Why Education is the new global currency

Bitcoin may have been getting all the hype, but there is growing evidence that in a world without borders it is not virtual money that is the global currency, but a university education.

As national borders become increasingly permeable, it is becoming clear that more and more graduates will be competing in an international jobs market. And many consider that the best asset they can have is a degree from the ‘right’ university.

Figures released this month show that record numbers of children are studying at international schools. Data published by the UK-based International School Consultancy (ISC) group shows that 3.6 million children aged 3-18 attended international schools in the 2013/14 academic year, up from 3.3 million the previous year.

These schools usually provide internationally-recognized qualifications, as well as a degree of elitism, but most of all they offer an English-speaking education.

And according to ISC chairman Nicholas Brummitt, a key reason why parents forked out $36 billion dollars in fees for international schools last year is that they want their children to get into an English-speaking university.

The biggest growth for international schools has been in Asia, where enrolments have risen by 65% over the last five years. The UAE leads the way in the numbers of students at international schools (389,000), followed by Saudi Arabia (209,000), China (150,000), India (142,000), Pakistan (137,000) and Qatar (107,000).

International schools provide a route to the world's top universities

But it is not just international schools. In a previous post, I wrote about the number of students coming to U.K. schools from outside the E.U., with access to universities both in the U.K. and the U.S. a core motivation. I also recently spoke with a U.K. school principal who told me that one of the biggest trends among his students over recent years is the increase in the number applying to study in the U.S.

The result is that around one in 10 undergraduates at U.K. universities come from outside the E.U., according to figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, with another 5% from E.U. countries.

In the U.S. the number of international students reached a record high last year, with an increase of 7%, although they still make up less than 4% of all students.

The allure of these universities of course is their international reputation. Whatever the standard of education, the reality is that certain universities are seen as more desirable than others. At Cambridge University, 17.5% of first degree students are international students, while at Oxford the equivalent figure is 13.8%.

According to university rankings specialist QS, the growth in international enrolments is particularly marked at leading universities, rising by 9% last year at its top 100 ranked institutions, compared with 6.5% among the top 400.

International rankings underline the dominance of English-speaking universities. Out of the top 20 in the Times Higher Education rankings, only one is outside the English-speaking world, while in QS’s rival list there are just two.

But while English-speaking universities are having it their own way now, it may not last long. Universities outside the English-speaking world are fast catching up, and themselves becoming international hubs.

QS reports that international student numbers at the 10 Chinese universities ranked in its global top 400 rose by 38% last year, the majority from Russia, Japan and South Korea but significant numbers coming from the U.S. and Europe.

Academics may dispute the validity of international comparisons – or even of ranking universities at all – but there is no doubt that they matter to the people who matter: students and their parents.

And the reason they matter is that a growing number of people realise they will be competing for jobs around the world with people from around the world. And if an education from a particular university can give them an advantage, then that really is a currency worth having.

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Egyptian education system doesn’t prepare youth for Jobs

Interview with Salma Wahba, youth and adolescent development officer for Unicef Egypt

How would you describe youth unemployment in Egypt?

The unemployment rate overall in Egypt is 13.4%. Unemployment is one of the most pressing concerns among young people as it affects them the most. According to national statistics in 2013, 55% of all those unemployed are aged 15 to 24, and an additional 23% are aged 25 to 29. The unemployment rate among young women is almost double that of young men.

What are the main causes?

Egypt has been facing three years of serious economic challenges and an unstable political context. This has led to growth stagnation, increased unemployment and poverty.

There is also a significant mismatch between the skills of new labour market entrants and the requirements of the labour market. The education system is not preparing young people with the skills for the modern workplace and career guidance in general, is not available.

In Egypt, youth still prefer to work for the government, rather than the private sector, perceiving it to be a secure job. Many young people are waiting for the job that best fits their qualifications rather than actively seeking employment and accepting jobs that they think are below their level. This is a major cultural barrier among youth in Egypt.

What do you see as the long term consequences?

In a country like Egypt where youth constitute one-fifth of the population, more than 16m people, not dealing with youth unemployment could have serious consequences. It creates frustration among youth about their future and their role in society as productive individuals. It also wastes Egypt’s great opportunity of benefiting from the potential of its demography.

Where should youth unemployment fit into the international agenda?

Youth issues and particularly youth unemployment should undoubtedly feature strongly in the post-2015 development agenda as it is an issue of global concern. It is clear that the post-2015 agenda must give a higher focus on equity and inclusion, and supporting the young generation, particularly the most disadvantaged.

What are the solutions to the crisis?

The most obvious solution is to create jobs for youth entering the labour force. More innovative solutions need to be investigated and put in place such as providing incentives to employers to reserve jobs for youth.

Partnerships need to be developed among government, private sector, civil society and young people themselves to develop and implement an integrated strategy, focusing on those most disadvantaged. Addressing the mismatch between the skills young people have and the requirements of the job market is essential. This could be either through the formal education system or through non-formal education with important distinct skills.

In Egypt, Unicef’s interventions are focused on the skills development of young people, focusing on those most marginalised, through the ‘Building Young Futures’ programme. The programme has demonstrated the importance of focusing on the youth at an earlier stage (15-17 years) before they venture into the labour market. This proved to be very rewarding as they are, in general, more receptive to change and to new modes of thinking.

Teachers For EFA

http://www.teachersforefa.unesco.org/fora/

A forum running from 2nd – 16th July encouraging discussion amongst teachers around the world on how to promote inclusion and equality in teacher practices. Sign up and get involved.

Japan faces new challenges

Japan has long been regarded as one of the world’s educational superpowers. In the post-war era, life expectancy and high-school attendance soared, for example between 1947 and 2006, University attendance increased from 10% to 49%. In 2014, Japan can viably say it is counted as one of the most advanced nation on Earth. Japan consistently ranks among the highest in PISA tests.

However, there have been concerns lately that Japan is losing its innovative ‘edge’, one argument for this has been that Japan has simply been following an educational formula established in the west and now that it has cracked and surpassed that formula, it is left with little room for improvement. There is the concern that Japan’s current educational system prepares children excellently for university and higher education but does little to prepare them for business and life.

One of Japan’s fundamental principles is that ‘all children can be achievers’ and this is echoed in the fact that social background seems to have little impact on educational outcomes. However, as the Japanese government now tries to devolve authority over schools to local authorities, it is essential that they also pass equity reforms that ensure the best teachers and leaders are recruited and incentivised into schools that need the extra boost and help.

As mentioned, Japan will need to redesign its curriculum to make it more engaging, appealing and relevant to pupils. While this is an area where Japan has made significant advances, it still lags behind other world leaders. Shifting from subject-based curricula to competency-based curricula will allow for a far more applicable and broad educational teaching experience for Japanese children.

Beyond just the issue of curricula, Japan must focus on how teachers will deliver it. If Japan is to continue delivering high and higher standards while changing its curricula, staff must be properly trained on how to use and engage with it. Teacher must also learn to encourage long-term sustainable learning for life, rather than treating children as cattle in preparation for exams and the temporary, situational knowledge that they entail.

#TeacherTuesday What it means to be a teacher in the UK

imageWhat does it means to be a teacher in the UK? This is the question I was asked on twitter, when the Steve Sinnott Foundation asked me to write a post for #TeacherTuesday. I can only really speak from my experience, and I am currently trying to steer away from debates on pedagogy that seem to serve only to entrench positions. My post last week was an attempt to define myself through what I do, and this method has proved very effective in helping me be self-reflective, and in being able to express more clearly my values than through philosophising on pedagogy. Whilst I will thus approach this question from the same, personal, perspective, I will also attempt as far as possible to speak for my colleagues in the UK, and more specifically in England.

The question has two parts really: what it means to be a teacher, and what this means specifically in the UK. The professional network and learning community I have discovered through Twitter has enabled me to connect with educators in various countries, and whilst we share many common values and challenges, I will seek to define that which may be more specific to the UK.

So, what does it mean to be a teacher? Perhaps the first thing to say is that I rarely see myself as a teacher. There are two reasons for this. One, I suffer from the impostor complex, where I regularly believe I will be unmasked as a fake, an intruder. I look at my colleagues and see them as teachers, but still struggle to class myself, to label myself, as one. I see myself primarily as a learner, and this is, paradoxically perhaps, where my strength as a teacher lies. The second reason is that I have done other things before becoming a teacher and have thus been able to define myself professionally and personally in many other ways, and some of those definitions still appear valid to me. I am a teacher, but I am still a traveller, a resort manager, a receptionist, a shipwright, a property developer and a builder! These other definitions and other skills mean that I am able to relate learning to many different situations and skills. I am not alone in this diverse experience before coming to teaching. The image of a career teacher is still in the public conscience, but the reality is changing, as this collaborative blog is starting to show us. Teachers are all fascinating individuals with other passions, experiences and skills.

Being a teacher is a career which has a very long and complicated job description, which goes from pastoral care of children (in loco parentis), through daily classroom teaching, to administrative and managerial tasks. I believe that the care element of our job is the most important one, and without it, all the other tasks are impossible or ineffective. I remember that when I first saw the table of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I understood better my gut feelings about relationships and the classroom environment. If children are cold or hungry, or in fear, then they will find it harder to learn.

The purposes of education are various and often escape definition, but for me, our goal is to foster the personal development of young people, to help them to learn, and to prepare them for the world they will face when they leave full-time education. By this I do not mean moulding them to fit society, but rather equipping them with the skills they will need to shape the world of the future. As many commentators on education have noted, the system we have at the moment is perhaps not broken, but is at the very least out-dated and ill prepares our children for the future. Schools in England do not in general devote enough time or resources to career advice, and individual teachers are often ill-equipped to advise students. The best practice is often in isolated pockets, in rare schools which have developed a vision for the future, in departments, and more often than not, in the hands of individual teachers.

I believe that the most productive thing we can do to rise to this challenge is to listen to our students. It was very refreshing to read Cees’ post highlighting the benefits of student-focused learning and feedback from pupils. Too often there are barriers between teacher and student, hierarchies and power structures which can impede rather than help the learning process. It is through our dialogue with students that we can break down these barriers between us, between the present and the future. The relationships we build with students, together with the classroom environment in which we evolve, are as vital to learning as any pedagogy. Being a teacher means understanding your students, in terms of their academic level as well as their individual histories and needs. We are not machines transmitting or dispensing knowledge. As Arthur C. Clarke said, teachers who can be replaced by robots should be. The increasing use of technology in learning is forcing teachers to re-evaluate their role, and to make sure that they continue to offer what robots cannot.

What does it mean to be a teacher in the UK? This document shows that the status of teachers in the UK is not high, but it is about average for OECD countries. The public believe we should be paid a little more than we are for the job we do. We are generally respected as a profession – over 80% of the public trust us to tell the truth – although one must worry that over 10 % of the population do not trust teachers to tell the truth. We are second only to doctors in this survey and well above the police (65%), journalists (21%) and politicians (18%). We must maintain and build on this trust, and one of the key challenges to us is engaging parents and the wider community in what we do.

This information in the survey above begs the question: why do politicians have so much say in how we educate our children in this country? I do not intend to descend into politics, but for those reading this post outside of the UK, there is some background information (necessarily biased by my own values) of which you should be aware. The government, and specifically the Minister for Education, wield enormous power in terms of how they can reform the school system in England (there are separate systems in place in the other countries of the UK), and teachers are rarely consulted about these changes. The general impression at the moment is that while the government may be well-intentioned in trying to raise standards, their unilateral decisions and failure to consult teachers and educational researchers means that there are many wrong decisions being made.

Unions are in place, and do attempt to negotiate with the government. According to the unions, teachers are demotivated and dissatisfied with their jobs, yet whilst 47% have “seriously considered leaving the profession”, 68% are satisfied with their jobs. I find enormous satisfaction in my job, and whilst there are days when it is one of the hardest jobs in the world, teaching is a very rewarding profession. Many of the pressures we are feeling are being felt elsewhere as well, often more sharply. One of the biggest challenges facing teachers is to find the balance between defending the working conditions we need to do our jobs, and accepting the necessary changes that must take place in education.

The use of twitter and blogs has shown me the power that teachers can have in collaboration. Recently the schools inspection body in England (OFSTED) invited five prominent educators from the blogosphere to discuss the inspection process and the role of OFSTED in improving schools. The conversation resulted in the important development of OFSTED acknowledging that they would no longer grade individual teachers during their visits. This process shows how teachers can have more voice through informal collaboration than they may have through the unions.
So what are the main challenges and barriers facing teachers in the UK at the moment? Contrary to many teachers, I do not believe that the government, OFSTED, or school leaders are necessarily barriers to individual teachers effecting change. We can do this through the example of what we do, through speaking out on social media, and through building powerful professional networks. Whilst we must aim to improve our own classroom practice, to work with immediate colleagues and for the good of our schools, we must also look outside our classrooms, outside our departments and our schools to learn, to share and to collaborate. We must not forget the huge advances in education over the last century, the usually well-equipped working environment and the public support we have. The challenges are there, but we can accept them and enjoy meeting them. The barriers are there, but they are also, to a large extent, within us.


Rory Gallagher (@eddiekayshun) is a teacher of languages at The Thomas Hardye School, Dorchester in southern England.
He has been teaching in secondary schools in the UK for three years. Before that he taught English as a Foreign Language in Italy and in Japan, worked as a Resort Manager in the south of France, and ran his own business as a builder and decorator on the island of Corsica. He is always learning, and loves sharing his learning. His latest projects include a Masters in Education on student feedback, and a collaborative blog which gives teachers a forum to voice their values and experiences.

Teacher Tuesday week 5: Margaret from Kenya

One of the undoubted dangers of writing about Africa is the potential perpetuation of the ‘single story’, that is, that Africa is more a country than a continent. A great deal of media portrays Africa as a single place with lots of the same problems. This could not be further from the truth, Africa is a continent as complex as any other in the World, perhaps even more so.

Kenya, for example, is excelling in many respects. Kenya’s capital Nairobi is home to the IHub, an institute set up by the University of Cape Town and the Carnegie Foundation to expedite the growth of technology in Kenya by linking scientists in Nairobi to their peers internationally.

Africa’s biggest urban slum is mere miles from this beacon of progress.

Kibera is enormous, home to over 1 million people who generally live in poverty without power or sanitation. However, referring back to the ‘one story’ perpetuation, the immediate assumption may be that Kibera is void of hope but that once again, that isn’t true.
Kibera has a sense of community and group spirit that bonds its citizens together and is helping it flourish. The Economist referred to Kibera as a ‘Boomtown Slum’ in a 2012 article.

One of the true paragons of that sense of community is Margaret, a teacher in Kibera, the following is a routine of Margaret’s day taken from this article:

• “I wake up at 4am, I get the bus in the morning and travel for two hours to my school. I have my regular duties to perform. I’m a class teacher of grade six with 85 children in a class. It starts at 8am, but we normally come early to mark the books. I also take care of the feeding programme so have to measure the food for the day. I have to mark my work. It’s normally a packed day. Today when you called I was issuing textbooks to all the different children. There is a lot of counting to be done and a lot of different activities.”

• “We end at 3.10pm and then the children have prep until 5pm. Between 6pm and 7pm we give an extra hour to some children that can’t do their homework at home because there’s no electricity or space at home. I leave at around 6.30pm. We have to make sure that we clear the compound. Sometime leave at 7pm. Imagine! But when I’m doing it I don’t mind. We work for the children. Five days a week.”

• “There is a persistent shortage of teachers. The government has its own way of doing things, but we are getting forgotten by policies. I am praying the government trains more teachers so we break the large classes into small classes of 50 so we produce the best children from the slum.”

• “The children share books, one to three children per book. The government sends the books but they get destroyed in their bags and sometimes the children sell their books at 50 to 100 shillings to buy food in the slum. 100 shillings, it’s about US$1.5. Children go out campaigning to get other children to come to school.”

• “There is a big difference between rural and urban school because they’re not densely populated. The way we do things in urban areas is different. In rural areas teacher to student ratio is 1 to 40, here is 1 to 70/100.”

• “There is no training for how to teach in slum schools! We’re given training to teach anywhere where there are children — not even in a school! Even if there is no school but there are children, you teach under a tree!”

As Margaret points out, the local and national government does have policies and legislation in place including the fact that every child is free to attend school and that no child can be turned away from a place of education. Of course these may be effective at a national level but in an locale as densely populated as Kibera, it results in overcrowded classrooms that don’t have enough resources.

Due to the lack of resources/infrastructure in Kibera, there is no formal structure for teachers to be employed/nominated and they are largely self-appointed. This is echoed by what Margaret says about children going out, campaigning for and recruiting other children into school, with Kibera being left behind at a national level, they are taking a pro-active stance and attempting to resolve issues for themselves.

Margaret mentions that her school provides meals for pupils which she has said ‘noticeably improves concentration and quality of learning’.

Kibera faces many of the same issues as other developing communities in Africa, inequality, lack of resources etc. but it is the community spirit of its children and exemplum like Margaret that are sustaining its educational structures and highlighting how highly regarded and important education is to its residents.

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The gender gap: #TeacherTuesday Week 3

This week’s Teacher Tuesday saw Nahida, a headteacher from Kabul, Afghanistan explaining the difficulties education in her country faced under the Taliban government and the knock-on effect the previous government’s policy has had on primary education and teaching gaps, especially among women.

At present, Afghanistan has the greatest gender disparity for lower secondary education completion. The issue of gender is only exacerbated by the divide between young people living in urban/rural areas, this is sadly typical of education in developing countries.

Nahida herself graduated from Kabul University in the late 1980’s and became a teacher. When the Taliban government came to power in 1996, they closed girls for schools and prevented female teachers, like Nahida, from teaching.

Rather than simply accepting this injustice, Nahida bravely opposed government policy and started a home-school for girls. This was, of course, done unofficially and in secret because of the great risk to Nahida, her pupils and their parents.

After the Taliban government fell in 2001, Nahida returned to her primary school to find it a shell of its former structure. Nahida and her fellow teachers cleaned the classrooms and rebuilt the structures with mud and stones.

Nahida found it difficult to get young girls to return to school, the cultural effect that previous government had left in place had done a lot of damage and Nahida described girls’ return to her school as ‘slow’. She targeted families and mosques to ensure as many young people were brought into school as possible.

Of, course, where there is a lack of female completion of secondary school, there will inevitably be a lack of female teachers. Completing secondary education is the minimum requirement for becoming a teacher in Afghanistan and Afghanistan sorely needs female teachers to act as role-models for their young pupils, to encourage and nurture them and to show education does work.

However, it is not simply the legacy of Afghanistan’s previous government that is causing these deficiencies, there is also the issue of conflict and insurgency in the country. If insurgents attack a school, regardless of where it is in the country, parents will keep their children home for days, fearing for their lives. This is more likely in rural communities where there is less security and policing for residents and children.

However, despite the difficulties and the threats, Nahida continues to work tirelessly to deliver female education in Afghanistan. She is a paragon who, for 25 years, has continued teaching because she knows the power and the value of education. Education transforms lives and provides people with the skills they need to provide for themselves.