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IAP NEWS UPDATE May 5th – June 15th 2012 Publication: OECD educationtoday Title: Hong Kong’s success in PISA – One system, many actors Author: Andreas Schleicher Website:

Hong Kong is perhaps the PISA top-performer about which I knew the least. So, on the invitation of the authorities, I took a few days of annual leave to learn more about this system. It turned out to be a very rewarding experience. What interested me most was to find out how Hong Kong, with its market-driven approach in virtually every field of public service, had been able to combine high levels of student performance with a high degree of social equity in the distribution of educational opportunities.

With the majority of schools run by private entities, the government has few levers for direct intervention and parents have a powerful influence on schools, both through their choice of schools (though still banded) and through local control. They sit on school management committees, parent-teacher associations and on home-school co-operation committees. Permanent Secretary Cherry Tse concluded that parents have more influence on what happens on the ground than the Education Bureau. The vibrant cyber-community has added to the tremendous pressures on schools to maintain a high quality of education.

Most leading newspapers have education pages that deal on a daily basis with policy debates as well as disputes in schools. Ruth Lee, an inspiring principal from Ying Wa Girls’ School, one of Hong Kong’s elite schools that I visited, explained how principals and teachers face a daily struggle to balance administrative accountability, client accountability and professional accountability while keeping their focus firmly on nurturing well-rounded children and helping parents see beyond their children’s entry to university (the backdrop for this is that schooling in Hong Kong used to be the domain of philanthropy and it was only when the economy gathered strengths in the 1960s that the government began to chip in with subsidising education).

Education as a cross-government priority

All that does not mean that education isn’t a government priority. On the contrary, at 23%, Hong Kong devotes more of its public budget to education than any OECD country, realising that it is talent that transforms the lives of its citizens and drives its economy. What struck me even more was that education isn’t just the domain of the Education bureau, but that it features high on the agenda of virtually every other government agency too. For example, Robin Ip, Deputy Head of Hong Kong’s Central Policy Unit explained how important the development and deployment of talent features as a cross-government priority. His unit provides the eyes and ears of the Chief Executive across the different government departments and builds advice on how Hong Kong can maintain its competitive edge in areas such as financing, trade and shipping, nurturing emerging industries (education included), and deepen economic co-operation with mainland China. And when I visited the Ministry of Finance, Salina Yan, Deputy Secretary for Financial Services underlined the deep commitment of her sector to both nurturing local talent in the financial domain as well as attracting the most highly skilled from abroad. Also Ho Wai Chi, Assistant Director of the Independent Commission Against Corruption and his team explained how that agency deploys almost a fifth of its staff to education and community relations throughout the territory, with the aim of moving the agenda from fighting corruption to preventing it, and building a climate of trust in the rule of law and the institutions protecting it. That includes work on a secondary school curriculum that builds confidence in the rule of law, deals with ethical dilemmas and seeks to change the agency’s image from sending people to jail to sustaining the system. Hong Kong’s move up to rank 12 on Transparency International’s index of perceived corruption, and perhaps even more so, the fact that over 70% of corruption-related complaints are now posted nonanonymously, illustrate how far along the way Hong Kong has come - compared to the 1960s when corruption and a climate of fear and violence had been endemic in virtually every aspect of life. On the plane leaving Hong Kong for Shanghai I saw the front page article of the South China Morning Post quoting the chief prosecutor as demanding that not even the Chief Executive should be immune from prosecution.

Educational reform I had interesting sharing sessions with Permanent Secretary Tse, Under Secretary Chen and his Deputy and Assistant Secretaries, the head of the Assessment Authority as well as leading academics from the major universities on key educational reform challenges in Hong Kong and the world around it. Hong Kong aims high in its educational ambitions, both as a systemic goal and to meet individual aspirations. It is always difficult to say which of the factors observed are due to cultural assets and which are due to policy interventions and practices. They are intertwined. But it is intriguing to see how Hong Kong has drawn together educational experience from the Eastern and Western world to design a world class education system. You see that in everyday life too, they treat their guests with the hospitality of the Chinese way but queue on the bus the British way.

2012 is a year of particular importance for Hong Kong’s education system; it is the first year in which the generation that has gone through the new integrated education system will graduate. Results from PISA suggest that Hong Kong is on the right track, showing high performance standards as well as important improvements in students’ metacognitive skills and confidence as learner. But the test of truth will come in August when the new Diploma of Secondary education will be handed

out, a day that school leaders, teachers, parents (and not least the administration) are anxiously awaiting. The learner-centred reforms underlying this new system have been far-reaching, paralleling similar developments in other high performing education system. They involved significant expansion of educational opportunity as well as a shift in emphasis from teaching to learning, from fact memorisation to development of learning capacities, and from economic needs to individual needs. The broadened and more flexible curriculum seeks a better balance between intellectual, social, moral, physical and aesthetical aspects, with much greater emphasis on transversal skills including foundation skills, career-related competencies, thinking skills, people skills as well as values and attitudes. The reforms have also included more funding flexibility in support of schools. All of this has pushed schools and teachers to take a professional stand and exercise professional autonomy within a collaborative culture.

And yet, it is clearly visible that education in Hong Kong faces serious tensions. It is the tension between what is desirable for the long-term and what is needed in the short-term; between the global and local; between the academic, personal, social and economic goals of the curriculum; between competition and co-operation; between specialisation and attention to the whole person; between knowledge transmission and knowledge creation and between the aspiration of a new innovative curriculum and a powerful private tutoring industry narrowly focused on exam preparation; between uniformity and diversity and between assessment for selection and assessment for development.

The system is now also more subject to the political economy than what used to be the case: Since reunification with China, policies are no longer determined by technocrats, but by politicians with an eye on re-election. With teachers and school leaders a large and vocal part of the electorate, maintaining the high quality examination and assessment regime is already proving a struggle. So far, policy makers have also shied away from any consolidation of the school system which seems inevitable in light of the demographic shifts with rapidly declining student numbers - if Hong Kong wants to avoid a downward spiral of rising costs associated with shrinking school and class sizes that drive out needed investments for attracting and developing teachers and the establishment of a 21st century learning environment.

An amazing environment Another surprise for me has been Hong Kong’s beautiful landscape. What I knew from Hong Kong was the sprawling urban environment that looks like built by SimCity (with the disaster function turned off for a long time). But it took just an hour with the Government Flying Service to turn that impression upside down. Soon after the helicopter had left the Government complex the landscape was dominated by forests, natural parks and wetlands known by birdwatchers that cover 70% of the territory. As Robin Ip and his staff from the Central Policy Unit explained, maintaining a balance between the immense pressure to expand urban development in order to provide affordable housing, on the one hand, and preserving Hong Kong’s natural and cultural heritage, on the other, will be an ever-tougher challenge. The incoming administration will no doubt be

tempted to hand out sweets by developing new housing, but the resistance this will meet at local levels from town planning board and environmental activists should not be underestimated. This is Hong Kong. You will see some demonstration almost every day and you have to make your way to the HBSC headquarters through the tents of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Right across the boundary I could see the endless city of Shenzhen of China’s Guangdong province covered in smog, which does not seem to weigh such tradeoffs between economic development and the environment, and which has now absorbed virtually all of Hong Kong’s manufacturing industry. Close to a quarter of a million people pass the massive crossing points of Lok Ma Chou and Man Kam To each day, illustrating the rapid integration of Hong Kong’s economy with that of mainland China.

One-China, Two Systems Can the ‘One-China Two-Systems’ policy be sustained in these circumstances or will Hong Kong simply be submerged? Different from twenty years ago, the distinction between the two systems can no longer be discerned from a helicopter, it is no longer visible in the infrastructure and hardware. When it comes to the ‘software’ though, the institutions and rule of law, Hong Kong’s autonomy seems yet unchallenged. At a meeting in the Department of Justice Paul Tsang, in charge of treaties and law, explained that, so far, there had just been three cases with questions about the interpretation of Hong Kong’s basic law – and all initiated by Hong Kong. Moreover, agreement has now also been reached on the mutual enforcement of law, such that cases can be heard in Hong Kong’s independent judicial system and then be enforced in mainland China. I also met with Daniel Cheng, Deputy Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs and his colleagues, who oversee the implementation of the One-China Two-Systems policy and who are the guardians of Hong Kong’s democratic institutions and independent judicial system, to learn more about the implementation of this policy. This was another instructive briefing session and what struck me most was how much mutual benefit both Hong Kong and mainland China derive from this. There are some obvious areas, such as the growing trade and the division of labour that serve both parts well, or the “firewalled” currency policies which Hong Kong offers for mainland China through the emerging offshore trading of the RMB. But it seems Hong Kong provides a testing ground for mainland China in many other areas too, and mainland China seems to learn fast from the ways in which Hong Kong does things and how its institutions operate. Paul Tsang recounted how Hong Kong’s assistance to the regions affected by the great earthquake in Szechuan had fundamentally changed the ways in which companies and the authorities in the area establish business relationships and contracts. So the return on the 80m Euro assistance which Hong Kong had provided for disaster relief will no doubt be high – and for both sides. Both sides are keen to consolidate what has been achieved and the complementarities and synergies between the two systems are now enshrined in China’s five-year development plan.

But not everybody is so confident that this will work out in the long term. At the Legislative Council, Hong Kong’s parliament, I met Representative Alan Leoung, who was deeply suspicious

about the viability of the One-China Two-Systems policies, fearing that Hong Kong will end up with elections Chinese style (where everyone can vote but some opaque nomination committee will hold the gateway as to who can stand for election). He was already much concerned about the functioning of the political system today, where the functional constituencies guarantee vested interests a firm base in parliament, and where the 4m Hong Kong dollar in funds raised by the opposition parties compare against over 70m Hong Kong dollar raised by the parties supporting the government.

Perhaps it is the financial sector that will provide the most reliable barometer for the successful implementation of the One-China Two-Systems policy. Judged by that standard, Hong Kong has so far moved from strengths to strengths since reunification. Salina Yan’s office is located right next to the Chief Executive’s Building, and that is not just by coincidence. This is a country in which the Secretaries for Finance and Justice rank higher than any other government minister. Salina Yan portrayed an impressive trajectory for how Hong Kong had evolved into the international banking and asset management centre and open insurance market that it is today, with a market capitalisation that ranks 6th in the World and 2nd in Asia. Over a quarter of Hong Kong’s GDP now comes from trade and logistics, another 15% from financial services and 13% from professional services. Well over a third of the employment is in the financial services. It is only logical that Hong Kong is a staunch supporter of the multilateral trading system including its principles of non-discrimination, with no tariffs on imports, no subsidies for exports and a level playing field for foreign and local enterprises. Rigorous international benchmarking and peerlearning are omnipresent.

But the financial sector too is facing challenges too. While Hong Kong had a strategic first-mover advantage in the financing sector of the region, other global cities are waking up. And there are important challenges on the expenditure side too. To maintain its competitive edge, the law requires Hong Kong to keep public spending below 20% (with a three-year window to smoothen out cyclical effects). So while the income side is fixed, Hong Kong’s rapidly ageing population, growing income inequalities and other social factors are putting immense pressure on the expenditure side. The government is acutely aware of these challenges and trade-offs, not least, as Cindy Kwan from the Central Policy Unit explained, through their weekly survey of opinions and attitudes among Hong Kong’s population. Like most other countries, however, it is struggling with finding convincing answers to these challenges and, like other democracies too, it needs to weight the long-term interests of the territory against the short-term demands from its citizens.

Publication: The Malaysian Insider Title: Five days in a learning nation Author: Andreas Schleicher



I had always been interested in Asia’s success story of Singapore, that transformed itself from a developing country to a modern industrial economy in one generation. Last year, I had the opportunity of a visiting professorship at Singapore’s National Institute of Education (NIE) to learn more about this country.

If I had to summarise what I learned in one sentence, this is a story about political coherence and leadership as well as alignment between policy and practice; about setting ambitious standards in everything you do; about focusing on building teacher and leadership capacity to deliver vision and strategy at the school level; and about a culture of continuous improvement and future orientation that benchmarks educational practices against the best in the world.

At the institutional level, both policy coherence and fidelity of implementation are brought about by a strategic relationship between the Ministry of Education, the NIE and the schools.

Those are not just words. The reports I received from policymakers, researchers and teachers were entirely consistent, even where they represented different perspectives.

Meet-ups with the minister

The NIE’s dynamic director Lee Sing Kong meets the minister on a weekly basis. NIE professors are regularly involved in ministry discussions and decisions, so it is easy for the NIE’s work to be aligned with ministry policies, and school principals learn about major reform proposals directly from the minister, rather than through the media.

Teacher education programmes are designed with the teacher in mind, rather than to suit the interests of academic departments. Teachers typically go into the field with a first degree, the master’s programme serves to frame the practical experience gained in schools within a coherent theoretical underpinning later in mid-career — and I met plenty of teachers who had taken that up and continue their education while in the profession.

In recognising the need for teachers to keep up with the rapid changes occurring in the world and to be able to constantly improve their practice, every teacher is entitled to 100 hours of professional development per year. Teacher networks and professional learning communities encourage peer-to-peer learning, and the Academy of Singapore Teachers was opened in September 2010 to further encourage teachers to continuously share best practices.

Why Singapore is not like the US

The usual complaint that teacher education does not provide sufficient opportunity for recruits to experience real students in real classrooms in their initial education is not unknown in Singapore.

It is simply difficult, disruptive and expensive to get an annual cohort of 2,000 teacher recruits into classrooms. So what to do? Do like Stanford and establish the world’s premier teacher education institution with clinical experience for a hundred students per year, and let the rest of the country sink?

Singapore is not the United States, where teacher policy is a function of myriad decisions made by the local authorities who often have no idea how their decisions are actually affecting the quality of the teaching profession.

So Singapore has gone the other way round — on top of school practicum attachments of 10 to 22 weeks, the NIE is bringing classrooms digitally into pre-service education, with technology enabling real-time access to a selection of the country’s classrooms, in ways that do not distract schools from their core business and, at the same time, provide student-teachers with insights into classroom experience in many schools, rather than have a few idiosyncratic experiences only.

The NIE also carries out an amazing range of classroom-oriented research to help teachers personalise learning experiences, deal with increasing diversity in their classrooms and differences in learning styles, and keep up with innovations in curricula, pedagogy and digital resources.

Talent nurtured, not left to chance

It is also striking to see how teaching talent is identified and nurtured, rather than being left to chance.

Like all government employees and many other professions in Singapore, the teachers’ performance is appraised annually by a board and against 13 different competencies. These are not just about academic performance but include teachers’ contribution to the academic and character development of the students, their collaboration with parents and community groups, and their contribution to their colleagues and the school as a whole.

It was intriguing to see how teachers did not seem to view this as a top-down accountability system but as an instrument for improvement and career development.

Teachers who do outstanding work receive a bonus from the school’s bonus pool. After three years of teaching, teachers are assessed annually to see which of three career paths would best suit them — master teacher, specialist in curriculum or research or school leader. Importantly, the individual appraisal system sits within the context of great attention to the school’s overall plan for educational excellence.

Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) show that schools in Singapore have comparatively limited leeway in making hiring decisions. But I learned that the principal of the school to which teacherstudents are attached will sit on the recruitment panel and weigh in on decisions about the recruitment of the people they could end up with — well aware that wrong recruitment decisions can result in 40 years of poor teaching.

So it is not all just about your school but about the success of the system.

The impressive ITE

I could see how all of this plays out in practice in Qifa Primary School. It was the experience you would expect in Singapore, a charismatic school leader, an engaged team of teachers with a critical and collaborative mindset, and disciplined and yet cheerful students.

But what impressed me most was a visit to one of Singapore’s three Institutes of Technical Education (ITE), which cater for the bottom quarter of school performers. I had long wanted to see how the country deals with these students.

I was received in the school’s restaurant which, entirely managed and run by students, almost looks like an upgraded Lau Pa Sat with air-conditioning, serving dishes from a dozen countries and cultures, a symbol of a country that does not see culture as an obstacle but seeks to capitalise on its diversity.

I visited a classroom where a visiting Australian chef was captivating a group of students with an interactive presentation on the latest research on preparing meat, in a first-class learning environment equipped with up-to-date technology. The facilities and amenities of the ITE were easily comparable to those of modern universities anywhere else.

This is a country that invests the same amount of public money into every vocational student as the high school student going to its most prestigious university, that understands that the physical learning environment can shape the image of an institution, and that prioritises the quality of teaching over the size of classes.

And the ministry provides the ITEs with full budgetary autonomy over a 10-year budget envelope to facilitate long-term strategic planning and investment.

More than one route to success

Clearly, Singapore seeks to break the East Asian mould where academic achievement is revered as the only route to success, recognising that students learn differently and differently at different stages in their lives.

Once seen as a last resort, Singapore’s ITE College West is now a place of choice for students, with 90 per cent of graduates finding jobs in their chosen field, up from 60 per cent decades ago. The ITE also sees a sizeable number of students who make it from the ITE to the polytechnic to the university and to anywhere in life.

Principal Yek Tiew Ming explained how the ITE carefully follows its graduates for a decade to learn from their experience and success, and regularly brings successful alumni back to show its current students that the sky is the limit to achievement.

The ITEs also provide good examples for building synergies between public provision and the business sector. Each technical field in the ITEs is advised by industries in that sector to keep it current with changing demands and new technologies.

New programmes can be built for multinational companies looking to locate in Singapore.

All this has changed the way in which political leaders and educators view those students, no longer considering them as failures but as experiential learners. And I was impressed by the students of the ITE as much as by its principal and teachers.

Lessons for the world

I had taken the outgoing flight with a Western airline and the returning flight to Paris with Singapore Airlines. You fly with the same plane with the same technology, you eat similar food, but you experience how much the sense of responsibility, dedication and diligence of the people in charge can make a difference to your experience as a customer.

There are lessons the world can learn from Singapore.

To those who believe that systemic change in education is not possible, Singapore has shown several times over how this can be achieved. To become and remain high-performing, countries need a policy infrastructure that drives performance and builds the capacity for educators to deliver it in schools. Singapore has developed both.

Where Singapore is today is the result of several decades of judicious policy and effective implementation. On the spectrum of national reform models, Singapore’s is both comprehensive — the goal has been to move the whole system — and public policy-driven. I was struck most by the following features.

— Meritocracy. I heard not just from policymakers or educators, but also from students of all ethnic backgrounds and all ranges of ability, that education is the route to advancement and hard work and effort eventually pays off.

The Government has put in place a wide range of educational and social policies to advance this goal, with early intervention and multiple pathways to education and career. The success of the Government’s economic and educational policies has brought about immense social mobility that has created a shared sense of national mission and made cultural support for education a nearuniversal value.

— Vision, leadership and competency. Leaders with a bold long-term vision of the role of education in a society and economy are essential for creating educational excellence. I was consistently impressed with the people I met at both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Manpower. These Ministries are staffed by knowledgeable, pragmatic individuals, trained at some of the best universities in the world.

They function in a culture of continuous improvement, constantly assessing what is and is not working using both data and practitioner experience from around the world. I was speaking with Minister Heng Swee Keat about our Skills Strategy, only to realise that he had already studied most of my slides.

They also respect and are respected by professionals in the NIE as in the schools. The close collaboration between policy, research and practice provides a guiding coalition that keeps the vision moving forward and dynamic, expecting education to change as conditions change rather than being mired in the past.

— Coherence in Singapore. Whenever a policy is developed or changed, there seems enormous attention to the details of implementation — from the Ministry of Education, to the National Institute of Education, cluster superintendents, principals and teachers. The result is a remarkable fidelity of implementation which you see in the consistency of the reports from different stakeholders.

— Clear goals, rigorous standards and high-stakes gateways. The academic standards set by Singapore’s Primary School Leaving Examination and O- and A-levels are as high as anywhere in the world, and that is also what you see from their results in PISA.

Students, teachers and principals all work very hard towards important gateways. Rigour, coherence and focus are the watchwords. Serious attention to curriculum development has produced strong programmes in maths, science, technical education and languages and ensured that teachers are well-trained to teach them. Having been very successful as a knowledge transmission education system, Singapore is now working on curriculum, pedagogy and assessments that will lead to a greater focus on high-level, complex skills.

— High-quality teachers and principals. The system rests on active recruitment of talent, accompanied by coherent training and serious and continuing support that promote teacher growth, recognition, opportunity and well-being. And Singapore looks ahead, realising that, as the economy continues to grow and change, it will become harder to recruit the kind of top-level people into teaching that are needed to support 21st-century learning.

— Intelligent accountability. Singapore runs on performance management. To maintain the performance of teachers and principals, serious attention is paid to setting annual goals, to garnering the needed support to meet them and to assessing whether they have been met.

Data on student performance are included, but so too are a range of other measures, such as contribution to school and community, and judgments by a number of senior practitioners. Reward and recognition systems include honours and salary bonuses. Individual appraisals take place within the context of school excellence plans.

While no country believes it has got accountability exactly right, Singapore’s system uses a wide range of indicators and involves a wide range of professionals in making judgments about the performance of adults in the system.

But how to unleash greatness?

So is there nothing that Singapore can learn from the world? Actually, there are a number a points.

You can mandate good performance, but you need to unleash greatness. Finland provides an example for how you can shift the focus from a regulating towards an enabling policy environment. Perhaps it was no surprise then that, when I met Minister of State Lawrence Wong for lunch, he had just returned from a visit to Finland.

Singapore’s educators realise that the skills that are easiest to teach and easiest to test, are also the skills that are easiest to digitise, automate and outsource — and that value is less and less created vertically through command and control, and increasingly so horizontally by whom you connect and work with.

There is much talk about educational success being no longer about reproducing content knowledge, and efforts initiated to develop imaginative skills to connect the dots and to anticipate where the next invention will come from; about ways of working, including communication and collaboration; and about the tools for working, including the capacity to recognise and exploit the potential of new technologies.

And more than that, the centre of the current discussion is now on ethics, values and the capacity of students to live in a multi-faceted world as active and engaged citizens.

But Singapore’s educators, like educators elsewhere, struggle with finding appropriate answers to what students should learn, the ways in which they can learn these broader competences and how teaching and schooling needs to change to achieve this.

At a social disadvantage

Despite building many bridges and ladders across the system, PISA shows how social background still creates important barriers for student success.

Like others, Singapore finds that the emphasis on meritocracy alone provides no guarantee for equity, and that it takes effective systems of support to moderate the impact of social background

on student and school outcomes, and to identify and foster the extraordinary talents of ordinary students.

Educators are inspired by the life-changing opportunities created at the Northlight School. There is also considerable interest in Shanghai’s success with attracting the most effective school principals to the toughest schools and the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms; as well as in Ontario’s approach to creating awareness of and addressing social disadvantage.

While Singapore does so well in allocating public resources to maximise value for money, parents are spending significant resources on private tutoring. When measured in PISA metrics, private tutoring actually adds very little in value to the high-quality education in Singaporean schools — but it does, apart from the money, take up a disproportionate amount of student learning time.

Singapore would make much better use of the country’s economic and human resources by accepting, rather than ignoring, the demand for such more personalised learning; and perhaps building it into the regular school days of public schools, as countries like Denmark or Finland have successfully done.

So, all in all, while there is a lot the world can learn from Singapore, there remain lessons too which Singapore can continue to learn from the world.

Publication: The Irish Times Title: Time we relied on our own expertise Author: Sean Cottrell Website:

IRELAND WAS known the world over as the ‘island of saints and scholars’, and we traded on that reputation for many years. How often did teachers report receiving a new pupil from the UK or the US but, after a while, advise the parents that their child should drop back a class? Improvements to primary education were made. Progress was slow, but it was steady.

Then, in 2009, the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) revealed that the standard of literacy and numeracy among 15-year-olds in Ireland had dropped dramatically since the previous assessment. It was an unexpected blow to our proud reputation. If you did not understand teaching and learning, you could be forgiven for thinking that teaching standards had dropped.

I would argue the opposite. There has been immense change in primary school classrooms. The use of technology and other resources has transformed learning. The personal commitment given by primary teachers is unquestionable and the quality of teaching has never been higher.

This begs the question: how relevant is PISA? The OECD, in administering PISA, facilitates 33 member countries, as well as other interested nations, in benchmarking their education systems internationally. Fundamentally, I believe that PISA is flawed. If you want to measure change, you must not change the measure.

Comparing literacy and numeracy levels between China and Ireland is not ‘apples and oranges’. It is more like ‘apples and potatoes’. China’s education ministry was allowed to select one city – Shanghai – to represent the whole country, ignoring hundreds of millions of other students. As well as that, the government was allowed to hand-pick the 100 ‘best schools’ in Shanghai. There, 15year-olds attend school for 12 hours each day and the nature of teaching and learning is so different from ours that any comparisons are no greater than a curiosity.

Canada was represented by two provinces – Alberta and Ontario – and it was no coincidence that they have better literacy and numeracy outcomes than the country’s other provinces. Many Irish 15-year-olds appraised by PISA did not complete the assessment papers, were unaware of the significance of the task and, not unusually for teenagers, left well before the allocated time. If these issues alone were addressed through better supervision, they would have had a significant impact on the Irish ranking.

So, what can Ireland learn from this? Should we be allowed to determine which three counties have the highest literacy and numeracy standards, then select 50 of the ‘best schools’ in these counties and ask PISA to allow this cohort of students to determine the Irish score? Unlikely? I believe Ireland should withdraw from PISA. When it comes to literacy and numeracy, we have an abundance of expertise in the teacher training colleges, universities, National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and the Department’s inspectorate. Expertise in assessment exists in the Education Research Centre in St Patrick’s College in Dublin and Mary Immaculate College in

Limerick. It is time we paid less attention to the highly political PISA programme and focused on setting our own standards and implementing a strategy to achieve them, including provision for independent monitoring.

Principals and teachers have already shown their usual professionalism in adopting plans to maximise time for literacy and numeracy. It is important that teachers and parents are allowed to support children in reaching their potential based on our high standards without the need to participate in an international competition whose methodology is questionable.

Publication: The Irish Times Title: Assessing our students Author: Gerry Shiel & Jude Cosgrove Website:

Sir, – Seán Cottrell (Education Today, May 8th) argues that Ireland should withdraw from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). In seeking to support his position, he misrepresents key aspects of PISA, and we think it is important these matters are clarified.

First, Mr Cottrell notes that Shanghai participates in PISA, rather than all of China. But Shanghai’s participation is largely irrelevant. Unlike Ireland, which is an OECD member country, China has no say in the content of PISA, or the methodologies used in the study, nor do its students contribute to OECD benchmarks such as OECD country average scores. Although Mr Cottrell states that only the best Shanghai schools are selected to participate in PISA, in fact, OECD reports on PISA 2009 indicate that PISA schools are representative of the entire Shanghai region.

Second, Mr Cottrell states that Canada is represented in PISA by just two provinces – Alberta and Ontario – and therefore enjoys an advantage relative to other countries. In fact, Canada selects a representative and verifiable national sample that includes all of its provinces. PISA samples for all participating countries are verified by the OECD before results are published. However, countries can also select additional regional samples, which is what Canada did.

Third, Mr Cottrell views PISA performance as a reflection on teaching standards in primary schools. PISA does not seek to establish such a link, and recognises that performance at age 15 is influenced by a myriad of other factors, including structural factors in the education system (school differences in socioeconomic status, especially at post-primary level, allocation of students to vocational and academic programmes, the distribution of 15-year-olds across grade levels, the frequency of grade repetition, the nature and frequency of support for students who do not speak the language of instruction and those with learning difficulties, to name a few). It is important that we continue to interpret performance in Ireland in relation to such factors, so that reduced costs are not the only criterion upon which educational reform is based.

Fourth, Mr Cottrell asserts that students in Ireland leave the PISA assessment before the allotted testing time. In fact, students are required to remain in the test location for the entire duration, even if they have finished the test early, and/or cannot attempt the questions. They may, however, study a school text quietly until time is up.

Participation in PISA affords opportunities to investigate many important issues relating to policy and practice. For example, while the impact of Project Maths will undoubtedly be examined here in Ireland in terms of its effects on Junior and Leaving Certificate grades, and any shifts in the proportions taking higher level papers, much can also be gained by examining the effects (if any) of Project Maths on external measures of mathematics proficiency and attitudes, such as those offered by PISA. We can also draw on PISA to compare the effects of educational change in other countries that are similar to Ireland.

Of course PISA has its flaws and we have endeavoured to highlight these for some time. For example, we have argued ( that the approaches to analysing trend data in PISA are problematic and, notwithstanding demographic and other changes, may have disadvantaged Ireland in 2009. However, it would seem preferable to seek to address such issues from within PISA rather than walk away on the basis of one set of disappointing results

Publication: BBC News Title: Poland scores late goals in education Author: Bill Hicks Website:

The eyes of the football world have turned to Poland, as it plays co-host to Euro 2012.

But the country has been winning international approval for a different kind of league table success - as Poland has become one of the rising stars in education.

Among eastern European, former-Communist countries, Poland has been the biggest education success story - following modernising reforms launched at the end of the 1990s.

It has also been more successful than most countries at one of the holy grails for education reform, equality of opportunity.

Poland's schools are succeeding, more than many others, in narrowing the gap between the weak and the strong, the gifted and the challenged.

No other European country has climbed the international education tables quite so consistently as this nation, which emerged so recently from decades of totalitarian rule and economic hardship.

More for less The most recent test results from the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) show that Poland is ranked 14th for reading, ahead of the USA, Sweden, France and Germany - and well ahead of the UK in 25th.

While media attention focused on the scorching performances of Pisa chart-toppers such as regions of China and South Korea, it was Poland's success which perhaps offered the more relevant lessons to the struggling post-industrial economies of western Europe.

So what is it that Poland has been doing so well?

The OECD points out that Poland's reforms have raised performance to the same or higher levels as those of the USA and Norway, "despite spending less than half of what those countries spend on education".

But if throwing money at schools was not the answer, what is?

Dr Michal Federowicz, director of Poland's Education Research Institute in Warsaw, traces the roots of this success back to the dark years of martial law after the Solidarity era ended in 1981, when, as he put it, "educated people were suppressed".

For most of the 1980s, he said, Poland turned its back on education - so that when democracy finally arrived in 1990, a massive appetite for change in economic, cultural life was released. This soon translated into demands for better education.

Soviet curriculum Initial reforms in the early 1990s concentrated on stripping out the ideological content of the old Soviet-influenced curriculum. But it was not until the 1999 education act that deeper structural changes were approved.

The act was radical. Poland's elementary school tier was to be reduced from eight to six years, but with a new three-year "junior high" or "gymnasium" tier tacked on, covering ages 13 to 16 years olds.

This gave all pupils a crucial extra year before having to decide on their paths into higher education or vocational training.

"The political will was there to achieve substantial changes in the quality of education and other public services," said Dr Federowicz.

"But the changes couldn't have happened without comprehensive reforms of the structure of local government itself, which resulted in more local autonomy."

Poland's former deputy minister of education and higher education, Professor Zbigniew Marciniak, identified factors beyond political and economic imperatives.

"It was the spirit of the people. The effort that parents and families put in for their kids to continue at school‌ society did it for us, we just created the conditions."

While decentralised decision-making was vital, government intervention was required in the poorer rural areas, as well as in formulation of nationally-standardised exams and teacher-training.

'Scale of problem' In fact, Poland used the Pisa test information from 2000 to help pull itself up.

"We knew we had problems - but the first Pisa measurement showed us the scale of the problems," said Professor Marciniak.

It helped to reveal one of the biggest failings of the old system - "Grade Eight syndrome", whereby half the school population ditched academic study at 15.

"Pisa showed that a lot of those kids forgot all they learnt in elementary school... and the most dramatic thing was they couldn't learn any more."

The next round of Pisa in 2003 coincided with the first cohort completing the first three-year junior high cycle. "We got a great improvement," Professor Marciniak added.

"Not to over-estimate, we were starting from a very low level, but the decision to mix these weaker kids with all others, all going through a longer general education, was working, the outcomes were really surprising. But very pleasant for us."

The weaker pupils did better and the strongest ones carried on getting stronger.

Examining the exams The break at 12 to 13 years of age also gave children the chance to start afresh, to escape stigmatisation from earlier failures. And the creation of 7,000 new junior high schools led to better teachers.

"There was a big attempt by teachers to show they were good enough to teach in these schools they had aspirations, and this was more important even than training," said Professor Marciniak.

Structural change was accompanied by reform of the curriculum and qualifications. A new core curriculum is still being fine-tuned, as are the new university entrance exams, the "Matura".

There has been a massive expansion in young people going to university.

A falling birthrate notwithstanding, Poland now has five times as many students in higher education than it had in 1999.

This has meant that the higher education system has had to shake itself up to cope with an influx of students from a far wider range of backgrounds, rather than only the most academically able.

Soaring numbers As a professor of mathematics, Professor Marciniak appreciated how far academics had been "spoiled" in the past.

"We admitted only the 10% most gifted. In that context we could really believe all our students were talented enough to be our followers in research, and all our studies were constructed this way," he said.

But now with student intake soaring, universities have been asked to re-design their courses.

"The only intervention of state apart from finance, is to create a good accreditation system which would ask, what is your promise to students? How can you explain the real outcome of learning? The rest is in hands of the schools."

If the heat of that decade of reform has now tempered somewhat, there are still changes.

Dr Federowicz regards one of the greatest achievements to be the success of decentralisation: "We proved that local government could take responsibility for education," he said.

For example, the government is funding a Digital Schools scheme to provide copyright-free electronic text-books to children in 380 schools.

The scheme, hailed by open learning advocates, was the result of a deal between central government, publishers and other stakeholders.

Professor Marciniak is looking forward to the next Pisa results, which he believes will show Poland making further progress. How much?

"It's hard to to predict because changing the curriculum on such a scale, it's like pushing a bus - you have to push a long time before it moves."

"But something good is happening - our national exams will show it, Pisa will show this year I hope. If not, then definitely in three years time, we will take the harvest."

Publication: BBC News Title: Singapore wants creativity not cramming Author: Rebecca Lim Website:

But now they want to move beyond this - towards something that cultivates creativity and what they term as ''holistic education''.

Minister for Education, Heng Swee Keat, said this is ''less about content knowledge'' but ''more about how to process information".

He describes this challenge to innovate as being able to "discern truths from untruths, connect seemingly disparate dots, and create knowledge even as the context changes''.

This strategy aims to prepare today's students for the demands of the next 20 years.

It means that schools are under more pressure - and will be given more leeway - to come up with creative ways to teach the syllabus.

Outside the classroom So instead of the traditional images of high-pressure Asian schools - with rows of heads buried in books - they are trying different approaches to learning.

Putting this into practice, on a sunny April morning, 80 students from one of Singapore's top schools were trekking outdoors.

The nine to 10 years olds from Rosyth School were on a ''learning journey'' in a park, incorporating science topics and values such as caring for the environment.

''We are conducting a biopsy to find out why a bee, a fish, a bird and a plant mysteriously died,'' said student Darren Ong. ''Is it because of human actions?''

They photographed ''evidence'' on smartphones and digital cameras, soaking up facts on plant and animal species on their iPads.

''In one activity, I can cover three topics,'' said science teacher Lin Lixun, clad in a white laboratory coat for his role as chief investigator.

''They can really learn through hands-on experience and putting things into action,'' said civics and moral education teacher, Joslyn Huang.

'Quality teachers' This next stage of development follows Singapore's huge improvement at school level - which has been hailed by education leaders in the US and the UK.

Singapore was placed fifth in reading, second in maths and fourth in science, in the last round of the OECD's international tests - the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).

This put them ahead of every European country apart from Finland.

Teachers such as Ms Huang and Mr Lin are seen as key to this success.

For Mr Lin, teaching science is ''sharing a passion'' rather than merely imparting knowledge, he says.

High-quality teachers in Singapore are not an accident - but are the result of ''deliberate policy actions'', said a report from the OECD.

It identifies the synergy among the schools, the ministry and the National Institute of Education (NIE), which trains teachers and conducts research.

As many other countries, Singapore had once faced a dearth of good teachers, due in part to the lack of prestige and respect for the profession, said NIE director Lee Sing Kong.

This changed after concerted efforts were made from the mid-1990s to raise the image, provide training and better working conditions for teachers, he told a global round table discussion in March.

''But it does take time to really evolve the quality teaching force,'' he said.

'Survival years' Singapore, a tiny island with few natural resources, has promoted education as a pillar of economic growth since its independence in 1965.

Those were the ''survival driven'' years, Mr Heng told the Singapore Conference in Washington DC in February.

The late 1970s saw an ''efficiency driven'' phase focusing on industry-related skills.

In the late 1990s, as the economy advanced to become knowledge based, the emphasis shifted to thinking skills and creativity.

Equal opportunity in education was also used as a way of binding together different immigrant groups, including ethnic Chinese, Malay and Indians.

''In sum, our circumstances force us to take education very seriously because it is critical to our survival and success,'' said Mr Heng. ''Education shapes the future of our nation.''

East-west bridge In higher education, the island nation has attracted universities from the US and Europe looking for a base in Asia.

These include the top business schools INSEAD and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) - ranked among the top 50 in the world - has partnerships with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Duke University at graduate and postgraduate levels.

Despite its strong reputation, Singapore education is not without its detractors.

The Yale-NUS collaboration to set up a liberal arts college drew objections from Yale faculty over Singapore's human rights record.

Singapore's school system has also been criticised for being too grades-driven and high-stress - a legacy that may prove a challenge to the ambition for ''holistic education''.

'Obsession' with testing It is common for children's schedules to be packed with ''enrichment classes'' and tuition outside of school.

This month, a parent's letter in a local newspaper sparked debate over tough maths standards pushing more students toward such additional classes.

Sociologist and former Nominated Member of Parliament, Paulin Straughan, speaking at a recent population forum, suggested doing away with the PSLE - a national examination that all students take at the end of primary school.

"If we do that, we free the school from this obsession of testing, and the teachers and educators can focus on teaching and learning, and if we do that, more young couples would be willing to grow larger families," she said.

That was a radical thought for this competitive nation. For now, teachers are aware that fun activities still need to deliver the results.

''We still structure it such that it is aligned to learning objectives and the things they are supposed to know for exams,'' said Ms Huang.

Publication: BBC News Title: China: The world’s cleverest country? Author: Sean Coughlan


China's results in international education tests - which have never been published - are "remarkable", says Andreas Schleicher, responsible for the highly-influential Pisa tests.

These tests, held every three years by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, measure pupils' skills in reading, numeracy and science.

Pisa tests - the Programme for International Student Assessment - have become the leading international benchmark.

The findings indicate that China has an education system that is overtaking many Western countries.

While there has been intense interest in China's economic and political development, this provides the most significant insight into how it is teaching the next generation.

'Incredible resilience' The Pisa 2009 tests showed that Shanghai was top of the international education rankings.

But it was unclear whether Shanghai and another chart-topper, Hong Kong, were unrepresentative regional showcases.

Mr Schleicher says the unpublished results reveal that pupils in other parts of China are also performing strongly.

"Even in rural areas and in disadvantaged environments, you see a remarkable performance."

In particular, he said the test results showed the "resilience" of pupils to succeed despite tough backgrounds - and the "high levels of equity" between rich and poor pupils.

"Shanghai is an exceptional case - and the results there are close to what I expected. But what surprised me more were the results from poor provinces that came out really well. The levels of resilience are just incredible.

"In China, the idea is so deeply rooted that education is the key to mobility and success."

Investing in the future The results for disadvantaged pupils would be the envy of any Western country, he says.

Mr Schleicher is confident of the robustness of this outline view of China's education standards.

In an attempt to get a representative picture, tests were taken in nine provinces, including poor, middle-income and wealthier regions.

The Chinese government has so far not allowed the OECD to publish the actual data.

But Mr Schleicher says the results reveal a picture of a society investing individually and collectively in education.

On a recent trip to a poor province in China, he says he saw that schools were often the most impressive buildings.

He says in the West, it is more likely to be a shopping centre.

"You get an image of a society that is investing in its future, rather than in current consumption."

There were also major cultural differences when teenagers were asked about why people succeeded at school.

"North Americans tell you typically it's all luck. 'I'm born talented in mathematics, or I'm born less talented so I'll study something else.'

"In Europe, it's all about social heritage: 'My father was a plumber so I'm going to be a plumber'.

"In China, more than nine out of 10 children tell you: 'It depends on the effort I invest and I can succeed if I study hard.'

"They take on responsibility. They can overcome obstacles and say 'I'm the owner of my own success', rather than blaming it on the system."

Education's World Cup This year will see another round of Pisa tests - it's like World Cup year for international education. And Mr Schleicher's tips for the next fast-improving countries are Brazil, Turkey and Poland.

Mr Schleicher, a German based in the OECD's Paris headquarters, has become the godfather of such global education comparisons.

Armed with a spreadsheet and an impeccably polite manner, his opinions receive close attention in the world's education departments.

The White House responded to the last Pisa results with President Barack Obama's observation that the nation which "out-educates us today will out-compete us tomorrow".

The next round of global league tables will test 500,000 pupils in more than 70 countries - with the results to be published late next year.

Education ministers will be looking nervously at the outcome.

"In the past, politicians could always say we're doing better than last year - everyone could be a success," he says, describing the tendency for national results to rise each year.

The arrival of Pisa tests sent an icy draught through these insulated corridors.

No excuses Perhaps the biggest discomfort of all was for Germany - where "Pisa shock" described the discovery that their much vaunted education system was distinctly average.

And the biggest change in attitude, he says, has been the United States - once with no interest in looking abroad, now enthusiastically borrowing ideas from other countries.

"Education is a field dominated by beliefs and traditions, it's inward looking. As a system you can find all kinds of excuses and explanations for not succeeding.

"The idea of Pisa was to take away all the excuses.

"People say you can only improve an education system over 25 years - but look at Poland and Singapore, which have improved in a very short time, we've seen dramatic changes."

The biggest lesson of the Pisa tests, he says, is showing there is nothing inevitable about how schools perform.

"Poverty is no longer destiny. You can see this at the level of economies, such as South Korea, Singapore."

Fair comparison? A criticism of such rankings has been that it is unfair. How can an impoverished developing country be compared with the stockpiled multiple advantages of a wealthy Scandinavian nation?

Here Mr Schleicher makes a significant distinction. It might not be fair, but such comparisons are extremely relevant. "Relevance and fairness are not the same thing," he says.

Youngsters in the poorest countries are still competing in a global economy. "It's a terrible thing to take away the global perspective."

He also attacks the idea of accepting lower expectations for poorer children - saying this was the "big trap in the 1970s".

"It was giving the disadvantaged child an excuse - you come from a poor background, so we'll lower the horizon for you, we'll make it easier.

"But that child has still got to compete in a national labour market.

"This concept of 'fairness' is deeply unfair - because by making life easier for children from difficult circumstances, we lower their life chances."

'Sorting mechanism' So why are the rising stars in Asia proving so successful?

Mr Schleicher says it's a philosophical difference - expecting all pupils to make the grade, rather than a "sorting mechanism" to find a chosen few.

He says anyone can create an education system where a few at the top succeed, the real challenge is to push through the entire cohort.

In China, he says this means using the best teachers in the toughest schools.

The shifting in the balance of power will be measured again with Pisa 2012, with pupils sitting tests from Stockholm to Seoul, London to Los Angeles, Ankara to Adelaide.

"I don't think of Pisa as being about ranking, it tells you what's possible. How well could we be doing?"

Publication: eSchool News Title: Study: Common core could boost U.S. math performance Author: Laura Devaney Website:


The Common Core State Standards in mathematics have the potential to enhance students’ academic performance if properly implemented, but most states have a long way to go, according to research from William Schmidt, a University Distinguished Professor and co-director of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University.

At an event co-sponsored by Achieve, Chiefs for Change, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education, Schmidt presented a briefing on his work, titled “Common Core State Standards Math: The Relationship Between High Standards, Systemic Implementation, and Student Achievement.”

Schmidt’s research took existing data from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) to determine how the Common Core State Standards in math compared to math standards in countries whose eighth graders performed the best on math assessments.

“I think the time has come to really look more seriously at some of the issues surrounding these standards, especially as several states are [questioning their implementation],” Schmidt said.

Schmidt was involved in the TIMSS, which laid the groundwork that prompted groups to move toward developing the common standards.

“These standards are world-class,” he said, noting that the definition of “world-class” has been somewhat fuzzy. But by examining the top-performing countries in the TIMSS study, Schmidt and his team were able to identify exactly what defines world-class standards.

Using TIMSS as the basis and concentrating on eighth grade performance, Schmidt’s team coded results and concluded that the top-achieving countries—those whose eighth graders performed the best—shared three distinguishing characteristics.

Focus: Lessons are concentrated on a smaller number of topics. Coherence: Math is logically constructed, and instructors cannot “skip” ahead. Rigor: Moving from early grades up to middle grades reveals that middle grades concentrate less on arithmetic and more on algebra and geometry skills. After coding information from the TIMSS to identify which topics were taught at which grade level, the team next examined and coded Common Core math standards, and they compared what topics are taught at what grade levels to those in the TIMSS study. Researchers found a 90-percent overlap.

“A 90-percent consistency, I think, leads to the conclusion that we have standards that are very coherent, focused, and rigorous, and in fact it is time to simply stop talking about them and stop debating it, and simply move to the real, serious implementation thereof. These are world-class standards,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said the Common Core math standards have the potential, if properly implemented, to help boost student performance because they are very consistent with international standards found in countries whose students were among top performers.

“It’s impossible at this point to show [definitive results] with the Common Core, because they are nowhere fully implemented,” he said. The team decided to simulate what a relationship between the common math standards and student achievement might look like given currently available data.

Using data from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and a 2007 study on international teacher preparation, along with the same coding methods, researchers coded math standards in all U.S. states.

The results revealed that states with past math standards that were more similar to today’s Common Core math standards demonstrated a significantly higher performance on the 2009 NAEP. Schmidt cautioned that this is not a causal inference, nor does it suggest that this is exactly what will happen once the Common Core math standards take hold, but the results do give a sense of how states may perform and improve student math achievement once they are following the common math standards.

While many think of the Common Core as an attempt to improve students’ academic performance, Schmidt noted that the “common” aspect is important as well, because the standards are intended for all students. The U.S. education system has vast inequities, he said, and “there isn’t anything that you can expect that all children will necessarily experience in the right order in the right grades.” This has led to a serious problem that “further exacerbates problems across social class groups in terms of what we expect them to learn.” “We’re at a pivotal moment in education reform in this country, and the Common Core Standards are playing a critical role in that,” said Mike Cohen, president of Achieve. Achieve worked closely with the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association in developing the Common Core standards and is working with roughly half of the states—46 in all, plus Washington, D.C.—that have adopted the standards.

As the Common Core standards gain momentum, Cohen noted that criticism has developed questioning if the standards are as rigorous as they need to be, if they are internationally benchmarked, and if they will really matter in the long run—questions that Schmidt’s recent research aims to address.

“The Common Core is an improvement, in many ways, over where a lot of current state standards are, especially in the math area,” said John Bailey of the Foundation for Excellence and Chiefs for Change. “The challenge in moving forward is implementing the Common Core State Standards in an intentional and thoughtful way.”

Stakeholders need to trust the Common Core to empower teachers to select the tools and resources that their students most need, he added.

Country-Specific Education Articles Publication: ACER eNews Title: Australian students ranked 2nd in digital reading literacy Website:


Australian students ranked second of participating countries in an international assessment of digital reading literacy, with girls performing better than boys, according to an ACER report released in May.

The Preparing Australian Students for the Digital World report reveals Australia’s national results from the Electronic Reading Assessment component of the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009. The international results were released in 2011. The PISA Electronic Reading Assessment examined 15-year-old students’ ability to read, understand and apply digital texts was assessed. Students also completed a questionnaire about their access to and use of information and communication technologies at home and school.

Nineteen countries or economies participated in the assessment and questionnaire, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Hong Kong-China, Japan, Norway, Poland, Spain and Sweden. Australia was outperformed only by Korea, while all other countries or economies apart from New Zealand performed on average at a level significantly lower than Australia. New Zealand achieved a similar score to Australia.

The report notes that 17 per cent of Australian students were highly skilled digital readers compared to eight per cent of students across the OECD, while 10 per cent of Australian students were low

performers compared to 17 per cent of students across the OECD. In Australia, 20 per cent of girls and 15 per cent of boys reached a very high level in digital reading literacy, compared to nine per cent and six per cent respectively across participating OECD countries.

Australian students performed more strongly in digital reading literacy than in print reading literacy. This was generally the case in countries that were high performers in print reading literacy. Lower achieving countries in print reading literacy, on the other hand, performed more strongly in print than digital reading literacy.

Student’s access to and use of ICT at home and school

PISA 2009 revealed that 99 per cent of Australian students reported having a computer in their home, with 95 per cent of those connected to the Internet. These proportions were higher than the OECD averages of 94 per cent and 89 per cent respectively.

Across Australia, 22 per cent of students reported having just one computer in their home, 31 per cent having two and 46 per cent having three or more. The number of computers in the home was positively related to digital reading literacy, with students having three or more computers in the home having much higher scores than students with one computer in the home.

The most popular leisure-related computer activities at home reported by students were browsing the Internet for fun, chatting online and using email, while the most common school-related activities at home reported by students were using the Internet for school work and doing homework.

Girls reported significantly more frequent use of computers at home for school-related activities, while boys reported significantly more frequent use of computers at home for leisure-related activities. Students from metropolitan schools reported significantly more frequent use of computers at home for leisure-related activities than students in provincial or remote schools.

The most common computer activity at school reported by students is browsing the Internet for school work. Students in remote schools reported significantly more frequent use of computers at school than students attending schools in metropolitan or provincial areas.

ACER Chief Executive, Professor Geoff Masters, said that while Australian students performed very well in digital reading literacy and had high levels of access to computers and the Internet at home and school, the report identified two major areas for policy attention.

‘The gender gap found in print reading literacy is also evident in digital reading literacy. On average, Australian males performed at a significantly lower level than females. At the same time, male students have stronger skills in digital navigation than female students, which will have negative repercussions in a digital age,’ Professor Masters said.

‘Significant differences in digital reading literacy performance have been found in different social groups. These include those students attending government schools or remote areas, indigenous students and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

‘These are generally the same groups that are disadvantaged in print reading and other literacy areas, so strategies that are applied to increase students’ understanding more generally need also be applied in this area,’ Professor Masters concluded.

Publication: The Korea Herald Title: Finland seeks secrets of Korea’s education success Author: Kristy Taylor Website:

Finland and Korea are both lauded for producing some of the world’s highest-performing students, but their education systems produce results by very different means.

Korean kids endure long school days followed by hours of evening classes, causing the Korean government to ban tutoring after 10 p.m. Meanwhile, Finnish children have the third-shortest schooldays in the OECD and don’t start compulsory schooling until 7 years old.

“We think that children need time for play,” explained former Finnish Education Minister Sari Sarkomaa, who visited Korea as part of a 10-person delegation last month. “They need to be children. They won’t learn so much when they work all the time.”

While world leaders including American President Barack Obama have praised Korea’s hard-working students, Sarkomaa remained cautious about too much study at a young age.

“If I had to mention one thing in the Korean education system (it is that) if children have too long working days, they are exhausted. Then we don’t get the best results if they don’t have time to learn and sleep and eat well. If they can spend some time with their parents and their friends we can get better results in school too.”

However, she said that Korea should also be proud of its education success, explaining that the Finnish Education and Culture Ministry subcommittee dealing with funding was in Seoul to discover the secrets of Korean students’ high performance in international tests.

Both Finland and Korea consistently do well in the OECD’s Program for International Student of Assessment. The last PISA test, rating the abilities of 15-year-olds across 70 countries, ranked them highest for reading literacy. They were also recognized for providing high-quality education to all students, with children tending to perform well regardless of their social-economic background or the school that they attended.

“We are here because we wanted to know and learn more about Korea’s education system,” Sarkomaa told The Korea Herald while in Seoul. “Korea has very good scores in PISA so we want to know what is the secret of this success.”

She praised Korea’s advanced use of technology in education, such as the plan to have paperless schools by 2015. She said that Finland would like to follow Korea’s plan to give every school student a tablet computer.

“We are lagging behind in ICT in our schools and this subcommittee is responsible for the money behind this research.”

However, Finland is proud of its education success built upon highly trained teachers and a focus on student welfare. Finnish MP Raija Vahasalo, who also joined the delegation, said that a long tradition of offering universal free school meals was central to nurturing Finnish students.

This social welfare issue became a hot topic in Korea last August, with a referendum proposing to provide only Seoul’s poorest students with free lunches prompting political controversy, but ultimately failing.

“In Finland, they realized that food was necessary to have good results. The kids can’t learn on an empty stomach,” Vahasalo said. “We are very proud of that and we want to continue it even though we don’t have poor people any longer. That’s very important for kids to learn also, everyone knows that our women go to work very eagerly so there is no one at home to cook for the kids in the middle of the day.”

She said that employing highly qualified teachers was important.

“When you are a teacher of pupils over the age of 7 you must have a master’s degree. That is very important because it is important to know what happens when pupils try to learn from a scientific point of view. That is how we can develop ourselves as teachers. That is how you can choose your own pedagogical materials.

“We can choose the best part of our population because everyone wants to become a teacher, although the salary is not so good. We appreciate our teachers.”

And Head of the Finnish delegation Kauko Tuupainen said although Finland had done very well in PISA tests, he still wanted to get tips from Korea. “We wanted to know what we have in common and in particular if there are things that are taken care of better than we can in Finland.”

Sarkomaa agreed, saying it was important for her country not to rest on its success.

“I was surprised that so many people have said ‘Why are you here? You have an excellent education system.’ But as the world is changing so rapidly we have to follow what is happening and make amendments. If you don’t do that you lose the quality.”

Publication: BBC News Title: Poor literacy standards tackled in schools by Welsh government plan Author: Nicola Smith Website:

A five-year plan aimed at raising poor literacy standards in Welsh schools has been published.

The National Literacy Programme sets out what the Welsh government will do to improve results and change the way literacy is thought about in schools.

The ambition is for Wales to be among the top 20 nations in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) by 2015.

Wales lags behind England, Scotland and Northern Ireland in Pisa's league.

The National Literacy Programme (NLP) will set national standards for teachers and pupils to work towards, to ensure a consistent approach to reading and writing across Wales.

The National Reading Tests for five to 14-year-olds, due to be introduced in May 2013, will contribute to that.

The document claims many teachers do not see themselves as teachers of literacy, and as a result, will "need upskilling".

There will be more training available for current and newly qualified staff and best practice will be shared.

The banding system in secondary schools will also identify where extra support is needed and pupils who are falling behind will be offered more targeted help.

Education Minister Leighton Andrews told BBC Wales: "I want to ensure that we get literacy and numeracy right in primary school because if we get it right, then it will have major advantages in teaching in secondary school, not just in the ability to learn, but also it will have an impact on attention, behaviour and attendance."

He said improving levels of literacy and numeracy is a "key commitment" for the government.

"Nothing is more important than ensuring all of our young people have the skills they need to read, write and communicate," he added.

"There are many excellent examples of teaching and learning in literacy across Wales.

"What we must do is ensure that all learners benefit from excellent teaching of literacy and develop the skills that are so vital to their future success.

"The National Literacy Programme will introduce greater consistency and clarity into the way we track pupils' progress while also providing the support, challenge and accountability needed in our schools."

'Workload concerns'

The plan comes days after schools' inspectorate Estyn warned that many schools in Wales are failing to plan well enough on how to develop basic skills among 11-to-14 year olds

It also said that 40% of pupils cannot read as well as they should as they start secondary school and some never catch up.

Owen Hathway, NUT Cymru policy officer, told BBC Wales the plan was a "positive step forward".

He said that "as noted in the recent Estyn report, past literacy and numeracy guidance has been too broad and ineffective".

"Teachers will welcome the general principle of having a new framework which will hopefully offer clearer and easier guidance," he said.

"As with any new initiatives we will have to monitor its implementation to ensure that it is something worthwhile to the profession.

"There are some concerns around the additional workload teachers will face as a result of the framework, especially in relation to the standard literacy and numeracy testing.

"The last thing we would want to see is another process put in place which restricts teachers from being able to spend quality time teaching students."

Mr Andrews attempted to reassure teachers, adding: "I have signed off on additional support in case there are any issues of workload."

'Useful tool'

Sherry Saunders, head teacher at Lliswerry Primary School in Newport, said she welcomed the programme.

She said: "The assessment framework that's coming in is very useful but it's a tool that will say this is where our children should be, and like all schools, if you have that, like the national curriculum, then you're all working to the same purpose, so it is vital for that to come in."

Angela Burns AM, shadow minister for education, said the programme would need "robust and thorough monitoring to ensure that young people are not leaving school unable to read and write."

"While we welcome the latest initiative from Welsh Labour ministers to address shortcomings in literacy standards, to succeed, this strategy needs to win the confidence of teachers, parents and school governors," she added.

Plaid Cymru's education spokesperson, Simon Thomas AM, said the new strategy cannot be allowed to fail.

"Our children deserve more than poor test results and failing schools, and I hope that the minister can assure us that this strategy will deliver this," he said.

"Plaid Cymru knows that a focus on developing core skills is vital to a child's education, and we have called for schools to be allowed to develop a better balance between teaching the curriculum and developing skills. I hope this strategy will adopt this approach."

IAP News_June15_2012  
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