution, and it also positions the change process itself, not just the desired goals of the process, as an equity-focused intervention. Finally, I believe that it is critical that everyone involved in the change process needs to see themselves and be seen as a learner. School and district leaders often feel pressure to know “the answers” and to direct change from arm’s length, but the most powerful processes require new ways of being and doing. In turn, this demands opportunities for everyone involved to engage in productive struggle, to try out new practices without the certainty that they will work, and to experience the kinds of learning and/or culture that is sought for the entire system.

LtC: Where do you perceive the field of Educational Change is going? What excites you about Educational Change now and in the future?

SF: I began my career as a teacher and (a bit later) my training as a scholar during the first decade of the 21st century: an era which was dominated by an obsession with top-down reforms and narrowly conceived indicators of educational quality. During those years, studying educational change in ways that the academy would validate involved doing research about or on schools and measuring impact using test-score-based metrics. The past decade, however, has seen the start of a long-overdue reckoning with the ways in which education research has too often been voyeuristic, exploitative, racially biased, and limited in its imagination of the possible. The growing visibility of paradigms such as Participatory Action Research and Design Based Implementation Research, along with the amplification of the voices of BIPOC scholars and practitioners and the expansion of Research-Practitioner Partnership opportunities, suggests that the world is gradually recognizing that educational change must involve working with and within communities of practice and defining educational “goods” more broadly. This excites me! As I wrote earlier, I believe that scholars of educational change have an obligation to engage in praxis, which requires forming long-term partnerships with practitioners and learning about the world by trying to change it. I’d like to believe that the structures of higher education eventually will shift to support this expansion of scholarly purposes and positioning. As it currently stands at many major schools of education, however, tenure-seeking scholars are still obligated to focus most of their efforts on producing first-authored publications in academic journals — which are stylistically inaccessible to lay readers and also usually live behind paywalls. Teaching and service to the institution come next, with community engagement and public scholarship treated as side-notes. On the other side of the “research/practice divide,” the work of educators and school/district leaders is mainly action-focused; there is rarely time or material support for doing much more than keeping the train on the tracks. I hope that the field as a whole will continue to elevate research-practice partnerships which can create positive change for educators and children and produce usable knowledge in the process.

References
Duncan-Andrade, J. M., & Morrell, E. (2008). The Art of Critical Pedagogy: Possibilities for Moving
from Theory to Practice in Urban Schools (New edition edition). New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Freire, P. (1970, rereleased 2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary Edition. (M. B.
Ramos, Trans.) (30th Anniversary edition). New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

hooks, bell. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge.

Mehta, J, & Fine, S. (2019). In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

A view from Japan (part 2): Hiro Yokota on parenting, education and the new Digital Agency in Japan

This week’s post features a follow-up interview with Hirokazu Yokota, discussing his experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic in Japan, as a parent, education policymaker and now government officer at Japan’s newly established Digital Agency. Yokota was a principal architect of two recent policies: the Basic Act on the Formation of a Digital Society, which set basic principles to transform Japan by cross-ministerial policy making and passed the Japanese Diet on May 2021; and the Priority Policy Program for Realizing Digital Society, which include policy measures for the government to implement and got cabinet approval in December 2021. Recently, he published an article on school leadership in Japan in the International Journal of Leadership in Education. The post shares his own views and does not necessarily represent official views of DA and the Japanese government.

IEN: What has been happening with you and your family this year? How does this compare to what you told us in your previous post at the beginning of the pandemic (A view from Japan: Hirokazu Yokota on school closures and the pandemic)?

Hirokazu Yokota: Too many changes to remember, I would say… the positive thing is that I and my family are still doing well and safe, which is the most important. My working style has changed a lot. I still work from home two to three days a week, which means I have more time to spare with my kids. Almost every meeting, including the ones with the Minister, happens online, which was almost inconceivable pre-pandemic to me. The society now has more tolerance for that flexible style, as it found paper-based and face-to-face working style infeasible in the presence of this lasting pandemic.

The other side? My six-year-old daughter suddenly said she wanted to wear a mask on top of another and cried (she always wears one when going outside). She, by watching TV news etc., was kind of afraid of getting Omicron. I couldn’t just say getting it isn’t a big deal. Kids absorb and think much more from what they see in the world than we imagine. As a parent, I have to balance two seemingly-conflicting demands – providing my kids with real-life, authentic opportunities to interact with a variety of people, and preventing the infection of Covid-19 at the same time. This is a very challenging act of parenting, and to be honest, I have not found any solid answer here.

“As a parent, I have to balance two seemingly-conflicting demands – providing my kids with real-life, authentic opportunities to interact with a variety of people, and preventing the infection of Covid-19 at the same time. This is a very challenging act of parenting”

IEN: It’s interesting to see that you’re now working at a new governmental agency. What is the Digital Agency and what does it have to do with this pandemic?

HY: The Covid-19 pandemic was a wake-up call for Japan’s digital transformation. Management of the health crises was hampered by outdated and cumbersome administrative systems. Additionally, in the past, each ministry, agency, and local government has been promoting digitalization separately, which resulted in 1,700 local governments with 1,700 systems: procured and managed separately with dispersed responsibility. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the ineffectiveness of this practice.

As a response, in September 2020, then Prime Minister SUGA Yoshihide made the digitalization of Japan one of his top priorities. Accordingly, the Digital Agency (DA) was established at an incredible speed and launched in September 2021. DA has strong powers of comprehensive coordination, such as the power to make recommendations to other ministries and agencies.

What is particularly interesting is that of the about 600 DA officers, a third (some 200) are coming from the private sector, which creates a mixed organizational culture of thorough coordination of stakeholder interests in the public sector and agile/flexible decision making in the private sector. New challenges every day, but a very inspiring working environment. Given that I’ve mainly worked within the education sector it really helps to broaden my perspective.

IEN: In the field of education specifically, you previously mentioned that the Japanese government planned to implement “one device per student” initiative. What has worked, and what has been problematic?

HY: The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has started the GIGA (Global and Innovative Gateway for All) School Program to make certain equitable and individually optimized learning by providing one computer per student and high-speed Internet for schools, which originally aimed at one device per student by the end of FY 2023. In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, it was accelerated and strengthened, with the distribution of one device per student almost completed by July 2021. About 461 billion yen (some 4 billion US dollars) in total was allocated for that purpose, which obviously was a huge investment.

However, when I collected voices from 217,000 students and 42,000 educators through an online questionnaire on this GIGA School Initiative in July 2021, it turned out that there were many problematic issues on the ground – including slow networks, slow digitalization of school affairs, school staff that never got devices, equipment that was too old or insufficient for use inside and outside of the classroom as well as insufficient support by experts. In terms of policy implementation, just distributing a subsidy does not necessarily guarantee that ICT devices are actually used, and there are many steps to be taken before these are put into daily use like pencils and notebooks.

In order to fill in this gap between policy and practice, the Digital Agency, with the ministries concerned, released a joint message to students and educators, and presented their responses in the form of future directions of relevant policies. Some of them actually led to subsequent supplementary budget items approved in December 2021.

Additionally, we took the comments from students and educators very seriously, and based on the “Open/Transparency” principle of DA, we explained our stance in as much detail as possible, including cases in which measures are difficult to take. This, I believe, is very meaningful as a new trial of policy refinement based on voices from the ground, where digital plays a significant role in reaching out to people/users.

IEN: This initiative is still in progress, but what’s next?

HY: Yes, when we think of three phases of digital transformation – (1) digitization, (2) digitalization, and (3) digital transformation, the current movement is mostly in phase (1) (digitization). However, the potential of digital technology goes far beyond taking paper and face-to-face processes and putting them online; it also lies in promoting student-centered learning as well as providing wraparound and push-type services to children by connecting a variety of data. Therefore, recently (in January 2022), DA and the ministries concerned published “Roadmap on the Utilization of Data in Education.” First, we set the mission of digitalization in education as “a society where anybody, at any time and place, can learn with anybody in his/her own way,” and established “three core goals” – enriching the (1) scope, (2) quality, and (3) combination of data – for realizing that mission. Issues and necessary measures, such as standardizing data in education, the way the creation of the platform in the field of education ought to be, determining rules/policies for the utilization of data in education, are clarified with a timeline.

Although most of the policy measures are supposed to be taken by MEXT, DA recently started a pilot project for realizing support for children in need (e.g. poverty, child abuse) through data connection across departments and organizations. As for now, when it comes to data in such fields as education, childcare, child welfare, medical care, etc., they are handled at different departments within the local government. Additionally, there are a variety of institutions concerned such as child consultation centers and schools, each of which, based on their respective role, engage in support for children by utilizing the information that they have. Unfortunately, this sometimes results in each organization/department working in silos without having a clear understanding of which children/families need priority support. For example, the “Child Development Monitoring System” in Minoh City, Osaka Prefecture, classifies children through (1) economic situation, (2) child rearing ability, (3) academic achievement, and (4) non-cognitive abilities, etc.; they then utilize the results for support and monitoring through case meetings, etc.. Building on such practices, we will support local governments by establishing a system for connecting data in education, child welfare, health etc. as needed, utilizing that data to discover children truly in need (e.g. poverty, child abuse) and providing push-type support to them.

IEN: Knowing that fundamentally changing education is such hard work – just like “Tinkering Toward Utopia” – what do you imagine for education in the future?

HY: We have to admit the possibility that the fundamental framework of learning instruction in which “in school” “teachers” “at the same time” teach “to students in the same grade” “at the same pace” “the same content” cannot work anymore. This is not because teachers are incapable of doing their jobs. This is because there are so many different needs that children have – from absenteeism, special needs, Japanese-language learners, poverty, to so-called gifted.

With that in mind, we set the goal of digital transformation in education as realizing learner-centered education by enriching the combination of a variety of “places”, “people” and “contents” relating to learning (”A society where anybody, at any time and place, can learn with anybody in his/her own way”). For example, teachers are also expected to serve as coordinators who utilize resources such as human resources for learning that should be provided to a group of students (“Can learn ‘with anybody’”). Additionally, assessment will move from measurement of student learning at the entry point (how much students learn) to that based on a hybrid of the entry and exit points (what attributes and abilities they acquire) (“Can learn “at any time””). Furthermore, what students learn and in what order will differ based on respective needs and understanding of each student, which can be helped with big data analysis (“Can learn “in his/her own way””). This is easier said than done, but MEXT recently set up a new special council composed of stakeholders to discuss concrete policy measures to realize this vision. I’m hopeful that Japanese education will be able to shift from an equality-oriented, lecture-style system to the one that embraces diversity (individually optimized learning and collaborative learning) without undermining our focus on equity.