International Reads: News from the Top-Performing Countries

International Highlights

The Skills to Remain Employed in the Current and Future Workforce

VET_EstoniaAccording to the OECD Skills Outlook 2015 report, unemployed and under-employed youth remain at record highs in many European countries, with more than 35 million 16-29 year-olds neither employed nor in education or training in. At the most recent OECD forum, Allan Päll, Secretary General of the European Youth Forum, offered several strategies to improve this situation, including giving teachers and students more autonomy over curriculum development as well as striking a balance between liberal arts and more specialized education. Learn more about Päll’s recommendations at the OECD Education Today blog.

Economist Tyler Cowen, author of Average is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation, spoke with the OECD about his views on the kind of skills students will need to develop in order to get good jobs in the global economy. In his remarks, featured on OECD’s Education Today blog, Cowen stressed that graduates need to be able to do two things. First, they need soft skills such as persuasion and management that “complement computers, rather than compete with them.” And second, they need to be able to learn new things quickly and efficiently.

This point is echoed on the World Bank’s Education Blog, where Claudia Costin, Senior Director, Education, argues that automation is making workers who perform routine tasks obsolete while interpersonal, creative and analytical skills are more critical now than ever in order to ensure that workers are employable now and will remain employable in the future. For more on this topic, see NCEE President Marc Tucker’s recent EdWeek blog on the challenges young people will confront in the economic landscape that lies ahead.

Teacher Shortages Across the U.S.
TeacherwithstudentsWith U.S. students returning to school from summer break, jurisdictions across the nation are grappling with major teacher shortages, particularly in the areas of science, math and bilingual education. The Diane Rehm Show, heard on National Public Radio stations in the U.S., hosted a panel discussion featuring leading researcher Linda Darling-Hammond, the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of

Education at Stanford Graduate School of Education, and other education experts on what is driving the shortages, including a look at the precipitous decline in enrollment of teacher preparation programs between 2010 and 2014. The panelists discussed the impact of challenging work environments, low pay and negative public perceptions of the teaching profession. Darling-Hammond is currently working on a major international comparative study of teacher quality for CIEB. Listen to the full program at The Diane Rehm Show’s website.

Canada

CanadaStudentsReport Calls for Changing Ontario’s High School Tracking System
The advocacy group People for Education released a report arguing that the “applied streaming system” in Ontario prevents some students from choosing college and university programs when they graduate from high school. Students in Ontario choose an applied or academic curriculum in 9th grade. While students can graduate from high school without taking academic math courses, there are college programs that require them for entry. According to People for Education, only 21 percent of those who took applied math in 9th grade went to college and only three percent to university. For more, see The Torontoist.

New Alberta Teachers Get Harsh Grade From Principals
A provincial government report reveals that 36 percent of Alberta principals do not feel new education school graduates are well prepared when they hit the classroom — up from 21 percent in 2011. Dianne Gereluk, associate dean of undergraduate programs in the department of education at the University of Calgary, said that “increasing pressures” in the classroom like larger classes and more students needing learning support could have played a role in the survey results. David Eggen, Alberta’s new education minister, said the government is currently reviewing the province’s Teacher Quality Standard and expects new recommendations for strengthening it next year.

China

In China, Fewer Students Take the Gaokao as Oversees Universities Gain Popularity
About 10 percent of Chinese high school graduates, or about 1 million students, did not take the gaokao over the past five years as more and more Chinese students are making U.S. and other oversees universities their first choice for post-secondary education, according to data from China’s Education Ministry. The numbers are even higher in top schools in Beijing and Shanghai, where about 20 percent of high school graduates opt to study for the SAT college entrance exam instead of the gaokoa. With more than 400,000 Chinese college students studying abroad in 2013, education officials project that figure to grow as oversees universities become the preferred destination for high school graduates rather than, as they were largely in years past, a backup option for students with disappointing gaokao results. Read more at China Daily.

Estonia

EstonianApprenticesEstonia to Create 4,700 Apprentice Places in Three Years
Estonian Education Minister Jürgen Ligi has approved a project to create 4,700 apprenticeships in three years. The aim is to give Estonian students more work experience and align students’ skills with the demands of the job market. Students participating in the program will spend one-third of their time studying and two-thirds working. The project will also give companies the chance to teach and train new staff. Ligi said many Western European nations have run similar programs with great success. Participants in the program will continue to be eligible for student benefits such as cheaper public transport tickets and student loans, but will also receive a salary. Last year, Estonia had 617 such apprenticeships; by 2020, the country hopes to have 8,000. Read more at ERR.

Estonia Moves Toward Paperless Education by 2020
Estonia’s Ministry of Education plans to spend 40 million euros (US$44 million) over the next five years on developing studying software in Estonian and on creating a completely digitized examination system by 2020. Education Minister Jürgen Ligi said that in the nationwide push toward emphasizing technology in education, schools have until now focused on e-infrastructure. According to Ligi, the focus will now shift toward quality e-studying possibilities, including programs that are tailored for individual student needs. “Using technology will make learning more interesting for pupils and new materials will be accepted easier,” he said, adding that teachers’ lives will also become easier as they can combine literature from text books with free information from the Internet. Read more at ERR.

Finland

Finnish Schools to Phase Out Cursive Handwriting Classes
Finland is poised to become one of the first countries in the world to completely phase out cursive handwriting classes in order to devote more classroom time to honing keyboard skills. The decision comes as education officials recognize that handwritten documents are falling by the wayside in favor of smartphone and computer based communication. By emphasizing digital literacy over what is increasingly seen as an outdated skill, policymakers hope to give young students an early advantage in an increasingly competitive global labor market. On the other hand, neuroscientists have expressed concern, emphasizing the positive impact that cursive lessons can have on brain development and motor function. Read more in The Guardian.

Hong Kong

hongkong-kindergartenDemographic Changes Pose a Problem for Hong Kong Education
For the last decade, the shrinking population of children in Hong Kong prompted the government to start closing down many primary schools. But, as the number of primary school aged children has begun to increase, the education sector is facing the problem of insufficient primary schools and teachers, and educators and scholars warn that there are signs that the same thing will soon happen to secondary schools. The Education Bureau recently closed some secondary schools due to the decreasing number of students to “wisely use public revenue and eliminate some incompetent schools.” Read more at China Daily.

In Hong Kong: Mad Rush for Those Denied University Places
Nearly two-thirds of those who took the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) examination are scrambling to find places in various post-secondary institutions after having been denied acceptance to public universities. 63.8 percent of the graduating population did not receive offers from public universities and need to apply to other institutions, such as polytechnics and vocational programs. Earlier this year the Task Force on Promotion of Vocational Education submitted a report to the Education Bureau setting out strategies and concrete recommendations for promoting vocational education and training (VET), including rebranding VET to remove some of the stigma that VET courses are “lesser” programs, and allocating more funds to expand VET programs Hong Kong. Proponents of the recommendations hope that a greater emphasis on VET could help address the city’s high rate of youth unemployment and also attract students to apply as a first choice rather than after not being admitted to university.

Japan

To Become A Global Leader, Japan Needs More Liberal Arts Education, Not Less
In an effort to increase Japan’s competitiveness in the global market, Prime-Minister Shinzo Abe is hoping to address innovation at the national level by restructuring Japanese universities—scaling back liberal arts education in favor of Research and Development (R&D) programs and more structured curricula. However, critics of the plan suggest that Japan’s best hope lies not in more R&D, but in a greater emphasis on liberal education to promote creativity and entrepreneurship. A recent Forbes article critical of Abe’s plan argues that Japan’s current academic structure, which already has a heavy emphasis on R&D, favors conformity over creativity, and that a greater emphasis on liberal arts would encourage more free thinkers who question the status quo, both inside and outside the academic community. Read more at Forbes. See also Marc Tucker’s Education Week blog explaining that a T-shaped curriculum, one that includes a combination of liberal arts and technical education, will be vital to students entering today’s competitive workplace.

Singapore

SingaporeTeacherSingapore Changes Teacher Preparation Curriculum to Boost Subject Knowledge
Singapore’s Education Minister Heng Swee Keat has announced changes to university teacher preparation programs to help teachers become masters in the subjects they want to teach. Starting in August, undergraduates in the National Institute of Education (NIE) teaching programs can spend one semester in their third year at a partner university to deepen their content knowledge. There are also plans to give teacher trainees five-week shadowing experiences in an overseas school to expose them to passionate educators in different education systems. In addition, teachers will take on educational research. The Ministry hopes this combination of improved content mastery and strong pedagogical skills will help teachers reach their students and engage them in learning and give them opportunities that teachers who get a degree at NIE after university have. The full article can be found here.

Elite Overseas Universities Attract Growing Number of Top Singaporean Graduates
Despite efforts by the government of Singapore to open more domestic university places to local students, high performing graduates continue to pursue professional degrees abroad in the hopes of increasing their competitiveness in the globalized labor market. Over the last five years, Singaporean students have been flocking to prestigious universities in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, where they have been well received due to their strong academic records. For example, the number of Singaporean students in Great Britain alone has increased steadily from 4,000 in 2009 to over 7,000 in 2014. Jason Tan of the National Institute of Education says Singaporean universities must match the high-powered social and professional networks of these elite institutions if they wish to remain a viable option for top graduates. Read more in The Straits Times.

South Korea

Student Debt Swells as South Korean Youth Unemployment Hits 15 Year High
According to a recent report by Bloomberg Business, South Korea is lending a record amount to students to fund higher education opportunities. This year, outstanding student debt in South Korea rose to an equivalent of US$10.5 billion. While this figure is still dwarfed by the US$1.2 trillion that has been accrued by students in the United States, economists warn that this figure will grow more rapidly in South Korea and pose a significant economic threat, as the nation’s loan program is much looser than that of the U.S. and students can defer payments until they reach a certain income level. This troubling economic situation is exacerbated by high rates of youth unemployment for people aged 15 to 29, which peaked at 11 percent earlier this year. Researchers at the Korea Institute of Finance in Seoul have expressed concern over the financial burden that these conditions will place on the government. Read more in Bloomberg Business.

South Korea’s High PISA Ranking Hindering Education Reform
Former Minister of Education, Science and Technology Lee Ju-Ho revealed to TODAY that South Korea’s high PISA scores have been used as justification by those against reforming the country’s education system, and thus have created an obstacle for reform advocates. South Korea’s 15-year-olds were ranked seventh in science, fifth in mathematics, and fifth in reading in 2012. Lee says PISA emphasizes cognitive skills and hides the fact that South Korea does not do enough to boost students’ creativity and prepare them for the workplace. He noted that South Korea relies too much on rote learning and memorization that does not give students the skills they need to continually accumulate skills throughout their lifetimes. The OECD Survey of Adult Skills found that older Koreans are among the three lowest-performing age groups in the countries surveyed. Lee further noted that by introducing high-quality vocational education earlier, South Korea might have been able to avoid the glut of unemployed college graduates that has plagued its economy for years.

Taiwan

TaiwanProtestsIn Taiwan, Protests Over History Textbooks Are About The Future
Emotional protests in Taiwan over new history textbooks that students claim will “brainwash” them with “China-centric” views are actually more about the future than the past, analysts say. For two weeks, hundreds of Taiwanese citizens led by high school students have repeatedly taken to the streets and twice tried to storm the ministry of education to oppose a textbook revision they say is an ideological argument for Beijing’s “one-China” policy that seeks reunification. Read more at the Christian Science Monitor.