Lessons from Abroad

Jul 18

“Today I apologize to the youth of the world. My generation has betrayed the dreams, aspirations and future that you have a right to. Our education deepens social inequality. The overwhelming majority of young people in South African townships and rural areas sit in over-crowded classrooms, without textbooks, laboratories, libraries, sports facilities and properly qualified teachers. Generations of young people will leave school after 12 years with few skills, no jobs and unlikely to have the human dignity of a decent job in their lifetime.” — Jayaseelan Naidoo, former anti-apartheid activist and chairman of GAIN, a global group focused on hunger and malnutrition 

Jul 16

“We are a group of New Zealand academics teaching and researching in universities. As a group we are very concerned about the proposed publication of ‘league tables’ of primary school performance based on National Standards, whether compiled by media organisations or by Government. We believe that National Standards achievement data and the available school and student level contextualising data are so clearly unsuitable for the purpose of comparing school performance that to purport to do so would be dishonest and irresponsible.” — From a letter signed by more than 100 New Zealand academics opposing a plan to rank elementary schools based on standardized tests

Jul 12

Why can’t France fill its open jobs?

About 10 percent of France’s working-age population is unemployed, even as somewhere between half and two-thirds of French companies are unable to find adequately prepared workers for the jobs they need to fill, reports Bloomberg. The news is even worse for young people; France’s youth unemployment rate was 22 percent in 2011. 

“Without delay, France must improve its vocational training system to more efficiently meet job offers,” French President Francois Hollande said at a “social summit” in Paris on July 9.

Take the French Federation of Mechanical Industries, for instance. The group,  ”which represents companies that make parts for everything from machine tools to trains and wind turbines,” according to Bloomberg, needs to recruit about 40,000 people annually for the next five years. In their own training programs, they can prep 25,000 people per year, said chairman Jerome Frantz. That still leaves 15,000 to be trained elsewhere. 

The problem comes down to a philosophical question about the point of education. France citizens have long looked down on vocational education, Frantz told Bloomberg, preferring intellectuel jobs. 

“For years, there has been a deep hatred in the education system regarding manufacturing, which was ideological,” he said.

Jul 11

“In fact, investing in education and skills more broadly is crucial. There are unemployed graduates on the streets, while employers search in vain for people with the skills they need. This demonstrates that skills do not automatically translate into better economic and social outcomes. A shift in mind set from “lifetime jobs” to “lifetime employability” is required. This means investing in skills throughout the life cycle; from early childhood, through compulsory education, to the transition into the workforce and beyond.” — Angel Gurría, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Secretary-General, for the launch of the 2012 Edition of the Employment Outlook

Jul 10

Australia proposes mandatory arts curriculum

Australia released this week a draft curriculum that will make arts education mandatory through year 10. The plan requires schools to offer dance, drama, media arts, music and visual arts classes to students, but leaves some discretion for the exact scheduling and content of the courses.

Districts will also have the “flexibility to teach subjects discretely or integrate content across a number of arts subjects into teaching programs,” according to the draft curriculum. In the early years of schooling, students will be involved in all five art areas. By year 9 or 10, they will have the opportunity to specialize in one of the areas.

The new plan, which is currently open for public comment and will not be instated until 2013, was praised by Education Minister Peter Garrett. “I’ve been a passionate advocate of the importance of arts as part of a comprehensive, well-rounded education,” he said. “Learning subject areas like music and drama inspires creativity, encourages young people to think critically, helps develop their sense of identity and can provide great benefits for learning in other core areas.”

Yet, there are lingering questions that the draft does not answer. There is no specific information about how many hours will be spent on arts education, for example, meaning teachers are unsure of what will be demanded of them, according to The Canberra Times.

“We value the arts,” said Australian Teachers Federation. “We’d be encouraging those teachers working in the arts to be commenting [on the draft plan] and making sure the voices of their profession are heard.”

Jul 09

“This government can talk all it likes about improving social mobility but how will erecting punitive financial barriers help our best and brightest get on?” — Sally Hunt, leader of the British University and College Union. After raising tuition fees up to £9,000 annually, United Kingdom university applications were down 8.9 percent this year. 

Jul 03

Pearson’s newest investment: African private schools

For-profit education company Pearson is investing $15 million into a fund for private companies running schools in “Africa, Asia and elsewhere,” the company announced this week. 

First on the list of recipients is Omega Schools, a chain of for-profit schools in Ghana. Pearson’s money is expected to help the network expand from 6,000 students to tens of thousands. 

"The Fund’s launch underlines Pearson’s commitment to experimentation to tackle access to and effectiveness of education where it is now absent," Pearson said in statement, noting that the investments would help the world achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Among these goals, for which the agreed upon deadline is 2015, is achieving universal primary education. 

Other’s aren’t so sure, pointing to evidence that school attendance has increased dramatically in some countries once public school fees are abolished. 

"To suggest somehow that supporting low-cost private schools would boost school attendance flies in the face of the evidence," David Archer, head of programme development at ActionAid, told The Guardian, adding that girls would also lose out if schools started charging. “It’s ironic at a time when girls are a priority in primary education, as this kind of initiative will almost certainly discourage girl attendance.”

Jun 28

“Korean students generally spend quite a lot of time studying concepts and principles rather than hands-on activities at the secondary level, even reviewing at home and on weekends. This is a way of obtaining knowledge in a short time and probably contributes to high math and science test scores, but the scores don’t guarantee happiness or success at the graduate level. Personally, I believe that even though hands-on experiments like those emphasized at my school take longer to show student achievement, they will pay off in the long run. In my opinion, learning concepts and principles is as important as learning through hands-on activities.” — Soojin Lim, a biology teacher at Hansung Science High School in Seoul, South Korea. Slate asked science teachers in some of the world’s top performing countries, including Finland, Singapore, New Zealand and Canada, to share their secrets for success. 

Jun 26

“Two fish are swimming in a river. The older one asks, “How’s the water?” The younger one says, “I don’t know if it’s clean or cloudy.”” — A question from China’s 2012 college entrance exam, according to the Wall Street Journal. The test, given annually to high school seniors in the country, is, in most cases, the only determining factor for college admissions. This question was among five that students could chose to write a 400-word essay about. 

Jun 25

Afghanistan calls for more foreign involvement in higher education

Afghan President Hamid Karzai invited foreign institutions to be involved in the country’s higher education system in a speech this weekend, reports the Agence France Presse (AFP). But some experts warn this will only worsen Afghanistan’s brain drain.

"If France wants they can take over our medical university to teach. They can even bring teachers, books and teach in French," Karzai said in a seminar on reforming Afghanistan’s education system."If Germany wants to take over our engineering faculty we will be very happy."

Karzai added that next year, the government will give out $15 million in scholarships for students to study abroad. 

Already, war in Afghanistan has destroyed colleges and prompted those who are well-educated to flee, according to the AFP. Some criticized the president’s plans, as they provided no incentive for college graduates to stay in the country. 

"There is no doubt that once Afghans are educated here to an international level, they will not stay - the country is simply not ready to accept them," Writer and analyst Mostafa Assir told AFP."There is no job security for them, no security for their lives. Why wouldn’t they leave the country to find a better life?"