The Swiss government’s COVID-19 apprenticeship task force reports that the country’s vocational training system has successfully weathered the pandemic this year. Nevertheless, the task force will be renewed for another year, given the ongoing disruption to the job market. Switzerland has a world-renowned, dual-track apprenticeship system that combines on-the-job training and vocational coursework. About two-thirds of Swiss secondary school students opt for a vocational learning program. The special COVID-19 task force was created in May 2020 in response to concerns that young people were struggling to find vocational training places as employers pared back places during the economic shutdown. The task force brought together the federal government, the cantons (Swiss states) and social and business partners to work together in a more coordinated fashion. The task force suggests that the cooperation and additional monitoring helped: Switzerland’s apprenticeship market remained stable, with slightly more apprenticeships secured in 2020 than in the previous year. Read the full story here.
High school examinations for 2021 across the United Kingdom are being revised or cancelled as the impact of school closures have made for an uncertain school year. Several weeks after Scotland announced it would cancel exams and rely on teacher assessments and coursework, Wales has announced it will do the same, with its General Certificate for Secondary Education (GCSE) and A-level exams cancelled for 2021. Wales Education Minister Kirsty Williams said it was impossible to guarantee a level playing field for exams due to the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic. In both England and Northern Ireland, exams are still slated to go ahead, but with reduced content for some subjects. England is also delaying the exams by three weeks in an effort to make up for lost teaching time. When asked if England would consider cancelling exams if school closures continue, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said further back-up plans would be decided later for “all scenarios.”
Ontario is distributing a second CAN$200 (US$152) per child payment for children age 12 and under—and CAN$250 (US$190) for special needs students age 21 and under—to help defray costs of supporting children’s learning at home during the school closures related to the coronavirus pandemic. This will be the second round of payments to families. The payments were announced by Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips who said: “We have heard from parents that new expenses to support their kid’s education in the COVID-19 era are straining their pocketbooks.” For more, see CTVNews.
In an effort to boost the number of women in the workforce and children enrolled in early learning, Victoria will spend up to AUS$170 million (US$123.5 million) to provide free early education to four-year-olds and eligible three-year-olds and AUS$81.6 million (US$59.3 million) to expand after school care in 2021. Premier Daniel Andrews said the funding is meant to support working parents and assist economic recovery. “Real recovery means making sure they are supported back into work—and the security and stability that affords,” Andrews said. In New South Wales, Premier Gladys Berejiklian has committed AUS$120 million (US$87.2 million) to provide families with childcare relief, waiving the costs of four- and five-year-olds attending preschool. The plan will benefit more than 44,000 children across the state and is expected to save families approximately AUS$2,000 (US$1,453) a year.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada will invest CAN$120 million (US$91.5 million) to support education programs for the country’s indigenous communities during the coronavirus. The funds will allow the First Nations, Inuit and Metis Nation communities to hire additional staff and to provide training for early learning and child care facility staff. In addition, the federal government is allocating CAN$25 million (US$19.1 million) to support indigenous post-secondary institutions with increased costs due to the pandemic. Trudeau acknowledged that “indigenous peoples and communities continue to face unique challenges during this pandemic” and said that access to early learning and child care is key to the economic recovery of the indigenous communities. Read more from Radio Canada International.
A study of primary school students in the Netherlands conducted by Oxford University finds students made little to no progress during distance learning last spring. Researchers used the results of the standardized Cito tests, which are administered to students in grades four to seven twice during the school year, and measure achievement in math, spelling and reading. Researchers found students progressed an average of 20 percent less this year as compared to prior years. Given that schools were closed for in-person instruction for about a fifth of the school year, the researchers posit that the students experienced little or no achievement gains during distance learning. Students with less-educated parents had the smallest learning gains. The Dutch Education Inspectorate declined to comment on the results and said that it would be releasing its own study of learning loss during this period. Read more from NL Times.
Wang Denfeng, head of the department of physical, health and arts education at the Ministry of Education, said that China will increase required scores on the physical exercise test to the same level as those of Chinese, math and English on high school entrance exams this year. All students in China take these entrance exams. Wang also said that China will add tests of students’ arts abilities, such as music, painting, calligraphy, dance and drama, to the high school entrance exams by 2022, a practice already underway in six provinces. Guidelines suggested that primary and middle schools add more facilities and faculty for physical and arts education and improve curriculum design for these subjects in primary and lower secondary school. The goal is to increase the importance of physical education and the arts in school. For more, see China Daily.
The Ministry of Education and Culture announced the Right to Learn program to increase equity in basic education (kindergarten through 9th grade) and early childhood education and care, allocating over €300 million (US$354.9 million) over two years. The basic education program will focus on narrowing and preventing learning gaps due to the socioeconomic background, immigrant background or gender of students. It will include reduced class size for early primary school children, a focus on literacy and more extensive training for teachers and school principals. The early childhood education and care program will focus on increasing participation in early learning programs, introduce a two-year pre-primary education pilot, better integrate pre-primary and primary education, increase early language learning and promote welfare of students. Education Minister Li Ansersson said: “Early childhood education and care of high quality is an effective instrument for narrowing learning gaps.” For more see the Ministry of Education and Culture.
A draft update of the kindergarten to fourth grade social studies curriculum proposed by a panel appointed by the United Conservative Party (UPC) government has raised concerns in Alberta. The proposals delay indigenous history until high school, prioritize ancient rather than modern history and require the memorization of many more historical facts than in the current curriculum. Melissa Purcell, a spokesperson for the Alberta Teachers Association, questioned the removal of modern indigenous history from the curriculum and suggested that “…the recommendations perpetuate systemic racism by whitewashing the (draft) curriculum.” Education Minister Adriana LaGrange told reporters that the government was committed to truth and reconciliation and ensuring that indigenous history, including recent history, would be included in the elementary curriculum. She also reminded reporters that the panel was only providing recommendations to be considered. For more, see CBC Canada.
The Poland Council of Ministers announced a new “Active blackboard” program. An initial round of 2020 government funding will support school purchases of laptops and equipment to enable sound and voice processing to assist with distance learning. The Active blackboard program was created in acknowledgement that a key task of a modern school is to develop students’ digital competences to prepare them for life in an information-based, technology-driven society. The government has allocated a total of USD$92 million for the program which will be implemented in the years 2020-2024. After the 2020 round, the program will focus on upgrading computer equipment for institutions that educate students with special educational needs. These institutions will be able to retrofit equipment, teaching aids and tools for therapy. Read more in the statement from the Ministry of National Education here.
A study conducted to assess Australia’s progress against national education goals finds the country’s education system is failing up to one in three children and young people. Prepared by the Centre for International Research on Education Systems (CIRES) for the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University, Educational Opportunity in Australia: Who Succeeds and Who Misses Out? examines young people’s progress at four key educational milestones: school entry, the middle years, the senior years of school and early adulthood. The study, which followed the progress of more than 300,000 students, looks at academic achievement as well as how Australia’s education system is supporting students to be confident and creative, and actively engaged both locally and globally. Key findings include: Australia’s education system is letting down the most disadvantaged children and young people; gaps in educational opportunity and outcomes are apparent from school entry and often persist through to adulthood; and the effects of socioeconomic disadvantage persist well beyond school. Read more here.
The U.S. National Assessment Governing Board published the grade 12 results from the 2019 administration of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) math and reading exam this week. The average reading score for 12th graders declined between 2015 and 2019 while the math scores remained unchanged, but the lowest performing students saw declines in both subjects. Results from 2019 also show the highest proportion of students scoring below proficient in reading since the NAEP reading test was first administered in 1992. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Associate Commissioner for Assessment Peggy Carr said that these declines could partially be a result of higher graduation rates in schools. As fewer students are dropping out, more students are participating in the test. “And that’s a good thing,” Carr told The 74. “Students who would normally not be in the assessment are now in the assessment.”
Stephen Lecce, Ontario’s education minister, announced that the province is “revoking” the regulation that requires school boards to hire long-term teachers only from among the five applicants with the most seniority, provided they have the academic qualifications for the position. The move was in response to hiring delays school boards faced this fall as they tried to respond to increased staffing needs due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Lecce. Smaller class sizes and the demands of online instruction led to many boards seeking significant numbers of new teachers. Lecce said the hiring rule “rewards union seniority over merit” and said the government’s aim is to give “…principals more flexibility to hire the very best teaching staff.” Some school boards suggested that the rule makes it hard for newer teachers to get hired and makes it harder for boards to diversify their teaching force. Teachers unions suggested the rule was not the cause for hiring issues this fall. Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers Federation, said that the rule has allowed for “a fair and predictable pathway to long-term employment for teachers.” For more, see CBC Canada.
In 2019, the number of deaths exceeded the number of births for the first time in Korea, exacerbating the challenge of a declining population and workforce. The government has attempted to address this challenge with limited success by providing financial supports, such as free or subsidized childcare and family allowances, to women who chose to have children. Now, the government is taking another approach: making the workplace more supportive of women. The government is encouraging companies to adopt policies to increase women’s participation in the workforce, such as providing equal pay for men and women and enforcing the legal requirement that anyone who takes parental leave to return to their same job. The government is also recommending that companies create environments in which men can be more involved in childcare, such as offering and encouraging fathers to take paternity leave—which is rarely taken in Korea. Kim Seung-tau, the head of the population policy division of the finance ministry, explained: “Making men participate in childcare is important to allow women to both have children and stay in the labour force.” Read more here.
A survey of 850 principals who are members of the New Zealand Principals’ Federation found 92 percent of respondents wanted to leave the New Zealand Education Institute (NZEI) Te Riu Roa, which is the union that represents all primary and early childhood educators. Radio New Zealand reported that Principals Federation President Perry Rush said principals were unhappy with NZEI’s focus on pay equity for support staff rather than on the workload and well-being issues that principals were most concerned about, and that the principals are interested in starting their own union. NZEI Te Riu Roa president, Liam Rutherford, cautioned against the principals creating a new union, saying “There is real risk of having our voices watered down by having our principals breaking off in separate groups.”
The Polish Ministry of National Education has launched a campaign called “education at your fingertips” that for the next eight weeks will deliver information about new learning opportunities and resources for all citizens on the radio, online and on social media. The goal is to encourage citizens of all ages to engage in self-directed general and career-related life long learning. Many of the projects promoted by the Ministry use digital tools so as to make them easily accessible, including e-textbooks, a national education data system, local centers that provide adult education and skills development, and vocational exams. Read more in the Ministry’s announcement here.
Quebec’s Education Ministry announced that students will receive only two report cards, instead of three, this year. The decision was made to relieve teachers of the workload involved with the report cards and to allow them to focus more on students in need of support. Parents will receive a progress report in place of a report card. The teachers union, Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE), is supportive of the Ministry’s decision to drop the fall report card. FAE Vice President Nathalie Morel said it would “allow many students to make up for some of the backlog and allow teachers to focus on their primary mission, which is to teach while adapting to the new realities they are facing.”
Singapore announced three new investments centered on its youngest learners and preschool teachers. First, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) and SkillsFuture will jointly review early childhood education job roles and career pathways to give preschool teachers more opportunities to upgrade their skills and develop in their careers. There will be a focus on helping teachers feel prepared to care for children with diverse learning needs. Second, as outdoor learning is seen as a key factor in the social-emotional development of children, ECDA is providing funds to help preschools embed outdoor learning in their curricula and programs. The funding will support teacher professional development as well as peer-to-peer learning opportunities to share how best to lead outdoor learning effectively. Finally, the government plans to expand the existing KidSTART program, which is aimed at children ages 0-6 from low-income families, to new regions in Singapore. KidSTART supports about 1,000 children currently; the new funding will eventually help an additional 5,000 children over the next three years. Read more from Channel News Asia and Asia One.
The Korean Ministry of Education will raise their attendance caps and allow two-thirds of a school’s student population to attend in-person classes, as coronavirus concerns subside. Previously, elementary schools were capped at one-third attendance, with middle and high schools capped at two-thirds. Schools outside metropolitan coronavirus hotspots will be allowed to require up to 100 percent in-person attendance, and schools with fewer than 300 students in the Seoul area can set higher attendance caps, to allow as many students to return to in-person classes as possible. It is hoped that allowing more students to attend school in person will help to address a widening achievement gap between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds since distance learning has been in place. Two recent surveys highlighted these concerns. In a survey of over 50,000 teachers in July, 79 percent reported the learning gap has increased since the transition to online schooling. Another survey of schools in the Seoul Metropolitan area found that private schools offered more than double the number of in-person classes than public schools. Read more about the survey on the differences between in-person class offerings at private and public schools here and about the expansion of in-person classes overall here.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Education Testing Service released a new tool for capturing learning experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. The “Global Crises Module” is a questionnaire for students and for school leaders about their individual experiences during school closures. The goal is to collect data on how education systems have responded to the pandemic, how students’ learning experiences and well-being were impacted, and how well prepared school leaders and students think systems are for future school closures. The questionnaire will be administered during the 2022 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) administration but is available now for schools and systems to use. It can also be used by governing bodies, researchers, and education organizations to identify the differential impacts of the pandemic on student learning. Read more about the survey, its development, and its purpose, here.
In Singapore, students are required to play sports, practice a musical instrument or join some other club or organized out-of-school activity. These co-curricular activities (CCAs)—as they are known—begin in primary school and continue through secondary and are considered an integral part of a student’s educational experience by the Ministry of Education. Many CCAs have been put on hold or delivered remotely rather than in person during the pandemic. Just this week the government announced that most of these activities can resume face-to-face. While children from wealthier families may have been able to provide substitute enrichment activities, this pause has been harder on children from low-income families. “For example music lessons and sports and so on, especially for parents who can’t afford to pay for lessons outside of school, the school (is) playing a very major role,” said Associate Professor Jason Tan of the National Institute of Education (NIE) Department of Policy and Leadership Studies. Read more from the Straits Times and Channel News Asia.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to spend £1.5 billion (US$1.9 billion) on upgrading vocational colleges and will introduce a Lifetime Skills Guarantee that will fund technical courses for adults without an A-level or equivalent qualification. Currently, only young people under the age of 23 qualify for a fully-funded qualification at this level. Higher education loans would also be made more flexible, allowing courses to be taken in segments to make it easier for adults to engage in ongoing learning. Speaking at a further (technical) education college, the prime minister noted that the pandemic had “massively accelerated” changes to the world of work and made training gaps “painfully apparent.” He said the new funding could help end the “bogus distinction” between academic and vocational learning.
Edmonton Public Schools, the largest district in Alberta, asked the province to suspend diploma exams for high school for this academic year. Board trustee Shelagh Dunn said the request was made “…to find a way to relieve some of the pressure and stress within the system and focus on mental health and well-being.” Diploma exams are given to assess a student’s achievement level in core Grade 12 courses and ensure province-wide achievement standards. They are given five times a year and were cancelled last spring when the pandemic caused schools in the province to shift to distance learning. Colin Aitchison, press secretary for Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, said that parents want to keep diploma plans in place this year but “we will make adjustments to the school re-entry plan as required.” About 30 percent of students in the province are learning online right now. For more, see CBC Canada.
Scotland’s Education Secretary, John Swinney, has announced that the National 5 exams—which are taken in secondary school—will be cancelled in 2021 and replaced with teacher assessments and coursework. The announcement comes as new restrictions are being imposed in Scotland after a sharp rise in new coronavirus cases. Schools will remain open for now, but Swinney said it is likely students will face disruption in their school year. In making an early decision to cancel the exams, the ministry is hoping to give both teachers and students more time to prepare for and adapt to the new qualification format. Cancelling National 5 exams will also create more space in testing centers for social distancing during the Higher and Advanced Higher exams—the main university entrance qualifications in Scotland, which are still slated to go ahead. However, those exams will start two weeks later than planned. Swinney stressed that the ministry is monitoring public health statistics and will give students plenty of notice if Higher exams will also be cancelled. Read more from the BBC.
A new publication from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) examines policies across nations to show how these policies are associated with performance, equity, and student well-being, using data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). These results can help nations meet the challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, according to Andreas Schleicher, the director of OECD’s directorate for education and skills. For example, the report, PISA 2018 Results: Effective Policies, Successful Schools, found wide variations in the availability and use of technology within and across nations, with wide disparities between advantaged and disadvantaged students. In addition, the report also found disparities in the availability of educational resources, but suggested that in top-performing countries, these disparities were smaller than in other countries. The report also found that top-performing countries take advantage of the benefits of school choice while minimizing risks, and place a stronger emphasis on pre-primary education.
The Estonian government agreed to its 2021 budget this week and will submit it to the legislature today for approval. For the Ministry of Education and Research, the budget includes funding for updating educational technology infrastructure, developing “e-learning tools,” and providing support for educators’ development of digital competencies. There is also continuing funding for the existing beginner’s allowance for teachers (a one-time grant for new teachers to make the teaching profession more attractive) as well as funding for municipalities to maintain the salaries of teachers in early childhood classrooms at between 90-100 percent of the minimum salaries for basic education teachers. Read more here.
The Alberta government is considering giving the College of Alberta School Superintendents (CASS) the legal authority to set standards for qualifications, training and continuing education for superintendents across the province. If CASS becomes a regulatory body, all superintendents would be required to join and it would be allowed to investigate members who are accused of wrongdoing. Not all school boards support the move; some raised questions about the impact of such a change on their autonomy and also about prioritizing such a shift during the pandemic. Jennifer Tuininga, a school board chair from Pembina Hills, said that consultations around this proposed move should not “…have proceeded at this time given everything else that’s been going on.” For more, see CBC Canada.
New Zealand Education Minister Chris Hipkins has announced NZD$9 million (US$5.95 million) in funding for counselling and support services for school and early childhood education teachers, of which nearly half (NZD$4.2 million/ US$2.8 million) will be directed to teachers in Auckland because of concerns about the effect that recent Alert Level 3 measures have had on educators in the region. The remaining funding will be used to establish an online hub for New Zealand educators that will provide advice and peer-to-peer support, bring additional services to areas that see a resurgence of COVID-19 and support Māori educators’ wellbeing. According to Hipkins, the new funding is a result of an agreement made last year between the New Zealand Educational Institute, the Post Primary Teachers’ Association and the Ministry of Education to address teacher workloads and wellbeing. Read more from Radio New Zealand.