According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia’s training sector is set for a federal overhaul as part of an economic plan to recover from the coronavirus crisis. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for a rewrite of a national skills and workforce agreement between the federal government and the states to secure more accountability for spending federal funds, but did not call for increased funding. Morrison aims “…to link funding to industry demand for skills, simplify the system, unify rules between states and increase the performance monitoring to reveal where the money is spent.” This announcement comes after total spending on vocational education and training fell to its lowest level in more than a decade. Morrison said putting more money into the current vocational training system would not be effective, but said current funding needs to be tied more effectively to skills needs and subsidies need to be better coordinated. The opposition has accused the Morrison government of creating a skills and training crisis and cutting billions from vocational education and training. In response to Morrison’s remarks, Labor’s Education Spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said: “We heard no plan today – no extra dollars, no timeframe, no detail.” Read more here.
Primary schools in the Netherlands, which reopened with half-day or alternating-day schedules on May 11, are now preparing to reopen full-time for all students on June 8. School leaders have raised concerns that teacher shortages—which existed prior to the coronavirus pandemic and have been exacerbated during the crisis—will impact their ability to fully staff schools. Currently, nearly 40 percent of primary schools report facing teacher shortages, and more than half report that many teachers are now staying home to avoid the risk of contracting the coronavirus. According to Ingrid Doornbos, vice-chair of the General Association of School Leaders: “We already had a shortage of primary school teachers and that is even more the case now.” Additional staff support may also be required in order to adhere to health and safety guidelines, which are currently being adapted for the transition from half-time to full-time school. Read more from Dutch News.
As part of the fourth round of budget measures announced in Parliament this week, Singapore included S$2 billion (US$1.4 billion) for the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package to create close to 100,000 jobs and training opportunities for workers impacted by the coronavirus slowdown. The government’s goal is to create 40,000 jobs in 2020; 15,000 of those jobs will be in the public sector and will include both short-term healthcare jobs related to the pandemic as well as long-term positions in key industries such as early childhood education and long-term care. There will also be 25,000 new training positions for recent graduates and mid-career job seekers to help them gain industry-relevant experience. A new initiative, the SGUnited Skills Program, will provide training for 30,000 job seekers who wish to upgrade their skills through continuing education and training courses designed in partnership with industry. Read more in The Straits Times.
A survey of Japan’s 47 prefectures, which oversee high schools across the country, this week found that all will reopen high schools in June. This includes harder hit regions like Tokyo, with varying restrictions in place to help alleviate the spread of coronavirus. The regional plans include precautions such as staggering attendance days, splitting classes into morning and afternoon groups and shortening the school day to just three hours. Some urban schools will start the school day later, so students can avoid public transportation during peak commuting times. Japan’s public schools did not implement distance learning during coronavirus shutdowns, due to concerns that students would have vastly different and inequitable learning experiences outside of the classroom. Now, school boards are pushing to make up for lost time, hoping to allow all students to finish the curriculum for this school year. In response, some prefectures have cancelled extracurricular events and cut summer vacation time, from 40 days down to 20 or less. Others are considering holding mandatory classes on Saturdays as well. Read more at Nikkei Asian Review.
Quebec’s draft reopening plan for this fall, shared this week with education officials and the opposition parties, has a favored scenario of returning all students full-time attendance, but an alternative part-time option if they are not able to open schools full-time. Premier Francoise Roberge made it clear that he prefers the full-time option, saying “..we can be hopeful that all the students who are physically ready will go to school…at the start of the year.” The part-time option would have elementary students attending schools two days one week and three days the next. High school students would attend half-time or one of every three days. Attendance will be mandatory in either scenario, and any students who stay home will be required to follow homeschooling guidelines. Despite the highest level of coronavirus infections in Canada, Quebec was the first province in Canada to open schools for students this school year, with all schools outside of Montreal opening last week.
This week’s International Education News includes updates about how Canada, Switzerland, New South Wales, Japan and the UK are supporting students and families and grappling with the challenges of reopening schools amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Canada’s federal government is exploring how it can increase its role in coordinating and funding childcare across the Canadian provinces, as there is concern that without sufficient childcare, workers cannot return to their jobs. In Canada, childcare is primarily a responsibility of provinces, but the federal government has recently begun to expand its role in this area. It is in the fourth year of a 10-year CAN$7.5 billion (US$5.4 billion) investment in childcare aimed at expanding the system’s capacity and quality, but the pandemic has raised new challenges across the country, including the need to find additional space and retrofit existing centers to meet new safety guidelines. Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen told the press this week that there is a desire for the federal government to take steps to ensure that all Canadians “…have access to affordable, accessible and quality childcare as they go back to work.”
The coronavirus pandemic is already reducing apprenticeship opportunities for students in Switzerland, and the government is concerned about the future since two-thirds of Swiss secondary school students choose apprenticeships. Apprentices learn on the job under the guidance of workplace supervisors, and the economic downturn has made these positions harder to find. The Swiss Broadcasting Company reports that the government has created a task force on apprenticeships and allocated extra funding to support apprenticeship projects. There is particular concern about supporting students with weaker academic backgrounds who tend to have a harder time locating workplace learning opportunities and that employers in industries like catering and tourism that have been hit particularly hard by the virus may be less willing to provide apprenticeships. A project at research university ETH Zurich known as Apprenticeship Pulse is conducting monthly surveys to track the effect the coronavirus pandemic is having on students and companies. In the April survey, companies projected that 5.5 percent of this fall’s new apprenticeships will be cut.
Teachers and students in New South Wales will make a full-time return to schools next week. Under new guidelines released by the state’s education department, students should return to their classrooms unless they are sick or have a medical certificate for an ongoing issue as “distance education is not seen as an option for now.” The state’s education department will provide assessments for schools to use to find out how students, particularly those who did not engage with remote learning options, have progressed while away from school. Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said these assessments will be used “just so [teachers] can understand what extra efforts might need to be put in when kids are back in the classroom; where some of the gaps may be.” Education experts have called on the education department to invest additional resources to help students who are shown to have lost ground to get back on track, including tutoring programs for disadvantaged students, literacy specialists for younger students and improved instructional materials. Read more in The Sydney Morning Herald and ABC News.
Japan’s cabinet has approved a program to provide about 430,000 tertiary students from low-income households up to ¥200,000 (US$1,900) each, to help pay for tuition and living costs. Worried about the loss of jobs for tertiary students during the pandemic, the government is stepping in to ensure that students are able to continue their studies during the crisis. The plan comes as both public and private universities have asked the government to offer financial support for students, including grants and tuition waivers. However, there is concern that the program is not enough, as only one out of 10 students would receive the grants. Citing an April survey, one student group claims that about 20 percent of students are considering abandoning their studies due to financial pressures related to the coronavirus pandemic. Read more in Japan Times.
Last week Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a national reopening plan for schools in England that includes all primary schools beginning a phased opening on June 1. Classes would resume first for kindergarten, first grade and sixth grade followed by other primary grades, while at the secondary level, only students in 10th and 12th grades—those who are preparing for GCSE and A-levels—would return to schools by the end of the academic year. Education ministers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland announced that they would not reopen schools on June 1. Nine education unions, including the UK’s largest teachers’ and school principals’ unions, have also come out against the proposed reopening, issuing a joint statement saying it was still too early to reopen schools safely. This week, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said that the contact-tracing, which would have been a key part of the plan to reopen, will not be in place by the end of May as hoped, and the phased reopening of English schools may take longer than anticipated. With opposition from teacher unions and about 1,500 schools now saying they will not be prepared to open on June 1, Buckland told the BBC that the government was listening to teachers, while also trying to “engage and persuade.” Read more at Evening Standard. For an overview of some of the precautions elementary schools will be taking if and when they do reopen, from staggering start times to not sending any artwork home with students, see here.
This week’s International Education News includes updates about how some Canadian provinces, New Zealand, Korea, Hong Kong, Poland and Singapore are addressing the challenges that come with the coronavirus pandemic, including plans to re-open schools, extra supports for some students, and looking ahead to future unexpected school closures.
Last week, the British Columbia Ministry of Education released a five-stage plan for reopening schools. According to the Ministry of Education, stage one is the final step and includes the full return of all students to their classrooms. Currently, all 60 school districts and independent schools are in stage four in which classroom programs are available only to select students, including children of essential workers and vulnerable students. Stage three, the next stage in the reopening plan, includes in-class learning for kindergarten to Grade 5 on a part-time basis, access to in-class learning as needed for Grades 6 to 12 on a part-time basis and continuing distance learning for all students. The province is expected to take a first step toward stage three in June by reopening schools half-time for students in kindergarten to Grade 5 and one day per week for students in Grades 6 and 7. Districts will decide how to organize the school day and the school building for safety. Additional details will be announced at the end of May. For more, see CTVNews. Meanwhile, the province of Quebec opened schools this week, the first Canadian province to do so. The city of Montreal, which has the highest rate of coronavirus infections, is due to open on May 25. Quebec’s opening is staggered, with elementary schools opening first. The province has limited the number of students in each classroom to 15, which has meant schools are using libraries, science laboratories and gymnasiums as classrooms and, in some cases, moving elementary children to empty high school classrooms. Transportation has proven to be a challenge, as social distancing requirements mean that school busses can only accommodate a fraction of the students they usually do which has meant the province has had to fund multiple shifts. For more, see CBC Canada.
Poland’s Ministry of National Education and the Ministry of Digitization announced this week a joint initiative to make available an additional PLN 180 million (US$43 million) to purchase computer equipment for students and teachers. This is in addition to a recent allocation of PLN 187 million ($US44 million) to provide funding for devices to support distance learning. The new allocation is available to local governments which can request awards of PLN 35,000 to 165,000 (US$8,000 to $39,000) depending on need. The funds can be used to purchase not only computers and laptops, but also software, equipment insurance, mobile internet access or other expenses related to remote learning. The government is also providing free online training to early childhood, primary and secondary teachers to help them learn how to creatively and effectively use e-resources and mobile devices in lessons. Teachers are expected to enroll in teams of at least two to three people per school site and to teach at least two lessons to their students using the skills taught.
Early learning services in New Zealand will see a NZ$151.1 million (US$90.23 million) funding increase in Budget 2020 to help improve teacher pay. Allocated over four years, the funding will lift the minimum pay rate of up to 17,000 teachers in education and care centers to the same as the starting rate for kindergarten teachers. “As we respond to the impact of Covid-19 to our society and economy, the government remains committed to fair pay for lower paid workers, especially the workers who have helped get the country moving again,” Education Minister Chris Hipkins said. Budget 2020 also includes $36.2 million (US$21.63 million) over four years of additional funding to support home-based early learning services transition to a more professionalized educator workforce. The funding increases will take effect on July 1. Read more in Radio New Zealand and The New Zealand Herald.
Education officials in Hong Kong, where schools will begin reopening in phases on May 27, are turning their attention to planning for future unexpected school closures. According to Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung, one priority will be developing an alternative assessment system in case Hong Kong’s Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) exams for graduating upper secondary school students need to be canceled in the future. While this year’s HKDSE exams are currently underway after a one-month postponement, the pandemic has brought attention to the need to develop a reliable way to grade students and determine university admission without these crucial exams. To do this, upper secondary schools will share school-based assessment scores for this year’s graduating cohort with the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority, which will compare them with the same students’ HKDSE results to begin developing a predictive model. Hong Kong’s Education Bureau will also work with schools to learn from their experiences with distance learning this year and consider how to improve preparedness for future school closures. Focus areas will include teacher professional learning, resources for online teaching and learning, and students’ preparedness for online learning. Read more from the South China Morning Post.
The gradual reopening of schools in Korea, scheduled to begin on May 13, has been delayed following a recent spike in coronavirus infections. Korea’s original plan would have allowed students in Grade 12—who need to prepare to take Korea’s nationwide university entrance exam later this year—to return to school first, with other grade levels returning in phases by June 1. But following a recent resurgence of the coronavirus after social distancing measures were relaxed, the Ministry of Education made the decision to delay the return of Grade 12 students for another week until May 20. The other grade levels will follow in phases during the month of June. Read more from VOA.
This week’s International Education News includes updates about how Finland, New Zealand, Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore are addressing the challenges that come with the coronavirus pandemic, including opening schools to certain groups, extra supports for some students, and successful rollout of online learning platforms.
The Finnish government announced a phased reopening strategy this week, which includes plans for schools to reopen starting on May 14. The Ministry of Education has many reopening schools a priority as they are concerned about the impact of continued closures on inequalities and students’ social and emotional wellbeing. They issued guidance to principals with suggestions for how to maintain distance between students, using “spacious environments” like school gymnasiums for teaching and staggering school schedules. However, the guidance has drawn criticism from principals and teachers, some of whom claim it is impractical in many school settings. Public health experts have also disputed research claiming that children rarely transmit the various between each other or to adults.
New Zealand Minister of Education Chris Hipkins announced a $20 million (US$12.02 million) fund to help tertiary students access digital devices and the internet to continue learning during disruptions caused by the coronavirus. The fund, called the Technology Access Fund for Learners, will be accessible to tertiary education organizations, universities, industry training organizations and private training establishments. The fund will pay for about 18,500 learners to be connected to the internet but more learners will benefit if they only needed one or the other, said Hipkins. Read more from Radio New Zealand.
Korea and Hong Kong both announced plans this week to reopen schools in phases, beginning with the oldest students. Korea will begin welcoming back students in grade 12—who need to prepare for Korea’s nationwide university entrance exam, which will take place in December—beginning May 13. The remaining grade levels will return to school in phases, prioritizing the lower primary grades, for whom the government believes in-person classes are particularly important. On May 27, Hong Kong will also begin reopening schools for upper secondary school students. While Hong Kong’s university entrance exams are already underway and will conclude before schools reopen, some upper secondary school students need to prepare to take the exam in future years, while grade 12 students need to prepare to graduate. Lower secondary and primary school students will follow in phases through June 15. All students will attend schools for half-days only to allow for social distancing. Read more about Korea’s approach from The Straits Times and Hong Kong’s approach from the South China Morning Post.
As Singapore nears the end of a full month of distance learning, which began on April 8, Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah reports that students have participated at a rate of about 96 percent. While almost all students have completed their schoolwork from home, schools have remained open for a small number of students who need additional support for distance learning, including those who do not have access to technology at home or whose parents are essential workers. Schools reached out to families to offer school-based support based on students’ learning needs, parent requests and input from social workers. To further encourage student participation in distance learning, schools have loaned students devices that they can use at home. Support services focused on students’ wellbeing have also been available from school-based counselors and social welfare officers via phone, video or e-mail. Read more from The Straits Times.
This week’s International Education News includes updates about how Finland, Poland, Estonia, Singapore and Canada are addressing the challenges that come with the coronavirus pandemic, including opening schools to certain groups, curriculum updates, and extra supports for rural schools.
Some rural municipalities in Finland have found unexpected benefits to distance learning. In the half of Finnish municipalities that have fewer than 6,000 students, hundreds of thousands of euros are spent on bussing students to school several hours each day. Many municipalities are now asking the Ministry to look into relaxing contact hour requirements long-term, so students can learn from home a few days a week after the pandemic has subsided. Terhi Päivärinta from the Association of Finnish Municipalities said: “The last few weeks have proven that remote learning works.” Read more at YLE.
Vocational schools in Estonia will partially reopen on May 15 to allow students to complete hands-on practical training, according to Minister of Education and Research Mailis Reps. All schools in Estonia closed in mid-March and transitioned to distance learning. During school closures, vocational schools have worked to find ways of providing practical training for students, including working with firms that remain open to continue to host students in workplace internships or even expand internships. According to Sigrid Ester Tani, coordinator of work-based learning and projects at Tartu Vocational Education Centre, this has been key for students studying fields like metalworking that cannot be practiced at home. When vocational schools reopen in mid-May, students will regain access to school-based simulated workplaces, which offer another way to complete the practical training required for graduation. Groups will be limited to a maximum of 10 students in order to allow for social distancing. For more, see ERR and this recent webinar from Estonia’s Education Nation initiative.
Poland announced it will be reopening preschools and kindergartens on May 6. The government will give priority to children of employees considered essential in the fight against coronavirus, including those in the healthcare system, relevant manufacturing and trades, and the military. The gradual reopening of preschools and kindergartens will adhere to the guidelines issued by the Minister of Health. The government is recommending that teachers and employees over the age of 60 not be involved in childcare as they are more at risk of contracting the virus. The Ministry of National Education has also announced that starting May 4 vocational students could return to their practical, work-based learning and apprenticeships, although school-based coursework would continue to be delivered remotely.
While British Columbia schools have not yet announced when schools in the province will open, the Vancouver School Board announced that it is opening schools for students with “exceptionally high learning needs” who depend on face to face instruction with education support workers. Attendance will be optional and the program will be “tested” at one school first before it is expanded throughout the district. “This is not just about the students, it is about providing supports for the family as well,” said Stephanie Higginson, president of the B.C. School Trustees Association.
The Ministry of Education announced that it is refreshing its curriculum in three areas. First, in the era of coronavirus, Singapore plans to ramp up digital learning at the primary and secondary levels. By 2024, all first-year secondary students will be provided their own tablet or laptop. Postsecondary students will strengthen their baseline digital skills through data analysis, computational thinking and AI competencies. Second, the humanities curriculum for secondary students will emphasize a deeper understanding of Asian languages and cultures. At the polytechnic and university level, the expectation is that 70 percent of students will participate in overseas programs, with a goal of doubling the proportion of students who travel to countries within Asia. Third, the curricular area of Character and Citizenship Education will be modified to focus more on moral values, national education and citizenship for primary students; address contemporary issues such as bullying for secondary students; and explicitly address mental health for both age groups.
This week’s International Education News includes updates about how Singapore, the UK, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands are addressing the challenges that come with the coronavirus pandemic, including providing supports to disadvantaged students, scaling back curriculum requirements, and plans to reopen schools.
Singapore’s Ministry of Education announced that certain topics taught at the end of the academic year will be removed from national examinations, in order to ease pressure on teachers and students who have shifted to home-based learning for the past month. For graduating students who need support preparing for national examinations, schools may allow students to come back to school for face-to-face coaching “when the national situation improves.” Schools will also develop ways of helping non-graduating students cope with the reduced curriculum time and the demands of the year-end school examinations, with guidance from the Ministry of Education. For more, see Channel News Asia.
British Columbia is considering opening schools for primary school children, possibly for partial days or alternative days. Premier John Horgan says that no matter the plan to get students back in the classroom, students will still continue to learn outside of the classroom setting. According to Horgan, “Virtual learning is here to stay, but it’s not going to be the only way we learn.” In the Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced that primary schools will open on May 11, although they will only be open on alternating days. The other days students will learn online. In Australia, the decision of when to reopen schools has been left to states and territories. New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejikilian has proposed reopening schools, with students attending one day a week before ramping up to a full school week by term three, which starts in July. Schools in West Australia are being opened for students to attend at their discretion starting April 29. Premier Mark McGowan has strongly encouraged year 11 and 12 students to return to their physical classrooms.
Britain’s Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced this week that disadvantaged students will receive free laptops or tablets as part of a push to make online education more widely accessible during nationwide school closures. The government will also provide 4G routers for families who do not have internet access at home. In connection with this push, the country’s major telecommunications providers have agreed to make selected online educational resources exempt from data charges to make it easier for families to access them. One such resource is the Oak National Academy which launched on April 20. Developed with government funding and built by a group of 40 teachers from the best-rated schools across England, the site provides more than 180 video lessons per week in a broad range of subjects for all grade levels from kindergarten through grade 10. The BBC has also launched its own education package called Bitesize Daily. Collaborating with teachers and education specialists as well as celebrities and even professional athletes, Bitesize Daily will offer 14 weeks of curriculum-based learning for students across the UK.
Education Nation, an initiative launched by the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research to share information on Estonia’s high-performing education system internationally, is providing a series of free weekly webinars to support jurisdictions worldwide in the transition to distance learning. Estonia was a leader in digital solutions prior to the coronavirus pandemic, with nearly all government services accessible online and an existing focus on building technology skills among educators and students. The webinar series, which is in English, highlights how Estonia is leveraging these strengths during distance learning and includes a range of perspectives, including policymakers, educators, parents and students. Recent webinars have addressed organizing distance learning at the national level and providing distance learning for students with special educational needs. This week’s webinar focused on providing vocational education and training through distance learning and featured Teet Tiko, the head of the Vocational Education Department in the Ministry of Education and Research, as well as representatives of vocational schools and a vocational school student. For more, see a recording of this week’s webinar here.
This week’s International Education News shares updates about how Finland, Japan, Germany, New Zealand and South Korea are addressing the challenges that come with the coronavirus pandemic, including transitioning to online and distance learning as well as added supports for families with school-aged children.
The coronavirus pandemic has the devastating potential to be “the life-defining experience of a generation,” a Finnish task force on young people’s wellbeing concluded this week. Finland’s Ministry of Education convened this task force, consisting of experts in psychology, social services, the arts, future studies and other fields. They were charged with making recommendations to mitigate the lasting health and psychological impacts on young people after the immediate health crisis has subsided. Suggested policy responses include investing more in arts and arts education, developing more extra-curricular education programs, assigning course work that requires students to manage their time and be more self directed, and exploring ways that work-based learning can be done digitally. Read more at Finland’s Ministry of Education website.
With most schools in Japan closed during the coronavirus pandemic, the country has been slow to adopt distance learning in public schools. A lack of IT-savvy teachers coupled with a lack of internet connectivity and computers in many Japanese households has led public schools to resist moving to online learning. This was already an issue Japan planned to address, with a national distribution of laptops and tablets set for 2023. Now, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced his intention to move up the timeline for that project. Meanwhile, the gap between private and public schools may widen during the pandemic, as many private schools began preparing online line learning options as early as February. The Japan Times Editorial Board has pushed the national government to take a more active role in education decisions during the crisis, suggesting that if providing all students with a tablet or computer is not immediately possible, Japan should open school computer labs to students who lack digital devices or internet connectivity at home. Otherwise, the board warns, the already wide achievement gap between public and private schools, and between the various regions of Japan, will only widen further.
Prime Minister Angela Merkel announced that schools in Germany would start reopening gradually on May 4, prioritizing students in their final years of primary and secondary school who will need to take exams to graduate. In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that once the government lowers the alert level from 4 to 3, which may happen next week, schools will open only for students up to grade 10, with older students continuing distance learning. Attendance for those up to year 10 will be voluntary, and will allow parents who need to return to work a place to send their children.
The gradual rollout of distance learning continued this week in South Korea, where schools have remained closed since mid-February in response to concerns about the spread of coronavirus. Distance learning began for secondary school students on April 9 and is continuing to be rolled out by grade span through April 20. To support teachers in this transition, the Ministry of Education has introduced a new government-run Preparation and Monitoring Team, which will help teachers prepare for online teaching and learning, including adapting their lesson plans for online delivery. Some teachers and students have expressed concerns, however, about the long-term impacts of school closures on students. For example, primary school students may have more limited access to group activities to build social skills in an online environment, while upper secondary school students preparing university applications will need to do so during a shortened summer break. Read more in VOA News.
This week’s International Education News shares updates about how Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Korea are addressing the challenges that come with the coronavirus pandemic, including transitioning to online and distance learning as well as added supports for families with school-aged children.
This week, as Singapore closed its schools and students began home-based learning, the Ministry of Education has focused on ensuring that all students, particularly those from low-income families, have adequate resources to access online learning from their homes. The Ministry has provided about 3,300 laptops and tablets, plus hardware for internet access, so far for students. Corporate sponsors are also providing free broadband connectivity to students from lower-income families. In addition, students who lack support at home have the option to go to school to use computers and access the internet while being supervised by their teachers. The Ministry of Education intends to work with the Ministry of Social and Family Development and community partners to provide financial and other support to lower-income families during this period. Read more in The Straits Times.
Ontario Prime Minister Doug Ford, along with the Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliot and Minister of Education Stephen Lecce, announced the Support For Families initiative which will provide one-time direct payments to families while schools and childcare centers remain closed across the province. The payments are CAN$200 (US$143.29) to families with children ages 1-12 and CAN$250 (US$179.11) to families with special needs children up to age 21. Ford said the payments are intended to “…allow parents to access additional tools for our kids to use while at home and studying remotely.” British Columbia’s Ministry of Education announced two new initiatives to help support online learning in the province: a CAN$3 million (US$2.15 million) investment in provincial libraries to upgrade their digital capacity and a license for Zoom video conferencing and collaboration platform for all K-12 public and independent schools across the province.
This week, Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced a NZ$87.7 million (US$53 million) multi-pronged initiative to ensure students have the tools and resources they need to learn at home when distance learning begins in New Zealand on April 15 after spring break. The initiative is focused on helping connect low-income students to internet access and devices, making available hard copies of learning materials, funding education-related television content and creating more online resources for parents. The Ministry has been planning this initiative since mid-March when it surveyed schools to gauge their readiness to transition to distance learning. Hipkins said all families would have “at least one educational delivery option” when the term begins and that “…teachers and leaders will get access to more professional learning and development (PLD) to support them to work remotely with their students.” Under the Ministry’s plan, computers and internet access will be prioritized for Years 11 to 13 high school students working towards the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA). Read more in The New Zealand Herald and Radio New Zealand.
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced late last week that roughly one million families in the country will have access to free childcare in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Under the plan, called the Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package, the sector will receive AUS$1.6 billion (US$974 million) over the next three months. Priority will be given to working parents, parents with pre-existing enrollments and vulnerable and disadvantaged children. “We want as many people being able to work as we possibly can, and we want them to be able to access childcare as they need to make sure their children are being looked after while they’re working,” Education Minister Dan Tehan said. The funding is also intended to bolster the sector which is struggling due to drop in parent fees. This plan allows parents who choose to keep their children at home during the pandemic to remain enrolled without paying fees and keep their place for when the crisis subsides. The new temporary system will be reviewed after one month and an extension will be considered. Read more in ABC News and CNN.
After several delays, the Ministry of Education announced that the new semester will begin with online classes on a staggered schedule this week. Concerned that the youngest students would have a hard time focusing on on-line instruction, the Ministry of Education has developed a special curriculum for first and second graders that mixes television programming on the state-run Educational Broadcasting System (EBS) along with handout materials and workbooks from their schools designed to help with writing, drawing and mathematics. Teachers will track their students’ progress and attendance via text messages with parents. Read more at The Korea Herald.
This week’s International Education News shares updates about how Australia, Canada, Singapore, South Korea and Finland are addressing the challenge of transitioning to online and distance learning in response to the coronavirus pandemic. We also look at the impact of school closures on the ed tech industry in Asia.
School closures in Asia have led to a boom in interest for Asian online education companies. More than 1.5 billion children worldwide have been affected by school closures as of March 29, according to figures from Unesco, and demand for online learning technology, particularly in India, mainland China and Hong Kong, has swamped some providers. Many online learning companies expect to double or triple their users this year, as more school systems grapple with the need to provide quality education for students at home. As a result, share prices for education tech companies are skyrocketing. For example, shares in GSX, a New York-listed Chinese online education provider, have jumped 92 percent since the start of the year. Last month, the company reported an increase of 15 million student enrollments for free online courses, compared with 2.7 million in total enrollments at the end of 2019, itself a three-fold increase on the year earlier. Similarly, Ai English, a company that connects students in China with English-speaking teachers in Australia, has had a 33 percent jump in enrollments, from 30,000 students at the end of 2019 to 40,000 in early March. “Online learning is the future and if there was no virus, that realization would have taken another few years but this has accelerated the process,” said Li Kang, Ai English executive director. Read more at Financial Times
Australian states and territories have been instructed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to “pursue their own arrangements” in relation to whether schools will remain open for the remainder of the term. While the federal government maintains that it is safe for states and territories to send children to school until the end of the term, which falls in early to mid April for most states, many have indicated that they will move to distance learning in the weeks and months ahead. For instance, this week in Queensland, schools were student-free, except for the children of essential workers, in an effort to allow teachers time to receive training in distance learning and using online resources. In South Australia, schools remained open this week, however classes are set to move online in the second term, with student-free days announced for the week leading up to April 10 to allow teachers time to prepare. Similarly, in Tasmania, schools will close for an early end-of-term break on April 3 before shifting to distance learning. In New South Wales, parents are being encouraged, but not required, to keep children at home, with all schools in the state providing online learning options for the remainder of the term. In response to increasing numbers of students staying at home, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) announced it will broadcast educational shows and mini lessons beginning in mid-April, with shows for primary students in the morning and high school content in the afternoon. The ABC’s online education portal will also offer 4,000 free videos and interactive resources aligned to Australian curriculum. Read more in The Sydney Morning Herald and ABC.
Provinces across Canada put plans in place for distance learning, as schools remain shuttered. Ontario extended its school closures to May 4 for students and released provincial guidelines about the number of hours of work that should be assigned to students at different grade levels. Education Minister Stephen Lecce said all students will receive grades and report cards and said the province is considering extending school into the summer. Lecce also announced training in educational technologies for teachers. British Columbia has “suspended” schools indefinitely, and directed schools to develop distance learning plans no later than mid-April. Most schools in the province were on spring break from March 16-30, and are just getting in touch with families this week. The Ministry has created the KeepLearning website with resources for families and posted an FAQ. In Alberta, where schools are closed indefinitely, the Ministry laid off 20,000 education support staff in light of the school closures. Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said these layoffs were temporary. This was a reversal of what the Ministry announced in mid-March when schools were first closed. The estimated CAN$128 million (US$90 million) that will be saved will not be used to support distance learning; it will be redirected to fight coronavirus in the province.
Singapore, which has managed to keep its schools open amidst the coronavirus pandemic, has decided to shut its schools and move to home-based learning as of April 8. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: “We have decided that instead of tightening incrementally over the next few weeks, we should make a decisive move now, to pre-empt escalating infections.” Previously, Singapore had decided to institute home-based learning one day per week, in preparation for a potential closure of schools. At that point, the Ministry of Education unveiled a Parent Kit explaining how students are expected to engage in e-learning through online assignments and that they will receive notes or worksheets through e-mail as well as hard-copy assignments to take home from school. Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said that students will not be expected to have access to digital devices for the full school day and that schools will support students without access to digital devices or the internet. He also noted that schools in Singapore already have experience conducting home-based learning and using the Singapore Student Learning Space, a Ministry-developed online learning platform introduced in 2018. During the first day of home-based learning for primary schools this week, students completed a combination of on- and off-line lessons according to schedules set by their schools. Read more in The Straits Times here and here.
The South Korean government announced this week that the nation’s schools, which have delayed the start of a new semester three times since early March due to concerns about the coronavirus, will reopen for online teaching and learning on April 9. Online classes will be phased in gradually by grade level through April 20. The government is providing resources to support schools and teachers planning for online classes, including a new “School-On” platform created by the Korea Education and Research Information Service (KERIS). This platform provides guidance on creating and managing online classrooms and allows primary and lower secondary school teachers nationwide to share their online learning resources. In addition, KERIS is providing national curriculum-aligned digital textbooks for students in grades 3-9, and students in low-income families will receive devices and WiFi access. Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae cited Korea’s already high level of smart device use and skilled educator workforce as key strengths as the education system transitions online. Read more here and here.
Finland’s closure of most schools will remain in effect through May 13, Minister of Education Li Andersson announced today. Schools serving grades 1-3 are currently open for essential personnel, although all parents are encouraged to keep their kids at home. The remainder of students are expected to participate in distance learning, which is organized by individual schools. Minister Andersson instructed teachers to treat students who do not show up for synchronous learning offerings as truant. Teachers are expected to contact parents of students who do not attend and educate them about the value of distance learning offerings. Finally, she indicated that guidance for grading students in grade 10 (the last year of basic education) would be issued very shortly. Students’ end-of-year grades play a significant role in what form of upper secondary school they can attend, so how those students would be evaluated during distance learning has been a cause for concern. Read more at YLE.
This week’s International Education News shares updates about how Canada, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore are addressing the challenge of transitioning to online and distance learning in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Across Canada, provinces are preparing for online and distance learning to begin in late March or early April. In Alberta, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange released guidelines for “teacher-directed” learning. The guidelines include curriculum priorities and numbers of hours per week students should be expected to do school work by grade span. Alberta has also updated its provincial online resource library, LearnAlberta, which catalogues over 40,000 resources, lessons, references and full courses for students and teachers grade by grade and subject by subject. The library has been continually updated for more than a decade, and was recently updated with new materials in preparation for the shift to on-line and distance learning. In Ontario, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced a new e-learning website for high school students that will house “high-quality, made-in-Ontario math and literacy resources, created by Ontario-certified educators.” The website will host a set of online courses and, are being developed by the Ontario College of Teachers, an association of teachers in Ontario. There is also a website, TVO Mathify, where students can get one-on-one support in mathematics all day that will be staffed by Ontario teachers. Lecce said the province will rely on Television Ontario (TVO) to provide programming for younger students. It will provide lessons for students in kindergarten through grade 6, beginning next week. TVO will also provide access to YouTube channels offering STEM and literacy programs tied to the provincial curriculum as well as math and literacy games. Finally, a new website created by the education ministry provides additional resources to help parents work with their children, including the full K-12 curriculum.
New Zealand has closed all schools, tertiary providers and early learning centers for four weeks as the country implements a nationwide lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Schools have brought forward and extended their previously scheduled April holiday breaks and will now be closed from March 30 to April 14 in order to give teachers additional time to prepare for online learning. To help support the transition to distance learning, the Ministry of Education launched two websites – Learning from Home and Ki te Ao Mārama – that have resources for parents, caregivers, teachers and leaders spanning early learning through senior secondary. New materials will be added to these websites over the coming weeks. The ministry is also assessing students’ access to the internet and working to set up connections, particularly in areas with large populations of students from low socioeconomic status. Students without internet will be delivered hard copies of resources. Parents and caregivers are also being encouraged to contact their child’s school or teacher for support with learning resources. Read more from Radio New Zealand.
This week, Singapore reopened its schools after a two-week scheduled break. For those not present due to coronavirus restrictions, estimated to be less than ten percent, schools are supporting home-based learning. “Through the use of technology, students on leave of absence can continue to communicate with their teachers and classmates, and teachers can still track their progress remotely,” said the Ministry of Education’s Deputy Director-General of Education Sng Chern Wei. The Ministry’s Student Learning Space (SLS), which was rolled out nationwide in 2018, supports home-based learning. SLS is an online learning platform that offers high-quality, curriculum-aligned educational materials and resources for pre-primary through pre-university level students. All students, teachers and school leaders in the country have access to it. New materials are continually added to SLS and existing materials are improved to respond to student and teacher needs. The platform also allows teachers to access instructional tools, create assignments using textbooks and workbooks, and make use of real-time video conferencing to connect with students and collaborate with their peers. Read more in The Straits Times and Channel News Asia.
Educators in Hong Kong and Shanghai, which were among the first jurisdictions to close schools due to the coronavirus earlier this year, are beginning to reflect on the transition to on-line and distance learning. In Hong Kong, schools and teachers organize on-line learning based on guidance and instructional resources provided by the Education Development Bureau since early February. More than 80 percent of teachers surveyed by the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers reported spending more time preparing for online teaching and learning than for classroom-based teaching, and many reported difficulties interacting with students. Nonetheless, more than one-third expressed support for extending school closures past April 20, if needed. In Shanghai, lessons for primary school students are broadcast on public television daily, and students use an app to submit assignments to and communicate with their teachers. Teachers in Shanghai have cited some implementation challenges, including additional time spent preparing or grading online assignments and the limited time for teacher professional learning and planning due to the quick transition. Read more from the South China Morning Post and NPR WBFO.
Schools across the globe have closed, in many cases indefinitely, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the coming weeks, NCEE’s International Education News will monitor how the top-performing systems are adapting to the situation and how they approach providing distance and online learning opportunities for both students and teachers.
In light of the decision to close schools nationwide as of Monday this week, Estonia is working to connect students to online learning while also sharing Estonian-developed online learning tools with other countries. Estonia is known globally for embracing technology solutions across government, and education is no exception. Estonia’s primary tool for distance learning during the school closures will be the country’s existing eKool (“e-School”) platform, which already had more than 290,000 active users among parents, teachers and students. Within the past week, 8,000 new users have registered to use the platform. Estonia has also pledged to support other countries by making its technology solutions available more broadly. Mart Laidmets, secretary general at the Ministry of Education and Research, said: “In Estonia, we have a number of solutions that fully support distance learning. We are ready to share Estonia’s best practices and solutions with the countries in need.” Read more from ERR News.
Coronavirus school closures hit Hong Kong weeks ago, with schools throughout the region closed since the Lunar New Year holiday on February 3. The closures have impacted about 900,000 kindergarten, primary and secondary students, with most of them transtioning to online learning at home. So far, Hong Kong’s biggest online learning experience in history has been largely successful, according to teachers and principals. One secondary school principal has said that most of her school’s 900 students felt online lessons largely match the quality of face-to-face lessons, adding that the attendance in these lessons has been nearly 99 percent. Many teachers are using face-to-face webcam technology like Google Hangouts Meet, Zoom and Microsoft Teams. This allows teachers to livestream their lessons as well as see their students’ faces, so they know which students are participating and which are struggling. Other schools are using conference call technology, which, while it does not use video, has still allowed for a surprising amount of class participation, since some students who were more reticent in classrooms feel more comfortable participating via audio call. Some schools are recording lessons and uploading the videos online for students to watch on their own. However, Hong Kong has found that not all lessons work as well online. Science labs, for example, often cannot be recreated at home. And the school closures have highlighted equity issues, as many students from low-income families lack access to computers and internet at home. Read more about how Hong Kong schools are harnessing technology to provide online learning in the South China Morning Post.
Like many other countries, South Korea in early March closed all of its schools for at least three weeks, affecting 10 million students. But in that country, where three-fourths of Korean students enroll in after-school tutoring programs, known as hagwons, schoolwork has not stopped, according to the Washington Post. Two-thirds of hagwons remained open despite the school closures, and even the ones that closed are sending additional homework home to students. See also the Los Angeles Times.
With all schools in China closed since early February, all Chinese upper and lower secondary students and teachers across the country will be able to access learning materials, lessons, readings and videos on a centralized e-learning hub, the Ministry of Education announced. At the same time, a dedicated television channel will provide televised lessons to primary school students. The move to diversify distance learning offerings is meant to mitigate the effects on broadband networks that have millions of students logging on at the same time, as well as to prevent students from straining their eyesight. The materials are aligned to national and municipal curriculum frameworks. Teachers and parents can also access tutorials on how to guide students to use the materials. Read more in the South China Morning Post.
In response to COVID-19, the New Zealand Ministry of Education has been surveying every school in the country to ask if they are able to provide lessons to students over the internet and how many students need devices at home. Despite urging from public health experts to close schools to help stop the spread of coronavirus, the ministry has indicated the most likely scenario is individual school closures for one or two days if staff or students are linked to a case of the virus. The government indicates it is prepared to provide home internet and laptop or tablet devices for about 70,000 students in the event that schools close due to COVID-19. In a statement, the Ministry of Education’s Chief Digital Officer Stuart Wakefield said, “At this time there is no reason for schools to close. However, we have been planning for various scenarios including the temporary closure of a school and as part of that planning will be working with schools to explore all available options.” Stuart also said the ministry is assembling take-home kits with books and resources for children and young people who may not be able to access online resources from their home. To date, schools have been advised to keep students at least 1.5 meters apart at assemblies and to reconsider school camps unless they have the ability to isolate any student who becomes ill. Read more in the New Zealand Herald.