“It is extremely important to get these [Syrian refugee] children back into a school system. They have been through a lot, had violent experiences and suffered trauma. It is very important not to disappoint these children and to bring them back to as normal a lifestyle as possible.”—United Nations spokesperson Dana Sleiman on the effort to enroll the 15,000 school-age Syrians who have fled to Lebanon in school
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.
“The government is trying to change our education system. And they are using the crisis as an excuse to do what they are doing. If they continue, nobody in Spain will really recognize what we had.”—Manuela Martínez, head of the General Workers’ Union in Granada, Spain, on education cuts that are increasing teachers workload and class sizes
Half of sub-Saharan Africa's children don't learn basic skills
Seventeen million children in sub-Saharan Africa never go to school. Of the 111 million that do, 40.6 million won’t even learn basic skills, according to the African Learning Barometer. This means that half of Africa’s children will reach adolescence illiterate and innumerate, the Barometer finds.
The interactive tool, put out by the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank, examines Africa’s educational shortcomings in school enrollment, completion and quality. Using existing assessments, Brookings developed a baseline, below which students “were learning so little that they had no value added to their education,” report co-author Justin Van Fleet wrote in a blog. “While these tests do not even begin to scratch the surface on the values, knowledge and skills that children should learn in school to live healthy, productive lives, they do provide some basic indications about the state of learning in the region.”
The African Learning Barometer reveals some deep educational inequalities among income levels, Van Fleet says:
Looking at the rates of extreme education poverty in the region, the percentage of adults with less than two years of education show the disadvantages that poor, rural students face in accessing education in comparison to their rich and urban counterparts. For instance, in Ethiopia, 68.3 percent of the poorest quintile of the population lives in education poverty, compared to only 13.8 percent of the richest.
While there is much reason to celebrate the progress in education that Africa has made over the past decade, the barometer shows us that there is a deeper learning crisis that needs to be addressed.