Tag Archives: news scan

Scanning the globe

Photo by Dao Ngoc Thach

Photo by Dao Ngoc Thach

Several reports over the past month highlight the variety of causes that are blamed for failures to improve educational performance around the world. This short scan of reports focusing on issues like school quality and test-score performance, reveals typical concerns about teacher training and teacher quality, questions about the language of instruction and equality of education, as well as questions about the choices policymakers have made and the “policy churn” that can undermine implementation.
 

School Quality

Earlier this year in Sweden, 11,000 students were left without a school to attend when the private education firm that operated it went bankrupt. According to an article published online by Reuters, additional concerns raised about the quality of education in these schools led the opposition Green Party, a long-term proponent of school choice, to issue a public apology in a Swedish newspaper, with the headline: “Forgive us, our policy led our schools astray.”

In Vietnam, concerns have been expressed over the quality of care and education children receive in privately operated preschools. Referring to the government policy to privatize education as a failure, thanhniennews.com writes that limits placed on the growth of public preschool facilities has allowed private preschools “of dubious quality to mushroom.” Another article, posted on Vietnam.net, points out the additional problem of inadequate teacher training in provincial and privately operated preschools.

Test-Score Performance

In Malaysia, we see a debate over the cause of the decline of TIMSS scores. The World Bank released a report that found the decline to be caused by the switch in the language of instruction from Bahasa Malaysia to English. However, an article in The Malay Mail online cites the Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE), for pointing out that in 2007 (the year scores declined sharply), the students had yet to receive their instruction in English. Instead, PAGE attributed the decline to the poor quality of teachers and insufficient teaching hours. The Education Ministry announced plans to form a panel to investigate Malaysian students’ decline in performance.

Finnbay.com reports that Krista Kiuru, Finland‘s Minister of Education and Science, has allocated €22.5 million in state aid to promote equality in education for the period 2014-2015 to regain Finland’s top seat in PISA. “Success of Finnish education in international comparisons must be regained by having educational equality and non-discrimination,” said Kiuru.

Educational Improvement and “Policy Churn”

Despite declines in New Zealand students’ test scores, The Otago Daily Times reports that Education Minister Hekia Parata will not do anything differently. Parata attributes the slide to 10 years of a changing education system and not its controversial National Standards assessments, or a lack of school funding. According to Parata, Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD’s Secretary-General, has assured her that the country is already doing “what they recommend should be done when you want a whole of system change.”

The Nation has reported that the recent political upheaval in Thailand could mean that the sweeping curriculum-based overhaul of the education system might not come to fruition. The country had planned radical changes, such as decreasing the number of school hours for primary students from 800 to 600 per year, and requiring that students learn outside of the classroom for up to 400 hours per year. In addition, the Pheu Thai party’s controversial, yet “much-touted election policy” called the One Tablet PC Per Child Project, might not be implemented. Other policies at risk of being shelved include changes to the university admission system, promotion of vocational education, and the ongoing effort to improve Thailand’s international educational ranking.

Scanning the Globe: Access, Protests, and PISA 2012

A quick review of the headlines on education and educational policy we’ve seen from around the world over the last few weeks reveals continuing concerns about issues of access and financing in both developed and developing countries.  Australian Teacher Magazine reported on concerns about the extent to which the current Australian government will support the previously approved “Gonski” reforms, and Education International raised questions about a bill that will introduce an income cap to Japan’s tuition-free program for public high schools. An article in The Hindu described how school cancellations caused by excessive holidays and weather can interfere with the requirements for increased instructional time in India’s Right to Education Act. Euronews reported on the difficulties that students in countries like Uganda, Kenya, and Mexico face just getting to school.

Protests over the past few weeks included those over conditions for education and support for educators in the Ukraine that took place as part of the demonstrations against the government’s efforts to delay an association agreement with Europe; rallies against education cuts in Spain; and protests by students at the University of Copenhagen in response to a working paper from the University administration describing proposals designed to get students to complete their courses on time.

But the big news, at least for a moment, was OECD’s release of the 2012 PISA results including overviews, country-specific notes, full reports and data.  We pulled together headlines from around the world, many of which labeled the results “bad news,” except in countries like Lichtenstein, Poland, Estonia and the usual high-performing Asian countries and portions of countries (like Shanghai).  Alexander Russo rounded-up the responses in the United States and The Times Education Supplement put together their own list of news and opinion.

Concerns about the orchestration of the announcement and the media blitz surrounding it were raised on both sides of the Atlantic, by Paul Morris on the Institute of London Blog as well as Richard Rothstein and Martin Carnoy from the Economic Policy Institute in the US. While Marc Tucker and Tom Friedman agreed on some of the multiple factors that might contribute to Shanghai’s success, Adam MinterJunheng Li, and Diane Ravitch pointed to some of the problems and concerns about the Chinese education system expressed both inside and outside China (as well with some of the concerns about vast numbers of students in Shanghai who are unrepresented in the PISA tests).

Although slipping a bit in math, Finland – along with several other European high-performers like Estonia (discussed by Pasi Sahlberg), Poland (discussed by Amanda Ripley), and Liechtenstein – still serves as a focus for some examinations of the ingredients of a successful education system. Given the domination of the rankings by the Asian high-performers however, some of the main story lines for the next few years seem to be set. On the one hand, stories about success on PISA will highlight how hard students’ work and the amount of time students spend on schoolwork while mentioning concerns about the amount of pressure on students and the need to support the development of higher-order skills. (See for example, reports from the BBC about South Korea and a report in the Japan News that credits Japan’s strong performance on PISA 2012 in part to a decision by the Japanese Ministry to back-off a commitment to “pressure-free” education and an increase in the volume of study content and the number of class hours). On the other hand, others will continue to point to the many issues of inequality and the social and economic factors that play into these results and other comparisons (see for example stories from France, and the US; while it does not focus on PISA, a recent article from the Asia Pacific Journal of Education explores the inequitable distribution resources across schools in South Korea).

Scan of news: Teachers

Scotland: Susan Quinn, Union president, highlighted members' concerns.

Scotland: Susan Quinn, Union president, highlighted members’ concerns.

Over the past month, reports from various countries have shown both the concerns of teachers and concern about teachers. For example, reports of teacher concerns include India and Argentina, where teachers are looking for reliable salary payments, decent facilities, and quality education for allFinland, where teachers are concerned about a sharp increase in violent student behavior in the classroom; and Greece, where teachers are fighting for the right to protest in the midst of austerity measures that threaten the country’s education system itself. Additionally, in Scotland teachers are protesting a new curriculum and an unmanageable workload.

Reports of concerns about teachers include Lithuania, where students recently outperformed teachers on an exam created by the European Union; Israel, where teachers’ lack of expertise in mathematics has been blamed for student difficulties with the subject; and Malaysia, where the Education Ministry plans to conduct diagnostic exercises to benchmark Science teachers in terms of their content knowledge and pedagogical skills in the field.

Scan of news: Access and Funding

Sources in many countries over the past few weeks highlight issues ranging from educational access and funding, to quality curriculum and government corruption. Here is a quick glimpse of what we’ve seen on the issues of access and funding:

Pia Philip Michael and Bridget Nagomoro visited the UK to discuss the challenges to girls' education in South Sudan. Photograph: Leapfrog Public Relations

Pia Philip Michael and Bridget Nagomoro visited the UK to discuss the challenges to girls’ education in South Sudan. Photograph: Leapfrog Public Relations

Reports have shown that the United Arab Emirates is struggling with the issue of high tuition and long student wait lists, while Singapore’s Senior Minister of State for Education has suggested that the government link educational subsidies with evidence of high quality. Australia and the Philippines seek to increase investment in educational research by launching a partnership that aims to raise the quality of education in the Philippines through investing in research to support K-12 education. Meanwhile, union leaders in Peru met to develop policies that would defend the right of indigenous peoples to public education. Sudan aims to keep young girls in primary school by involving officials in the effort to spread the national message on educating girls. India is about to launch the second round of the Right to Education Act admissions, which will include a reservation of 25% seats in private schools for disadvantaged groups; however, reports reveals that word has not yet reached parents who would benefit most from the new provision. 

Scan of Ed News: Testing

Since 1995, children have been required to sit literacy and numeracy tests in their last year of primary school. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

Since 1995, children have been required to sit literacy and numeracy tests in their last year of primary school. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

Over the past month, a number of reports indicate a variety of concerns about testing around the world.  For example, Israel’s new Education Minister, Shai Pironhas decided to introduce reforms that would de-emphasize testing in order to “promote learning.” Similarly, China is taking small steps towards allowing educators to have input in test design (as opposed to government only). In contrast, the British government is acting in opposition to educators and parents to fight off an unprecedented alliance of hundreds of students, schools, local councils, and teaching unions, who brought a legal challenge over last year’s GCSE English exam grades. UK teachers are also protesting primary literacy exams, which they say leave little time for art, music, and books, and make children feel like failures. Chile has announced sweeping changes to the country’s university entrance exam, which has received criticism for flaws and bias; however, the concern in this case was not raised by educators and parents, but by Pearson, a company that describes itself as a leading provider of test development, processing and scoring services to educational institutions, corporations and professional bodies around the world. Pearson’s analysis revealed significant flaws and bias in the design of the exam.

In Singapore, surveys recently revealed that many educators and parents feel that students experience too much testing and a report on a recent visit by Dr. Dennis Shirley highlighted his suggestion that  the task of student assessment be handed over to the teachers, so that they can design their own modes of testing.  While the Singapore government has proposed several initiatives aimed at strengthening efforts to help every student succeed, none yet include substantial modifications to testing. While it might seem that the decision made by five schools in the town of Alesund, Norway, to change the date of the midterm exams so that students could attend a Justin Bieber concert in Olso, was an effort to modify testing to meet the needs of the students, it was also one for which officials saw no alternative. As one principal explained, they expected Mr. Bieber’s show would lead to sparse classroom attendance. “We considered that this was a battle that we could not win this time,” he said.

Scan of Ed News: University Rankings, Curriculum, and Teacher Training

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Beyond the issues of protests, unions, and funding, which were highlighted in the first part of this monthly scan, part II brings together links to a number of recent articles and reports that touch on the kinds of issues raised by the latest Academic Reputation Survey.

Academic Reputation Survey

Each year, Times Higher Education and Thomson Reuters sends an email to thousands of academics worldwide inviting them to participate in the annual Academic Reputation Survey, which aims to gain insight on the reputations of academic institutions within the academic community. While this method of ranking has been controversial, education news reports show that many countries take these rankings very seriously, making improvements to their education systems that they hope will elevate their national reputation on a global scale.

In their effort to produce the most college-ready students in the world, many countries are focused inward on issues such as language and curriculum, teacher training and evaluation, and school accountability, while also paying close attention to competitive outward measures.

Language Requirements in Higher Education

Of the top 20 schools, the only one from a non-English-speaking country is Japan’s University of Tokyo; all other schools are located in the US, the UK, Australia or Canada. Since 2006, Prime Minister Abe’s has focused on fostering “global talent to reverse the nation’s declining competitiveness on the world stage,” an effort that has led him to target English-language studies as an area of improvement. His plan would mandate that people reach certain scores on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) to gain college admission, graduation, and to qualify for government jobs.

Seen in Beijing, a T-shirt mocking poorly spoken English. Photo: AFP

Seen in Beijing, a T-shirt mocking poorly spoken English. Photo: AFP

Meanwhile, in China, a 2010 survey showed 80% of people polled agreed that there is a language crisis. “Because students devote more effort into passing English tests, they spend less time studying for courses for their major, dealing a ‘heavy blow’ to overall education,” said Zhang Shuhua, head of the Intelligence Research Academy. In March, some of China’s top universities dropped the requirement of an English test as part of their recruitment exams, yet over 40,000 Chinese students poured into Hong Kong to take the SAT exam, and the best are opting to study at foreign universities. This “brain drain” is a trend the leadership is seeking to reverse.

Similarly, Russia will begin testing foreign migrants in the Russian language and establish a “universal history textbook,” a fact that has many concerned. Education Minister Livanov said, “A history manual must not interpret events, but list a sequence of historical facts,” and indicated that it will be the teacher’s job to assess the facts and the logic behind them.

Teacher Training and Evaluation

REPORT CARD: While most schools have adequate numbers of classrooms, separate toilet facilities for girls and boys, the availability of playground, school ramp, kitchen shed and boundary wall remains a major challenge in many States. Photo: K.R. Deepak

REPORT CARD: While most schools have adequate numbers of classrooms, separate toilet facilities for girls and boys, the availability of playground, school ramp, kitchen shed and boundary wall remains a major challenge in many States. Photo: K.R. Deepak

In India, low test scores on basic math and literacy assessments have led to calls for a higher standard for teacher training. Yet, private schools, which many feel provide a superior education, do not offer their teachers the same level of training. According to child rights activist Vasudev Sharma, the disparity in teacher training “is one of the major differences between private and government schools,” yet parents continue to rely on the reputation of private schools.

In a similar move to raise the bar for teachers, Australia will require all future teachers to score in the top 30% of a literacy and numeracy test, and Scotland will require that teachers become content area specialists as well as pedagogues. Yet, as we have seen in Guatemala, efforts to enforce higher standards for teachers leads to concerns about exclusion. Ireland is pushing back against this notion. According to Education Minister Quinn, “a diverse society needs a diversity of teachers, not a ‘one size fits all’ approach which ‘streamlines a particular cohort into teaching’.” At the International Summit on the Teaching ProfessionJohn Bangs went a step further, stating that “a national teacher appraisal scheme is not essential to an education system’s success…. For appraisal to work, therefore, it must be valued by teachers and be seen as a welcome addition to their professional lives.” We have seen further examples of this notion in recent research conducted in Korea, Mexico, and India.

Data Manipulation

Phil Baty, Times Higher Education

Phil Baty, Times Higher Education

While teachers might struggle to see evaluations as essential to an educational system’s success, universities seem to have accepted the importance of the international ranking systems – so much so that they will go to extreme lengths. In response to the University of Cork’s recent attempt to manipulate the data, Phil Baty, editor of the international rankings of Times Higher Education, explained, “Global university rankings have become phenomenally influential in recent years – not only helping students to decide where to invest many thousands of dollars in tuition fees, but also in helping university leaders shape strategies and in helping governments to make multimillion-dollar funding decisions in some parts of the world.” Additionally, as seen in another recent example of educators manipulating data in the US, intense pressure to be successful within systems that value strict measures of evaluation can also lead to unintended outcomes.

Scan of Ed News: Protests, Unions, and Educational Funding

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This month’s scan of recent educational research and news reveals a number of inter-connected issues that are arising in different places around the world.  In part one of this month’s scan, we highlight teacher and student protests, the role of teacher unions, and the uses of educational funding. Part II, which will appear later this week, will share reporting on issues of curriculum, testing, teacher and school evaluations, and higher education.

Teacher and Student Protests:

Ongoing protests highlight a globalized concern surrounding the issue of access to high quality education. Student protests in countries such as Portugal, Chile, Bulgaria, and Spain, focus on changing the system in ways that allow greater opportunity for access, while teacher protests Spain, Greece, and France, aim to preserve an established system now threatened by austerity measures. These protests highlight issues dominant in global news reports in recent weeks, such as the role of teacher unions and educational funding.

The Role of Teacher Unions in Ed Reform: Mexico and South Korea

The Hankyoreh

Korea Teachers and Education Workers’ Union (KTU), The Hankyoreh

Mexico recently witnessed the arrest of Elba Esther Gordillo, long-time president of Mexico’s teachers’ union. Charged with organized crime, Ms. Gordillo’s arrest was widely seen as a boon to education reformists and government officials because it called into question the integrity of unions and provided an example of the disruption of “business-as-usual,” at a time when the government is imposing drastic new reformsUnion leaders say these reforms will lead to students having no guarantee of free public schooling; however, the arrest of Gordillo highlights Mexico’s struggle with corruption, seen by many to be the main prohibitor of change. Two recent studies published by the Asia Pacific Journal of Education, found that school reformers should be “advised to rethink the school change model design in a way of fully capturing human aspects in the reform process.” Nevertheless, we can see direct examples of government threats against unions in South Korea, where teachers are now fighting against government efforts to withdraw recognition of the teachers’ union, and in South Africa, where politicians and lawyers are fighting to have education declared an “essential service,” a move that would make it illegal for teachers to go on strike.

Educational Funding:

While most student protests demand affordable higher education, many governments are focused on providing free education to children of all ages. One example is India, where the Karnataka High Court has declared that all private school students between six and 14 years of age are eligible for free education, not just those from poor families gaining admission under a 25% quota fixed by the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act. However, it is also interesting to note that India’s private schools are expanding and raising their tuition rates. According to L.R. Shivarame Gowda, chairperson of the Joint Action Committee of Private Schools, tuition hikes are necessary for providing quality education: “The numbers of private schools in the city are multiplying, so schools need to provide better facilities to keep in pace with the development and retain students.”  In Japan, the issue of educational funding has become more political, as the government has decided to deny North Korean schools access to their tuition-free program. Education Minister Shimomura presented his view that schools under the influence of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan conflict with the Fundamental Law of Education which calls for education free from any undue political influence. As reported in the International Review of Education, China’s private universities offer an example of institutions that struggle financially, yet provide the people with alternatives that might ultimately allow more students to benefit from the advantages of higher education; however, China also provides an example of how funding alone might not provide children with the education they deserve. The country’s system of residential registers favors those who live in big cities – a holdover from the era of a planned economy, originally used as the basis for rationing of food and other necessities – is fast developing into a serious social issue.

The Hindu

The Hindu