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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Teacher Tuesday Week 10: Siti from Indonesia

The 10th and final Teacher Tuesday saw us speaking to Siti, a teacher from Indonesia who specialises in special needs education. Siti was moved into special needs teaching after meeting disabled street children in 2001, she qualified with a master’s degree in 2005.

Siti explains how she implements good teaching practice in classes with disabled children ‘I arrange the class in a U-shape so that all pupils receive an equal amount of my attention and focus’. Siti also mentioned in her TweetChat that ‘awareness-raising amongst staff, pupils and parents has helped remove the stigma of disability.’ Awareness-raising as a pre-emptive measure is essential for many aspects of global education.

Siti actively encourages students with disabilities to demonstrate their skills and talents which she says ‘boosts their self-confidence’ and allows other children to ‘see them as part of their group’. For example, Siti has Grade 2 pupils who have excelled at dancing and singing.

Siti has noted that the 2013/4 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, Teaching and learning: Achieving quality for all is one of her greatest resources. The report gives her a strategy for monitoring the progress of disabled children through assessment. This also acts as a diagnostic for how different children with disabilities react to particular teaching methods and whether are working/need re-evaluating.

Like all good teachers, Siti is constantly trying to develop her teaching style and methods. She says that at present, professional development is ‘independently organized by the school. It is training given by friends who have experience, a sort of network of other teachers. It’s very informal.’ The fact that professional development is externally delivered by volunteers demonstrates the level of commitment these teachers have to helping their pupils.

Siti believes that to truly eliminate barriers to teaching and stigma attached to disability, training needs to be provided at a governmental level, as done in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

Recruiting, training and hiring teachers with disabilities is also an effective method of removing the stigma of disability as they ‘can better understand the needs of the children in their classroom. Mozambique, for instance, has been running training for visually impaired primary school teachers for more than 10 years. Communities have become familiar with their children being taught by visually impaired teachers, resulting in a positive change of attitude and helping create a more welcoming environment for teachers and students with disabilities.’

Through the efforts of individuals like Siti, education is improving not just for disabled children but for all children as they learn to see themselves and others without prejudice.

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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Teacher Tuesday Week 4: Mohammed from Syria

Photo_Mohammed_in_school1

For many children, school is a safe, happy environment that means education and friendship. It is generally accepted that a happy school environment is contusive to quality education and learning. However, for many children in Syria, school has come to symbolise a place of fear after their places of learning were destroyed by direct attacks and bombings.

This week’s teacher is Mohammed, who teaches in Zaatari refugee camp in Syria. Mohammed has a university degree and 12 years teaching experience. The school and village he taught in was destroyed by conflict between groups, Mohammed described how ‘They bombed the whole village that time and they destroyed the school because it was in the area’, after this, Mohammed went to Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

Zaatari houses 25,000 children who are of school age, some of whom have missed up to 3 years of education because of conflict in their native countries. Sadly, this is a trend for children from countries affected by conflict, half of the 57 million children globally who are out of education come from countries affected by conflict. When conflict arises, education is often overlooked and pushed aside.

Mohammed says ‘Zaatari is a massive, massive place. It takes a couple of hours to walk across the camp.’ Naturally, providing resources for a camp this size is a struggle and that is Mohammed’s primary concern regarding education within the camp ‘Our main problems are the shortage of text books, we need boards and markers…The school doesn’t look like a school. I want a yard where children can play. We want our school to look like other schools.’

Being able to play and having sufficient resources would help the children who have been affected by conflict would not doubt ease the trauma and psychological damage that they have suffered. Mohammed points out that there are ‘many aggressive students because of the situations they faced during the crisis’. There are centres established to help children deal with the trauma they have suffered but Mohammed has said ‘we still need more support’.

Mohammed hopes to himself and his children back to Syria soon but has stated that if they are staying in the refugee camp for the foreseeable future then more aid is needed to improve conditions.

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.

How will we fund global education post-2015?

“If global leaders invested more in education they could help reduce poverty, create more sustainable livelihoods, improve long-term health benefits, ensure greater gender equality, and promote democratic governance: investment in education now can help to fund a better future tomorrow.”

Global Campaign for Education: Funding the Future report 2014

Extensive research by the UN’s High Level Panel and Sustainable Develop Solutions Network has found that education is instrumental in expediting progress in solving issues such as gender inequality, healthcare and agriculture in developing countries.

Despite the evidence, there are still 57 million children out of primary education globally and a further 69 million out of secondary education. This is a serious issue but equal gravitas must be given to the fact that there are enormous financing gaps for global education, to the tune of $4billion.

Demand from developing countries is vastly outstripping supply from the GCE, this is due, in part, to the fact that member countries of the GPE are not pledging significant donations to global education; for example, the Netherlands has pulled their funding completely. This has provoked the GPE to hold a ‘funding replenishment’ on June 26th 2014 in Brussels. The intention is that cumulatively, the GPE will contribute $1billion p.a. from 2015-2018, providing a total of $4billion for global education. The GPE has claimed that assuming the predicted level of replenishment is achieved, an ‘ambitious’ target of 92% enrolment in primary education can be reached, meaning an extra 17 million children enrolled in basic, primary education.

However, the weight is not solely on the shoulders of the GPE, there is also the call for developing countries to dedicate more of their budget to education, 20% to be precise, with at least 10% on primary education or a higher figure where necessary. This is a crucial development which will see developing countries engaging with their educational issues and creating change in a way that foreign aid could never achieve. Since the MDG’s were created, there has been increased average spending of 6% on education across all Sub-Saharan countries so we can see developing countries are heading in the right direction.

Lastly, there is a hope that the private sector will show greater dedication to the issue of global education. One suggestion has been that multinationals pay their ‘fair share’ of tax in developing countries where they operate. Making multinationals more accountable through taxation will produce steadier, more regular income within developing countries, again producing change and internal development that international aid cannot achieve.

These are all logical and necessary steps toward funding global education, the GPE replenishment meeting in Brussels on June 26th will set the precedent for global education funding post-2015.