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Recent news reports reveal the ways in which countries all over the world are taking steps to make quality P-12 education more accessible for students.
In China, the government is closing privately operated schools and will allow the children of migrant workers to attend public schools. In addition to paying tuition fees for vocational students in southern rural areas, the Chinese government is also looking for ways to increase high school enrollment in areas such as the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. In contrast, the government has announced that, in their effort to increase the quality of tertiary institutions, postgraduate education will no longer be free. As noted in The New York Times, the cost of education is felt sharply by those in rural areas, where families are suffering from “high education costs coincid[ing] with slower growth of the Chinese economy and surging unemployment among recent college graduates.” Meanwhile, state universities in Indonesia will receive government funding to eliminate initial fees for new students and lower tuition rates overall.
In addition to the issue of access to education, many countries are reporting on efforts to improve the quality of education, resulting in conflicts between government officials, union leadership, and teachers. In Denmark, teachers are pushing back against the government’s reform measures, which include increasing the number of hours teachers spend in the classroom. In France, schools have had to shut their doors due to a teacher strike in protest of President Hollande’s reform agenda, which aims to increase classroom time. Guatemalan teachers and students have also been protesting the country’s education reform goals, which include university-level training for all teachers, a measure many believe will have a negative impact on education in rural areas. South Africa has long provided rural teachers with incentive stipends; however, teachers are in the midst of planning a strike to protest the government’s recent decision to terminate the allowances.
This month, the European Union’s biannual convention focused on funding for education. There is a growing concern that too many E. U. countries are implementing drastic cuts that will make it difficult to sustain growth once the economy recovers. As reported in the New York Times, Rok Primozic, E. U. vice chairman, pointed out that “if European governments continue to cut back on education, they are also cutting back on skills.” Nevertheless, Spain, Greece, Ireland, Italy and Estonia, (as well as non-E.U. countries, such as Chile and Scotland) continue to implement austerity measures that cutback on education spending and lead to protests. In contrast, France,Russia, Australia, Norway, and South Korea have all declared plans to increase education funding in the coming year, while private funding for education is on the rise in Vietnam and Cambodia.
In Guatemala, the issue of access to education becomes complicated as the government’s efforts to increase requirements for teacher qualifications have led to protests by those who see higher levels of education as an impediment to job applicants. However, a recent report from Scotland indicates a link between levels of teacher education and student performance. This link has led the United Arab Emirates to send teachers back to school, but it also might be responsible for a growing skepticism about the qualifications of teachers worldwide. For example, the governments of both France and Japan are questioning the contents of teacher-issued report cards, Malaysiahas decided to test teachers on their knowledge of English, the UK has increased Ofsted school inspections, and India plans to include students in the curriculum design process.
Several major reforms spotlight the dire need for high quality education and propose drastic changes. For example, France proposed a ban on homework and a shorter school week, Malaysia and Japan are redesigning curriculum so that it promotes creativity and innovation, and New Zealand’s Education Amendment Bill of 2012 allows for the creation of charter schools.
The month of September has proven to be an eventful one for global news related to educational policy and change.
This back-to-school time of year has seen teacher strikes in places such as Chicago, England, Australia, Kenya, and Slovakia. These teachers are commonly concerned about new approaches to teacher evaluations and compensation, slashed education budgets, and working conditions. In contrast to many countries that seem to position educators and politicians on opposing sides, Norway announced that it will propose changes to their teacher evaluation system by working with teachers, and incorporating student input as well.
High school students have been staging their own dramatic protests worldwide as well. In Chile, the students occupied schools and government buildings to protest tax reforms that they said failed to devote adequate resources to education. In China, female students protested university gender quotas that eased entrance requirements for male students and kept women out. A similar issue arose in Iran, as 36 universities banned women from 77 fields of study in a move that prompted the UN to call for an investigation.
Innovation and reform in school curricula have also made the news this month. China will focus on vocational training to meet economic demands; France will introduce ethics and citizenship courses; Estonia’s first-graders will learn computer code; and Bosnia will introduce a plan to unite children of different ethnic backgrounds. Over the summer, Hong Kong introduced a controversial “patriotic” curriculum, but the plan was later quashed due to parent and teacher protests.
Singapore has also announced a major new initiative that will revolutionize measures of school effectiveness in the country. Moving away from a quantified approach to evaluating schools (based on test scores and a ranking system), the country will adopt a “student-centric, values-driven” approach to education in which best practices are developed and shared among educators in a new online system. Schools also hope to build relationships with parents and communities. Singapore’s new direction seems to be in stark contrast to the OECD Report, which created a global stir when released last week, as countries were ranked by everything from student performance to teacher pay.