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Around the (education) world in one blog post

14 May 2015

It’s testing time here in south Florida, throughout all the United States (my favorite viral link on the topic involves John Oliver’s 18-minute package from HBO–click here if you’re not likely to be offended by some of the language), and thanks to today’s release of most recent PISA results (see reports by BBC, CNBC, Time, U. S. News & World Report) all around the world. What this means for me is a great opportunity while students are testing and other teachers are proctoring to curate a variety of information about education matters around the globe, some of which doesn’t even mention tests. Enjoy and please comment, as we wait for students to get back to studying and teachers to get back to teaching.

Numbers in parentheses correspond to global rank in those PISA results.

South Korea (#3) . NPR did a package on the pressure among South Korean students to do well on tests, so much so that one survey found South Korean children aged 11-15 are the most stressed in the world. Still, there are Korean teachers going against the grain and focusing on the whole child rather than just the year’s test scores. Korea Times reports on teachers at a conference in Indonesia stressing the importance of using digital education to develop students’ creativity. According to another Korea Times article, 25 primary schools in Seoul will work on “universal design,” specifically as a means of developing ways to help the elderly and disabled.

Universal education is one of the prime goals of the United Nations’ Millenium Development Goals, and in many nations, the percentage of children in school has been increasing. Now that they’re in school, the question this New York Times commentary asks is, “Are they learning anything?” Part of the issue is infrastructure and part of the issue is that free schooling isn’t actually free when parents have to pay for books, uniforms, and other supplies; this article from The Guardian reports that’s the main problem in Uganda (not ranked) and other sub-Saharan African countries (of those participating, the highest sub-Saharan nation was Botswana [#70], and the bottom two in the global table were South Africa [#75] and Ghana [#76]). In India (not ranked), the Right to Education Act made universal education a constitutional right of every child. This law has spurred massive interest in developing the infrastructure and personnel necessary to educate properly the approximately half billion (that’s 500,000,000–nearly twice the total population of the United States) children in India. Some teacher training institutes are better than others (and here I must give a shout-out and link to Maya Menon and all my friends at The Teacher Foundation in Bangalore). The Hindustan Times, in Mumbai, reports that the central government is considering withdrawing certification of some teacher training programs.

Meanwhile, also in India, Microsoft has launched a cloud-based computing option specifically for use in schools and colleges there. Microsoft’s CEO is 47-year-old, Hyderabad-born Satya Nadella.

The only country with more children to educate than India is China, and it is often seen as a country with exceptional education. However, because PISA tests are given only in selected regions, the country as a whole is not ranked (Hong Kong was listed as #2, but see questions raised about Shanghai’s #1 rank in 2012 here and here). Yong Zhao has long been a critic of the country’s focus on standardization and rote memorization over creativity, leading to good test results but not necessarily entrepreneurs and Nobel Prize winners–see an article on his latest book here. Another article from Langauge Magazine praises China for its rapid rise in literacy since 1978, but shows concern for the growing dominance of Mandarin (the language of Beijing and the state) pushing into extinction other regional dialects and perhaps pushing the Cantonese speakers of Hong Kong toward more protest and a greater assertion of regional identity.

The Hour of Code seems to be growing bigger every year, both in the U. S. and internationally, but did you know Rwanda (unranked) has been encouraging coding through Scratch Day?

What’s a post on global education without some mention of Finland (#6)? Due to consistent high performance in the tables of international test results, Finland is to global education what Lupita Nyong’o is to fashion right now. And, well, in fashion and in education apparently, one day you’re in, next you’re out. BBC News reports on a study by the director of the Centre for Market Reform of Education (U. K.) claiming that Finland’s high results come not from the liberality with which teachers create curricula, but from the highly structured and centralized reforms of the 1970s and ’80s. This report is countered by this April 27 column in The Guardian by Pasi Sahlberg, who summarizes what he believes are the main ideas behind Finnish educational success here. Read more about the CMRE report in a Finnish newspaper here.

Whatever you think of Finland, it’s not Sweden (#35), where no one’s happy with what’s happening in education. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development issued a report that said Sweden needs to “urgently reform” its school system. The Guardian reports that among the biggest problems in Sweden is too much emphasis on parental school choice, contributing to a winner-takes-all system in which the lower-class and immigrants do poorly on standardized tests. The Cato Institute, at least as far right of center as The Guardian is left, says, no, it’s the reforms of the 1990s that led to more “pupil-led” lessons.

Speaking of international comparisons, what’s a post on global education without some mention of some measurement of how bad kids in the United States (#28, tied with Italy) are  compared to the rest of the world? Fortune magazine reports on a study by Educational Testing Service that shows Millenials in the U. S. fall short of their international counterparts in literacy, math, and the skills needed to solve problems through technology. The Atlantic magazine has a bit more details and nuance here. (You don’t have to search far to find more Millenial-bashing: not only are they unskilled, they’re cheapirreligious, politically unaffiliatedskeptical about current reports of economic growth, delaying marriage and raising children, and just generally a bunch of social-media-addicted, selfie-taking narcissists. Ouch, hurtful! Although, in fairness, here’s a remember-how-stupid-you-were-when-you-were-that-young counterpoint.) We here at Globalcitizenshipe are here to help. Here’s a criticism of the report, a piece on what Millienials need to learn about using social media productively, and an explanation of why it’s so hard to become an adult these days. (Truth in reporting: As a grader of the Advanced Placement exam, I am a part-time employee of ETS, which developed the study in question. And I can’t join the Millenial bashers because I hadn’t made much progress in the “pillars of adulthood” [marriage, children, career] by the time I was 25 either.)

I conclude on a very serious note. One in seven schools in Nepal have been destroyed by this week’s earthquakes. One million children now have no school to go to. Public Radio International lists 10 charities established in Nepal with the best chance to provide help.



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  1. Judy Carruth permalink

    Love the post! Thought provoking and fresh. Judy

  2. Dr. Shipe permalink

    Thanks, Judy! See you in Luhvul?

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