International Reads: News from the Top-Performing Countries

Key Reports

OECD Explores Mixed Impact of Technology on Student LearningOECDComputers
The OECD’s latest report, Students, Computers, and Learning: Making the Connection, suggests that although technology has been promoted as a panacea for education, in fact it is not associated with improved student learning. The OECD finds that there is no correlation between literacy or numeracy proficiency and the prevalence of technology in schools, measured by the ratio of students to computers. In addition, the amount of time students spend online is negatively correlated with reading scores. Read the report here.

TALIS Results: Teachers Use More Passive Pedagogy
The latest OECD Teaching in Focus brief looks at results from the 2013 Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) and finds that while teachers believe that more active, constructivist methods of teaching are more valuable, the vast majority used techniques that ask students to absorb information passively. Ninety-three percent of teachers responded that students should think of their own solutions before teachers show them solutions to problems, but 74 percent responded that they frequently taught by summarizing recent content. Passive teaching methods were less common in Scandinavian countries, including top performer Finland. Read more here.

News from Top Performers

British Columbia Phasing in New Curriculum
British Columbia is introducing a new curriculum starting this school year. Districts are being given options in how to start phasing in the kindergarten to grade nine curriculum on a partial or full basis. The new curriculum aims “to prepare students for the future.” It identifies three core competencies (communications, thinking and social competency) that cut across all the subject areas. Literacy and numeracy also underpin all the subject areas, which include: arts education, English language arts, math, social studies, science, applied design, skills and technology, French, and physical education. For more on implementation, see The Globe and Mail.

Achievement Gap Between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Canadians Grows
CanadaHigherEdThe education achievement gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in Canada has widened, according to the Environs Institute’s International Report Card on Public Education: Key Facts on Canadian Achievement and Equity. The Times Higher Education Supplement reports that the study showed that while the educational achievement of non-aboriginal Canadians increased by four percent from 2006 to 2011, the education achievement of aboriginal Canadians increased by only two percent during that time. The study also found that there is no significant achievement gap between immigrants and non-immigrants in the country overall, but certain racial groups, including those whose parents are from central and southern America and the Caribbean, are less likely to go to university. For more, see the Times Higher Education Supplement.

Chinese Province Offers to Pay College Fees, Give Subsides to Encourage Graduates to Teach in Rural Provinces
A pilot program is aiming to bring a thousand new teachers to rural parts of China’s central Henan Province, an area facing major teacher shortages. High school graduates will have their tuition paid at seven participating universities and colleges in the province and will also be eligible for extra subsidies. In exchange, the participants will sign an agreement committing them to teaching at designated schools for at least six years after graduation. Those who break the agreement will have to refund their tuition and pay back an extra 50 percent. Read more at Shanghai Daily.

Shanghai Pushes Back Goal of All-Digital Classrooms
Shanghai schools were to have replaced all textbooks with digital versions this year, but the transition to computer-based texts has been uneven and slowed by concerns about the impact on students eyesight as well as parental misgivings about moving away from traditional instruction methods. The initiative, launched in 2010, called for a move to the “e-schoolbag” during the coming five-year plan. Officials are now revising the implementation timeline. Some schools have already fully adopted computer-based texts, but many more have faced challenges in incorporating the technology into the full breadth of their instruction. Read more at Shanghai Daily.

Hong Kong Kindergarten Costs Burden Low-Income Families
HKKindergartenWith public education subsidies only for primary school and above, low-income families in Hong Kong struggle to cover tuition costs for kindergarten, according to a survey by the Society for Community Organizations. The group also noted that migrant families do not qualify for public assistance and children in those families do not receive subsidies for the full range of school expenses at the primary school level and above, including books, lunches and extra curricular activities. For more see the South China Morning Post.

Amid Overall Higher Education Decline, IT improves in Estonia
Due to a drastic drop in Estonia’s birthrate in the 1990s, over the last few years the number of students in higher education in Estonia has dropped significantly – from 67,600 in 2011 to 55,200 in 2014, according to Statistics Estonia. However, schools of computer science have managed to increase participation, with the overall number of students majoring in computer science rising almost nine percent over the past four years. This is due in part to a special IT higher education, research and development program known as IKTP, approved by the government in 2011. The program provided funding for scholarships to attract more students and to employ more staff and pay higher wages to lecturers, making teaching IT in Estonia more attractive to foreign professors. The program has allowed the University of Tartu to double the number of students studying IT and increase its international students in IT programs from just two students in 2007 to over 100 students in 2015. Read more at ZDNet.

Dutch Look to Estonia for Education Reform Inspiration
This week the Dutch Undersecretary for the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science Sander Dekker visited Estonia to see what his country could learn from the Estonian school system. Though Dutch and Estonian students have shown similar results on PISA tests, Estonia surpassed the Netherlands in both math and science in 2012, the latest administration of the exam. This benchmarking visit to Estonia comes as part of an overall attempt to overhaul the Netherland’s curriculum, which hasn’t been updated in decades. In an interview with ERR, Mr. Dekker said the Netherlands was primarily interested in how Estonia had successfully integrated IT into primary and secondary school curriculum. For the full interview, see ERR.

Japanese College StudentsIs Japan Dumbing Down its Universities?
Recently, Japan’s government ordered all of the country’s public universities to end education in the social sciences, the humanities and law. The order, issued in the form of a letter from Hakubun Shimomura, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, is non-binding. The country’s two top public universities have refused to comply. But dozens of public universities are doing as the government has urged. However, a recent article in BloombergView warns that this may actually be a step backwards economically for Japan, since increasing productivity in Japan’s post-industrial society will require the types of skills—communication, conceptual thinking, marketing, financial acumen—taught in the subjects that are now being abandoned. Other critics warn that along with being a faulty economic plan, the move is part of the conservative government’s attempt to stifle dissent and discussion. Read more at BloombergView.

In Japan, 1 in 6 Children Lives in Poverty, Putting Education, Future At Stake
One in six Japanese children lives in poverty, the highest level since records began in 1985, according to the latest government figures. One of the main factors preventing the poor from getting ahead is the cost of education. Even public schools come with heavy fees and paying even more for cram school fees is a virtual necessity when it comes to passing high school entrance exams in order to get into a good high school and, as a result, having a good chance of eventually getting a decent job. Parents who cannot afford it risk condemning their children to a life of low-paid work. According to Prime Minister Abe, the government risks losing about ¥96 million (US$795,839) per person in lifetime taxes and welfare payments because disadvantaged youngsters fail to forge successful careers. Read more at Japan Times.

Poland’s Demographic Shifts Lead to School Closures
In the past year, more than 200 educational institutions in Poland closed because there were simply not enough students to fill them. According to the European Commission, the Polish population will shrink by more than 10 percent by 2060. What is most worrisome is the shift in the structure of that population, which is expected to have far fewer young people and many more older people. This shift is exacerbated by the migration of working age Poles to other European countries where they believe they have more economic opportunities. For more, see The Financial Times.

South Korea Reducing the Number of College Slots
SouthKoreanStudentThe Education Ministry of South Korea initiated an evaluation of colleges across the country in April 2014 to identify those performing poorly. The purpose was to cut funding for poor performers as the student population declines. The number of students has been decreasing by at least 10,000 each year and, by 2023, the number of higher education slots is expected to exceed the number of high school graduates by 160,000. Read more in The Korea Herald.