Center on International Education Benchmarking

Archive for Oct 16–22, 2020

1. Quebec Drops Fall Report Cards

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.”  

Nathalie Morel, FAE Vice President
Nathalie Morel, FAE Vice President

2. Singapore Adds Supports for Early Childhood Education

Singapore Preschoolers

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.

3. Korea Increases Attendance Cap in Schools

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


4. New OECD Tool Developed to Survey Learning Experiences During Pandemic


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.

Archive for Oct 9–15, 2020

1. Singapore Students to Resume Extracurricular Activities In-Person

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.

Associate Professor Jason Tan of the NIE Department of Policy and Leadership Studies
Associate Professor Jason Tan of the NIE Department of Policy and Leadership Studies

2. UK to Expand VET in Response to the Coronavirus

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson

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. 

3. Edmonton Asks the Province to Cancel Diploma Exams

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.

Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange
Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange

4. Scotland Cancels National Exams as Coronavirus Cases Surge

John Swinney, Scotland's Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills
John Swinney, Scotland's Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills

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.

Archive for Oct 2–8, 2020

1. OECD Report Examines National Policies and PISA Performance

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. 

Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for education and skills
Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for education and skills

2. Estonia to Increase Funding for Education Tech and Teacher Supports

Teacher in Classroom

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.

3. Alberta Considers Giving Superintendents Group Regulatory Authority

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.

Superintendents Academy

4. New Zealand: Funding for Counseling, Support Services for Teachers

Chris Hipkins, New Zealand's Education Minister
Chris Hipkins, New Zealand's Education Minister

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.