Report: British aid to Nigerian schools is not helping

The United Kingdom has poured millions into Nigerian school, but an independent group found that money has failed to improve education in the country.

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact concluded in a recent report that:

[The government’s] education programme in Nigeria operates in a very challenging environment, with too few effective teachers, poor infrastructure and unpredictable State funding, all contributing to poor learning outcomes for pupils in basic education. Our review indicates no major improvement in pupil learning. Expectations continue to be modest with no likelihood of Nigeria meeting its Millennium Development Goal for primary education.”

The United Kingdom has already given £102 million (about $162 million) across 10 Nigerian states. Another £126 million (about $200 million) is pledged through 2019, according to the BBC.

A spokesperson for the UK’s Department for International Development told the BBC that report had a narrow focus, but the department would “carefully review the report’s recommendations and respond in due course.”

Standardized tests a foreign concept in Finland

As the United States focuses more on using tests as a means of holding educators and school districts accountable, Finland—which is one of the top performers on international tests—has gone in the opposite direction.

In the U.S., states give annual high-stakes exams that determine whether schools must undergo reforms, in some cases whether students can pass to the next grade level or graduate from high school, and increasingly whether teachers can receive tenure and keep their jobs. Yet the U.S. tends to rank in the middle on international tests. 

In Finland, by contrast, the few tests students take are low stakes, said Finnish educator, Jari Lavonen in a presentation on Thursday in New York. Assessments are used as a tool for professional development and to help teachers gauge student growth, never for accountability.

Yet, despite a lack of practice, when Finnish students do take standardized exams, they tend to excel. The country ranks consistently near the top in math, reading and science in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which is a standardized test taken by students in dozens of countries. The Finnish school system has become the envy of less successful nations around the world, including the United States.

Lavonen suggested if the U.S. wants to mimic Finnish success, it should consider adopting the nation’s philosophy on testing. “We need more decision making and assessment at the local level. We need less standardization and national testing,” said Lavonen, a professor of physics and chemistry at the University of Helsinki who was visiting Teachers College, Columbia University with several colleagues. “We need less test-based accountability.” 

(Disclaimer: The Hechinger Report is published by an independent institute based at Teachers College.)

The Finnish government does occasionally test a random sample of a specific grade and subject in order to insure that the country is meeting its education goals,. Lavonen helped design a high school science exam taken by a sample of Finnish students in 2011. The last time high school science had been tested was 2001.

Overall, students answered an average of 58 percent of the questions correctly. While there were some troubling findings, such as a gender gap favoring boys in physics and girls in biology, Lavonen said everyone was generally pleased with the results.

There was an extremely high correlation between a student’s score on the exam and the end-of-semester grade he or she received, which Lavonen said indicates that teachers are grading well. The test also included many questions to measure students’ attitudes about science – how well they’d learned it and how interesting and relevant it was to them.

And while there are no annual standardized tests there are still ways that the school system checks for quality. Progress is monitored at both the local and municipal level in a variety of ways, including assessments throughout the school year. But the design and timing of any exams are left up to the teacher.

Lavonen, for instance, helped create an online tool for science teachers to develop tests and quizzes as they saw fit. Some might never use it, instead relying on informal checks as they interact with students.

It all comes back to what the Finnish visitors described as a “culture of trust,” where teachers are given flexibility and autonomy. 

“Everything they decide themselves; how they teach and what they teach,” Lavonen said. (Finland does have a national curriculum, however, that teachers must work within.) 

Lavonen and his colleagues who all work in teacher preparation at Finnish universities said tailoring assessments to individual students is fairer than administering standardized exams. Having children of all levels in the same classroom, like the majority of schools do in Finland, presents challenges for testing, Lavenon said. But he stressed it was necessary to treat students differently in order to encourage them based on their individual progress. 

Tags: Finland Europe

French president proposes homework ban

French President Francois Hollande has a new plan to fix economic inequality problems in his country: ban homework. 

The move, designed to level the playing field between students who get help from their families at home and those who don’t, is just one piece of reforms proposed by Hollande. His other plans include lengthening the school week from four to four-and-a-half days and increasing the number of teachers. 

"[Work] must be done in the the [school] facility rather than in the home if we want to support he children and re-establish equality," Hollande said while laying out his plans at Paris’ Sorbonne University, according to the Wall Street Journal

A poll shows that more than two-thirds of people oppose the idea, the Journal said, noting that similar experiments are being tried elsewhere: 

Banning out-of-school assignments would put France on the cutting edge of pedagogical fashion, though it wouldn’t be entirely unprecedented. An elementary school in Maryland recently replaced homework with a standing order for 30 minutes a day of after-school reading. A German high school is also test-running a new homework ban, after an earlier reform lengthened the school day and crowded out time for extra-curriculars such as sports or music.

But the idea might not even be that revolutionary, as The Washington Post notes. Districts in the United States experimented with homework bans more than 100 years ago. 

Early in the 1900s, the influential Ladies’ Home Journal magazine called homework “barbarous,” and school districts such as Los Angeles abolished it in kindergarten through eighth grade.  In fact, some educators said it caused tuberculosis, nervous conditions and heart disease in the young and that children were better off playing outside. The American Child Health Association in the 1930s labeled homework and child labor as leading killers of children who contracted tuberculosis and heart disease.

Tags: France Europe

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."

"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

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.

Tags: France Europe

"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. 

Twenty percent of German teens lack sufficient literacy skills

About one in five German teens, after leaving school, still can’t read well, according to Education in Germany 2012. The bi-annual report placed the blame on early education warning that “a lack of qualified early childcare staff could be partially to blame,” reported The Local

These students leave school without being able to “read properly or understand texts, and generally fail to find further training placements,” said The Local. 

The news wasn’t all bad though. For instance, the number of students passing their school exit exams was up. 

Tags: Germany Europe

France’s new president unveils plan to hire more teachers

French President Francios Hollande, inaugurated on May 15, has big plans for the the next six weeks. Over the weekend, parliamentary elections replaced a conservative majority with a Socialist one, meaning Hollande’s left wing plans will likely reach fruition. 

Among the items of Hollande’s agenda for the next month and a half is a call to hire more teachers. As the Associated Press reported:

After 14,000 job cuts in education last year alone, the Socialists want to turn the tide and invest new government money in schools. They propose a long-term program to include 60,000 new jobs in public and private schools - with 1,000 teachers hired by the time school starts in September. Defending the cost at a time when France is trying to control its debts, Hollande says every job created would be balanced by an eventual job cut elsewhere in France’s large public sector.

Tags: France Europe

Russian elementary school emphasizes practical skills

A new pilot program has an elementary school in Russia forgoing many academics in favor of teaching children practical skills, according to Xinhua. Students will learn things like cooking, electric wiring and computing. 

First graders at School No. 1247, for instance, will construct houses out of empty boxes, which they’ll later donate to orphanages as toys. 

The school fits in with remarks made by the newly appointed Russian Education Minister Dmitry Livanov. He has said that he plans to limit free education to reading, writing and arithmetic, suggesting skilled workers would be more important to the economy than intellectuals.

Yelena Dudaleva, parent of an eight-year-old at School No. 1247, praised the new model. 

"Ask me what is the formula of sulphuric acid and I tell you it is H2SO4. But what’s the use of it for me in my daily life?" she told Xinhua. "My son may not know the formula but he knows how toproduce hydrogenium from that acid in a practical way."

Tags: Russia Europe