Center on International Education Benchmarking

1. England: Experts Warn School Closures Could Erase Decade of Progress in Closing Education Gap

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

Scott Morrisson
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison

2. Estonian Schools Will Start Next School Year Early

Mailis Reps, Estonia's Minister of Education and Research
Mailis Reps, Estonia's Minister of Education and Research

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.

3. New Zealand Establishes Apprenticeship Fund, Scraps Training Fees

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.

New Zealand Education Minister Chris Hipkins
New Zealand Education Minister Chris Hipkins

4. Finland’s Supplemental Budget Targets Education

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin

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.

Read more about how education systems around the world have responded the challenges of school closures and distance learning during the coronavirus pandemic in our Archives.

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