Tag Archives: United States

What does it look like to go back to school? It’s different all around the world…

This week, IEN’s Thomas Hatch summarizes some of the reports and stories that describe the many different ways schools are starting the new semester and new school year following the coronavirus closures earlier this year. In many cases, the differences in reopening plans differ as much within countries as across them.

            New years and new semesters have started in schools all around the world over Some openings have included celebrations – like a “dazzling drone show” welcoming students back to school in Nanjing China – but often openings have taken place as coronavirus cases have spiked in countries like Germany, France, and Jordan. Teachers all over are expressing major concerns about schools reopening before conditions are safe, with teachers unions filing labor board complaints in Toronto, and in New York City, threats of a strike delayed the opening of schools at least two weeks.  For those schools continuing with remote learning, concerns about equity and problems equipping all students with devices and internet connections remain even after months of closures.  At the same time, The New York Times reports “China is harnessing the power of its authoritarian system to offer in-person learning for about 195 million students in kindergarten through 12th grade at public schools.”

Among the approaches to reopening schools around the world:

  • In Spain, with the fastest growing infection rate in Europe, requirements for public schools are more stringent:  class sizes are being reduced; students are assigned to “bubbles” with a small number of classmates; desks must be positioned at least 1 ½ meters apart; all schools must improve open-air ventilation, and students must wear masks. Yet some private schools have been able to take advantage of their own resources to create open-air enclosures, increase staff and take other steps to adjust.
  • In Norway, as schools reopened in cities like Oslo, cases rose to a “yellow,” caution level, and if they continue to rise to a “red” level, schools will have to close again. The Norwegian authorities have not mandated the use of face masks in schools, but many schools have dropped the tradition of allowing parents of first graders to shake hands with the principal and follow their children into their classrooms as part of a formal welcome for their very first day of school. (“Corona clouds the first day of schoolNewsinenglish.no)
  • In Estonia, some schools are almost “back to normal” but others are making their own adaptions to slow the spread of the virus.  One school is alternating between one week learning in school and the next two weeks learning online from home, while another has reduced class sizes, shortened classes, decreased the length of the school day and included “movement” days where students spend the whole day outside. (“New academic year: Alternating distance and contact learningERR.ee).
  • Hong Kong schools plan to resume face-to-face classes in stages, on a half-day basis with students from some years, such as those starting primary or secondary schools among the first back
  • In Germany, testing for students and educators has been “fast and free,” with quick contact tracing making it possible to isolate cases and contain spread. As the New York Times reported, after schools were open in Berlin for a few weeks: 49 teachers and students had been infected, but with testing and targeted quarantines, only about 600 students out of some 366,000 have had to stay home on any given day. (“Schools Can Reopen, Germany Finds, but Expect a ‘Roller Coaster’”, New York Times).
  • In the US, opening plans differ drastically depending on location as 65% of rural districts plan to start fully in-person, but only 24% of suburban districts and 9% of urban districts plan to do so; overall, estimates suggest 26% of districts plan to open fully remote, but over 40% of the highest-poverty districts will do so (Getting Back to School: An Update on Plans from Across the Country, Center on Reinventing Public Education). In Los Angeles, although almost all students are still learning from home, the district is trying to put in place a massive testing program to test and screen all 700,000 students and 75,000 employees in order to reopen the schools. (L.A. Schools Begin Testing 775,000 Students and Workers, New York Times).  In New York City, the teachers union continues to express concerns about the plans to open with in-person learning, and at the same time, over 40% of students (approximately 422,000 students) have enrolled in all-remote learning. (55 NYC School Staff Test Positive; Nearly Half of Students Opt for All-Remote, NBCNewYork).

University rankings: past, present, future

College and university rankings have been in the news recently, both in the United States and around the world as the Times Higher Education (THE) released their World University Rankings for 2014-2015 on October 2nd. THE describes the ranking as “the only global university performance tables to judge world class universities across all of their core missions – teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.” As usual, universities in the United States hold the top spots, with CalTech topping the list for the fourth year in a row, and Harvard and Stanford coming in second and third place.

Since the publication, countries around the world have taken note and interpreted the results in a variety of ways. The Washington Post reports that the rise in the ranking of Asian universities is “worrying” for the U.S, despite what the THE called the “utter domination” of US universities in the ranking, with U.S. schools earning 7 out of the top 10 positions. The Guardian called attention to the success of Switzerland’s universities in the ranking system, noting that for such a small country they tend to earn top positions. The Malay Mail Online raised questions about why Malaysian universities, which the country’s leaders claim are among the “best in the world,” opted out, noting their low ranking in years past. New Delhi TV pointed out that India now has two universities ranked in the top 300; however, Indian universities have yet to make it to the “definitive top 200.” The Irish Independent noted that the country’s two top universities slid in the rankings and attributed the drop to the country’s inadequate funding of higher education institutions. Similarly, tvnz.co.nz reports that the decline of New Zealand’s universities in the rankings is related to a lack of financial support.

While these recent news reports focus only on the most recent THE rankings, other ranking systems for higher education have been making the news as well — with a different set of results. For example, the QS ranking gave the top spot to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Malaysian universities do participate in this survey, with The Malaysian Insider reporting that the University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) placed in the world’s top universities under 50 years old.

In the U.S., President Obama has introduced the idea that colleges ought to be rated according to measures that allow students and parents to understand the value of the education they receive there. In recognition of the fact that college tuition has skyrocketed over the past few decades, this rating system is being promoted (and debated) as one way to reduce the cost of college tuition, while also identifying the schools—and even subject areas—that will provide students with the most “bang for the buck.” While thinking of college primarily as an investment in a student’s financial (not intellectual) development might seem to miss what some might see as the point of an undergraduate educational experience, The New York Times recently reported that the American worker with a college degree now earns 74% more than their counterparts with only a high school diploma. David Deming, a Harvard professor who studies the economics of education, is quoted in the article as saying, “In the U.S., more so than in other countries, you as a family are making a larger and riskier investment in your own future…. College pays off on average but it has a ton of risk. Lower-income families can’t buffer that shock.” The fact that a college degree might have the potential to dramatically alter the trajectory of a person’s financial life, combined with the fact that income inequality is increasing in the United States, means that greater attention will be paid to colleges and universities that can prove themselves to be a healthy investment. To that end, the web-based professional networking company LinkedIn has now created its own ranking system—one that ranks universities based on career outcomes. Even H&R Block has created a chart linking college majors to individual earnings. The New York Times also released its own ranking, this one to measure economic diversity at the top colleges (with Vassar at the top of this list).

While all of this information can be head-spinning, there is still more. The Bureau of Labor Statistics just released their own ranking of jobs that will be most in demand in the future. According to this list, by the year 2022 the U.S. will need more than 3.2 million registered nurses; the jobs that will be least in demand are those that require advanced university degrees. Considering this information, and other sets of facts, the effort to rank the schools of today based on what will be needed in the world of tomorrow seems daunting.

Considering the history of university rankings in the United States, some say that the value of an education is indeed undefinable, and that therefore universities are unrankable. The following podcast offers some interesting history on higher education in the U.S. Here, educational historians share what they know about the U.S. government’s early efforts to rank colleges (with the first ranking system created in 1910, ranking 344 schools), and efforts to make a college education more affordable and “practical.” They raise questions about the purpose of a college education that might be applicable to our understanding of what is going on in the world of international university ranking systems today.

Deirdre Faughey

 
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