"India has an immense potential. You have a huge number of young people, the demographic dividend we often talk about, the billion brains ready to come into the workforce. That is a huge advantage over many other ageing and smaller countries. What does India need to do to get its workforce to be able to compete globally? Of course it has to educate its young people. You look at what India is trying to do in the last few years and what it plans to do in the coming decade or so. There is a lot of money going into education, there is a lot of people profiting on education. The government is spending a lot of money on skills development, lots of money going into schools, but the quality of education in India is still nowhere near high enough. The real need for India is to get high quality education to get skilled and capable workers into good quality jobs. So far if you look around at the standard of the secondary school education, the standard of higher education, the standard of vocational education, it really isn’t there."

Adam Roberts, author of an Economist special report on India

Tags: India Asia

Where do South Korea’s dropouts go?

Alternative schools in South Korea are becoming an increasingly popular option for would-be high school dropouts, according to the BBC

Although South Korea leads the world in the percentage of 24-35 year olds with a college degree and sends 80 percent of its high school graduates on to college, the country’s education system has been criticized for being to high pressure and rigid. Unemployment for young people - even those with a college degree - remains high.

The government recently estimated that 40 percent of students in South Korea’s traditional education system wanted to drop out, according to the BBC.  

In these conditions, about 40 officially-certified private alternative schools have opened in Seoul. Although they are not embraced by everyone, alternative high school principal Kim Han-tae told the BBC schools like his serve a vital purpose:

"Public education these days is regressing because it’s too rigid, too formulaic," he said.

"There’s no improvement in content and the schools are not adapting to the students’ changing needs, that’s why the private sector is flourishing."

The facilities at Song-ji might be inferior, he admits, but the school is serving an important purpose - helping students adapt and find talents outside the mainstream system.

"We might let the students fall asleep in class," he said. "But we know that when they do wake up, they’ll want to learn. Without schools like ours, they would be left behind, isolated, and create social problems."

United Kingdom short 10,000 STEM graduates

The United Kingdom needs to produce 100,000 science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates annually in order to keep its current industrial status quo. Right now, it graduates 90,000 such students a year, leading to a 10,000-person deficit, according to a new report by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

To compound the problem further, a quarter of existing STEM graduates don’t end up working in scientific careers, Jobs and growth: the importance of engineering skills to the UK economy finds. All told, the country needs 1.25 million STEM professionals and technicians by 2020. 

The report also found that women were far less likely to enter STEM fields. The same may be true for low-income students, as well. 

"Stem qualifications are portable and valuable," Matthew Harrison, report author and director of engineering and education at the Academy, said in a statement. "All young people should have access to them as a means of social mobility and to strengthen the economy."

"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

Back-to-school global news roundup

This piece comes to us courtesy International Ed News.

This back-to-school time of year has seen teacher strikes in places such as ChicagoEnglandAustraliaKenya 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 

Tags: Spain Europe

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.

Tags: Africa

China’s rural affirmative action

A new policy in China is giving preferential treatment to rural students who have long struggled to get in to the country’s top universities. This year, 12,100 spots were earmarked for students from 680 poor, rural counties, according to the Xinhua News Agency

Entrance to college in China is, for most, determined by a score on a single exam. But rural education is generally far weaker than in urban areas, meaning those in cities consistently outscore their rural peers and earn more spots in China’s colleges. The new rural quota is designed to reduce some of this educational inequity. 

Zeng Mengyao, a 19-year-old daughter of farmers, scored eight points less on her entrance exam than was required by Xiamen University - one of China’s top 20 schools. Still, she’ll be going there next year. 

"I am sure I would not have been admitted by such a prestigious university without this year’s special enrollment plan," Zeng told Xinhua. 

Tags: China Asia

Sesame Street, which started broadcasting a Hindi version of the show entitled Galli Galli Sim Sim in 2006, is working to develop its own brick-and-mortar-schools in India. Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit responsible for the TV show, will start to franchise preschools and after-school programs, opening 20 by March of 2013, according to the Wall Street Journal. The group may also start a teacher training college in India to prep Seasame-teachers-to-be for the classroom. 

Tags: India

Recommendations to improve preschool in Singapore

Singapore’s preschool system needs some big changes. It should be free. More government funding is needed. Preschool teachers need to earn more. At least, that’s according to the bulk of participants in a paper released this week by the Lien Foundation, a Singapore-based nonprofit that does work in eldercare, preschool and water and sanitation.  

The paper, “Vital Voices for Vital Years,” comes on the heels of another Lien Foundation publication, which revealed that Singapore’s early education was not on par with the best in the world. “Starting well: Benchmarking early education across the world,” which was conducted in partnership with the Economist Intelligence Unit, ranked preschool in 45 countries. European countries topped the list; Singapore came in 29th.  

“Vital Voices” included viewpoints from “teachers, principals, healthcare professionals, social workers, academics, private and nonprofit operator and training providers” about their top concerns and ways they thought the country could improve its preschool conditions.  

Right now, access to preschool in the country is unequal. Fees and quality vary widely, with low-income families shut out from the best options. More than 70 percent of those who took part in the study thought that preschool should be thought of as a “necessary public good,” and thereby be free and universal.

Preschool teacher training and supports also needs an overhaul, the paper says. Whereas all the country’s other teachers go through a single university to earn their degrees, there are more than a dozen training providers for preschool. “Vital Voices” recommends reviewing all the programs, as well as improving the salary structures for preschool teachers and starting a “national campaign” to drum up more respect for them.

Tags: Singapore Asia