A new report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) identifies eight areas in which the global coronavirus pandemic has had and will continue to have an impact on education systems around the world. Released in conjunction with Education at a Glance 2020, an annual compendium of data from the 37 OECD countries and nine partner nations, the report notes that the pandemic will likely affect public expenditures on education, which averaged 11 percent of total expenditures in the 46 countries before the pandemic, as well as on international student mobility. In addition, the report notes that the pandemic resulted in a loss of school time in all countries, and countries employed a range of measures, such as instructional packages and online resources, to continue learning during school shutdowns. But teachers reported a high need for training in the use of information technology, and class size—a critical factor in reopening schools with social distancing—varies widely among the countries examined in the report. Finally, the report states that the pandemic could have a severe impact on vocational education and training (VET), particularly for the one in three VET students who participate in combined school- and work-based programs. The full report is available here.
In August, the Ministry of Education and Research granted schools nationwide permission to resume in-person classes, with suggestions for ways to reorganize the school day to minimize health risks. The schools are offering the majority of classes in-person, but are implementing measures such as shortening the school day, grouping students into small groups and requiring students to stay in their home classroom throughout the day. Some schools are choosing to create hybrid schedules that include distance learning. For example, one school has started the year in-person but will introduce distance learning in October after the students and teachers have gotten to know each other. While the rationale for distance learning components is primarily due to public health concerns, especially the impact on the supply of teachers if educators fall ill, some educators see other benefits of distance learning. The director of one school explained that many high school students like learning independently and allowing this may give teachers “… more time to deal with students who need more support and help.” Read more from ERR News.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Singapore is making new efforts to invest in its teachers and other key school staff to ensure that students are fully supported and prepared to navigate a fast-changing education and jobs landscape. Singapore announced it intends to eventually post more than 100 master teachers—top-caliber national teacher leaders—to schools to teach classes and lead professional development. Education Minister Lawrence Wong said the initiative is “a significant move, signaling our commitment to strengthen the teaching track, and our continued investments to create a quality teaching workforce as the backbone of our education system.” Singapore also plans to hire more student welfare officers and career guidance counselors to help students acquire the resources they need while in school and as they transition after graduation. Finally, with the implementation of blended learning, Singapore is also looking to enhance career development opportunities for staff responsible for IT functions as those skills are now considered to be core capability. Read more in The Straits Times.
In New Zealand, the government has announced changes to the National Certificates for Educational Achievement (NCEA) for students in Auckland. The NCEA are national qualifications for senior secondary school students that are recognized by employers and used as the benchmark for selection by universities and polytechnics. The changes build on the system of bonus credits previously announced for all students, and have been made because Auckland students have been through more weeks of lockdown than students elsewhere. Under the changes, Auckland students will get one bonus credit for every four they earned, while teenagers in the rest of the country would get one bonus credit for every five credits they achieved. “The resurgence of Covid in the community has meant that some students—particularly those in Auckland—have spent a longer period out of their classrooms at a critical time of year, and additional changes to NCEA are being made to recognise this,” Education Minister Chris Hipkins said. Read more from Radio New Zealand.
Education ministers from New South Wales (NSW), Queensland and Victoria—Australia’s three largest states—are calling for an overhaul to the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests, the annual assessment for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. The ministers are recommending moving testing from Year 9 to Year 10, holding the exam at the beginning of the school year and adding a test of critical and creative thinking in STEM subjects. They are also suggesting an overhaul of the writing component of the examination after a review, led by Professor Barry McGaw, found that schools were unhappy with the prompts and grading criteria. NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said the disruption caused by COVID-19 and the cancellation of this year’s NAPLAN tests provide an opportunity for reform. “What students and their teachers need is a diagnostic tool that captures the breadth of a student’s ability, measures student growth and provides systemic and individual results back quickly,” she said. However, Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan defended the current test, saying “Rather than focus our energies on destroying the only national test that provides evidence of how our students are progressing, we should be concentrating our energy on improving standards.” Read more in The Sydney Morning Herald.
Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE) has created a new career roadmap and announced additional training requirements and salary reviews aimed at elevating the special education (referred to as Sped) teaching sector. The Minister of State for Education Sun Xueling said, “I know and deeply feel that, as professionals, Sped teachers need and deserve a career framework and a salary structure commensurate with the heightened demands on teaching as they serve the complex learning needs of our students.” Under the new plan, incoming special education teachers will be required to complete a 6-12 month teaching stint before completing a diploma course in special education at National Institute of Education, Singapore’s teacher preparation institute. The MOE’s new career roadmap for Sped teachers introduces two career tracks–leadership and teaching—giving teachers more options for progressing into senior roles. Salaries will be reviewed to match teachers’ competencies and to ensure that pay is competitive in the marketplace. Read more in The Straits Times.
Monte McNaughton, Ontario’s Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, has announced an increase of CAN$5.8 million (US$4.4 million) in youth training programs in the province. The programs include Skills Ontario which increases awareness of training opportunities in the trades among elementary and middle school students; the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship System which allows secondary school students to begin studying a trade while still completing their secondary school diploma; and the Ontario Pre-Apprenticeship Training program which gives graduates an introduction to the trades and provides a work placement. In addition, the Ministry is appointing three youth advisors to work with the Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development on how to reduce stigma and make the trades a viable first choice for young people. For more, see News Ontario.
Quebec’s Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge announced a CAN$20 million (US$15.3 million) investment in a “safety net” of services to help students achieve success as they head back to class during the ongoing health crisis. The funding will be used to hire more staff and to follow-up individually with students, according to Roberge. The province is also waiving rules so that schools can immediately access funding for students who have learning difficulties. Roberge said the move will provide up to 560,000 hours in “direct services” to students as school starts. For more, see Global News.
Hong Kong’s Education Bureau and the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) are considering changes to next year’s Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) exams due to the coronavirus pandemic. A final plan will not be announced until September at the earliest, but options under consideration include: postponing the exam administration period, which typically begins in March, by about one to two months; eliminating the speaking components of the Chinese and English language exams; making some compulsory questions optional; and/or changing the requirements for school-based assessments, which are a component of students’ final exam scores in almost all DSE subjects. Some of these options—such as delaying the exam and cancelling speaking components of the Chinese and English exams—were implemented for this year’s DSE exam. An Education Bureau spokesperson said the changes being considered for next year are a response to the continuing impact of the pandemic on students’ learning. Lee Wai-hung, assistant principal of Fukien Secondary School (Siu Sai Wan) and an executive committee member of the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, said the one-time changes are needed for students who are struggling with distance learning. Read more from the South China Morning Post.
A task force of the Central Council of Education in Japan recommended shifting to subject-based teacher assignment in grade 5 and 6 in response to the Minister of Education’s request to consider this policy in April 2019. The recommendations propose shifting to subject-based teachers for students in grades 5 and 6 for English, mathematics, and science starting in the 2021 school year. The goal of the reform is three fold. First, it will improve the quality of instruction, as classes will be taught by specialized teachers. Second, it will help alleviate the workload of teachers, as teachers will only be responsible for one subject. Third, it will better prepare the students for transition to junior high and high schools when they have all subject-based teachers. However, this proposal will require an increase in teaching staff. To address this concern, the task force proposed reforms to current teacher preparation systems to make it easier for aspiring teachers to attain credentials to teach in elementary and junior high schools. Read more from The Mainichi.
Singapore announced that it will make SkillsFuture work-study programs a “mainstream pathway” by 2025 so that more students can make the transition to employment while receiving additional training and support. The work-study programs are currently available to recent graduates of technical postsecondary programs at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and the five polytechnics. Work-study students earn a competitive starting salary and work full-time in jobs related to their discipline. As part of the program, they receive 12-36 months of structured job training and mentoring as they work toward earning an industry-recognized Diploma-level qualification. The government provides grants to employers to defray the costs of developing and providing the on-the-job training and supports. Singapore first launched SkillsFuture work-study programs in 2015 and recently designed an online portal to help match students and employers. Read more at Channel News Asia.
A new study from the University of Eastern Finland surveyed 2,500 children ages 2 to 6 about their experiences in early childhood centers. According to the study’s researchers, it is the first study of early learning to take young learners’ viewpoints into account. Children were asked what their most negative experiences in early childhood settings were and what could be improved. While many of the responses focused on being forced to take naps or denied the opportunity to play, the most common response related to being bullied by peers or excluded from social settings. The researchers recommend that educators do more to promote resilience and social cohesion among the youngest learners. “The findings can be used to improve ECEC [early childhood education and care] practices by paying specific attention to children’s participation and to the things they experience as positive or negative,” a news release from University of Eastern Finland about the study said. Read the study here.
According to a survey conducted by Hong Kong’s largest teachers’ union, the Professional Teachers’ Union (PTU), nearly 40 percent of kindergartens, which function like U.S. preschools, serving children ages three to six, say they might have to shutdown due to financial losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic. “The situation now has worsened compared to February, when about 20 percent of kindergartens said they may close down,” said Ip Kin-yuen, PTU vice-president and education sector lawmaker. The PTU also reported that about 65 percent of survey respondents, which included hundreds of kindergarten principals, indicated that teachers could be at risk of being laid off. In March, the government provided grant funding for kindergartens to help them remain open and cover costs related to new safety and hygiene procedures. The PTU is now calling for another similar round of subsidies. Read more from the South China Morning Post.
Under newly proposed licencing rules in Australia, certain workers—including tradespeople, real estate agents, teachers and hundreds of other vocational workers—will be able to to move from one jurisdiction to another without need for individual licences in each state or territory. Currently, some states have agreements with other states recognizing certain trades while others require large amounts of paperwork and, sometimes, fees. Now, the country will adopt one uniform framework that all states and territories will use. “The new framework will cut red tape, drive job creation and allow workers to move more freely around the country to where the work is,” Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said. “This reform sees federal, state and territory governments working cooperatively together to get people back to work as restrictions are eased and our economy reopens.” The Council on Federal Financial Relations aims to have the new licensing rules take effect starting in January. A driving force behind the effort is Australia’s unemployment rate, which is expected to peak at 10 percent by the end of 2020. Read more in The Guardian and Business Insider Australia.
As England prepares to open schools for all students this fall, some experts worry that the safety measures proposed to keep children from spreading the novel coronavirus will push England’s schools toward outdated models of education. In order to enforce social distancing, the current plan would have students sitting in rows, facing the teacher, and rarely if ever doing group work. Critics warn that this style of classroom interaction may make it much more difficult for students to develop skills like teamwork, communication, and problem solving that are crucial in the workforce. According to Toby Seth, headteacher at the Pocklington school foundation in Yorkshire, employers want these kinds of new skills in prospective employees, not just the ability to retain facts. He adds: “Trying to teach character feels just as important as anything to do with the curriculum. That’s what’s going to help our pupils succeed at university and into a good job. It’s those qualities—that grit—that are important.” Read more at The Guardian.
Singapore educators are having a harder time adjusting to working from home than workers in other sectors. According to a recent survey, the education sector had the biggest proportion of workers (30 percent) who said their stress levels while working remotely were unacceptable. Stress levels remained high for those working in education even after restrictions were lifted and schools started opening in phases. Across all industry sectors, the results were mixed. 23 percent of respondents reported being more productive working from home in June than they were from the office before the coronavirus outbreak. Still, working parents shared that they struggle to balance employer expectations and family obligations. Forty percent of employees with children said they felt stressed while working from home—double the overall average. Parents pointed to the need to work longer hours than usual, family presence and space constraints, and having to attend to their children’s home-based learning assignments. Read more in The Straits Times.
August is the month when apprenticeships begin for the latest class of school leavers in Switzerland. The country reports that 90 percent of training places have been filled for the new year, despite economic challenges caused by the coronavirus. Apprenticeships are a popular option in Switzerland, with two-thirds of young people opting for the combined on-the-job training and continued vocational education. Part of the reason for the better-than-expected results is that the government has encouraged cantons (Swiss states) to share information about open positions and the deadline for apprenticeship contract signing was extended until fall. The Apprenticeship Pulse research project, which has been monitoring the impact of the coronavirus on apprenticeships, found 91 percent of current apprentices were back working for their companies by July and only 0.3 percent of current apprentices are not receiving any kind of on-the-job training due to company closures. See the full story in Swissinfo.ch.
In preparation for the return of Polish students to schools on September 1, the Ministry of National Education and the Ministry of Health jointly released guidelines allowing flexible forms of teaching to ensure the safety of students and staff. The Polish government will revise its regulations so that the school principal will have the authority to suspend classes–across the entire school or for groups of students–in the event of a coronavirus outbreak. If in-person classes are suspended, schools can decide whether to offer distance education or a hybrid model. See the announcement here.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced that Alberta will create a new curriculum focused on foundational literacy and numeracy, moving away from the current curriculum’s focus on inquiry-based or discovery-based learning. The new curriculum will be ready for the 2021-22 school year. LaGrange called the move “…a return to proven teaching methods that will set up Alberta students for rich personal and work lives.” Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers Union, took issue with the minister’s plan suggesting that inquiry-based learning is a pedagogy, not a type of curriculum. “It’s how teachers teach the subject matter,” he explained. He went on to say that the Ministry should involve teachers in the development of a new curriculum. For more, see The Daily Hive.
Every Year 12 student in the Australian State of Victoria will undergo a coronavirus impact assessment that will be reflected in their Australian Tertiary Admission Ranking (ATAR). ATAR rankings compare a student’s overall academic achievement to other final-year students in Australia. The new impact assessment is part of measures introduced by the state government to ensure the pandemic does not hinder students’ future education. The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) will develop a wide-ranging “consideration of educational disadvantage” process to calculate each student’s ATAR. In the past, certain students have been assessed for special consideration on a case-by-case basis, but this process will broaden the process to all students in Victoria. “We’ll look at things such as school closures, we’ll look at things such as long absences. We’ll look at things, for example, such as significant increase in family responsibilities as a result of Covid-19 and we’ll, of course, consider the mental health and wellbeing of students during this period,” Education Minister James Merlino said. With the pandemic affecting Victoria more harshly than other parts of Australia, Merlino said students will now be able to take their exams with confidence they will not be disadvantaged. Read more from The Guardian.
High school students in New Zealand will have digital profiles, similar to Facebook profiles, to access online learning and exam results. The development of the online platform for students to host these profiles is expected to cost NZD$20 million (US$13.2 million) over four years and is part of a larger multi-million dollar education funding package that aims to help schools cover costs related to the coronavirus pandemic, continue construction and bolster a centralized ICT and cyber security support network. “We expect this [to] work a little bit like a Facebook or Google login where people have an online profile and can login into a wide range of websites and services,” Education Minister Chris Hipkins said. The digital profiles will enable students to access digital practice exams, sit for National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) exams online and to check their NCEA results when they are released. Read more from The New Zealand Herald.
The Dutch college association Verenigingen Hogescholen reports the number of individuals applying for part-time primary teacher training courses has increased 20 percent this year. The majority of these individuals are mid-careerists who have decided to change career paths and enter the teaching workforce. The Ministry made changes in the teacher preparation programs to allow participants to work and study at the same time. This strategy, along with increased media attention and raising teacher salaries, are attempts to address the shortage of teachers in the Netherlands, according to Maurice Limmen, the chairman of the association. “We need thousands more teachers,” Limmen said. In addition, the number of applicants in full-time programs also increased by 13 percent. Read more from Dutch News.
Premier Doug Ford announced that Ontario elementary students will attend school full-time in September. There will be no reduction in class size but classes will stay together as a cohort for all of their subjects and for lunch and recess. High schools in 24 designated boards, which are mostly urban and suburban areas with more students, will attend school on alternating days in cohorts of 15 students. On the other days they will attend school online. High schools in other areas, with smaller populations of students, can open full-time. All students in grades 4 through 12 must wear masks. Parents will be allowed to keep their children home from school, if they wish, and special education students in all grades can attend school daily if they struggle with online learning. Schools will be able to offer clubs and sports provided they adhere to social distancing and other safety protocols. The government will invest CAN$309 million ($US232.2 million) in supplies and staffing for safety procedures as well as additional mental health, public health and special needs staffing. Both the teachers unions and the opposition Liberal Party pushed back on this plan, suggesting that there was not adequate staffing to ensure safety. For more see CBC Canada.
Facing a surge in cases of the coronavirus, Victoria, Australia’s second most populous state, entered a lockdown which will be in effect for at least six weeks. The restrictions include a limit on who can send their children to child care. The federal government will subsidize Victorian child care centers so that parents can keep their children out of child care during the lockdown without cost and without losing their spots. The funding will also ensure that no centers will close or jobs will be lost. “We want those parents to keep their children enrolled because we know once we come out of this pandemic, they will need the care for their children so that they can go back to work,” Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan said. Prior to the stage four lockdown taking effect this week, under the JobKeeper program introduced by the federal government in April, child care fees for parents were halted and the government paid child care centers 50 percent of its total earnings before the pandemic. The program ended July 12, with parental fees and government subsidies for eligible families resuming. Read more from SBS News and ABC News.
Hong Kong schools will start the new school year in September with full-time distance learning due to a third wave of coronavirus infections, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung announced this week. Once the public health situation allows, students will transition to in-person classes in phases, by grade level. Yeung indicated that priority in resuming in-person classes will likely be given to students in grade 12, who need to prepare for and take the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) exam this school year, as well as students transitioning to primary school in grade one or to lower secondary school between grades 6 and 7. The Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority plans to examine whether changes to HKDSE length or content will be necessary this year due to reduced in-person class time. To support students during distance learning, schools will be required to open their buildings for students who do not have caregivers at home. Read more from The Standard here and here.
The Irish government confirmed a plan to provide €375 million (US$442 million) in funding to fully reopen schools before the end of August. The funding will go toward an additional 1,000 post-primary teachers and 120 counseling positions to provide more support for students. To allow for social distancing, the plan includes specific funding to build more spaces for student learning and reorganize current classroom environments. Social distancing measures will not apply to students in the first four years of primary schools. The two largest teacher unions in Ireland, INTO and ASTI, support the plan but have raised issues about whether the funding is sufficient for the full year and to support additional substitute teachers if needed. Read more about Ireland’s reopening plan here.
Education Minister Rob Fleming announced that schools in British Columbia will open for all students in September. Students will be assigned “learning groups” of up to 60 students at the elementary and middle school level and up to 120 students at the secondary school level. The groups are intended to limit the number of students each individual interacts with to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Students in learning groups will be allowed to interact with each other outside of classrooms and will be encouraged but not required to wear masks. The government is investing CAN$45.6 million (US$34 million) in safety measures.. BC Teachers Federation President Teri Mooring says the plan “needs more time and a lot more work.” Mooring added that while she agrees that students need to get back to school, teachers and staff need time in September to adjust to the new structures and that the opening should be in stages.
The Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that secondary schools and junior colleges will have the option to resume lower-risk extracurricular activities, with appropriate safety measures in place. These after-school activities–known as co-curricular activities (CCA)–were halted at the start of the pandemic. Singapore has national standards for CCA and they are understood as a key component of students’ holistic education, by allowing students to explore interests and talents through clubs, sports, and visual and performing arts. CCA are voluntary at the primary school level but secondary students are required to participate in at least one CCA, with choices varying by school. As CCA gradually resume, each school can decide which activities to allow, although some like high-contact sports and instrumental and choir groups remain suspended. The MOE will monitor the rollout at the secondary level before resuming CCA for primary school students. Read the government announcement here.
England’s government has allocated £1 billion (US$1.31 billion) in extra funding for the next school year to help alleviate learning gaps caused by school closures during coronavirus. The funding includes £350 million (US$457 million) earmarked for a new National Tutoring Program (NTP) aimed at helping students who have fallen behind during school closures. The NPT will allow public primary and secondary schools to receive heavily subsidised tutoring from the program’s approved list of partners. The funding package also includes £650 million (US$849 million) which will go directly to schools, though details as to how that money must be spent have not been revealed as yet. School leaders said the final details of the funding to be spent in the 2020-21 academic year would determine how they could use the extra resources, but many were enthusiastic if schools were given latitude on how to best spend the money. Read more at the Guardian.