Thoughts in Anticipation of Diane Ravitch’s Visit to Lehigh

Diane Ravitch Speaks at Lehigh on her Books, Experiences, and Opinions involving Educationhqdefault

There is so much pressure for change that it actually hinders change. The requirements outlined in the curriculum and standardization are tools for measurement, results, and comparing different demographics. However, the emphasis on the results of those tests has been so great that the curriculum no longer promotes education quality and creativity.

I am writing this blog in anticipation of Diane Ravitch’s visit to Lehigh University. After reading some of her work including chapters from her book, Diane Ravitch was the Assistant Secretary of education during the George H.W. Bush administration. She was involved in the process of creating and implementing the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. The act proposed that all states have to ensure that all students would meet the national standards through testing. By raising the bar each year, the goal of NCLB was to ensure that all students were passing by 2014 (last year!). 14 years ago the proposal sounded great and possible; however, here we are one year after the expected year of success and nothing has changed in education. Let’s ignore the name of it and just focus on what it proposed.

The first issue, as with many educational reforms, is that it sounds so perfect that it is almost impossible to argue against it. Especially with a name such as “No Child Left Behind”, anyone who attempts to critique it sounds inhumane. After all, who would want to leave any children behind? There were some good amendments in the law, but the bad ones outweigh the good. For instance, there is no time or funding for the tutoring that is mandatory for children that are below standards. Teachers do not have time to focus on helping the students that are behind because they have to ensure the entire class is following the curriculum. Teachers have to choose between spending extra time with students who are behind or spend that time moving everyone else forward by following the curriculum. Both choices are not possible. In either case, the teacher is not meeting a standard.

Another issue is that the law allows for each state to set its own educational standards to meet. Some states’ standards are so low that nearly everyone can pass them to ensure they receive their state funding. Although the school may be technically passing, that does not mean that all of the students are on a proficient learning level for their grade. Teachers have to teach to meet these low standards which hinder the quality of education. On the other hand, states that actually have high standards for their schools are at risk for having more schools that do not pass. A failing school does not receive federal funding or state funding. As a result, the school does not have the funds to purchase resources or programs needed to help these failing students, which attributes to budget cuts such as firing teaching, cutting programs, and increasing the class size. Either way, the children the law claims will not get left behind, are indeed getting left behind

In The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch quotes Donald T. Campbell who states that “the more any quantitative social indicator (or even some qualitative indicator) is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” In other words, the more value placed on standardization and testing to make decisions such as enrollment, classification, and acceptance the more corrupt that system becomes. Standardized tests are used for benchmarking and comparing students, but they have lost their innocence.

There are now teachers teaching to the test or cheating rather than teaching their students information to prepare them to learn, understand, and succeed. Now looking at the Act, without the context and innocence of its name, the amendments seem nearly impossible. This is the problem with curriculum, standardization, and educational reform in society. There is more focus on creating a proposal that sounds good than actually taking time to make sure it IS good. As Diane Ravitch stated, “there are no fads, no shortcuts, no utopias, no silver bullets” in terms of reforms for fixing educational issues. Teachers have to follow a state or national schedule of teaching rather than teaching based on need. Students learn through at different speeds, styles and have different interests so why teach all kids of various cultures, states, social classes, backgrounds, intellect, and who are so simply different through the same methods?

Questions for Diane Ravitch:
• What made you decide to get so actively involved in educational reform through speaking out on your experiences and writing so many informative books?
• With so much emphasis on testing and standards, what do you think would be a good way to measure progress?
• It seems like a major reason reforms do not end up being successful is due to the high demand for fast progress. Quick fixes clearly do not work, but how should an administrator propose and manage an idea that is longer term and avoid the pressure or force of being fired?
• How do you propose a shift in standardization back to being more of a tool for measurement and less of an emphasis in teaching to the test?
• Race to the Top is yet another education law that sounds appealing and optimistic, what are your thoughts on it? What do you think it will take for it to be successful?

Ravitch, D. (2011). The death and life of the great American school system: How testing and choice are undermining education. NY: Basic Books.

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(Re)Examining Privatization and Public Education in Eastern Europe and Eurasia

The latest issue of European Education addresses a heatedly debated topic of privatization of public education in post-socialist Eastern Europe and Eurasia. This region is of particular interest because of the rapid transition from central to market economies, and the lack of subsequent systematic research on privatization in education either in the global literature on education or the regionally focused literature on privatization and its extension into marketization and public–private partnerships. This special issue aims to bridge this gap by stimulating further research and debate about the effects of privatization on education across the former socialist region. Drawing on case studies from Romania, Ukraine, Russia, and Tajikistan, the articles in this issue raise questions about the incentives and potential for structural discrimination that are created as private funds for education are directed into school systems through a variety of mechanisms that include school choice, private schools, parent payments to public schools, not-for-profit private providers, and supplementary tutoring courses.

If you would like to read the entire paper or any other content from our journal, you can find out more about subscriptions here. We will also be featuring video interviews with the authors about their articles published in this special issue!

Table of Contents

Editorial Introduction: (Re)Examining Privatization and Public Education in Eastern Europe and Eurasia

Kate Lapham, Daniel Pop, and Iveta Silova

Private Pre-University Education in Romania: Mixing Control with Lack of Strategy

Cristina Stănuş

Reworking of School Principals’ Roles in the Context of Educational Privatization: A view from Ukraine

Serhiy Kovalchuk and Svitlana Shchudlo

Parental Choices in the Primary and Secondary School Market in Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Christopher Whitsel

The “Language Barrier” in Private Online Tutoring: From an Innocuous Concept to a Neoliberal Marketing Tool

Olga Kozar

An Educator Encouraged His Dauther to Drop out of High School?

The Business of Education

http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/06/27/36heller.h33.html

In the interest of full disclosure, I know the author of this article personally.  His older daughter is good friends with my girlfriend, as they graduated the alternative-option The Delta Program, affiliated with State College Area High School (PA) together in 2011.  I actually got to know the Heller family quite well as I celebrated my first Hanukkah in their East Lansing home last year.  I have had only a few education-based discussions with Dr. Heller, mostly trying to convince him to apply for the Presidency at my alma mater, Penn State University.  However, I know he is a brilliant man, incredibly highly respected in the education field and is very simply, a “good guy”.

So why would the Dean of Education from Michigan State University allow his daughter who, by all accounts is incredibly smart, leave high school without earning her degree.  Is this an example of professional hypocrisy?…

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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

Teacher pay: Many teachers left behind

Alyssa’s recent blog on teacher’s status really hits home. She brings up the issue of teacher’s salaries, which has been nagging me for so long.

This is an issue of global concern. It affects not only less developed nations like my home country of Vietnam but also many wealthy European countries and the United States. The issue of teacher status also comes to mind when searching for what makes my country similar with the U.S. While I did not come up with as many similarities as the differences, some commonalities are really fascinating! One of these commonalities in the field of education is related to public school teachers’ pay. According to the OECD data, average American school teacher salary is approximately US$45,000 per year, higher than the OECD’s average of $37,000.[1]  Meanwhile, a Vietnamese teacher gets around VDN30,000,000 per year (an equivalent US$1,422). But it would make no sense to make such absolute economic comparisons. What I would like to focus on in this blog is a common public concern about teacher salaries and status in the two countries.

When I was young, I read a lot of stories in which teachers would be portrayed as “poor, respected old teachers” who led a very simple but virtuous life. In my childhood, this was understandable simply because Vietnam was in wartime. The national budget was limited and the economy was stagnant. Recently, the country has changed significantly with dramatic progress in economic development. Given that the government has spent significantly on education (about 3.5-4% of GDP), salaries of school teachers are still much lower compared to other professions. Sadly, most teachers can barely survive on their meager salaries. Many attempt to supplement their salaries by having extra jobs or teaching extra classes. Ironically, the notion of “poor, respected teacher” is still taken for granted today, as if once being a teacher, she or he must be poor and lead a simple life. Does it mean that poor teachers are more worthy of being venerated?

I was struck one day by the fact that low teacher pay is not unique to developing countries like Vietnam. Unfair compensation has been the complaint of pre-K-12 teachers in many states of the U.S. for years. Indeed, in contrast to a myth that teachers are overpaid and that teacher’s perks are too ample, the Americans acknowledge ‘the bitter truth of how difficult it is for the teachers to make ends meet.’  And in order to raise a family on one’s salary, over 60 percent of American teachers work outside the classroom. While seeking extra earnings, it is likely that teachers may not be wholeheartedly devoted to their main task of teaching.

Interestingly, just as in Vietnam, low teacher pay has become a real joke amongst friends’ conversations in the U.S. The following reflection from an American teacher also holds true in Vietnam:  “We go out to dinner and everyone takes turns paying, but when it’s my turn, someone always says, ‘Let me get that, you’re a teacher.’  It sounds funny then but, perhaps, no teacher wants to have this kind of treatment in his or her life. Also, no teacher, particularly in the case of Vietnam, wants to learn that parents send the children to extra classes as a way of ‘contributing’ to teacher’s income.

In addition to low income, teachers in both countries are often under great pressure for other reasons. In both countries, they have to work under rigid requirements and have high expectations from parents and society to produce high quality workforce. They take such a very important role in education, but when students’ test scores are low, teachers are the first and only ones to be called bad teachers. Even, many of those teachers face being sacked.

A long-term consequence of low teacher pay comes at a high cost for schools and children, who lose good teachers to better-paying professions. In the U.S., some 20 percent of new public school teachers leave the profession by the end of the first year, and almost half leave within the first five years. Approximately 46 percent quit before their fifth year. The turnover costs the United States US$7.34 billion yearly.

Such high turnover has a devastating effect on schools. In Vietnam, many best and devoted teachers have to leave the profession. Many of those who remain in the teaching career feel demotivated, which obviously affects their effective teaching. Worse, this low pay scenario scares even the bravest students who want to become teachers, leading to further teacher shortage. There was time that teacher education colleges in Vietnam had to lower the entrance scores and exempted tuitions to lure enough students into teaching majors. Not to mention that by doing so, quality of potential teachers was downgraded, the problem of recruiting and retaining teachers remains unsolved. The puzzle of low teacher’s pay and teacher education is even complicated when it comes to teaching condition in the rural and disadvantaged areas.

As said earlier, low teacher pay issue is popular not only in Vietnam or the U.S. It is a global concern, evident in recent strikes for better pay and working conditions in the UK, Iceland, Maldives, and Australia. The Varkey GEMS Foundation’ 2013 Index reveals that 95 percent of the surveyed countries said that teachers should be paid a wage in excess of the actual wage they thought they received.

However, I cannot help but feel that this concern is taken serious in teacher communities only or by those who truly value the work that teachers have to perform in their job. Still, quite a few people hold that teaching is a simple job, because ‘all what teachers do is just repeating from class to class with little modification’. People think that it is a leisurely work, because ‘teachers have much free time: may not teach whole days while enjoying a long summer’. People believe that teacher’s income is quite high, because ‘teachers have high compensations and they may earn a fortune from their private tutoring classes’. And thus, merit pay or market-based pay systems are viewed as novel solutions to teacher pay reforms.

We hope that policy makers who consider teacher pay solutions are not those people. The simple logic they should know is: if the country wants to have highly qualified teachers that is essential to student success, it has to “invest” in them.

Ukrainian Government Says NO to Western Educated Ukrainians

Ukrainians with Western education are eager to fight corruption and bureaucracy in order to improve their country’s welfare in the aftermath of recent political upheaval. According to the most recent data of the Ukrainian information agency “UNIAN,” 1.5 million professionals with degrees from Harvard, Oxford, Columbia, and other leading universities are willing to work for the Ukrainian government for free. The question is: How willing and interested is the government to use their services?

The answer is an almost definite “no.” On the one hand, accepting the volunteer services offered by Western educated Ukrainian would save the Ukrainian government millions of dollars. On the other hand, the human factor will serve as a barely surmountable obstacle. How would the corrupt power benefit from the reforms by Ukrainian citizens educated into understanding the corruption as an undesirable, and, furthermore, shameful practice? To the relief of education specialists, there is hope for the Ministry of Education. Apparently, Serhiy Kvit is actively collaborating with Western education officials in order to combat corruption. However, doesn’t the anti-corruption initiative have to be uniform and target all the spheres of life to be effective? Can it cause serious change while addressing education exclusively?

Obviously, the people who have been building a kleptomaniac state for years will not easily allow the newcomers to overtake their business and implement Western anti-corrupt reforms. The system that exists in Ukraine now is so well-embedded and accepted that it will be difficult to deconstruct even for the people who truly wish to make a change. As a student who has gone through all the major levels of Ukrainian education, what concerns me the most is the reaction of the student population to the changes. Are they going to be able to face the fact that hryvnas will not be purchasing their grades anymore?

My prediction is that until the government agrees to hire qualified workforce that was not exposed to and socialized into corruption as a way of life, Kvit’s efforts to create a fair education system will not produce a radical turn that students are expecting and hoping for. Currently, every first grader in Ukraine is aware of the unfortunate reality that he/she needs to pay extra or give bribes in order to receive quality services from doctors, post office workers, and teachers. My 5-year old nephew has already heard of the prices of As and Bs in school. He is now accustomed to the idea that he is going to grow up in the corrupt state. There is a high possibility that when he grows up, he is not going to perceive giving money “for tea” (a Russian metaphor for tips) as an unacceptable practice similar to the current Ukrainian administration. It is only when he leaves the country and has an opportunity to look at it from the outside that he is going to understand the effect of this practice on the society as a whole. Western educated Ukrainians have already done that and it would be a major loss for Ukraine not to take advantage of the life-transforming ideas that they are ready to offer.

The Controversies of Moral, Civic, and National Education in Hong Kong

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Civic education seems an indispensable element for the citizens in most of the nations. Some countries may refer to it as “Citizenship Education” or “National Education.” According to Branson and Quigley (1998), civic education in a democracy is education to encourage citizens to become actively involved in their own governance. In other words, citizens should have critical mindset and not just passively accept the demands of others.  It includes the study of civic law and civic code, and the study of government with attention to the roles, rights, and duties of citizens in the operation and oversight of government.

Ideally, democracy is fully realized when every member of the political community shares in its governance. Members of the political body are its citizens and membership implies participation. Citizens’ participation in a democratic society must be based on informed, critical reflection, and on the understanding and acceptance of the rights and responsibilities that go with that membership.[1] The goal is to engage citizens to be actively involved in the governance or politics and cultivate their positive attitudes towards their own country.

Not surprisingly, the introduction of Moral, Civic, and National Education into Hong Kong’s public school curriculums through Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s “Policy Address 2010-2011” has raised a lot of controversy in the society, especially in the academic arena. The HKSAR Government planned to implement the reform in various stages by initially introducing a new subject in primary schools in 2012 and then in secondary schools in 2013.[2] Notwithstanding a gradual implementation approach, there have been waves of demonstrations by parents, teachers, and students. During the peak day on July 29, 2012, 90,000 people (or 32,000 according to the government’s estimates) went on the streets to demonstrate in super hot and humid weather.[3] The protesters firmly believed that the main political motivation behind Chinese Central Government in Beijing was to use Moral, Civic, and National Education as a tool to “brainwash” the citizens in Hong Kong with its communist ideology. They were afraid that the degree of freedom in this special administrative region would be gradually limited or eventually diminished. The demonstration had even caught international attention through the mass media such as New York Times, NBC, CNN, or BBC news.

 

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The main reason for this controversy was that people in Hong Kong have been suffering from an identity crisis after a century of British rule. Annually, the University of Hong Kong implements a public survey through Public Opinion Program to keep track of the progress of the citizens’ identity. In the questionnaire, one of the questions directly asks about the self-perception of identity among the people of Hong Kong, with the following multiple choices available as a possible response: “Hong Kong Citizen,” “Chinese Citizen,” “Hong Kong Chinese Citizen,” “Chinese Hong Kong Citizen,” “Other,” “Don’t Know / hard to say,” or “Refuse to answer.”[4] Most of the Hong Kong citizens always distinguish themselves from the Mainland Chinese.

Ironically, most Hong Kong people are actually the early settlers from China. As students during the British colonial era, however, we did not study anything about a national identity associated with China. We can see that education is a powerful socialized tool to influence one’s mind. After handover to the Chinese regime in 1997, we have witnessed a series of ongoing clashes between Hong Kong and Mainland China in political, economic, and cultural aspects. More and more conflicts between these two places have surfaced with the massive coverage of media every day.

In introducing Moral, Civic, and National Education in Hong Kong, different actors played an active role behind the scenes – including the Chinese Central Government, the Hong Kong SAR Government, various political parties, educators, and youth (students) – all with their own interests and agendas. This created a divisive scenario, i.e. Chinese Central Government, the Hong Kong SAR Government, pro-Chinese political parties, educators, and students, on one side, and demonstrators against them, on another side. Some youth put their health at risk by going on hunger strike outside the government headquarters for days and days to illustrate the intensity of their anger, although some critics believed that political parties paid students for going on strike. Later, the hunger strike included teachers, a parent, and even a retired professor.[5] Following the serious resistance and criticism from the broader community, the government finally was willing to delay the introduction of the new school subject by suggesting a three-year trial run period, allowing the schools to start, at the latest, in 2015 after consultation and major amendments of some sensitive terms.[6]

 

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Moreover, there have been divergent views towards Moral, Civic, and National Education among the community-at-large and the official website of the Education Bureau of the HKSAR Government. It seemed that Education Bureau of the HKSAR Government has included civic education in a very subtle way. The website says that the new subject could develop students’ ability to analyze and judge issues relating to personal, family, social, national, and global issues at different developmental stages, and increase their motivation to make commitment and contribution. The areas will include current issues, moral education, national education, life education, values education, basic law education, health education, sex education, environmental education, and human rights education.[7] Conversely, the public may believe that it would be chiefly to promote national education and enhance students’ understanding of China and national identity.[8]

This education reform literally reflected how little trust Hong Kong citizens have in the Chinese Central government. It may also show how frightened the next generation is about convergence with the motherland, Mainland China. From my own perspective, this trend is just unavoidable as it is a way for Hong Kong to have a better integration. The influence from China overall will be further intensified in the coming decades. Hong Kong people just cannot deny the fact that we have to depend much on China, particularly in the economic development. At the very least, we have to deal with the influx of increasingly large numbers of Mainland Chinese tourists every day. Hence, we have a saying: “Hong Kong people have dual feelings towards China, both hatred and loving emotions.”

 

[1] Branson, M.S. & Quigley, C.N. (1998). The Role of Civic Education. George Washington University. Retrieved on April 4, 2014, from http://www.gwu.edu/~ccps/pop_civ.html

[2] Liu, J. (2012, August 31). Hong Kong debates ‘national education’ classes. The BBC. Retrieved on April 4, 2014, from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-19407425

[3] Lai, A. (2012, July 30). National education’ raises furor in Hong Kong.  Cable News Network. Retrieved on April 4, 2014, from http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/30/world/asia/hong-kong-national-education-controversy/

[4] University of Hong Kong (2014). Public Opinion Program. Retrieved on April 4, 2014, from http://hkupop.hku.hk/english/popexpress/qre/tp1312075_18.html

[5] Lai, A. (2012, September 4). Hong Kong school year starts hunger strikes.  Cable News Network. Retrieved on April 4, 2014,from http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/04/world/asia/hong-kong-national-education-protests/

[6] Chong & Tam (2012, October 9). Controversial guidelines on national education shelved. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. Retrieved on April 4, 2014, from http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1056653/controversial-guidelines-national-education-shelved

[7] Education Bureau of the HKSAR Government (2014). Moral, Civic and National Education. Retrieved on April 4, 2014, from   http://www.edb.gov.hk/en/curriculum-development/4-key-tasks/moral-civic/index.html

[8] International Business Times (2012, September 6). Hong Kong Protestors of National Education Wary of Integration with Mainland China. Retrieved on April 4, 2014, from http://www.ibtimes.com/hong-kong-protesters-national-education-wary-integration-mainland-china-780011

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.

New Modes for Chinese “Gaokao”

On March 22nd-24th, 2014, China Development Forum was held in Beijing. In the forum, China Education Department proposed that there will be a new scheme for the Gaokao — the Chinese College Entrance Examination.The new scheme asks for “two kinds of talents, two modes.” Lu Xin, the vice minister of China Education Department, explained that “two kinds of talents” are technical talents and academic talents. The first mode of Gaokao includes skills test and academic test, which aim to select technical and skilled students; the second mode of Gaokao is as same as the traditional Gaokao, which aims to select academic talents. This new scheme has immediately attracted the attention of all educators, students, and parents, becoming the hottest debate in China. [1]

In China, the reform of Gaokao has been discussed for years, but there was no real implementation for it. Gaokao is the most important examination in China, which determines the trends of Chinese education to some degree. Any shift on Gaokao will cause certain changes in the Chinese education system. For example, last year Beijing Education Department proposed that the English scores would decrease from 150 to 100 in Gaokao, which quickly caused the reduction of attention to English language learning. For Chinese students and schools, the requirements of Gaokao seem like the guides during their study. Most of the times, schools and students will focus on the materials that will appear in the Gaokao examination, which creates many test-typed students.

Moreover, the traditional Gaokao and the broader Chinese educational system have also caused a social problem, which is the serious imbalance between “white collar” and “blue collar” job market. Some students who succeed in the Gaokao are treated as “good students” for granted. On the contrary, students who fail the Gaokao have to attend some technical schools to learn vocational skills. After graduation, those “good students” only want to seek some “white collar” jobs with high salary and good environment, and they never take those “blue collar” jobs into consideration. According to public perception, students who graduate from good universities are overqualified for the “blue collar” jobs and few graduates want to be technicians in China. This perception has existed for years and it is difficult to change. At the beginning, the “good students” could find good jobs with their high degree easily. However, the current situation is different. The high number of graduates has intensified the competition in the “white collar” job market, and the recruitment requirements have become much stricter than before. At the same time, those limited positions cannot satisfy the graduates’ demands for jobs. Compared with the intense competition in the “white collar” job market, the situation in “blue collar” job market has a heavy shortage of qualified technicians. Especially in some coastal cities in China, there is a large demand for technicians. Notwithstanding high salaries, it is still difficult for companies to hire qualified people because most graduates do not learn the practical skills and lack the ability to take the job.

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A career fair in a Chinese university

In addition, many schools and families feel worried about the new scheme because they think it is difficult for students, especially those students who will attend Gaokao soon, to change their traditional learning patterns to adapt to this new mode. The China Education Department has responded that this new policy will be implemented after three years, which would give enough time for students to prepare for the new Gaokao. Many educators and sociologists hold positive attitudes about the new scheme, and they think this reform of Gaokao will change the imbalance between the “white collar” and “blue collar” job market[2]. This new scheme breaks the traditional mode of Gaokao, and opens a new view of educating students more comprehensively. At the same time, this new scheme will not only relieve students’ pressure for the examination, but also change the severe employment environment. Students will have more opportunities to pursue education in their desired schools and obtain jobs.

Currently, no one can guarantee whether this change will result in positive or negative outcomes. Currently, there are about 1,200 colleges in China, which have some distinctiveness in the teaching quality and teaching level, offering similar education programs. How will the colleges respond to the new changes? A professor of Peking University Chengwen Hong says, “The most likely change will be some local colleges. They will not aim to build research-oriented or academic-oriented colleges any longer; instead, they will engage in building characteristic colleges to attract more students. At the same time, for those colleges who insist on cultivating technical talents, this policy will encourage schools to enhance schools’ self-confidence”[2]. Professor Hong’s comments reflect that he holds positive attitudes for this upcoming reform, coinciding with the outcomes that we expect. After all, no matter what kind of outcomes will occur, we still look forward to the future.

References:

[1] http://gaokao.eol.cn/bkzc_2915/20140324/t20140324_1089315.shtml

[2] http://gaokao.eol.cn/kuai_xun_3075/20140324/t20140324_1089336.shtml

 

 

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?