Who Doesn’t Want Permanent Employment?

Teacher tenure has stirred controversy among teacher’s unions, state unions, school administrators, and government officials since the policy first appeared during the late 19th century. A couple of weeks ago, three states and the District of Columbia eliminated tenure, claiming that granting teachers permanent employment may be harmful to students. On June 10th, the Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled, “Teacher tenure laws deprive students of their constitutional right to an education.” This is especially significant given that California is our nation’s most populous state. This decree has potential ramifications for education systems across the country.

Nine students from the Los Angeles school district brought forward the lawsuit, claiming that tenured teachers limited their access to equal educational opportunity. In California, teachers are eligible for tenure after just 18 months of teaching, which administrators and policy makers argue is not enough time to observe a teacher’s potential and/or effectiveness. The plaintiffs in the case argued that ineffective teachers are disproportionately placed in schools that serve low-income and minority students. Citing the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, Judge Rolf Treu stated that “all students are entitled to equal education” and that “the current situation discriminates against minority and low-income students.”

 

Though I disagree about Judge Treu’s use of this historic court case in arguing against teacher tenure, I do understand the frustrations of students, parents, and administrators regarding ineffective teachers being granted permanent employment. Tenure laws do make it more difficult to hire and fire, which is concerning in schools that already do not receive enough funding. Struggling schools are sometimes left with ineffective or under-trained teachers, coupled with students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. When the system becomes more rigid and teacher mobility becomes more difficult, the argument against teacher tenure is clear-cut: schools need effective teachers, and tenure has the potential to offer under-qualified teachers permanent positions, affecting students’ access to a quality education.

It may also be important to look at the tenure program from a monetary perspective. John Deasy, the Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent, testified during the trial stating that, “It can take over two years on average to fire an incompetent tenured teacher and sometimes as long as 10. The cost of doing so…can run anywhere from $250,000 to $450,000.” This opportunity cost is a significant expense to school districts that already have limited funding.

 

home.isr.umich.edu

home.isr.umich.edu

Though I agree that this is an unnecessary expense, I think that it is important to look at this case from the teachers’ perspectives. Teachers and state unions argue that overturning these laws would allow administrators to make unfair personnel decisions, including firing without legitimate cause. Many believe that the current tenure system preserves academic freedom, something that is slowly being taken away through the increased use of standardized educational tests and procedures. Tenure also helps attract talented teachers to a profession that does not pay as highly as others.

When this ruling is final, it will “prohibit the state from enforcing a law that gives teachers permanent employment after less than two years on the job.” Other states are impatiently watching this ruling to unfold, knowing that it will greatly influence tenure policies across the country.

Recently, the tenure debate was important enough to be featured on the front page of the New York Times website. But I do not think that enough educators, teachers, and professionals are talking about it. The fact that students brought forth the lawsuit proves that those within education policy are too scared to bring tenure into the spotlight. The debate calls for difficult questions and discussions about employment, teacher training, low-income versus high-income districts, and school funding. These seem to be the subjects that cause nightmares for policy makers.

Among all of this current, front-page debate, I still remain conflicted on this topic. I do sympathize with the argument against tenure, especially given what I know about ineffective teachers being disproportionately placed in under-performing schools. However, I also understand the attraction towards tenure in drawing talented people into the education field, providing job protection, and allowing academic freedom. Perhaps the reason why I am still so conflicted is because this issue rarely makes a newsworthy story. Rarely do students learn about tenure, not to mention those in the education field themselves. If this debate encompasses so many other important factors of education policy reform, shouldn’t it be at the forefront of discussion?

Snow, Freeze, and School: Knowledge or Health?

My first academic year at Lehigh University is coming to an end. During the first semester, I was adjusting from Russian system of education to an American one. I was introduced to many new things. For example, I received all course plans with lists of reading material and assignments on the first day of classes, which is different from the Russian higher education system. It was new for me to have online classmates who study from other parts of the world and never see them physically in class. I learned that an online class method could be beneficial both for students and professors. If one of them is sick, he or she can join online and participate in class discussions.

However, perhaps the biggest surprise of being in an American education system was school closure regulations related to weather. I enjoyed winter in Pennsylvania. It was not as cold as in Yakutsk. Usual winter temperature in Yakutsk is -49F. Due to extreme cold temperatures, we have Schools Closing Days regulations. According to Yakutsk Department of Education, secondary schools shut down with the following order: students of 1-5 grades don’t have classes if temperature is -49F, students of 1-8 grades – -54.4F, students of 1-12 grades – -58F. These regulations refer only to students of secondary education. University students have classes in any weather. Other federal subjects of Russian northeast also have similar regulations for secondary schools, but may differ in temperatures.

from pikabu.ru

from pikabu.ru

From Yakutia.info

from Yakutia.info

I was surprised when higher education institutions got closed because of the snowfall. It wasn’t cold – it was just snowing. Even flights got cancelled or delayed because of the snow. Meanwhile, snow can’t stop Yakutia airlines pilots! For the first school shut down, I found it weird, but I enjoyed spending the day in my room. For the 4th time, students could start thinking about costs of each snow day since most of them pay for their education, particularly, about the price of each lost class (See more in post by Sarah Glickstein https://educationpolicytalk.com/2014/02/15/snow-days-not-snooze-days/).

from news.ykt.ru

from news.ykt.ru

Winter in Yakutia is a real challenge. Adults and children catch a cold very easily, which can last for several weeks. Some think that if you are from Russian northeast cold temperatures are nothing to you. I understand that peoples of Siberia got used to cold and learned how to survive in these extreme conditions. However, this doesn’t make us different. We are still people with the same rights. Winter in Yakutia is hard (cold weather, short sunny hours, wearing a lot of clothing, high-cost fruit and vegetables, 15-minutes-bus-wait when its -50F) and risky (e.g. a heating system is out, a broken car on way to other village, days without hot water, etc.). Farmers collect natural ice from lakes and rivers for domestic consumption and keep it under ground for summer use (ground is filled with permafrost).

yakutsk_the_coldest_city_in_the_world_earth_russia_01

by Bolot Bochkarev from visitYakutia.com

Some American states have school closures due to extreme heat and humidity. Heat or cold, it happens annually and teachers develop their own ways of dealing with harsh weather conditions. Some turn to online education, while others adjust school schedules. In the case of Russian northeast, it would make sense to reform the academic year by moving the two-month holidays from summer to winter, while developing curriculum for the whole summer with one-month-holidays. This also can be applied to higher education and other areas. The reform must be widely discussed, but during winter, it could prevent catching colds, families might travel to warmer places like Sochi, and nomadic schools can have specific benefits as well.


http://якутск.рф/news/education/1690

http://www.valleynewslive.com/story/23251603/high-heat-closes-several-area-schools

Study Abroad…But Get Off the Veranda

When a student studies abroad, there is an assumption that interaction with their new community and cultural immersion will just…happen. While every student who studies abroad does experience some type of immersion, true cultural immersion requires that students ‘get off the veranda.’ For a great definition of what true cultural immersion can be, see this article by Karen Rodriguez from TransitionsAbroad.com.

This phrase, ‘getting off the veranda’, comes from an article written by Anthony C. Ogden comparing today’s study abroad student with colonials from history. Ogden points out that many colonials maintained their distance from their colonized communities “interacting only as needed and often in an objective and disassociated manner” (The View from the Veranda: Understanding Today’s Colonial Student). Many travelers, whether vacationers, business travelers or study abroad students, don’t leave the Sheraton or Four Seasons enough or at all, says David Livermore in his article The Right Sort of Travel Can Boost your Career. Even worse, some travelers can’t turn off Facebook or stop texting Mom and boyfriend/girlfriend long enough to truly immerse themselves and build intercultural skills. I am hesitant to compare study abroad with colonialism, but there are certainly similar attitudes and experiences that students can have if they aren’t careful to step off the veranda. (And if program administrators aren’t careful to design programming that allows for true immersion.)

Ogden explains that while he is supportive of the growth of programs and students abroad, students can not be allowed to “observe their host community from a safe and unchallenging distance”. This safe and unchallenging distance is called the veranda. One reason that students are prone to staying on the veranda is that study abroad programs have become increasingly personalized to the student’s wants and needs (just like higher education in general, perhaps). Students have become the customer, study abroad is the product they’re buying, and study abroad educators and program administrators and advisors are expected to provide them with excellent customer service. Students are used to picking and choosing exactly what they want to participate in and study abroad is no different. Students pick which courses they take, if they want an internship or not (how many days a week they want to work), will they perform research or not, will they travel or not, do they want classwork in the the local language or not….And lost in all of those choices is the real reason for why they are abroad: not to control or customize an experience based on what they like, but to immerse themselves in a culture different from their own (different from their normal wants and likes). Students are used to choosing which parts of education they want to participate in, and whether or not they engage in experiences that promote true cultural immersion (or not) becomes yet another choice over their 4-year college experience. This customization and control allows for the experience to stay student-centered, rather than location-centered.

Study abroad experiences can then turn into a glorified vacation if the experience lacks true cultural immersion. I have seen this with friends’ study abroad experiences and I have also witnessed this when speaking with study abroad returners about their experiences. Some students can even identify certain study abroad programs and locations that can act as ‘vacation centers’ and pass that information onto prospective students looking for programs. Program locations then become attractive to students looking for an experience that is heavy on fun and travel, and light on true cultural immersion. There is even a satire going around social media right now that captures these students and experiences in a Tumblr called Gurl Goes to Africa. This site essentially trolls the Internet for and accepts submissions of photos, videos, and blogs from white study abroad students’ experiences in Africa. And while the students who have taken the photos or written the blogs believe their photos really capture a deep immersive experience, Gurl Goes to Africa points out that their day trip to a that idyllic village in Africa only provided the student with a photo and nothing else. Another excellent explanation of this can be found in The Problem with Little White Girls (and Boys).

This is dangerous for the obvious reason that the study abroad student leaves their experience with the same level of understanding of their host location and culture as they did when arrived. But Sasha Gronsdahl explains other harmful effects of these experiences in her blog “White Girl Goes to Africa: Am I anything more than a cliche?” She points out that some abroad experiences, especially in developing countries, are not about anything other than ourselves. We gain the resume-building experiences and never reflect on why mostly Westerners are in the financial and ‘knowledge’ position to travel to developing communities. Most importantly, Sasha writes:

“The second argument is that volunteers don’t build formative relationships with people in their host countries, and thus the “Other” remains just that: a group of people who are different, unknowable, and strange, open to our interventions because they are not really fully developed like us. That’s why we can pick up cute African babies for pictures in ways we would never do with children at home. We expect the people we visit to speak English to us and we fail to learn their language; we spend our time with other expats and remain separate from the local community at large. In the workplace, we exercise our privilege without recognizing it: we perhaps make demands on our host organization’s time and resources while our local colleagues have no equivalent access. Our voices are always the ones heard at meetings.”

Now, I am a study abroad and travel advocate. I believe a day trip across town and a year-long study abroad experience can hold similar values. However, study abroad programs must push students off of that veranda so that students can get to know their locations and host communities deeper than a tourist would. Students must be open to experiences that will get them into their host communities and program leaders must design activities and lessons that allow students to think critically not only about their host communities, but also think critically about their home cultures and why they studied abroad.

Nomadic Schools in Yakutia (Russia)

Being simultaneously an Asian, Sakha (Yakut), and a citizen of Russia, I face unhidden interest about my homeland and my origin. Influenced by centuries-long stereotypes about Russia, many people do not know how diverse Russia is. It’s almost my daily, unpaid duty to reveal the diversity of Russia to others. When my international friends talk about my country, they use terms “Russia”, “Russians”, “Russian language”, “Russian culture”, imagining one notion instead of many. For instance, not many people use the country’s official name – the Russian Federation. However, only Federation embraces multinational, multicultural, and multilingual Russia. The Russian Constitution starts with: “We, the multinational people of the Russian Federation, united by a common fate on our land, establishing human rights and freedoms, civic peace and accord, preserving the historically established state unity…” However, this diversity often remain invisible.

The Sakha Republic (Yakutia) is a unique and special in every way. First of all, Yakutia is the largest federal subject of Russia by its territory and covers three time zones (1/5 of Russian territory, the Sakha Republic territory equal to five times of France territory). Yakutia is a home to several indigenous ethnic groups of Siberian north with their traditional lifestyle, culture, and education.

1181px-Sakha_in_Russia.svg

from wikipedia.org

According to 2010 Census results, 403 nomadic families with 782 children live in the Sakha Republic. Reindeer husbandry is the main occupancy of nomadic families. In addition to traditional family education, there are 13 nomadic schools covering 180 children.

In extreme conditions of the Russian north, nomadic schools are designed to follow reindeer migration routes and provide access to education for children of native Siberians. For reindeer winter routes nomadic schools have buildings, for summer routes they use tents. These schools are supplied with compact computer, chemistry, physics, and biology labs. The curriculum includes classes of native language, Russian, national history, national culture, traditional ways of hunting, fishing, reindeer husbandry, environment protection, etc. Learning of the native language is one of the important goals since all languages of northern peoples are included in the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Endangered Languages. UNESCO and local government play key roles in nomadic schools development.

index.php

from ysia.ru

A teacher of the nomadic school is required to speak a native language, to be able to teach several subjects for children of various ages, to know traditional nomadic way of life, and be ready to face severe life of the Arctic. In 2006, the Yakutia Teacher Training Institute has introduced a special two-year program (with an option of distant education) to train teachers of natural sciences and mathematics.

Some northern children of Russia attend boarding schools in towns away from their families and traditional way of life. Children have access to the radio, television, and, in some places, to Internet. Not all of these children would like to return and continue traditions. Some of them dream to live in town, to get a university degree, to travel, etc.

Today, an International Arctic School project is being developed by a group of experts from Yakutia and it is undergoing a process of discussion. The international arctic school is expected to provide a university level degree with international standards to students of arctic regions. It is proposed to build an environment-friendly school in close proximity to the native populations.

Notwithstanding many positive outcomes, Russia’s indigenous people continue to face serious issues, including transport, healthcare, etc. I believe that all native indigenous people of the north should be granted a special status; laws and programs shaping this status should be designed together with representatives of Evenk, Even, Chukchi, Dolgan, Yukagir and others to ensure their survival and development in the future.

imgresize.php

from news.iltumen.ru

 


http://insch.ru/stati/article_post/efimova-d.g.

http://www.wunrn.com/news/2009/05_09/05_18_09/051809_nomadic_files/Nomadic%20Schools%20in%20Siberia-Following%20the%20Reindeer.pdf

http://www.nlib.sakha.ru/knigakan/tematicheskie-kollektsii/kochevaya-shkola.html

http://sakha.gov.ru/node/133389

Public school district system in China: Realizing a real equity or bringing a new threat to Chinese education?

In February 2014, Chinese Ministry of Education issued a scheme of school district system, which allows that students to attend neighboring schools without passing examinations. This policy aims at allocating student resources more equably. [1] Since China passed the first compulsory education law in 1986, Chinese education has experienced a lot of reforms, especially in public education. At the beginning, the compulsory education was only defined as “required” education; Chinese students still had to pay certain tuition and miscellaneous fees (including books and school uniforms). To help more students receive education, the revised 2006 education law stipulates explicitly that students will receive a nine-year compulsory education without any tuition and miscellaneous fees in public schools. This education policy ensures that more students attend schools, while also giving students a right to choose their desired schools. This creates a phenomenon of more students choosing to go to key schools [2] instead of regular schools, especially in urban areas. It is common that many key schools set up entrance examinations to select best students, and even ask for higher education fees for students with lower examination scores [3]. On the contrary, regular schools are facing a shortage of student resources, creating a serious imbalance between key and regular schools. In this context, the school district system has been put forward to alleviate this imbalance.

Interestingly, in the development of Chinese education, “advocating for students to go to neighboring schools” is not new. To illustrate it, the China Education Online (CEO) has published a diagram to show the whole process of Chinese education [4]:

— In 1986, the Chinese first compulsory education law states: local governments set up elementary schools and middle schools to ensure that children can receive education in their neighborhood.

— In 2006, the revised compulsory education law states: local governments should guarantee school-aged children can receive education in schools which are near to the places of their official residence.

— In 2010, the “National Long-term Plan for Education Reform and Development” states: to adapt to the urban and rural development, local governments should regulate the school distribution to make it convenient for students to attend neighboring schools.

All the relevant educational laws and regulations mention that students should choose neighboring schools to receive education.

This new school district system emphasizes that students can attend neighboring schools without examinations, which would release pressure on students. At the same time, for those students whose homes are near key schools, they don’t need to compete with other students any more. Moreover, to avoid losing student resources, local governments will also strengthen the efforts to increase the quality of schools in order to balance the school facilities and quality of teachers in different schools. [1] It is hoped that, as a result, parents won’t try to send their children to key schools; and children won’t have to experience the intense competition in their early ages. To some degree, this policy creates a relatively equitable and healthy educational environment.

However, under the schools district system, one of the problems has caught people’s attention. The revised 2006 compulsory education law mentions that students can attend schools near their official residence, which means that students can attend any schools near their homes. The problem is two-prong. First, rich families may want to guarantee that their children receive best possible education and do not hesitate to spend plenty of money in order to buy houses near key schools. [6][7] In Chinese newspapers, news about “extremely high-priced school district housing” has been reported frequently and it is very common that parents buy school district houses in order to send their children to good schools. Second, poor families may be renting houses, which may prevent their children from attending neighboring schools. In other words, equitable access to quality education is still a problem. When children are rejected by schools because of the residential status, the educational system is not equitable any longer and has lost its own original intention. This problem may become a threat for Chinese education unless the government makes some measures to change it.

U472P886T1D101890F12DT20140221150501

Unlike other countries where school district system has been used for years, China still needs better implementation mechanisms. Nevertheless, this system is a good attempt to reform Chinese education and it does bring certain advantages. Will it bring the real equity on public education? Or will it become a new threat? I believe we can find answers in the future.

 

References

[1] http://xiaoxue.eol.cn/zxrd_9631/20140218/t20140218_1074810_1.shtml

[2] Key schools:  Usually those with records of past educational accomplishment – were given priority in the assignment of teachers, equipment, and funds. They also were allowed to recruit the best students for special training to compete for admission to top schools at the next level. (Wikipedia) 

[3] Tsang, C.M. (2001). School choice in the People’s Republic of China.

[4] http://www.eol.cn/html/jijiao/xiao/msrx/index.shtml

[5] http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=2783

[6] Wu, X., (2011). The household registration system and rural-urban educational inequity in contemporary China. Population Studies Center.

[7] http://english.people.com.cn/business/8578128.html

 

 

 

 

SAT Blues

Taking the SATS were the most stressful part of my high school career. I had always been a high achieving student, constantly getting A’s and increasing my involvement in as many extracurricular activities as I could. But I knew that I would not be able to apply to my dream colleges if I didn’t master the dreaded SAT. I was fortunate enough to be able to take an SAT class with other students – three hours every week that was meant to teach us how to take the test. I ended up doing quite poorly on the test after that class, and decided to take it again in the beginning of my senior year with no class, tutor, or preparation. I got the same exact score. With my frustration mounting and college applications due asap, I knew that my dream schools were no longer within reach. And of course, being the overly dramatic high school senior that I was, I equated my SAT score with my future success and happiness.

It is difficult for me to make sense of the College Board’s decision to drastically change this test in 2016. This new test will have different vocabulary words, focusing on “high utility” words that appear in more contexts. It will be shortened to three hours with an optional essay “in which students will be asked to analyze a text and how the author builds an argument.” These essay scores will be separate from the other sections of the SAT, unlike the current test that has a required 25-minute essay where students must argue a position. This new test out of 1600 will have a 65-minute critical reading section with 52 questions, a 35-minute written section with 44 questions, and an 80-minute math section with 57 questions. How the College Board came up with these calculations…I will never be able to understand.

In addition, every test will contain a passage from a US founding document. As if the test wasn’t unfair enough for non-US citizens, here the College Board goes again, making it even more discriminatory.

lygsbtd.wordpress.com

lygsbtd.wordpress.com

David Coleman, the president and chief executive of the College Board, spearheaded the process of revising the SAT. He was also one of the key architects of the Common Core state curriculum standards across the nation, and argued that the College Board’s vision of the SAT should parallel that alignment. These changes are being implemented, in theory, because standardized tests have become too disconnected from the work of high school students, and are not preparing students for the information that they may encounter in college. Rather, tests are too full of “tricks” to raise scores and are too stressful for students. While I do agree with this sentiment, I do not see how the foreseeable changes will fix this problem.

Another internal change coming is that the College Board will partner with Khan Academy to provide free test preparation materials to students, hoping to create a more transparent test between students, teachers, and guidance counselors. I can see the benefit of this plan, as standardized tests are meant to be an equalizer in the first place, so it is unfair that some are able to afford “insider secrets” while others must blindly take this test. However, I believe that SAT tutors will quickly adjust to this new test, continuing to offer their test taking tips and services at a high fee for only the wealthy to afford. But any step towards transparency would be a good one to take.

Recently there was a NY Times article about a former Lehigh student, now very successful journalist, who feared getting into Lehigh because of his SAT scores. Because he had previous generations of Lehigh alums within his bloodline, he was able to secure a spot in his graduating class. As a student who once believed that all of my hard work in school was worthless because of my low score on this exam, this article was important for me to read. This article proved that the higher your income bracket, the higher your SAT test scores, and that one’s scores had zero correlation with future success. While this is all very reassuring, it is still hard for me to relive my SAT days. My brother will be affected by these changes in 2016, and I am curious if these changes had affected me, would I have done better? Would my college applications have yielded different acceptance results? I can only wonder.

Testing within the Special Needs Community

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), every student with special needs is entitled to “free and appropriate education.” This means that every student, regardless of disability, is entitled to receive quality public education in the United States. In practice, however, not every student with special needs is provided with adequate public education. Many times, parents must advocate on behalf of their child’s educational needs, without the support of legislature or policy provision.

The very phrase “special education” evokes conflicting feelings, perspectives, and experiences, making policy discussions on this issue especially sensitive. It is a very hard concept to define, but in an idealistic sense, special ed means that “the individual needs of a student who has a disability are met by the mandate of a legal document known as an Individualized Education Plan, or an IEP.” There is a large achievement gap between special-education students and general-education students, and this gap seems to have been growing over the past few years.

As someone who has grown up with a younger sibling with autism, I am somewhat familiar with the struggles that my parents had to go through in providing my brother with an adequate education. He cannot be mainstreamed, even though that discussion was brought up numerous times by local administrators and legislators. Through numerous battles with our state and township, an agreement was reached to provide my brother with public education at a school for special needs children in another town. This also means that he is provided with free transportation to and from the school, and has access to after school activities and resources.

While all of that seems fine and dandy, my parents face constant challenges within the special needs’ education system. To me, it seems that the most highly contested issue is that of standardized testing within the special needs community. As the No Child Left Behind Act made its rounds through the US education system, it also infested special needs public education. Instead of my brother learning basic reading and math skills, he was being given homework on advanced reading comprehension and other test-related concepts. If he and his classmates did not pass these tests, the school would lose funding. My brother was frustrated because he didn’t understand the material, the school was frustrated in not being able to teach practical information, and my family was frustrated in this wasted instruction.

blogs.longwood.edu

blogs.longwood.edu

Not everyone agrees with this “anti-testing” mantra. A teacher who was interviewed by the Huffington Post argues that special needs students should be analyzed with standardized tests because the tests provide data on how students are performing in accordance with “Common Core Standards.” This teacher further claims that special needs schools need this type of statistical information to help future student achievement, and the only way to gather that information is through standardized tests.

Perhaps they would feel differently if they sat down at the dining room table with my brother and tried to help him with his homework.

These assessments for special needs testing have inherent flaws. These tests attempt to generalize statistics for a group of students who are all unique – who all have different socialization and educational needs. By definition, students with special needs need individualized education plans, meaning that their individuality is fundamental to their being, and therefore, fundamental to their success in school. How can we group these individuals together as a cohort to study for future educational change?

Recent lingo on this issue has included “voucher systems,” which would take funds away from public schools and move them to private schools. Earlier this year, Wisconsin Republicans proposed a measure for this type of system, claiming that it would allow children with disabilities to have greater “options” and “flexibility” within the education system. I have a fundamental problem with this system: I believe that a voucher system would put special needs education at risk. IDEA rights may not apply or be enforced as much in private schools, meaning that special needs children in public schools may be at risk.

It is clear that the issue of special education will always be a topic of debate throughout the United States as well as the rest of the world. We must work to preserve every disabled child’s right to quality education. My brother, and the rest of the special needs community, deserves to have quality education as a fundamental right…just like the rest of us.

 

Private tutoring in Vietnam: A public concern rather than a private story

The school operates extra classes because the students’ entry level knowledge is far below average and they are actually dumb” Ms. Mai, headmaster of a high school in Hue, Vietnam.

This statement was made earlier this year by an educational administrator who was trying to justify to the inspectors and reporters why her school held extra private lessons, charging students fees during school hours. Either feeling extremely shocked or somewhat empathetic with her explanation, many people have come to realize that this is only one among many reasons for having extra classes in Vietnam. Indeed, private tutoring appears to be indispensable in the context of Vietnam. This has in effect negated the ban on private tutoring for the last two years.

some snacks before the next extra class!

Choosing to confront instead of tolerate private tutoring, Vietnam has taken quite a few measures to tackle the rising scale of private tutoring over the last two decades. In addition to the regulations, the government has stipulated numerous policy documents to curb private tutoring and concomitant illegal financial affairs. Various measures and efforts to control private tutoring have been documented since 1993. In 2012, the country started enacting one of the strictest bans on private tutoring. Sadly, the phenomenon remains pervasive and tutoring practices become largely uncontrollable.

Despite the ban, extra classes in numerous forms continue to grow. The media continues to report cases breaching the private tutoring ban: school administrators violating the ban are fined, tutoring teachers are punished. Ironically, the more regulations introduced, the more teachers provide extra classes, both legally and illegally. The stricter the penalty provisions, the more creative parents and schools become in finding ways to continue the extra classes. While the vicious circle has not been broken, all people involved in this circle seem to feel more guilty. By seeking ways to supplement their salaries and cover the mainstream curriculum, many teachers now feel like criminals. By trying to secure their children the best possible education, most parents feel like accomplices. Worst of all, by attending extra classes to compete the regular curriculum or improve their academic performance, students feel that they are less able and even dumb!

Mark Bray, a scholar who has studied private tutoring for a long time, notes that private tutoring ban has appeared ineffective in most countries that implement it. South Korea has been the most often cited example. Its draconian measure against private tutoring during late 1900s was a complete failure, leading its government to loosen control on private tutoring practices.

Vietnam should learn the ‘private tutoring’ lessons from other countries, no matter whether these lessons are successful or not. It can also learn a lot from different education initiatives that have been introduced in other countries. More importantly, it should open the discussion on the related issues to the wider public, taking both parents’, teachers’, students’, and experts’ opinions. At the same time, more research on private tutoring and related issues in the local settings should be rigorously promoted.

Undeniably, it would take more time and resources to tackle the root causes of private tutoring than simply prohibiting it. I agree with many people saying that private tutoring seems like a chronic ‘disease’. But it’s by no means incurable. It also true that the effects of private tutoring are so serious that it badly needs fixing. But experience shows us that too often, quick medication proves ineffective in the long run and poses unintended effects. In fact, portrayed by the media as being “incompatible”, only “working on paper” or “going into an impasse”, the ban can hardly achieve its goal as a ‘silver bullet’ solution to private tutoring. Undoubtedly, choosing not to ignore private tutoring is a ‘must’. But inappropriate handling of it would run the risk of going against the very direction of the Vietnamese government’s ‘socialization of education,’ which emphasizes the need for “all segments of society” to contribute to the provision of education.

I share the view with the authors of the book ‘Shadow education in Asia’ who state that careful analysis and a great deal consultation need to be sought before implementing any policy. This can include thorough assessment of the current context to understand the supply and demand mechanisms of private tutoring in Vietnam.

Overall, instead of ‘upgrading’ the unworkable ban with new regulations and circulars, it’s high time for Vietnam to revamp the national examinations, which is private tutoring’s number one partner. In addition to reducing the study load at all levels, Vietnam should urgently reform teachers’ salary. Most importantly, it must improve the selection and training of teachers. It is teacher quality in mainstream schools that would gradually change parents’ deep-rooted stereotypes about education quality in public schools and misinformation about private tutoring’s miraculous effects on their children’s achievements.

Personal Reflection on CIES Conference in Toronto 2014

Toronto

 

Organizing conferences in China or overseas about International Education was always a major part of my previous jobs. A few weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I changed my role from a conference organizer to a participant of the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) Conference in Toronto, Canada. When I entered the venue of more than 2,000 participants, I was quite overwhelmed. Knowing that they came from 130 countries, I realized that the whole world is just in front of me! I was really amazed by the scale and the manpower behind the conference to make everything possible. It must have included unimaginable and tremendous collective effort and time to place different pieces together. Going through the intensive programs every day was like shopping for your preferences among a wide range of choices in comparative and international education.

One of my favorite sessions was focused on Peace Education. The most impressive presenter was Dr. Jennifer Kim, Chairperson of “Build the Peace Committee” who is based in Chicago. She talked about how the Chicago School District, the third largest school district in the United States, has incorporated the United Nations Millennium Goals into the public institutions. Pictures of school activities illustrating the success of promoting peace in schools were shown. I was wondering all the time how we could promote peace through education. Undoubtedly, it has been quite a new field in international education. After their presentations, I did ask if there is any concrete curriculum yet for Peace Education. However, the speaker responded that this area still needs more research, exploration, and discovery.  Startlingly, peace seems quite universal as a goal that most of us would like to pursue but generally, there has not been much context in education to achieve it.

Another inspiring session was “Transnational perspectives on democracy, human rights, and democratic education in an era of globalization.” One of the presenters was Dr. Fazal Rizvi who is one of the authors of the required textbook, “Globalizing Education Policy,” which we use in the International Education Policy class at Lehigh University. This topic was about the innovative collaboration of  a Master’s Program in Comparative and International Education between Institute of Education at  University of London, The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto, and the Graduate School of Education at University of Melbourne, to explore issues related to globalization and social policy. Though these three well-known universities in the world involve different kinds of education systems, this type of hybrid program might be the first-time ever in the field of higher education to gather various scholars, including planners and learners, together for in-depth discussions. In addition, the style of this presentation literally demonstrated how technology has advanced the level of education. Two of the presenters from Australia successfully delivered their parts and answered audience’s questions through Skype.

In addition, Toronto was one of the most suitable cities to host the CIES Conference as it is a truly multicultural place. You not only could find various kinds of restaurants serving authentic food from where you came from, you could also randomly walk on the streets and end up having wonderful conversations with pedestrians who were always very helpful and friendly. For example, we met at least three very interesting people in one day. Here are some experiences that I would like to share with you. These also illustrated how people have moved without borders in the era of globalization because of political, economic, or personal reasons.

First, when two of us looked for the direction from our hotel to the Sheraton Conference Center, we just stopped one of the people on the street to ask for directions. Luckily, he was able to walk us to the destination. Along the way, we asked each other where we all came from. Amusingly, his ethnicity was Chinese but he never went back to China. He was born in India as his parents were in the Sino-Indian War and placed in the concentration camp. Then, he flew to Germany before settling down in Canada.

Second, we went into the the Toronto City Hall which is the home of the municipal government of the city. We ran into an African American lady who was selling her herbal products. When I received her name card, I realized her last name was “Lee”, a very common surname of Southern Chinese. Then, I was curious enough to ask her about it. Surprisingly, her father was Chinese and her ancestors could be traced back to the Emperor Dynasty in China.

Third, we passed by the Metropolitan United Church, a large 200-year neo-Gothic church in downtown Toronto. We thought that we could not visit it, because it was the site of making a film production. Suddenly, a custody person of this church, who was a Hindu, saw us and just passionately asked us to go in. He toured us around and told us his story of how he first flew to Canada from Sri Lanka illegally back in the old days. Then, he worked his way up and got a much better life with a house and two sons now. From our conversation, I could feel how much he loves Canada, which provided him room for development in its real embracing environment.

Undeniably, this trip to Toronto for the CIES Conference has been an eye-opening experience for me! It was an incredible hub to offer us a unique chance to meet with various professional educators from all over the globe. At the end, you would never know how small the connections within the comparative and international education world could be until you actively talked with other participants. I was astonished by the broad areas that comparative and international education could cover, ranging from private tutoring, social justice education, language education, early childhood education, to privatization of higher education, study abroad programs, and education for all. I do look forward to attending the next conference in Washington, D.C. and continue to explore the field of comparative and international education.

 

Changing the Rules of the Game in Ukrainian Education: Democratization, Autonomy, Transparency

Serhiy Kvit, the newly appointed Minister of Education in Ukraine, is committed to creating a new model of Ukrainian education. Having signed the Association agreement with the European Union (EU), Ukraine is writing its history on a blank slate. The state is on the edge of implementing a European education system, which is expected to transform the society. The no-longer-Soviet model will be born in the next 100 days of the operation of the new Ministry.

According to Kvit, the first step of the administration will be to regain trust of the people to the Ministry. In order to fight corruption, the financial audit will be completed and all Ministry’s transactions will automatically appear on the Internet to be accessible to the general public. The role of the state as a guarantor of the quality of education is going to change too. The state is willing to give up all “controlling and repressing” functions and will become the partner of universities. In such a way, the responsibility for education quality will be delegated to the universities by providing them with an autonomous status. All the Ukrainian students that initiated the campaign “Against Degradation of Education” in 2009-2011 and the activists that occupied the Ministry of Education four weeks ago must be enjoying a great sense of accomplishment because one of their main requests – university autonomy – is going to be granted.

The new Ministry officials plan to initiate many more reforms in education. In one of his recent interviews, Kvit argued that “we are living in the global world and there is nothing internal, no internal criteria for education quality, there is only the global market.” According to him, the only thing that matters is whether “we are competitive or not.” This trend is going to change the way the state sees the criteria for the success of universities. The new main criteria of quality will be “the results of scholarly research” as opposed to teaching only. Changing the structure of universities by providing them autonomy will be the first step that will “allow universities to be leaders in global ratings.”

The second step of new reforms is the facilitation of the procedures of recognition and legalization of foreign educational certificates. Today, Ukrainian students with Western education suffer from a humiliating process of recognition that discourages them from coming back home upon completion of programs. As Kvit stated, “if you have a Harvard degree and you come back with it to Ukraine, this is your problem.” Brain drain has been tremendously troubling for the Ukrainian nation.

Now the new Minister has given the students hope. No, he is not going to try and keep talented youth at home. On the contrary, he argued that Ukrainian students should travel more! In order to encourage them to do so, the government will make an emphasis on English language learning. The latter is critical since Ukraine is changing its role model. With the Soviet Union being long gone and “Russian standards of education being doubtful,” from now on Ukraine will compare itself to Western and US universities and strive to achieve Western standards. Kvit does not see student mobility as a threat. Nor does he see Europe or the West as such. He sees them as partners that can provide “a successful model of development” and can teach Ukraine valuable lessons.

The first lesson to be learned from the West is the encouragement of private investments in education by well-off private investors. Once again, Kvit is being realistic when he sees this goal as over-ambitious due to distrust of private contributions reigning in the political culture of the Ukrainian society. In any case, he is willing to take a risk with this long-term agenda.

Ukraine is at the stage of a major political conflict and until it is not solved, education will not be put on the national agenda. However, it is clear that once the political situation stabilizes, the reforms this time will be radical and will mirror multiple globalization trends. What is important now is that having tremendous power to revitalize Ukrainian education, the new administration is running the risk of neglecting the Ukrainian local context when borrowing features of Western education. It seems as if the quality of Western education goes unquestioned by the newly appointed officials. The rhetoric of university autonomy, private investments, English as the compulsory language of instruction, and global ratings sounds like a step forward in the eyes of the proponents of neoliberal reforms.

What about the ones that do not agree with the trends? Is their opinion going to be considered? Are their suggestions going to be dismissed as old-fashioned communist remnants of the past? At this point Kvit is claiming that education is not a business, but the reforms he is suggesting require serious investment that the state does not have. English as the second language is only one example. When asked how children from rural areas are going be taught English in the conditions where the only foreign language taught is Russian, Kvit gives a politically correct response that he is aware of the issue and the state will take care of it. Obviously, he is not expected to provide all the answers. However, the agenda he is setting seems to be dictated by the modern capitalist market economy which Ukraine has not adopted.

Moreover, the proposed plan is so alien to the Ukrainian national context that its implementation may seriously endanger the Ukrainian national education. Some may argue that there is no such thing as “traditional” Ukrainian education in the first place since the latter is equated to the Soviet system. This argument might be reasonable, but it is difficult to question the value of national education that has truly redefined the sense of Ukrainian identity since 1991. With the new market-oriented reforms on the agenda, these achievements would be lost. The citizens brought up by the new system will be global, competitive, and market-oriented. Is this going to be achieved at the cost of losing Ukrainian national identity?