International Reads: News from the Top-Performing Countries

Key Reports

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 12.51.23 PMAsia Called the “Next Higher Education Superpower”
Substantial investments in higher education across Asia are making it a rising power in higher education, according to a new book by the Institute of International Education (IIE). The book, Asia: The Next Higher Education Superpower?, points out that a number of countries, most notably China, are allocating large budgets for higher education in an attempt to become international education hubs capable of competing with the United States and Europe. Read more at China Daily.

OECD Examines Gender Gaps in Education and Adult Literacy
In commemoration of International Women’s Day, the OECD recently highlighted a number of areas where gender gaps persist in education. Based on PISA data, boys continue to lag behind girls in reading proficiency, on average and in individual countries, and girls tend to lag behind boys in mathematics proficiency and in how likely they are to envision future careers in STEM fields. Among adults in education, a different kind of gender gap exists. Teaching continues to be a predominantly female profession, while principals are still overwhelmingly male. Read more on the gender gap findings at OECD Education Today. Also on the Education Today blog, Andreas Schleicher looks at findings from the OECD Survey of Adult Skills. He finds that levels of literacy vary widely among the surveyed countries. Japan, Finland, and the Netherlands led the countries surveyed in adult literacy and the U.S. scored well below average. According to Schleicher, adult literacy is associated with higher earning potential, improved health, and greater trust in public institutions and willingness to volunteer and participate in the political process. Read more here.

European VET Officials Discuss Certification Quality and Transparency
Vocational education policy makers and practitioners from 22 European countries gathered in Greece recently to discuss how to ensure high quality in Vocational Education and Training (VET) certification systems across the continent. CEDEFOP Director James Calleja stressed the need for certification systems to “reflect a true and fair judgment of what a person has learned” and that such systems must be both transparent and meaningful for a wide spectrum of actors in the education and training arena. Read more at CEDEFOP’s website.

NCESCollegeReportNew Report Shows First Year of College Enrollment is Critical For Success
The National Center on Education Statistics (NCES) recently released a new report tracking the educational experiences of a sample of United States high school students. While 84 percent of 2002 high school sophomores had participated in some form of post-secondary education as of the 2012-13 academic year, the data show that the credits earned the first year of postsecondary enrollment are critical. Only 37 percent of those who earned less than 6 credits in their first year had earned a post-secondary credential by 2012-13. By comparison, among those who earned 12 credits or more in their first year of enrollment, 69 percent had earned a postsecondary credential. Previous academic success also played a role in student persistence in attaining a degree. Of the students scoring in the lowest quartile on the 2002 reading assessment in high school, only 13 percent had earned a bachelor’s degree by 2012-13, compared to 47.5 percent of those who scored in the highest quartile on the same reading assessment. More detail can be found at NCES.

Top Headlines

High-Quality Teachers and Leaders Around the World: From Rhetoric to Action
TeacherPDIn a blogpost for Edweek, Vivien Stewart, senior advisor to Asia Society, shared highlights from the recent 2015 International Summit on the Teaching Profession in Banff, Canada. This year the summit brought together 400 educators from 17 countries to focus on leadership, recognition and efficacy, and innovative learning environments. The heaviest focus was on the value of teacher leadership. Participants were looking for practical policies informed by evidence that would develop collaborative leadership and improved student achievement in their schools. Examples of successful systems include Singapore and Shanghai. Both of these countries have well-developed systems of teacher leadership in which teachers rise through structured career ladders with increasing compensation and responsibility to work with their colleagues to improve teaching quality in their subject or grade. Read Vivien’s full blog post here, including next step recommendations for the United States.

Senegal Joins PISA 2015
Supported by financial and technical assistance from the World Bank, Senegal has become just the second sub-Saharan Africa to participate in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment  (PISA for Development or PISA-D). Zambia was the first. Read more at Worldbank.org.

Canada

Canada Expands Support for Shorter Term Post-Secondary Training
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Canada will expand eligibility for Canada Student Grants for low- and middle-income students to allow student enrolled in shorter duration programs to access support. For more, see the Prime Minister’s Office news release.

canadakidsAlberta Raises Compulsory School Age and Raises Allowable Age for High School
As of next academic year, Alberta students will be able to stay in high school until age 21, a two-year increase in age, and the compulsory attendance age will be increased from 16 to 17. Concerns are being raised about what impact these provisions will have on the size of the student population in high school, as funding shortages are already an issue and high school class sizes are already 30 students on average. For more, see Metronews.

Ontario Graduation Rate Continues to Rise
Ontario’s five-year high school graduation rate climbed to 84 percent in 2014, one percent away from the goal of 85 percent the province set in its Student Success Strategy in 2004. The graduation rate is now 16 points higher than the rate of 76 percent when the goal was first set. For more, see the press release from the Office of the Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Are Ontario Students Streamed Too Early?
A new report from the advocacy group People for Education suggests that Ontario students are asked to choose between applied and academic courses too early. The two streams of courses, which were implemented in 1999 as part of a broad strategy to raise the high school graduation rate, begin in 8th grade. The report calls for moving this decision to 9th grade. For more information, see Canadian Broadcasting Company.

Canada AfterschoolOntario Expands Child Care in Public Schools
Ontario is investing CAN$120 million (USD$100 million) over three years in expanding childcare provision, building 4,000 new childcare slots in public schools across the province. This step was legislated in the Child Care Modernization Act of 2014, which aimed also to strengthen oversight of the unlicensed childcare sector and offer more licensed slots to families as well as help subsidize fees. For more, see the Ontario Ministry of Finance and the Ontario Ministry of Education.

Finland

PasiSFinland’s Teacher Education is Competitive, But Doesn’t Recruit Based on Academics Alone
In The Guardian, Finnish education expert Dr. Pasi Sahlberg argues against the misperception that Finland recruits only the academically “best and brightest” into teaching. While teacher education is indeed exceptionally competitive –the average acceptance rate is 10 percent, and last year, only 7 percent were accepted – the application process screens for much more than solely academic ability. Sahlberg argues that countries seeking to understand Finland’s success should focus on recruiting teachers that have the skills, temperament, and passion for teaching, not only the best academic results in high school. Read more at The Guardian.

Hong Kong

Strengthening Hong Kong’s Teacher Development Framework
Since it introduced a school-based management policy ten years ago, Hong Kong’s teachers have become important stakeholders in their schools. Besides electing a representative to sit on the management committee under the new school governance structure, teachers participate in groups such as student academic affairs and pastoral care committees to help keep the school functioning effectively. Experienced teachers must also mentor novices to help them grow professionally. These requirements for teachers are part of a teacher competency framework, which has been a guiding policy document for teacher training and preparation programs for the past ten years. The South China Morning Post takes a look at how the framework is being implemented today and what more can be done to help teachers use it effectively.

Poland

PolishWorkersEmphasis on University in Poland Leads to Shortage of Skilled Workers
Business leaders are raising concerns about shortages of skilled technical workers in Poland. They blame the dramatic shift away from vocational education and towards university education for these shortages. According to Eurostat, the percentage of Poles aged 30-34 with higher education qualifications almost tripled between 2002 and the end of 2013, from 14.4 percent to 40.5 percent. Poland is making efforts to address this issue, declaring 2014-15 the “year of vocational education” and developing new policies to increase financial aid for vocational education. For more, see Radio Poland.

Singapore

The Secret of Singapore’s Success in Education
Today, Singapore routinely ranks among the top performers in educational attainment, as measured by PISA. This week The Straits Times looks at how an investment in Singapore’s education system has paid off in a highly skilled, highly employed workforce. With starting salaries above the national median, the teaching profession attracts, develops and retains some of the best college graduates. And while Singapore is proud of its elite secondary and post-secondary academic institutions, one could argue that the hidden gems of the system are the Institute of Technical Education and polytechnics that provide high-quality technical education. For more on how Singapore has managed to build one of the world’s best education systems, see The Straits Times.

SkillsFuture Initiative Aims to Reshape the Singapore Economy
SingaporeWorkersSingapore’s SkillsFuture, an effort to give every citizen the opportunity to reskill and maximize their ability to succeed in the labor market also has the potential to create new jobs and develop new growth sectors. The Business Times, in a series on how SkillsFuture will impact different professions and industries, has written an introductory article noting that the government has developed comprehensive Sectoral Manpower Plans (SMPs) to chart future skills needed in each industry, including health care, social services, and retail. In addition, the SkillsFuture Council is also looking to create local expertise in newer industries, such as biopharmaceuticals, to ensure Singapore’s long-term economic growth and success.

South Korea

South Korea’s Education Arms Race
This week, National Public Radio reported on the stress of high-stakes exams on students in South Korea. Students there routinely perform well on international tests like PISA, partially because doing well on tests plays a major role in determining which university South Korean students attend. Children spend around 14 hours per day studying, and parents pay large fees for private tutoring, all so that students can do well on the college entrance exam — the suneung — taken every November. It’s no surprise, then, that researchers found more than half the South Koreans age 11 to 15 reported high levels of stress in their daily lives. That’s a higher percentage than in any of the 30 other developed nations that are part of the OECD. Read more at NPR.

How Do Teachers Interpret Autonomy? Insights from South Korea
An International Education News article this week highlights a new study looking at South Korean teachers view of autonomy arguing that teachers may not always feel empowered when granted autonomy in their teaching.  A new study, “Why are teachers afraid of curricular autonomy? Contradictory effects of the new national curriculum in South Korea,” found that South Korean teachers felt that any “autonomy” might in fact result in even more classroom time focused on the major subject areas of Korean, English and math, which carry the most weight for the college admissions process, to the detriment of other subjects.  Rather than feeling free to be creative in their teaching, some teachers felt they had to ratchet up their test preparation.

Taiwan

Taiwan to Cut University Subsidies by 15 Percent
Taiwan’s Ministry of Education announced in a recent report that subsidies to universities would likely face a subsidy cut of 15 percent. This comes on the heels of National Taiwan University’s slide in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the first such decline for the university. The Taiwanese government has poured NT$50 billion (US$1.6 billion) into the country’s universities since 2011 as part of the Road to Top Notch Universities Project. Critics argue that the initiative has failed to meet its targets, citing inadequate progress by universities on several key performance indicators. Read more at Taipei Times.

TaiwanParentsCivic Groups Form Alliance Against Taiwan Textbook Changes
Civic groups in Taiwan recently announced their intention to form an alliance of 21 organizations focused on boycotting new textbooks that incorporate recent changes the Ministry of Education made to curriculum frameworks. The changes, announced last year, are the subject of an ongoing court battle between the government and opponents of the new curriculum framework who say the changes reflect what they call a “conservative ideology of committee members.” Read more at Taipei Times.