Poland’s Ministry of National Education is launching a campaign to provide students and parents with educational activities to keep students engaged during the summer holiday as many families had to cancel or limit vacations due to the coronavirus pandemic. The #DobreWakacje – or #GoodVacation – campaign will support students and parents by offering workshops, classes and other online activities. The Ministry will also recommend websites that inspire students as they search for active ways to spend their free time. Information on activities will be posted every day to the Ministry’s social media channels and website.
While Ontario’s Ministry of Education asked all school boards in the province to plan for three scenarios for the fall — full-time school; a hybrid; and all virtual classes, Minister Stephen Lecce has suggested that full-time school is the preferred option. Given that, Toronto has mapped options for full-time school in detail, including costs and staffing requirements. The five options Toronto is considering are: regular length school days with classes limited to 15 students; shorter school days to allow teachers planning time, but with the same class sizes; a full-day model with different cohort sizes for elementary and secondary students; a shorter school day with the different cohort sizes for elementary and secondary students; and pre-pandemic class sizes with additional health and safety protocols. The Toronto School Board currently favors the last option. Even if class sizes are not reduced, the district is considering other changes in school schedules including shifting high schools to a quarter system to reduce the movement of students in the school. All of the options require additional funding for schools. For more, see CTV News.
Japan’s Ministry of Education released findings from a survey of municipalities about measures taken during the coronavirus shutdown this spring. The majority of municipalities relied on paper-based instructional materials for at-home learning, with only 26 percent using videos and 15 percent conducting interactive online classes. Ninety percent of Japan’s municipalities will shorten summer breaks to make up lost learning time. The most common length of vacation is 16 days for elementary and junior high schools and 23 days for high schools. In addition, among schools which shut down, 19 percent plan to hold Saturday classes. For more, see The Japan Times.
Finland is already well known for the emphasis it places on holistic, play-based education for young learners, as well as co-curricular activities for older students. As part of that tradition, a partnership between the Ministry of Education Culture, the Observatory for Arts and Cultural Education, and the Arts Equal Research Initiative will expand access to “hobby education” for all learners in Finland. An additional 14.5 million euros (US$16.8 million) annually will ensure that every student has time in the school day to pursue a hobby such as arts education, crafts, music or fitness. The funding will ensure equitable access to these hobbies, ensure that hobby education is of consistently high pedagogical value, and conduct research on the impact of the initiative.
Poland became the first country to officially include a video game on school reading lists (for high school students) as an educational resource. The popular game “This War of Mine,” released by a Polish company in 2014, focuses on issues faced by civilians during the Balkan Wars. The game immerses students in real life situations and can be used to teach lessons in sociology, ethics, philosophy and history. According to Mateusz Morawie, the prime minister of Poland: “It creates space for an interesting analysis of events, and it shows young people how to follow the good paths in life. In this game, there is a lot of reflection, situations in which we put ourselves [in the position] of a person who has to survive war.” Read more in Notes from Poland.
Australia’s Morrison government has promised job seekers and school leavers AUS$2 billion (US$1.4 billion) in federal support to learn new skills amid growing unemployment spurred by the coronavirus pandemic. The government will commit $500 million (US$350 million) to the new “JobTrainer” program that will offer new courses to thousands of workers to prepare them for the jobs that will be in-demand when recovery comes. The funding will go towards courses that meet the needs identified by the National Skills Commission. An additional $1.5 billion (US$1.05 billion) will be spent on extending wage subsidies for apprentices, which were due to expire at the end of September. The current subsidy covers 50 percent of an apprentice’s wage, up to $7,000 (US$4,900) per quarter. The Australian government estimates roughly 1.7 million people are out of work. The plan aims to help 340,000 trainees and 180,000 apprentices acquire new skills or re-skill. Read more in the Sydney Morning Herald and ABC News.
High school students in Edmonton, Alberta will take fewer courses at a time next school year, as part of a response to the coronavirus pandemic. The goal is to limit interactions among teachers and students as students return to school in the fall. District officials believe this kind of schedule will make it easier to pivot back to distance learning should it become necessary. Carrie Rosa, an Edmonton Public Schools spokesperson, said that this schedule “will [also] allow us to build cohorts a little bit more easily because they’re only in two different classes as opposed to moving about the school all day.” The schedule shift will mean the district will administer diploma exams by subject after each quarter rather than only at the end of the year. For more, see CBC Canada.
While Estonia plans to start the new school year in the fall with full-time, in-person classes, the government is preparing guidelines for distance learning in case new coronavirus infections require isolated closures by school or region. According to Robert Lippin, deputy secretary general at the Ministry of Education and Research, the guidelines—which have not yet been released—will emphasize the importance of cooperation among teachers, school leaders and municipal governments in managing school closures. They will also encourage schools to streamline the technology solutions they use for distance learning during school closures. While Estonia has emerged as a leader in providing technology tools and resources to teachers, some teachers expressed concern about better coordinating the range of technology solutions in use in individual schools this spring. Responding to these concerns, Lippin stated: “There is no need to use 10-20 different solutions in one school…It is obvious there is no possibility of one central system; teachers are different and subjects are different. But a school could agree to use certain solutions.” Read more from ERR News.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced that Ontario will end “streaming” students into academic and applied tracks in high school. The Minister called it a “systemic, racist and discriminatory” practice, and said it will be fully eliminated in the province by the 2021-22 academic year. Toronto, the largest city in the province, has already ended the practice. Many advocacy groups have shown that disproportionate numbers of Black and low-income students are represented in the applied track and that those students have lower graduation rates from high school and lower rates of attendance in post-secondary education. The Ministry also announced that it will ban suspension of students in kindergarten through grade 3, another practice that disproportionately impacts minority students. For more, see CBC News.
Singapore intends to allocate several days each month for home-based online instruction, even after pandemic-related safety issues have passed. In a video address to school leaders, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung announced that home-based learning (HBL) will be “a permanent and regular feature of education” as it fosters one of the most important lifelong skills: independent and self-directed learning. According to the Minister, HBL will not mimic regular school lessons and is not intended to be teacher-driven; instead it should allow students to progress through the curriculum, read on their own, and even explore topics outside the curriculum. Minister Ong says “the main point is to get students to chart their own learning journey, at their own pace.” Read more in The Straits Times.
The New South Wales government has accepted a set of sweeping reforms of the state education curriculum made in a review led by Geoff Masters at the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the overhaul would raise standards and equip students for the jobs of the future. Among other recommendations, the review recommends that students move through the new curriculum at their own pace and meet acceptable standards in every subject before graduating. It also recommends reducing the number of elective courses and paring back the content in syllabuses to ensure that students have adequate time to learn core concepts in depth. During consultation for the review, 94 percent of teachers agreed that existing syllabuses were overcrowded and content needed to be reduced, and 90 percent of parents wanted their child to move at their own pace.The new curriculum will start across all years by 2024, beginning with English and math for kindergarten to year 2 by 2022. For more, see The Sydney Morning Herald.
New Zealand has announced a NZ$52 million (US$34.2 million) urgent response fund to help get children back to school following school closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the fund is needed because attendance rates, which usually average 89 percent at this time of year, have not returned to normal since the lockdown earlier this spring. The new fund will pay for more teacher-aide hours to be spent with at-risk students; more home visits, including ones to students with a history of poor attendance; and more social workers to work with refugee families. An additional NZ$16 million (US$10.5 million) will go to workplace assistance and counselling support services for the education workforce and their families. “Teachers, principals, support staff and centre leaders have done a great job during the pandemic and they’ll continue to play a vital role in recovery,” Hipkins said. Read more from Radio New Zealand.
Poland’s Ministry of National Education has released a new report detailing the country’s experience implementing distance learning this year and outlining directions for the future. In addition to summarizing the tools and resources the Ministry provided to facilitate distance learning following the suspension of in-person classes in March, the report describes plans to continue investing in the digitalization of education, necessitated by increasing digitalization in other areas of public life and the unpredictable public health outlook. The Ministry will prioritize four areas: building the digital skills of educators and students, such as by providing relevant professional learning for teachers on an ongoing basis; further developing the Integrated Educational Platform, the Ministry’s online learning platform; creating new tools and resources for online teaching and learning, such as resources for providing vocational education and training virtually; and ensuring schools and students have access to the necessary equipment for distance learning. As part of these efforts, the Ministry’s Innovation School pilot project will select 20 schools nationwide to participate from 2020-2022 in developing model solutions for innovation in education.
England’s education ministry has announced its plan for opening schools to all students in September. The plan hinges on keeping classes or even whole year groups in separate “bubbles” to minimize the risk of the virus spreading. Each bubble will have separate start and finish times, and students will be expected to avoid contact with students who are not in their bubble. Schools will also have testing kits to give to parents if children develop coronavirus symptoms in school. Mobile testing units may be sent to schools in case there is an outbreak. Masks will not be required to be worn by staff or students, but schools will have clear handwashing procedures and will not hold any large gatherings such as assemblies. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said there must be a “concrete determination” to get students back into classes this fall, which he says will be accomplished safely through a “system of control” including the bubble system and contact tracing, to minimize the risk from coronavirus. Attendance in school will be mandatory, and students will be taught the full curriculum for the year. Principals and teachers are doubtful that schools will be able to keep groups of students apart all day in school, let alone outside of it, however. Read more from the BBC.
Ontario’s Ministry of Education released a new math curriculum for students in grades 1-8 this week. The curriculum is part of a four-year strategy to improve math performance in the province. Premier Doug Ford said that the new curriculum “goes back to basics,” but also “equips our next generation of leaders and community builders.” The new curriculum: focuses on fundamental math concepts and skills; includes practical examples; enhances teacher training and resources; and emphasizes STEM skills. The curriculum introduces coding in grade 1 and also includes financial literacy. The Ministry consulted with parents, educators and the general public last fall to get input on the new curriculum. The teachers union and the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) were sharply critical of the timing of the introduction of the curriculum, however. NDP education spokesperson Maria Stiles said it was “irresponsible” to add new demands of teachers during the pandemic and Elementary Teachers Federation President Sam Hammond expressed concern over the two-month planned implementation.
Singapore announced that all secondary students will have a personal laptop or tablet by next year, a full seven years ahead of the original target. This government initiative is part of a larger goal of equalizing opportunities and giving disadvantaged students opportunity for economic mobility. The Ministry of Education has also committed to allocating additional resources to students from disadvantaged backgrounds to expand on-going efforts to expand early childhood education and provide specific supports for students who need them. They plan to hire more classroom teachers, special education teachers, student welfare officers and counselors as part of this effort. This is in addition to the Uplift program (Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce) which was developed by the Ministry in 2019. Uplift encourages schools and community partners to work together to develop strategies aimed at keeping students from disadvantaged families engaged in and attending school. Read more in The Straits Times.
Australia Education Minister Dan Tehan announced that fees for university courses in health, teaching and science will be cut while the cost of humanities, law and commerce degrees will increase. As the coronavirus pandemic causes a surge in unemployment, the federal government says the shakeup of university fees will encourage students to study courses that will prepare them for in-demand jobs. “A cheaper degree in an area where there’s a job is a win-win for students … It’s common sense,” Tehan said. “If Australia needs more educators, more health professionals and more engineers then we should incentivise students to pursue those careers.” University leaders in Australia have voiced their concerns about the overhaul, warning that the quality of university education and research could be risked under constrained funding and that it could deter talented students from pursuing higher education. Read more in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Guardian.
Teachers’ unions in Korea are calling on the government to provide more support for teachers who face increasing workloads as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. According to the unions, lack of sufficient staff for new virus-related tasks at schools—such as taking students’ temperatures or maintaining social distancing—is causing these responsibilities to fall to teachers at the same time that teachers are navigating the transition from full-time distance learning back to in-person classes. Kim Ji-hak, chief representative of the Korean Health Teachers Association, called for the Ministry of Education to provide schools with additional dedicated staff members responsible for virus control measures. The Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union and the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations are also asking the Ministry to give teachers the flexibility to care for their own health and wellbeing during the pandemic, such as by reducing in-person teaching responsibilities or allowing remote work as needed. Read more from The Korea Times.
A new report from England’s Social Mobility Commission suggests that the apprenticeship levy, a tax on large businesses used to fund skills training, has not adequately funded students from disadvantaged backgrounds who would benefit most. Instead, it has disproportionately funded higher-level apprenticeships for learners from more advantaged communities. The Commission, an advisory body for the Department for Education, found that while the number of students starting apprenticeships declined for both advantaged and disadvantaged students, it was a much sharper decline for disadvantaged students— a 36 percent compared to 23 percent since 2017. It also found that only 13 percent of degree-level apprenticeships—the most expensive option that often leads to higher paying jobs—go to disadvantaged apprentices. Furthermore, on average, apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds earn less than those from non-disadvantaged backgrounds. The commission also warns that the coronavirus pandemic is likely to exacerbate youth unemployment, especially for disadvantaged youth, many of whom are employed in hard-hit sectors such as hospitality and retail. In response, the Department for Education said it was “absolutely committed to leveling up opportunity across the country” and that it will look at how to support more businesses, particularly small and medium-sized ones, to take on more apprentices this year. Read more at the BBC.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has announced that the province will gradually reopen post-secondary institutions. They will open in July for limited in-person education and training for those who were not able to graduate because of closures due to the coronavirus. This will include students in programs that train essential workers and workers in high-demand industries. In September, all programs will open, but will be offered in a combination of in-person instruction, virtual instruction, and hybrid formats. The province will be sharing a set of guidelines for reopening in the next few days, but it will be up to the institutions whether to participate in the summer reopening. Ford said “…we want to make sure our students can keep learning, in class or virtually, and become the next generation of frontline heroes, innovators and community builders.”
New Zealand Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced a NZ$38.7 million (US$24.9 million) in funding to allow two-thirds of the exams for the National Certificate of Education Achievement (NCEA), the national qualification for secondary school students, to be delivered digitally. The funding will allow for about 58 exams in 21 subjects to be available online, compared with 35 last year. “The response to Covid-19 has seen schools turn to online teaching and learning, supported by the Government’s distance learning programme which has expanded access to digital devices and connections to households that need them,” Hipkins said. “The opportunity for students to gain NCEA qualifications through online assessments builds on this and is another step towards delivering a more modern and resilient education system.” Read more from Radio New Zealand.
Singaporean institutes of higher learning plan to offer courses to help graduates—who may have difficulty transitioning into employment given the weak job market caused by the pandemic—gain additional skills and earn professional certificates. Education Minister Ong Ye Kung has encouraged students who are entering the workforce now to be ready to “constantly learn and re-learn” by taking extra courses, doing volunteer work, and finding ways to help those in need. When future employers ask graduates what they were doing in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic, they should “have a good story to tell,” said Mr. Ong. The Institute of Technical Education (ITE), which provides vocational education in professions such as engineering, accounting, nursing, medicine, and architecture, will launch about 250 courses, while polytechnics and universities will offer about 100 courses each. The courses will run for about three to six months. Read more in The Straits Times.
The Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science has reached an agreement with the Association of Universities of Applied Sciences and the Association of Universities to pair university students enrolled in teacher preparation programs with primary and secondary school students who fell behind during distance learning. The aspiring teachers will work with students identified by schools as needing extra support to provide tutoring outside school hours, summer instruction, or other academic supports. In return, they will gain practical experience and may also be eligible for university credit or a small stipend, depending on their university. In May, the Ministry allocated €244 million (US$274 million) for schools to provide additional instructional time for struggling students, and this emergency funding will pay for the university-school partnerships. Read more from Dutch News.
In an interview with The Korea Herald, Cho Hee-yeon, the superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, said that the coronavirus pandemic has brought a “revolution” in education to Korea. He said that the “future of education is blended learning” and that the need for remote learning triggered by the pandemic accelerated this transition. Cho cautioned that online learning may “worsen” educational inequality, but he also thinks that there are many benefits, including more personalized learning and customized feedback for students from teachers, as well as more collaboration among teachers as they work to “raise the quality of lectures” delivered online. Cho has worked to address inequities in education in Seoul, specifically by advocating for the elimination of Korea’s elite schools and, during the pandemic, by providing devices for students who need them.
The Education Council, the top advisory body to the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science in the Netherlands, has recommended that the Ministry address five pre-existing issues in the education system that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. The Council recommended that the Ministry make investments to: reduce teacher shortages; reduce inequities in educational opportunities; improve students’ reading skills; improve graduates’ access to work or further education; and find alternative ways of administering national exams so they will not need to be canceled in a future crisis, as they were this year. In its recommendations, the Council focused specifically on equity issues, which it said have become a greater concern during school closures due to disparities in access to technology and adult support for distance learning. The Ministry will determine whether to implement the Council’s recommendations, which are non-binding. Read more from NL Times.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney has confirmed that Scotland’s schools, which have been closed since mid-March, will open for the 2020-21 school year for all students on August 11, a week earlier than previously scheduled. Students will split their time between learning in classrooms and at home, with time spent in classrooms increasing over time as it is deemed safe. In classrooms, students will be seated at least six feet apart, with staggered arrival and departure times. To provide space for social distancing, some schools will expand into other public buildings like libraries and community halls. In some cases, schools will take over short-term leases of vacant businesses. Teachers will return to work in June to prepare for both classroom and distance learning, and some retired teachers may be asked to return as well, either as extra classroom teachers or to support distance learning. The Scottish government is also investing £9 million (US$11.4 million) for 25,000 laptops or tablets with internet access for disadvantaged children. Read the full plan here.
This week the Washington Post explored what school reopening looks like in Japan, as a potential model for what reopened schools might look like elsewhere in the world as lockdown restrictions are gradually lifted. Japanese students’ new school day begins with temperature checks and health reports signed by parents. Tape marks in hallways and common areas mark safe distances for standing in line, and students eat their lunches at their desks with only about half the class in attendance at any one time. Despite the restrictions, students say they are glad to be back among their friends and in classes again. Meanwhile, to prepare for a possible second wave of coronavirus infections, Japan’s government has asked public schools to prepare for online classes so that students can continue learning if schools are once again closed. Public schools did not shift to distance learning during several months of school shutdowns across Japan this spring, which has widened the learning gap between advantaged students—whose families can afford private online lessons and a quiet place for students to study—and disadvantaged students who may not have access to the internet in their home or family support for independent study.
Pressure is mounting for the UK government to make a plan for summer school to address the learning gaps caused by coronavirus-related school closures. At an education committee hearing this week, the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, told members of parliament that the government had just two weeks to put plans in place for summer schools to support students severely affected by the lockdown. A recent study by the Education Endowment Foundation, a charitable organization in the UK, raised concerns that the shutdowns could wipe out more than 10 years of progress in closing the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. The study found that disadvantaged primary students in England, who are already nine months behind their advantaged peers, could slip back an additional three months. There is also concern that not all schools will reopen in September, which will leave students without in-school education for six months or more. Representatives from education unions, on the other hand, warned the committee that students needed “nurture, support and respite” over the summer, rather than formal lessons, and called for a community effort to encourage “resocialization.” The hearing took place as secondary schools remain closed but primary schools began opening in England this week. Read more at the Guardian and BBC.
Some Estonian schools have announced plans to shift the start of the coming school year forward from September 1 to August 15, and more schools may soon follow their lead, according to Estonian Minister of Education Mailis Reps. The goal of the earlier start date iis to provide more time to address student learning gaps that have emerged since nationwide distance learning began in mid-March. Teachers have been working to identify these gaps since mid-May, when schools were permitted to reopen for small groups of students. The Ministry recommended that teachers use the remainder of this school year to invite students who struggled with distance learning back to school for in-person assessment or, for students who did not return to school, hold virtual conversations with students and their parents or guardians to assess their needs. Read more from ERR News.
In an effort to maintain trades training amid the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the New Zealand government will fully subsidize apprenticeships across all industries. The NZ$320 million (US$205.4 million) program, called the Targeted Training and Apprenticeships Fund, will pay the tuition cost of people of any age who sign up for vocational training. Over the last several months a sharp drop in training has occurred in New Zealand, with the number of trainees plunging from 133,000 to 83,000. The program will be funded out of a four-year, NZ$1.6 billion (US$1 billion) package. It will subsidize student and school fees as well as training fees for industries in targeted sectors. The measures will apply to current apprentices and trainees, as well as new sign-ups, and will take place from July 1, 2020 until December 2022. “We know as a result of Covid-19, many New Zealanders will be looking to retrain and employers in key sectors will need more skilled people,” Minister of Education Chris Hipkins said. Read more in the New Zealand Herald and Radio New Zealand.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced 5.5 billion euro (US$6.23 billion) in supplemental spending for coronavirus relief, the Finnish governments’ fourth budget since the start of the pandemic. The money will be primarily spent on transportation, municipal basic services, climate action and education. €200 million (US$226.5 million) would be earmarked for municipalities to spend directly on schools, and €320 million (US$362.3 million) would be earmarked for broader spending on child and youth wellbeing. Marin gave several examples of how this money could be used: providing resources to support at-risk youth, offering additional learning support to children who had fallen behind during distance learning, and opening more slots in higher education to keep young adults in school. Read more at YLE and the New York Times.