International Reads: News from the Top-Performing Countries

VET Reform
Chinese VET studentsA look at how China and Singapore are working to improve their vocational education and training (VET) systems and new research showing that more VET options can lead to a reduction in the high school dropout rate.  According to the Shanghai Daily, six Chinese ministerial-level departments have jointly produced a plan to reform vocational education over the next six years.  According to the Ministry of Education website, the number of students at vocational high schools should reach 22.5 million with 13.9 million at vocational colleges by 2015.  The plan calls for reforms in curriculum design and a regional coordination system to streamline school courses.  According to the proposal, by 2020 a modern vocational education system should be fully in place with world-class standards that fit Chinese society and integrated with industrial development.

A delegation from Singapore led by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat recently examined the apprenticeship systems in Norway and the Netherlands.  The delegation visited various companies, technical colleges and universities during the five-day study trip to see how vocational education can arm young people with the skills necessary to take on new and diverse jobs in a challenging economy.  Returning from the trip, the Education Minister highlighted the need for a skills transformation in Singapore, which would give students a foundation in literacy, numeracy and especially STEM knowledge and skills.  The tour of Norway and the Netherlands was covered by the Strait Times.

More vocational training options result in fewer school dropouts in Europe, according to early findings of a study of the European Center for Development for Vocational Education (CEDEFOP).  CEDEFOP launched a three-year study to address the lack of data about school dropouts and the link between vocational training options and school leaving.  CEDEFOP’s director James Calleja said, “early school leaving is a problem that is largely VET’s to solve.”  For more information about this study see CEDEFOP.

New Reports from the OECD, World Bank and Eurydice
TALIS coverOECD has released the results from the 2013 Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS).  The survey asks a representative sample of teachers and school leaders in 34 education systems about their working conditions and learning environments.  According to the results, less than a third of teachers surveyed feel their profession is valued, except in Asia where teachers feel more valued on average.  Despite most teachers not feeling valued, the study shows high levels of job satisfaction among teachers, with a large majority reporting they would choose teaching again as a career.  Read more at BBC.

C.M. Rubin asked three international experts on education – Pasi Sahlberg, Michael Fullan and Lord Jim Knight – what the new OECD TALIS results mean in her blog in the Huffington Post.  The three raise issues about whether TALIS neglected certain issues including the significance of leadership.  Among the recommendations highlighted are the consistency in views that teacher satisfaction is highest when teachers collaborate and when principals act as instructional leaders.  Also suggested is the need to rethink teacher workloads to allow time for learning and collaboration and to move to positive forms of teacher accountability.

This was the first administration of TALIS that Japan participated in and the survey found that Japanese teachers work the longest hours among OECD members.  Japanese teachers report working an average of 53.9 hours per week, a figure well above the average of 38.3 hours.  The heavy workload for Japanese teachers may be due mostly to administrative and extracurricular work.  According to TALIS, Japanese teachers spend an average of 5.5 hours per week on administrative work, longer than the OECD average of 2.9 hours.  Time spent on extracurricular activities, such as coaching student clubs, came to 7.7 hours in Japan, compared with 2.1 for the OECD overall.  On the other hand, the hours spent teaching and preparing for classes are almost the same in Japan and the other countries surveyed.  The OECD survey also showed that while teachers in Japan report higher rates of participation in observation visits (56 percent compared to OECD average of 44 percent), the proportion of teachers who participate in professional development programs outside school is low in Japan. Read more at the Japan Times.

Drawing from the findings of PISA 2012, the OECD also released a new study which examines financial literacy and knowledge.  Across the 13 participating OECD countries, on average, 10% of students can complete complex financial equations and solve difficult financial problems whereas 15% of students can only do simple calculations such everyday spending.  Students from Shanghai scored the highest in financial literacy with Flemish Belguim, Estonia, Australia, New Zealand, the Czech Republic and Poland also scoring well above the OECD average.  The United States’ mean score was not statistically different from the OECD average.  The sixth volume of PISA is available here, with the corresponding PISA in focus issue on financial literacy and the OECD educationtoday blogpost.

Student Learning CoverThe World Bank has released a new report, Student Learning in South Asia: Challenges, Opportunities, and Policy Priorities. The region has significantly widened overall participation in education over the past decade, however quality is still a concern.  South Asia has the highest number of school age children of any region in the world, and many are the first in their family to attend school.  However, the research finds that up to one-third of students completing primary education still lack basic numeracy and literacy skills.  The report also shows that the education qualifications and skills of teachers in the region are severely limited.  Schools in the region struggle with a mix of socio-economic and linguistic backgrounds as well as areas affected by conflict.  The new World Bank report can be read here.

Eurydice has released a new report, Financing Schools in Europe: Mechanisms, Methods and Criteria in Public Funding.  It covers 26 of the EU countries as well as Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Turkey.  The report looks at the authorities involved in financing schools, the relationship between the national and local authorities and the division in contributing and managing the funds.  It looks at whether systems have funding formulas or budgeting processes based on estimations of annual school needs.  It also looks at what kind of criteria are used to determine the amount of funds needed.  Among other findings, the report says that most countries in the study had local or “intermediate” level government authorities share financing decisions with the national government.  The report also specified three different types of funding methods: formula funding, budgetary approval and discretionary allocation of resources.