International Reads: News from the Top-Performing Education Systems

Each week, the CIEB staff scours the web for education news and reports from the top-performing countries.  We post the top stories every Friday morning on the CIEB homepage.  Below, we summarize April’s top education news from around the world.

Technology

tabletsThis month, several East Asian top performers are piloting new programs intended to integrate technology and education.  In Singapore, the Nanyang Polytechnic recently signed an agreement with Samsung to establish an “Innovation Centre” based at their institution.  One of the major initiatives to come out of this agreement will be research into creating new learning environments, and particularly learning environments that make use of technology.  Researchers will be looking at how technology can be used to create new pedagogies and as a way to collect and use data about student learning.  Asia Pacific Future Gov reported on the story.

In China, the Beijing government has new plans to integrate technology more fully into classrooms in that municipality by providing financial support to schools and students.  In addition to issuing free tablet computers to all first- and second-grade students in one of their school districts as part of a pilot program, the government has announced that they have set aside nearly US$500,000 to increase the use of e-books and tablets in schools.  Teachers have reported both successes and setbacks with the trial tablet program.  One setback is the lack of resources to use with the technology, and the Beijing Academy of Educational Science has been tasked with creating new programs and electronic texts.  Parents, too, have mixed feelings about the project: some are worried about the health issues that may arise from young children looking at screens all day, while others are concerned that technology will distract students from focusing on their lessons.  Read the full story at Xinhuanet.

Higher education in China may also be getting a technology makeover in the form of Massive Online Open Courses (better known as MOOCs).  Coursera, one of the most popular sites for MOOCs, is hoping to expand into China.  Currently, MOOCs haven’t taken hold in China as firmly as they have in places like India, largely because of the language barrier -– not enough Chinese students speak English.  Andrew Ng, one of Coursera’s founders, wants to change this.  He plans to create Coursera lessons in Chinese to make university education more widely accessible to Chinese students, believing that Coursera can “embody the Confucian value of making no social distinctions in teaching.”  Some university officials in China have also voiced support for the expansion of MOOCs in that country.  Read the full story at the People’s Daily Online.

In Hong Kong, a charity group called WebOrganic has launched that city’s first-ever educational YouTube channel.  The Hong Kong Digital Academy YouTube Channel encourages teachers throughout Hong Kong to create and share video lessons and tutorials online, which other teachers can then incorporate into lesson plans and homework assignments for students.  Teachers from around Hong Kong may now submit videos to WebOrganic, which will then upload them onto its channel.  The project is meant to allow more students to benefit from high quality teaching. Previously, teachers could only upload videos to school servers, which would then slow down as a high volume of students watched the same video at the same time. Now, with the videos hosted on YouTube, an unlimited number of students can stream the tutorials anytime, expanding the reach of high quality teaching tools outside the wealthier schools where they are produced.  There are currently 38 educational videos available on the channel, from teachers in four Hong Kong schools.  Read more at the Hong Kong Standard.

School-to-Work Transitions

Japan timesBoth China and Japan have begun new approaches to help young people make the transition from school to work.  In Japan, businesses have traditionally begun to recruit university students prior to graduation, which means that students in their final years of higher education often slack on their studies as their focus turns to job-hunting.  Businesses compound the problem by holding information sessions, initial screenings, testing and interviews during class hours.  In order to redirect their attention back to their last years of schooling, a new government team formed by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry plans to request that businesses seeking to make new hires delay their recruiting activities until April of senior year.  An editorial in the Japan Times, calling for delaying recruitment until after graduation, argues that “students needs to study for a full four years before embarking on the time-intensive undertaking of finding a job.”

In Shanghai, the problem is not overzealous businesses recruiting students, but high rates of youth unemployment.  People who are under the age of 35 account for more than a quarter of all unemployed people in that city.  The government hopes to ameliorate this problem by matching the youth, many of whom do not have qualifications that would allow them to get good jobs, with companies willing to participate in the program.  The companies are in charge of ensuring that the hires learn the skills that the companies need, and then allow them to apply for positions within the company.  Over the course of 2012, which was the first year of the program, the number of unemployed youth decreased by 9,000, down from an overall total of 80,000.  Read more at The Global Times.

Teaching English in East Asia

Japan studentsStudents in the top-performing East Asian countries often have English language lessons as a major part of their primary and secondary curriculum.  In Japan, there has been new movement toward increased proficiency in English for all higher education students.  Recently, when the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan proposed their first major school reform proposal, they called for the reform of English education and advocated that all public and private universities require their applicants achieve a specified minimum score on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).  The Japan Times editorial board refuted the plan, writing, “the proposal offers no genuinely effective measures for improving the teaching and learning of English in Japan.”  They argued that resources would be better spent on supporting English teachers to improve their English skills and teaching methods.  In addition, they point out that these tests only assess speaking, listening, reading and writing and fail to address the ability to use English in the real world.  They are further concerned about who would pay for the TOEFL tests as the current official price is $225 per person.

Meanwhile, the University of Cambridge recently pioneered its new computer-based English language test with students in Hong Kong.  The test, which 48 Hong Kong students took at the end of March, uses computer-based technology to measure language skills in listening, reading, writing and even speaking by using a computer-generated animated character.

In China, the head of the Chinese Intelligence Research Agency, Zhang Shuhua, recently called English-language education in that country “destructive” to China’s overall educational goals.  He believes that schools may be placing too much emphasis on learning English (with poor results) at the expense of other subjects.  The South China Morning Posthas more details.

Reports and League Tables of Note

This month saw the publication of two reports and one new league table offering insight into global education performance.  The OECD has launched the PISA Test for Schools, and has published results based on the first administration of that test.  In previous administrations of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the OECD has sampled populations of students in both developed and developing countries in order to assess how those students perform compared to their peers worldwide.  However, more specific information about student performance in these countries, such as school-level data, has not been available until now.  The results of the first administration of the OECD Test for Schools, in which individual schools were able to choose to participate in a “PISA-style test” to compare their students with the world’s top performers, are now available. ­ This test, like PISA, focuses on applying math, science and reading skills to real-world problems.  The OECD hopes to expand the availability of the test to countries including Spain and the United Kingdom soon.  Read the full story at the BBC.

America Achieves has produced a report based on the results of the roughly 100 U.S. schools that participated in the first administration of the OECD Test for Schools.  In contrast to what some researchers have argued, this new report finds that when you look at students in the middle-to-upper middle class in the United States, they are lagging significantly behind students in other countries – including 24 other countries in math and 15 in science.  In addition to taking into account the already published PISA data and the OECD PISA Index of Economic, Social and Cultural Status, the report is able to use the results of the new test to look at how specific US schools are doing with reference to their student populations.  The report’s authors find that there are world-class schools in the United States in which students outperform most other countries in the world and can be considered on par with the average scores of the top performer, Shanghai.  On the other hand, they find that some schools that are considered to be top performers in their states are actually lagging woefully behind the rest of the world.  More resources related to their findings, including case studies of schools, a sample test and videos, are available here.

Beginning in September 2013, the OECD Test for Schools will be available to all high schools in the United States.  Schools will be able to decide whether they want to participate in the program, and also whether they want to make their results public.  In the initial pilot administration of the test, 13 schools out of the 100 tested shared their results nationally in the America Achieves report.  All of these schools are considered “exceptional” according to the report’s definition, and had scores that were equal to or better than the top international performers in the 2009 PISA administration.

UNICEF has released a new report ranking children’s well-being in 29 wealthy countries. The report ranks the Netherlands, Norway, Iceland and Finland at the top for overall childhood well-being based on five dimensions of children’s lives: material well-being, health and safety, education, behavior and risks and housing and environment.  Canada came in at number 17, while the United States was ranked 26th.  (Though Japan, New Zealand, and Australia qualified as wealthy nations and were included in the study, they had data for fewer than 75% of the indicators used and were not included in the final rankings.) In rating children’s educational well-being, UNICEF considered four indicators: educational achievement by age 15, preschool enrollment rates, participation in further education and what percent of children aged 15-19 participate in education, employment or training. The Netherlands ranked 1st for children’s educational well-being, Finland ranked 4th, Canada 14th, and the United States 27th, above only Greece and Romania. While the report gives an overall picture of children’s lives over the last decade, most data in the report applies to the period 2009–2010, the latest comparative information available. Visit UNICEF.com to see an interactive map of country rankings along each indicator in the study.

Asia University RankingsThe Times Higher Education, a weekly magazine based in London, has published a set of Asia University Rankings for 2013 based on the criteria they use for their annual World University Rankings.  In addition to East Asian countries, the rankings include schools in the rest of Asia and in the Middle East.  The top three slots are occupied by the University of Tokyo, the National University of Singapore, and the University of Hong Kong.  Institutions in China (Peking University) and South Korea (Pohang University of Science and Technology) round out the top five.  In fact, universities in countries other than these top performers do not appear on the list until the 14th slot (National Taiwan University); the highest-ranked Indian university sits at number 30.  The New York Times notes that Japanese institutions were most represented in the top 100, taking nearly a quarter (22%) of the places.