Skip to content

Refugees, TIMSS, happiness, and miscellany

If it’s springtime, it’s time for spring cleaning–or at least the spring cleaning of my inbox of interesting happenings in global education.

The word of the 2016-17 school year in global education is refugees. UNICEF reports that 28 million children around the world are displaced, including 10 million refugees and 1 million seeking asylum. And there is considerable effort, including that by Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousefzai, going into the question of how to educate them.

First, we have to get them to school. In Syria, 187,000 children are not going to school. Think about what a difference that will make on the long-term future of the country. Thirty thousand Syrian are university-age refugees in Turkey; some go to college, most don’t. Here’s an article from The Atlantic about their plight.

One country that is welcoming the refugees is Canada. Here’s a story about an elementary school in Ottawa where 110 of the 288 students are Syrian refugees. Germany meanwhile has about 400,000 refugee children in its schools. Greece has about 18,000 refugee students in its schools.

In London, a university has figured out that refugees make excellent tutors of languages like Arabic, Swahili and Korean. The Guardian offers teachers five ways to help migrants adjust to your classroom and school. While not applicable only to migrant students and refugees, The U. S. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development offers 10 ways to help students overcome barriers.

For a global perspective, former British prime minister Gordon Brown says about 250 million children around the world are unable to go to school, and 600 million go to school, but learn little due to a variety of factors. Investing in education for these children is the primary means to change the world for the better, he says. Unfortunately, according to UNESCO, the goal for all children in the world to have at least a primary education has been pushed back 12 years to 2042.

What’s a Global Citizenshipe post without a mention of international tests and a roll call of what is happening in those countries that could be appropriated elsewhere?  We often focus on PISA, but here’s an article on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)–topped by Singapore.

Singapore is encouraging, funding and developing alternative learning spaces, like outdoor classrooms.

New Zealand does a good job by not focusing on standards. They have standards, to be sure, but the schools–even the rural ones–don’t let them get in the way of makerspaces. That said, the biggest problem in New Zealand education is finding enough teachers.

In China, another usually high scorer on PISA and TIMSS, some schools are trying to focus more on critical thinking than the rote memorization that does well on standardized tests.

Speaking of PISA, while it tells us how students are doing around the world, what tells us how the students think they’re doing? Here’s a short article by a researcher who asked that question and got an interesting answer: “[T]hose who attended highly stratified, segregated schools were most likely to think only they were to blame for their failure. Conversely, students in less stratified, socioeconomically integrated, schools tended to attribute their academics to a range of factors within their control (effort, talent) and beyond their control (teachers, bad luck).”

Meanwhile in India, the reading curriculum is expanding to include more recent authors like J. K. Rowling and Malala Yousefzai. India was also the site in November of the World Robot Olympiad, won by two students from Taiwan. Samsung is donating 10,000 solar lamps to girls in India so that they can work on their studies at night, when many areas lack adequate electricity.

The focus on encouraging girls in education is a long-standing worldwide initiative. IREX, which administers the Teachers for Global Classrooms program that inspired this blog, has a wonderful resource on providing supporting teaching environments for boys and girls.

A Norwegian university completed a study that shows children who do regular, moderate to vigorous exercise are less likely to come down with depression as teens. Here are some ideas for incorporating movement in your classroom.

In Dubai, there’s a growing focus on teaching empathy and encouraging well-being and happiness. United Arab Emirates, by the way, is one of the few countries to have elevated happiness to a cabinet-level position; read this story from the Los Angeles Times about the UAE Minister of Happiness. Here’s another innovation they’re trying in the UAE: licensing teachers.

Here’s a British educator who thinks emotional well-being should be part of the test results schools must report. The Irish agree.

More about Ireland: The government has several plans for changing education in that country, including making computer science an exam-level subject.

An Australian teacher shows us all how to start the school year.

A Michigan middle-school science teacher found a way to get his students to act locally and think globally.

Minecraft is not just an addictive game. This article reports that 75,000 teachers are using it for lesson. And here’s a teacher in Brazil using Pokemon Go for teaching.

Speaking of games, here’s an article from Edutopia on how to incorporate games into your teaching.

With all this going on, let’s not lose sight of the second of the “three R’s”: writing. Here’s a study about how little writing is done in middle schools, and how to incorporate more across the curriculum.


Learn a new language, be a new you (maybe)

Just a quick post to link this article from Quartz that reports on research claiming a speaker’s personality changes depending on the language. There’s an interesting bit about the effect on personality of learning a second language: If you learn the language while immersed in that culture, your personality likely changes, but if you learn the language while immersed in your home culture, your personality likely won’t change very much.

How to prepare students for jobs that aren’t there

A very interesting article from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania wonders if there is anything any U. S. president can do to transform the labor market back to where it was 30-40 years ago. (Ironically, Penn is the alma mater of President Trump, and three of his children. Although this legacy is promoted on Penn’s website, Politico reports that the relationship is awkward.)

The article reports on a conference addressing that question. The general answer was no. Some wow moments:

“Within 20 years, 47% of all jobs are at risk of being replaced by technology, according to an Oxford University study.”

“[T]here are larger forces at work, according to Art Bilger, founder and CEO of WorkingNation, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that highlights the challenges facing U.S. employment. The main forces he named were technology, globalization, people’s increased longevity and an outdated educational system. He stated that one of the most significant issues facing our nation is the prospect of up to 40% structural unemployment — that is, long-lasting and caused by fundamental shifts in our economy.”

“Martin Scaglione, the president and CEO of the nonprofit Hope Street Group which accelerates solutions for social impact … asserted that apart from any particular industry, the one job skill that will be needed by every worker is the ability to reinvent themselves to keep up with a swiftly-changing job market.”

The solution, conference attendees said, could come from partnerships between local governments, NGOs, academic institutions and corporations.

Globalization, education and the earnings gap

Just a quick post to link a very interesting article by Alana Semuels in The Atlantic about the widening gap in earnings between those in the United States with college degrees and those without. Among the causes: technology and globalization has shifted economic emphasis from manufacturing to information. Among the effects: College graduates moving into cities, helping those cities thrive socially and economically, and away from rural areas, depressing those areas socially and economically.

I wrote about the effects of this education gap in my post-Trump-victory post. Trump’s populist victory is certainly another effect of what Semuels describes. The question remains: How can we narrow these gaps? Education and training seem like obvious answers, but those cost government money, and–in a sort of Matthew effect–the least educated areas seem to be ruled by those whose education policy focuses on cutting “waste.” What about an infrastructure investment giving poor, rural areas like those described in the article free public Wi-Fi to attract college graduates and information entrepreneurs?

Speaking with an accent

When I was in India, some teachers were very concerned about their students’ accents when speaking English. Both in India and the United States, I have seen countless advertisements for accent reduction programs, and I admit that sometimes an accent is so strong that it is difficult to understand what someone is saying.

So, assuming ESOL teachers here and around the world are concerned, here is an interesting article in Fast Company by a speaking coach. Her main point to those concerned about their accents: Don’t worry so much.

Building relationships across cultures

A quick post to link to Tanveer Naseer’s blog with good information and advice about cultural attitudes to help build global connections. Most of Naseer’s published work deals with business leadership; however, he also has a strong connection to schools, serving as chairman of the governing board of Heritage Regional High School in Quebec.

2015 PISA results

A few quick links to different takes on the most recently released Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results.

Hechinger Report: “higher performing nations [than the United States] structure their math curriculum differently, teaching fewer topics, but in greater depth”

Asia Society: “Commenting on the United States’ performance in particular, [Andreas] Schleicher [, Director for Education and Skills at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD),] noted that, while American student scores were relatively stagnant with previous assessments, they had improved significantly on equity”

The Atlantic: “Attendance matters. On average, 37 percent of U.S. test-takers on PISA said they had skipped at least one day of school in the two weeks prior to the exam. That’s nearly double the OECD average of 20 percent. On the science assessment, for example, U.S. students who reported skipping scored 29 points lower than their non-absent peers. The OECD average score drop was even more dramatic: a 33-point decline after adjusting for student and school socioeconomic factors—the equivalent of almost an entire year’s worth of classroom learning.”

The Economist: “Another potential waste of money, if only from the perspective of PISA results, may be sending children to private school. Across the OECD pupils in public schools score lower in science than students in private schools do. But this is not the case once you account for the economic and social background of pupils.”

American Enterprise Institute: “Let me be clear: I’m not saying that a given set of test results prove that Obama’s educational efforts have been misguided. I am saying that the Obama administration has been disingenuous when it has tried to use convenient data points to make its case. The reality is that these kinds of national results are so far removed from the regulatory minutiae of federal education policy, and that meaning of these test results can be so opaque, that everyone would be well-served if they spent less time claiming this or that test result or graduation rate proved that a grand federal agenda was the right one.”

WBUR (Boston public radio station): “In the 2015 test results, released Tuesday, Massachusetts made the top 20 in math and the top 10 in science; in reading, it was statistically tied for first place. Those results have led at least one observer to suggest that Massachusetts is the new Finland – the place to go if you want to see education that works. It’s a lovely idea. But if you dig down a bit, the picture gets a lot more complicated.”