This week, IEN’s Correne Reyes takes a look at how education policies and initiatives have evolved post-COVID in two relatively “high-performing” education systems — Finland and New Zealand — and in a developing education system — South Africa.
Around the world, COVID school closures led to enrollment drops and concerns about health and safety that education systems like South Africa continue to confront. Meanwhile, systems like Finland and New Zealand appear to have dealt with those initial issues and are now tackling challenges like the emotional toll resulting from the pandemic.
According to The Conversation, in South Africa “Although improving, the achievement outcomes are still low, fragile and susceptible to shocks. The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt the education system a major blow, especially for poor and vulnerable learners.” As one example, South Africa reported a 30,000 student enrollment deficit in Grades R and Grade 1 due to the lockdown. With extended school shutdowns in July 2020 and January 2021, 9 million students faced hunger and malnutrition since they rely on school meals for their daily nutrition. Furthermore, only 22% of households have a computer and 10% have an internet connection, limiting remote options. Inequitable internet access means that is primarily students from wealthier communities with better resourced schools who have been able to continue their learning during the school closures. Despite these challenges, the South African government announced a plan to reduce the education budget over the next three years with a cut of over 4% for this financial year, which is likely to lead to further inequity.
“Although improving, the achievement outcomes are still low, fragile and susceptible to shocks. The COVID-19 pandemic has dealth the education system a major blow, especially for poor and vulnerable learners.”
Although Finland and New Zealand continued to experience some school closures, they have been able to turn their focus in policymaking to the health and wellbeing of their students and to rebuilding their foreign student numbers.
In terms of health and emotional support, New Zealand announced an investment of $75.8 million in their newest education wellbeing package to tackle the mental health that have arisen due to COVID-19. For the first time, primary and secondary schools will have “greater access to guidance counselors and counseling support services.” Additionally, Finland’s recent government proposal requested that “both comprehensive and upper secondary schools must have at least one social worker per 670 pupils / students and one school psychologist per 780 pupils / students.” This ratio would ensure more equal access and quality of health services in different parts of Finland. Finland suggests this would “promote the extension of compulsory education, improve opportunities to tackle bullying and also help to fill learning and well-being gaps caused by the corona.”
“New Zealand announced an investment of $75.8 million in their newest education wellbeing package to tackle the mental health and wellbeing issues that have arisen due to COVID-19.”
In both New Zealand and Finland, pandemic-related concerns have also shifted to address the loss of international students. Before the pandemic, international education in New Zealand was the fifth largest export industry, amounting to about $5 billion dollars a year. However, with the pandemic, and a 62% drop in related income from the decline in international students, experts predict it may take 10 years for the industry to recover. Education New Zealand chair, Steve Maharey, recognized that New Zealand was too dependent on China and India for students and the industry needed to diversify. To address the same issue, the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs has prepared the D visa, a bill that would allow third-country researchers, students and their family members the possibility to obtain a Finnish long-term visa, in hopes to promote education and work based migration.