International Reads: News from the Top-Performing Countries

Key Reports

OECD Releases New Rankings of International Education Systems Based on Multiple Assessments
The OECD released new rankings of the world’s education systems using a broader spectrum of evaluation systems, permitting the inclusion of developing countries that did not participate in PISA. In the new rankings, OECD incorporated the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Third Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study (TERCE) administered in Latin America by UNESCO, in addition to PISA. Using results from these three assessment programs, the OECD ranked the top performing education systems as: Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Finland, Estonia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Canada. The United States ranked 28th out of 76 in this new report. Read BBC News’ full coverage of the rankings here.

EU Member States Face Skilled Worker Shortage
EUworkersA new report published by the European Parliament finds that European Union member states face “qualitative shortages” in their labor markets. These shortages are the result of a lack of high-skill workers to fill jobs in European companies. The result is a large number of unfilled positions and simultaneous high unemployment across multiple regions, sectors and occupations. The report recommends improving training programs in general, bringing more people into the labor market, attracting more workers from abroad, and increasing market transparency. Read the report at the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) website.

Image Source: CEDEFOP

Making Sense of 21st Century Skills Around the World
A new paper published by the Asia Society and the Professional Examination Service takes a look at how 21st century skills are defined and developed in education systems around the world. The report, A Rosetta Stone for Noncognitive Skills, suggests a framework for “translating” the various concepts and terms used to describe 21st century skills in education systems in different countries and uses the “Big Five Personality Traits” to provide an evidence-based framework that will help primary and secondary education policymakers and educators make sense of the myriad skills beyond academics that are critical for 21st-century success. The report also offers strategies and approaches to effectively teach and reliably assess these skills. Find the full paper here, or read an EdWeek blog post with highlights from the paper by Jonathan E. Martin who co-authored the report.

OECD Looks at Equity in School Improvements over the Past Decade
MoneyHopscotchThe OECD asks how investments in education over the last ten years have translated into improved learning environments for all students. In a recent PISA in Focus brief, the OECD shows that overall, both the quality of schools’ educational materials and the quality of teacher-student relations improved between 2003 and 2012 in OECD countries. While Japan, Canada, and the United States outpaced the OECD average rate of improvement in both measures, these improvements may not be equitably shared. The brief also finds that schools were less likely, on average, to be socially inclusive in 2012 than in 2003. Read the full brief here.

Image Source: OECD Education Today

More Countries Move to Incorporate Coding into School Curricula
In education systems around the world, computer coding is being touted as a “foundation skill” as important as reading and math skills that give children the ability to create, design, and adapt future technology to meet their needs. Estonia and the United Kingdom are leading the charge: coding has been taught in Estonian schools since 2012 and was introduced in the UK as part of its national curriculum in September 2014. In the United States, coding is estimated to be taught in just one in 10 schools. Read more at The Age.

Top Headlines

Canada

Canadian Report Urges Investment in Basic Science and Math Skills
BacktoSchoolCoverA new report from the Council of Canadian Academies, Back to School on STEM Skills, finds that Canadian graduates with STEM degrees are just as likely to be unemployed as those with non-STEM degrees. However, a panel chaired by David Dodge, emphasized that basic STEM skills are still essential in an increasingly broad range of non-STEM jobs and that “…it is the interaction between the people with the specific technical training working with people in other areas that seem to contribute to productivity.” The panel urges the government to invest more in early science and math education to develop a nimble economy in which a large proportion of the workforce can take advantage of a broad foundation of STEM skills. More information is available here.

Image Source: Council of Canadian Academies

Class Size Key Issue in Labor Strife in Ontario
Class size has become the “main stumbling block” in the labor dispute in Ontario that has led to teacher “work to the rule” protests and fears that there will be a strike of secondary school teachers in the province this fall. Currently, each secondary school is funded on the basis of 22 students per class. However, the Ontario Public School Boards Association (OPSBA) has proposed having class size guidelines rather than a hard cap in order to giver districts more flexibility. For more, see Metro News.

Ontario’s Full-Day Kindergarten Program Reaches Five-Year Mark
CanadaKindergartenersAs Ontario’s full-day kindergarten initiative reaches the five-year mark, the jury is still out as to whether it has led to positive gains. One study, done by Brock and Queen’s University and commissioned by the Department of Education, showed positive outcomes overall but not necessarily for “low-need” children. Another ongoing study by the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) showed positive benefits for children and found staff to be enthusiastic. The OISE study will report scores on provincial exams for the first cohort of enrolled children soon, but Janette Pelleter, the lead author of the OISE study, cautions, “…it’s going to take years to show the effects.” For more, see The National Post.

Image Source: The National Post

Finland

Finland Adds an Additional Year of Foreign Language Instruction
Finland announced plans to begin instruction in a foreign language at age eight, one year earlier than the current model. As part of the national core curriculum overhaul set to take effect in Fall 2016, Finnish schools will now devote one hour of instruction per week to a foreign language (usually English) for eight-year-olds. Officials see the earlier instruction as a viable approach to making learning more interactive and creative, since early foreign language instruction is often primarily focused on hands-on activities, games, and songs. Read more here.

Teacher Training Key to Finland’s Success
HelsinkiSchoolFinland insists that all of its teachers complete five years of training, learn research methods to improve performance and complete a substantial practical experience in schools before earning a credential. The Guardian argues that these practices are key to its educational success. Despite budget cuts due to the economic downturn, Finnish policymakers have no appetite for decreasing the time or rigor of teacher preparation, as holding teachers-in-training to a professional standard similar to that of trainee doctors is seen as key to the country’s continued prosperity. Read more at The Guardian.

Image: Helsinki Normal Lyceum
Image Source: The Guardian

Hong Kong

Critics Call Hong Kong Preschool Policy Proposals ‘Fake Free Education’
Last month, advisors in Hong Kong submitted recommendations to help move the municipality toward its goal of free preschool for all children. Among the recommendations submitted by government advisers is a partial subsidy for whole-day preschool, capped at 30 percent above the proposed subsidy for half-day preschool. However, some parents, educators, and politicians say the proposals do not answer their demands for fully free preschool education that will safeguard the salaries and teacher careers. These critics claim that inadequate subsidies will result in parents shouldering much of the financial burden and that teacher salaries will not adequately reflect their level of experience. Read more at South China Morning Post

Hong Kong Teachers: Scrap Territory-Wide System Assessments in Schools
HKPrimaryTeacherAbout 65 percent of over 2,000 teachers who participated in a recent survey in Hong Kong believe the government should do away with a citywide exam that they say has lost its original purpose and forced endless tutoring and drilling sessions. Territory-wide system assessments (TSAs) started in 2004 as a way for the Education Bureau to keep track of students’ academic progress and schools’ education results. The exams do not have direct consequences for students, but some parents complain that the exams are an added source of pressure on students. A spokesperson for the Education Bureau said officials would keep reviewing the TSA system. For more, see South China Morning Post.

Image Source: South China Morning Post

Japan

Reforming Japanese Universities for Globalization
The Japanese Ministry of Education has launched an ambitious campaign, the Super Global 30, to increase funding to 30 of Japan’s top universities. The goal of the additional funding is to double the number of Japanese universities that are in the top 100 globally from the current five to ten in a decade, with an emphasis on attracting international professors and partnerships from prestigious international universities. According to Dr. Chiharu Kubo, President of Kyushu University, Japanese higher education institutions will also strive to attract more international students and build strong reputations globally. Read more at World Folio.

Poland

Number of Teachers in Higher Education Falling in Poland
PolandUniversityThe Conference of Academic Rectors of Polish schools reports that the numbers of academic teachers in higher education has fallen by 5000 in the last four years. This is due, according to the report’s author Jerzy Wilkin, to a combination of a reduction in staff by universities because of falling student enrollment and the aging of the current cohort of teachers. Wilkin said, “…the fall in the number of students in higher education should be a chance to increase the role of active forms of learning and to reduce class size.” For more, see Radio Poland.

Image Source: The Wall Street Journal

Singapore

Singapore Considering Swiss Model for Organizing Apprenticeships
Singapore leaders are looking at new approaches to bringing small and midsized companies, as well as large multinational organizations, on board to the government’s SkillsFuture initiative, ensuring that all Singaporeans have access to training programs that can help them build deeper and more relevant skills. One idea, gleaned from a recent SkillsFuture delegation trip to Switzerland and Sweden, is to establish business intermediary organizations that could coordinate apprenticeships and training for employers in an industry. For more information, see articles in AsiaOne and The Straits Times, as well as CIEB’s recent report Gold Standard: The Swiss Vocational Education and Training System.

New Research: Singapore-style Teaching Improves Math Performance in UK
SignaporeMathStudentsA recent study published by the University College London Institute of Education and Cambridge University evaluated the impact of ‘Maths Mastery’ (MM) – a Singaporean-inspired teaching program – after it was implemented in a selection of England’s schools for one academic year. The research found that students who are introduced to concepts using the MM approach learn faster than their classmates – making, on average, an extra month of progress in a calendar year. Read more at The Independent.

Image Source: The Independent

Taiwan

More Funding and Teachers Needed For Taiwan’s Expansion of Compulsory Education
With the planned expansion of compulsory education in Taiwan from nine years to 12 years approaching its implementation date in 2018, more funding and additional teachers will be needed, according to Chen Wei-hung, principal of one of the island nation’s top senior high schools. High schools would need nearly 14 percent more teachers to implement the expansion. The planned expansion is part of an effort to make education more flexible and responsive to students, permitting them to take more elective classes “according to their personal needs and interests.” Read more in the Taipei Times.