International Reads: News from the Top-Performing Education Systems

Each week, the CIEB staff survey the education news from the world’s top performing systems.  We post a round up of the most important topics every Friday morning on the CIEB homepage.  Here are the issues that mattered most in global education news this past month:

Policy Shifts
Alberta Education Minister Jeff JohnsonSeveral of the countries topping the international education league tables have called for major policy reforms over the past few weeks.  In Canada, Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson announced that the province would remove the requirement that high school students have 25 hours of instruction per course credit.  The Minister explained that the flexibility allows students who master the materials quickly to move on to other courses, and allows others who need extra time to master the course to take that extra time, rather than have them fail the course and repeat it.  The underlying idea is that all students should be expected to master the material.  The province began a pilot in 2009 called the High School Flexibility Enhancement project.  Feedback was very positive and this is now being expanded to all high schools in Alberta.  Students will be offered the option to take courses in the traditional way, or in the new flexible model that makes use of online tools and materials to allow students to work on their own using the teacher as a coach.

Photo of Britain’s education minister Michael GoveBritain’s education minister Michael Gove has called for a change in how Britain approaches school days.  Claiming that the current schedule, which includes a lengthy summer vacation and requires students to be in school for about seven hours a day Monday-Friday, is based on an outdated agrarian model.  Gove has said he would rather see Britain emulate the longer school days and years of many East Asian countries.  However, many educators, including those with direct experience in countries like Singapore, believe that this is not necessarily the right answer for Britain due to the cultural differences between the two societies and their education systems.  They also point out that Finland achieves results similar to Singapore with much shorter school days. Read the full story at The Telegraph.

Hong Kong is starting to see the results of a decade long effort (started in 2000) to systematically implement a new academic structure across all levels of education. The Progress report on the New Academic Structure Review: The New Senior Secondary Learning Journey – Moving Forward to Excel, by the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority, shows that the changes at senior secondary and university level have had a wide impact on the number of students attending upper-secondary and undergraduate programs as well as the level to which those students are prepared for further learning.

Under the new system, primary and secondary education has been reduced from 13 years to 12, and the city-state has moved from a three-year to a four-year undergraduate system.  The opportunity for upper-secondary education has also been extended to all.  Previously, only the top-third of students were eligible for Secondary Six, the equivalent of the twelfth grade in the United States.  During that year, students study for the examination that determines entry into university.  In the 2011-12 school year, more than 85 percent of the age cohort enrolled in Secondary Six and 40 percent more students who took the university entrance exam qualified for college than had qualified the previous year.  The study also concluded that the new curriculum is better preparing students for further studies by balancing academic learning with enquiry and non-academic activities, and with liberal studies, applied learning and ‘other learning experiences’ now included in the curriculum. Read more at University World News.

Teacher Quality
pasi bookPasi Salhberg, director general of Finland’s Center for International Mobility and Cooperation and a member of CIEB’s International Advisory Board, writes in an op-ed for the Washington Post that the key to Finland’s excellent educational outcomes goes beyond teacher quality. He posits that if Finnish teachers, fluent in English, were imported to schools in the Unites States, any gains in student achievement would be marginal because education policies in the U.S. would limit the teachers’ ability to use their skills, wisdom and shared knowledge for the good of their students’ learning. And conversely, teachers from the U.S. imported to schools in Finland would flourish without the pressure of standardized testing and with strong leadership, a professional culture of collaboration, and support from homes unchallenged by poverty.  Read the full article at Washington Post.

 

Assessments
Assessment continues to be a hot topic, with Australia discussing how to help teachers make the best use of test data and Canada introducing a new test that emphasizes student creativity and critical thinking skills.  The Australian Senate Education, Employment and Workforce Relations References Committee released a report this week suggesting that teachers needed more training to make use of the data from the NAPLAN tests, which are standardized tests in literacy and numeracy given to students in grades 3, 5, 7 and 9.  Many teachers were hoping that the Senate report would criticize the tests themselves.  Australian Education Union President Angelo Gavrielatos argued that, “the data needs to be of higher quality” and that its value is limited,  “as the results arrive back in the hands of schools months and months later.”

Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson announced that the provincial achievement tests, also known as PATS, will be replaced starting next school year with new Student Learning Assessments (SLAs).  The new SLAs focus on the assessment of creativity, critical thinking and problem solving as well as core knowledge in literacy and numeracy.  SLAs will be computerized assessments and will be given at the beginning rather than the end of the school year in order to allow teachers to address any needs for additional instruction identified by the tests.  The timing of the testing will also divorce the results from being linked to particular teachers and schools, because they will be administered at the beginning of the school year, rather than the end.  The new tests are designed to help diagnose problems in student learning, rather than simply measuring achievement at the end of the year.  The SLAs will be phased in over the next three years starting with 3rd grade, then 6th grade and then 9th grade.  The tests will be broken up into sections so that students do not have to take the entire test at once.  The Edmonton Journal reports that this is an attempt to make the testing process less stressful for the students.

Higher Education
Photo of Japanese College StudentsAcross several East Asian countries, there has been an increased focus on expanding studying abroad opportunities and strengthening international higher education partnerships.  In Japan, a government panel is recommending that higher education institutes strive to be more internationally competitive by collaborating with top-notch overseas colleges and offering joint programs at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.  According to the Japan Times, the goal is to have more than 10 Japanese universities listed in the top-100 world ranking within the next decade.  They hope to achieve this by the government intensively supporting those schools that actively hire foreign teachers, enhance partnerships and offer degrees that can be obtained via classes in English. Read the full story here.

Japanese Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura has also introduced a plan for the government to provide scholarships to high school graduates to take part in short-term study abroad programs during the period after graduation if universities shift their admissions to the fall.  Some Japanese universities are currently in the process of adjusting their admission season to fall from spring to be consistent with many schools in Europe and North America.  According to the Japan Times, when Shimomura recently held talks with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, they agreed to cooperate in doubling the number of Japanese students studying in the United States and the number of U.S. students studying in Japan.

Meanwhile across the ocean, Wake Forest University is launching a program to help Chinese high school students prepare for and apply to American universities.  An increasing number of Chinese students are applying to U.S. colleges  the number of Chinese students in the U.S. has increased by 139 percent in five years.  But Chinese students face challenges in the application process, such as concerns about false transcripts, essays and letters of recommendation.  Wake Forest plans to help students overcome these issues and prepare them for US-style instruction. Read more at Inside Higher Ed.