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Asian Countries Beat Western Nations In 2014 Global Education Index With South Korea On Top



International Business Times

Many Asian countries fare better than their Western counterparts in imparting education to their citizens, thanks to clear targets set for the educational system and a strong culture of accountability among all stakeholders, including parents and students, according to a new report.

South Korea topped the rankings in the latest edition of the Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment, published in the Learning Curve 2014 report from the Economist Intelligence Unit. South Korea was followed by Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong in the report, which compared trends in 39 countries. Other countries that made it to the top 10 include the UK, Canada, Netherlands, Ireland and Poland, while the U.S comes in at number 14, followed by Australia and New Zealand.

“The clarity of goalposts and alignment of the instructional system with them is more important than high-stakes testing, and something we can learn from Asian systems,” Andreas Schleicher, deputy director for education at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, said in the report.

Finland, which was the leader in the 2012 edition of the index, fell to fifth position due to its performance in reading, math and science literacy tests, while Sweden slipped from 21st to 24th position, “fuelling the debate over the country’s free schools policy,” according to the study.

The index based its rankings by testing reading literacy, learning trends in math and science, as well as cognitive skills across the population, including the assessment of international students within the system.

“Some conclusions from The Learning Curve can clearly be reached,” Michael Barber, chief education adviser for Pearson, which published the study, said in the report. “One is the continuing rise of a number of Pacific Asian countries, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, which combine effective education systems with a culture that prizes effort above inherited ‘smartness’. Another is the significant challenge of improving skills and knowledge in adulthood, for people who were let down by their school system.”

The report also recommended that developing countries improve their educational systems by focusing on creating an army of effective teachers and giving them the freedom and autonomy to perform, while exploring new ways to engage in educating the adult population.

“Adults whose subsequent employment or training opportunities don’t make full use of their skills lose them more quickly than those who use them to their full extent in the course of their work” South China Morning Post quotedBarber as saying. “Therefore, it is vital that governments put the structures in place to slow the decline of skills in adults, irrespective of the position they hold on the index – skills need to be used continuously if they are to be retained.”

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#GirlsEdu: Equality and Education from Ground Up in India


Urvashi Sinha


Last month, India emblemized its role as the world’s largest democracy as over 800 million eligible voters went to the polls in what may have been the largest democratic event in history. High on the list of priorities for all contesting parties was women’s empowerment, women’s equality and overall safety for women. In fact, surveys show more than 90 percent of Indian voters see combating violence against women as a priority and 75 percent of men and women believe that the political promises made to advocate women’s rights have been inadequate so far.

There is good cause for Indians to be concerned that not enough has been done for women in their country. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, more than 25,000 rape cases were reported across the country in 2012 alone. Out of these, almost 98 percent were committed by a relative or neighbor. Additional statistics are no less troubling: latest estimates suggest that a new case of rape is reported every 22 minutes in India, a dowry death occurs every 77 minutes, and a case of cruelty committed by either a husband or husband’s relative occurs every 9 minutes. Forty-seven percent of girls are married by 18 years of age, and 18 percent are married by 15 years of age, resulting in around 39,000 child marriages taking place each day. From a global perspective, 40 percent of the world’s child brides are from India.

Even before girls reach their teenage years, they face distressing challenges in India. Many more girls than boys die before reaching the age of 5. And with female feticide approaching nearly 1 million a year, fewer girls are born. Indeed, our sex ratio is at 914 women to 1,000 men, the lowest it has been since independence in 1947.

Domestic violence and gender disparities are especially pronounced in India’s northern states. Women and girls In Uttar Pradesh, in particular, suffer physical abuse at rates of 18-45 percent, non-consensual sex at rates of 18-40 percent, and physically forced sex at rates of 4-7 percent.

These are terrifying statistics. While the government has tried to boost girls’ education and has made some significant gains (females are now enrolled in primary school almost at parity with men), girls are still far from equal in India. Only 40 percent finish 10th grade. Ultimately, the social climate at home and in communities is too discriminatory to allow for girls being educated or becoming autonomous, equal persons.

Dissatisfied with the government’s efforts, NGOs, women’s movements, journalists, economists, academics and lawyers are promoting their “Womanifesto,” a six-point plan, first drafted last year, that details what needs to be done within the next five years to improve conditions for India’s women and girls. First on the list is “Educate for Equality.” It reads, “We will implement comprehensive, well-funded and long-term public education programs to end the culture of gender-based discrimination and violence. These will include: SMS, radio and TV public service campaigns, accessible lesson plans for schools, and modules for training teachers. To this end we will reach men, women, boys and girls in both urban and rural areas.” Significantly, it specifically speaks of education “for equality,” and not a more watered-down, paternalistic “education for girls.”

The group that I’ve founded, Study Hall Education Foundation (SHEF), has been doing just this. In the last decade, we have adopted the motto of “educate for equality,” understanding that not only is mere enrolment not enough but a gender-neutral academic education is not sufficient to empower girls and will not necessarily lead to better life outcomes. We embed strong, focused, rights-based empowerment programs within schools’ curriculums with very encouraging outcomes. Teachers are led to examine their own gendered mindsets and trained to become advocates for girls’ rights. The teachers then help girls become advocates for themselves and for all girls’ rights. They have a large parent community that they can influence and they use all their interactions with parents as platforms of advocacy.

Our program has reached out to 4,000 adolescent girls, 300 teachers and over 16,000 parents. Teachers have started using their parent teacher meetings to discuss issues like gender discrimination, child marriage, dowry, girls’ right to education and violence against girls. Girls participate in these meetings, using drama to give voice to feelings of oppression and to stake their claim to their right to equal personhood. Interestingly, parent attendance at these meetings has increased 55 percent since the teachers began using them as platforms to discuss gender issues. Teachers report that parents are finding the meetings much more meaningful and are engaging actively in discussions centered on issues that are close to them.

As part of SHEF’s efforts to educate wider communities on gender, we organized a large campaign against child marriage, which impacted approximately 16,000 teachers, students and members of the community. The month-long campaign brought critical dialogues into the classroom, and kicked off discussions with parents at parent teacher meetings. It culminated in a student and teacher-led march through the community, where students and teachers from 43 schools across four districts in Uttar Pradesh shouted slogans against child marriage and for girls rights, performed street plays in the villages and enlisted support from community adults via signature campaigns.

If India is to become a better place for all of its children, then it is vital that we value and respect our daughters. We must move the conversation of girls’ education from “learning outcomes” to “life outcomes” and take up “education for equality” as our mantra across the country. We should include gender education in our curriculum for both boys and girls. And we should teach these lessons not just to our students, but also to their parents and communities in order to construct an egalitarian gender perspective. This is imperative if India is to fulfill its constitutional promise of gender equality.

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China needs education revolution to compete



The Japan Times

Over the last 35 years, China’s strong and sustained output growth — averaging more than 9.5 percent annually — has driven the miraculous transformation of a rural, command economy into a global economic superpower. In fact, according to the World Bank’s most recent calculation of the purchasing power of aggregate income, China is about to overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy.

But in terms of the quality and sustainability of its growth model, China still has a long way to go.

Despite its remarkable rise, China’s per capita income, at $10,057 (adjusted for purchasing power) in 2011, ranks 99th in the world — roughly one-fifth of U.S. per capita income of $49,782. And reaching high-income status is no easy feat. Indeed, many countries have tried and failed, leaving them in a so-called middle-income trap, in which per capita income levels stagnate before crossing the high-income threshold.

Strong human capital is critical to enable China to escape this fate. But China’s labor force currently lacks the skills needed to support high-tech, high-value industries. Changing this will require comprehensive education reform that expands and improves opportunities for children, while strengthening skills training for adults.

To be sure, over the last four decades, the quality of China’s labor force has improved substantially, which is reflected in impressive gains in educational attainment. Gross enrollment rates at the primary level have surpassed 100 percent since the 1990s, while secondary and tertiary enrollment rates reached 87 percent and 24 percent, respectively, in 2012. In 2010, more than 70 percent of Chinese citizens aged 15 to 64 had received secondary education, compared to about 20 percent in 1970.

Furthermore, Chinese students perform well in internationally comparable tests. Fifteen-year-olds in Shanghai outperformed students from 65 countries, including 34 OECD, in mathematics, science and reading, according to the Program for International Student Assessment in 2009 and 2012.

China has also benefited from rapid employment growth, with more than 7 million workers having entered the workforce each year since 1990. This, together with the massive reallocation of workers from rural to urban areas, has supported the labor-intensive manufacturing industries that have fueled China’s economic rise.

But China’s demographic advantage is diminishing quickly, owing to low fertility rates and population aging. According to the United Nations, by 2030, China’s working-age population (15 to 59 years old) will have decreased by 67 million from its 2010 level.

Moreover, higher education in China leaves much to be desired, with employer surveys revealing that graduates of upper secondary schools and universities usually lack the required technical knowledge and soft skills.

For example, in 2013, more than one-third of the Chinese firms surveyed said that they struggled to recruit skilled workers, with 61 percent attributing this to a shortage of general employable skills. How, then, can China expect to achieve the export diversification and technological upgrading that it needs to move up the global value chain?

Clearly China needs to reform its higher-education institutions, including technical and vocational training programs. At the same time, it must expand opportunities for anyone with talent to acquire high-quality secondary and tertiary education, thereby reducing substantial disparities in the accessibility and quality of higher education across regions and social groups. And the children of migrant workers in urban areas must be granted full access to the education system.

Such efforts to reduce educational disparities would help to address income inequality — a significant threat to future economic growth. All of this will require increased public investment in education. As it stands, China’s public investment in education, as a share of GDP, is below international standards across all levels, but especially in senior secondary and tertiary education.

China’s education challenge also extends to quality. Inadequate education is a major driver of rising unemployment among China’s senior secondary and tertiary graduates, not to mention their declining wage premium. This can be remedied through better financing, more effective recruitment and compensation policies, and more decentralized decision-making in school administrations.

Although some evidence suggests that there is an over-supply of university graduates in China, ongoing demographic and sectoral shifts mean that China will encounter a supply deficit of 24 million highly skilled graduates of universities or higher-level vocational schools by 2020. To fill this gap, China must upgrade its fragmented and ineffective technical- and vocational-training programs.

To ensure that its labor force can meet the demands of a rapidly changing economic and technological environment, China must build a more inclusive, higher quality education system. Without it, China may not be the world’s number one economy for long.

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The Federal Government Hasn’t Improved Education After Trying for 50 Years



The Foundry

The federal government has been trying to improve educational outcomes for 50 years, but according to a recent study, we have little to show for it — and in some areas, it is getting worse.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiatives, the goal of which was to help low-income Americans move toward self-sufficiency. Among the measures enacted under Johnson’s “War on Poverty” was the first major federal intervention in education: the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965.

The anniversary adds context to this month’s release of the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) “Report Card,” which detailed the academic achievement levels of high school seniors. The results weren’t promising – which has been true for the last five years the report card assessed and the last 50 years of federal intervention in education.

NAEP provides nationally representative samples of achievement levels of American students and selected demographics, providing an indicator of overall student achievement. The 2013 report revealed that performance in math and reading has stagnated or worsened among America’s 12th grade students and that academic achievement gaps have grown since the last report in 2009.

“[S]tudent achievement at the high school level has been flat in recent years. Just as troubling, achievement gaps among ethnic groups have not narrowed,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan in response to the report.

Secretary Duncan is right. But these results are not merely indicative of our academic health over the last few years; they’re part of a national trend in educational stagnation that has persisted for the last half-century.

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

“We have begun a campaign to unlock the full potential of every boy and girl – regardless of his race or his region or his father’s income,” said President Johnson when he signed the ESEA law in 1965. When first enacted, ESEA was 31 pages long and cost $1 billion. By 2002, the seventh reauthorization of ESEA (known as No Child Left Behind) had morphed into a law costing nearly $25 billion annually, containing 60 competitive grant programs and nearly two dozen formula grant programs. Americans have spent $2 trillion on education since the enactment of ESEA.

Considered within that context, the NAEP results are even more troubling.

Federal intervention in education has largely failed to achieve its stated mission of eliminating the achievement gap between low-income students and their peers.

So what do we do?

Where federal intervention has failed, research suggests that school choice has been one of the greatest tools in increasing educational opportunity for all students.

In 2009, Stanford economist Caroline M. Hoxby conducted a multiyear study of New York City charter schools and found that from kindergarten to eighth grade, the students who attended charter schools nearly matched the achievement levels of their peers in suburban communities. She calls this phenomenon the closing of the “Harlem-Scarsdale” achievement gap.

The Washington, D.C., Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), which provides vouchers to low-income students in the nation’s capital, has shown impressive improvements in educational attainment. In a random assignment evaluation of the program conducted by University of Arkansas professor Patrick Wolf, more than 91 percent of OSP students graduated from high school. That’s 21 percentage points higher than the graduation rate of a control group of students who applied for a scholarship but did not receive one.

More than 90 percent of OSP students enroll in a two-year or four-year college. And over 92 percent of families in the program are satisfied with their children’s scholarships. It’s a testament to the power of school choice.

President Johnson’s Great Society programs have not delivered the educational opportunity they promised. If Americans hope to see improvements in educational performance, we must look toward policies that empower families, not those that grow federal intervention and a distant, unresponsive bureaucracy.

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Brown v. Board of Education at 60

Education, Minority Education


The Huffington Post

Supreme Court decisions are important not only for what they decide but for the reasoning that produces or explains the ultimate result. That is particularly important in iconic decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education, decided 60 years ago.

Brown, of course, unanimously held that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. In reaching that result, it also articulated or relied on other basic principles including that fair educational opportunity is essential to the American Dream, that America should be one nation for all citizens, not separate nations racially divided, and that the Constitution’s meaning evolves over time as experience informs and shapes its content.

Yet among the principles central to Brown was the basic American ideal that majorities should be sensitive to the rights, interests and reasonable perceptions of minorities, and that public policies which offend that imperative may be constitutionally offensive even when they formally treat majority and minority citizens the same.

Brown addressed that problem in the context of public education, specifically the practice in some states of providing “separate but equal” public schools for white and black children. Typically, of course, the schools for black children were inferior in tangible respects so they were not only separate but very unequal. But in Brownlower courts had found that some of the racially segregated schools were equal or becoming so in material respects, a finding which forced the Court to consider whether state sponsored separation itself was constitutionally impermissible even when the schools were equal with respect to buildings, curriculum, teacher qualifications and salaries and other measurable criteria.

The Court found that racially segregating children in public schools by itself deprived African-American children of equal educational opportunities. It reached that decision based on its conclusion that racial segregation signaled to African-American children that they were inferiors, outsiders in the American community, and that this message caused them constitutional harm. Indeed, it was widely understood that “separate but equal” was a strategy a white majority imposed to keep blacks apart.

Although some have claimed that Brown stands for the principle that classifying based on race is never permitted (not even to achieve diversity or remedy past discrimination), the Court’s words in that celebrated decision refute that interpretation. The Court characterized the issue for decision as whether racial segregation in public schools “deprive[s] the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities,” not whether racial segregation or racial classification hurt white children or all children. The reason racial segregation was offensive was that separating minority children “from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.” These words and this rationale would have made no sense in 1954 as applied to white children. Brown did not proscribe all racial classifications but simply those that subjugated minorities.

Jim Crow segregation which Brown addressed was not, of course, a product of good faith reasoning. Its message of black inferiority, and of white superiority, were natural consequences of white supremacist thinking.

Yet Brown did not reject majority messages of black inferiority solely when produced by malevolent intent. Instead, the Court articulated a broader principle regarding the rights of racial minorities in America.

In our democratic system, majorities often prevail but subject to various structural arrangements to make law-making difficult. And even when majorities work their will through the legislative process, judicial review constrains majority preference.

Brown suggests that in exercising judicial review it’s often important for courts to consider the impact on minorities of programs majorities impose. It’s not simply that minorities are often subjected to prejudice and are not well-positioned to prevail in the political process, although those factors certainly are important.

It’s also because most of us are a lot better at seeing the merit of our own views than at understanding the perspectives of people different from ourselves. It’s relatively easy to convince ourselves that our own views are reasonable, even right. It’s harder, often even for people of good will, to see the world through the eyes of those situated differently vis a vis various laws or practices.

That simple fact of human nature makes it likely that majoritarian solutions will often undervalue the just concerns of minorities and may produce arrangements that seem appropriate to majorities but are unfairly hurtful to minorities. Sometimes the harm is deliberately imposed but often it reflects subconscious biases or comes from the failure to understand, rather than from any desire to hurt. America’s mistreatment of African-Americans presents, of course, the most egregious example of discrimination against a minority but instances of this phenomenon have hurt other less powerful groups including those based on gender, religion, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, alienage and disability.

The 60 years since Brown have brought considerable progress in recognizing, and in trying to remedy, a range of injustices against African-Americans and against other minority groups. Those years have shown that many of these problems are not easily resolved. They also confirm that America has an enormous stake in continuing that quest, not only to fashion a more just society but also one which benefits from the talents of all, not simply those who are privileged. Quite clearly, much remains to be done.

Government and its citizens must continually be sensitive to how majoritarian solutions impact minorities and whether social arrangements send a message that they are lesser members of society, and should act to remedy such affronts. That is one of the implications of a pluralistic society and one of the enduring lessons of Brown.

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Education Protects Women From Abuse



The Atlantic

The horrifying kidnapping of nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls by the extremist group Boko Haram was made even more horrifying by the fact that the group specifically targeted the girls for trying to improve their lives. Boko Haram went after the girls for the same reason the Taliban went after Malala Yousafzai: Extremists fear smart women.

“If you want to mire a nation in backwardness, manacle your daughters,” Nick Kristof wrote in a recent column.

Kristof listed some of the better-known positive externalities of having an educated female population: Fewer children, and thus less risk of a “youth bulge” and, later, civil war. Not to mention a more skilled labor force and a stronger economy.

But a new report suggests that the benefit of girls’ schooling extends even further—that it has a protective effect against domestic violence, rape, and child marriage.

“No place is less safe for a woman than her own home,” reads a World Bank report released this week. Roughly 30 percent of the world’s women have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of their partners, and across 33 developing countries surveyed by the organization, nearly one-third of women said they could not refuse sex with their partner.

Share of Women Who Have Experienced Physical or Sexual Violence by an Intimate Partner

“Yes, it’s normal, being beaten, yelled at. If you tell [anyone], your peers will ask you, is this your first time to be beaten? Some of us are used to it, just like the way we are used to eating ugali,” one Tanzanian woman said in a World Bank focus group.

To make matters worse, one in three women said they thought wife-beating was justifiable, and women who condoned domestic violence were more likely to experience it.

Change in the Percent of Women Who Believe a Husband Is Justified in Beating His Wife if She …

But the Bank also found that better-educated women were more likely to not be sexually or physically abused. Each additional year of schooling was associated with a 1-percent increase in their ability to refuse sex with their partner.

“The strongest correlate of women’s sexual autonomy in a relationship is her level of education,” the report notes. “Overall, 87 percent of women with a higher education say they can refuse sex. Women with some or completed secondary education have an 11 and 36 percent lower risk of violence, respectively, compared with women with no education.”

One of the most lasting, damaging impacts of the Boko Haram kidnapping could be making Nigerian girls nervous about attending class. According to recent interviews with some of the escaped girls, when the group arrived at the school in northern Nigeria, they were shouting, “We are Boko Haram. We will burn your school. You shall not do school again. You shall do Islamic school.”

Of course, it’s also crucial to change social norms and laws in countries with high levels of domestic violence, and working with men’s groups can go a long way as well. But since female education seems to inoculate societies against misogyny, it’s both unsurprising and heartbreaking that Boko Haram would target classrooms.

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India needs an education strategy


Meeta Sengupta

India stands at a cusp today between two governments. The previous one has been serving the nation for the past ten years the new one will hopefully get a mandate strong enough to stand for the next five.

As we stand on this platform between the old and the new (regardless of which party comes back to power, though by now it seems to be fairly clear) it is a time to call for change.

First, it would be graceful to acknowledge what went well, especially in the Education sector. Much was achieved including investments in infrastructure, near universal enrolment at the primary level, acknowledgement of the private sector contribution, the groundwork for the entry of foreign universities to India, the almost universal acceptance of the RTE Act (flawed as it is) and of course the slow but steady entry of technology in education. For each of these I can hear critics harrumphing. I agree, not enough has been done. Progress has been painfully slow. In many cases the slow progress has been a boon because the direction chosen was so obviously flawed. A generation has lost many chances. The current one must not be let down.

The good news is that much of the thinking and debating has been done for years. There are clear opinions and choices on most institutional and policy issues. The path forward is known and the structural gaps are identified. There can be nothing better to inherit for a team that knows that actions often speak larger than words. For example – it is acknowledged that Indian universities need to focus on research and international engagement to ride up the global rankings. (I of course advocate a diversified model for post secondary education that does not require all universities to fight for a spot on the same greasy pole). It is also clear that multiple accreditation bodies need to be set up with the blessings of the sector skills councils that represent the employer’s requirements  – these are to guide the content and certification of competencies to fill the skills gap. At the primary school level we know that qualified teacher gaps are a national emergency – this is already a national mission and must be executed well.

Other issues that always get pushed under the carpet are also acknowledged as being awkward – Foreign Direct Investment in education, private sector provision of primary education, the mess that the current community college model presents (when the answer is obvious to some of us) and of course the very troublesome issue of apprenticeships that falls somewhere in the gaps between the ministries of Human Resource Development and Labour. Many of the issues that need to be sorted out are ideological – tradition pulls policy towards treating it as a public good. Pragmatism and resource constraints, and dare I say it – common sense too – negates that view. At the same time one realises that the current structures, behemoths as they are may be flawed, but are the only vehicles for the distribution of the new national policies. These knots will have to be cut before the new government can begin to make meaningful progress.

Of course, some changes are easier than they look, such as the RTE Act that has been attacked by many. It is enough to acknowledge the RTE 2.0 movement that is ready to move past recriminations and chart a path to better education for all. The RTE comes with fundamental flaws that cannot be allowed to continue into the future but has clearly established the principle of social engineering via education policy. Where it fails is in arrogating private property to the state, in discriminating against the majority institutions and in creating a distrust of government aid. These flaws will only strengthen the suspicion that government wants to play big brother and nanny – a creepy thought at best. The RTE itself has many flaws such as the emphasis on input based criteria rather than on value addition during the school year (though activists cry out for output based norms for schools). Many flaws have been patched over, but fundamentally it remains a noble thought that seems to be designed for flaws to show up in operation.

The new government has all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle in place. They have all been tagged and sorted too. Now it is up to them to create a the picture that they believe will built a better future for the nation. It is time for a national action plan. What India needs is a National Education Strategy.

This blog was originally posted in The Times of India.


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America’s dangerous education myth: Why it isn’t the best anti-poverty program




If you’ve followed the education reform debate in this country, the Finland story should be familiar by now. Almost as if engaged in an elaborate troll, Finland has apparently organized its educational system in exactly the opposite way as the reform movement here claims is necessary. The reformers say we need longer school days, but the Finns have short ones. The reformers say we need extensive standardized testing, but the Finns have almost none. The reformers say we need to keep a close leash on teachers, but the Finns give their teachers considerable freedom. Despite all of these pedagogical mistakes, the Finns consistently find themselves at the top of the international education scoreboard.

Normally, the suggested lesson of the Finland story is that the education reformers’ proposals are at minimum unnecessary and perhaps even counterproductive. Whether this lesson actually falls out of the Finland story is the subject of hotly contested arguments that are insufferably boring. However, flying under the radar of these Finland debates is a much less contestable and interesting lesson: Education cannot deliver economic equality.

If ever there was an opportunity to show that education can fix inequality and poverty, Finland is it. The children come into its education system with the lowest poverty rates in the world. In addition to its overall excellence, Finland’s education system is also extremely egalitarian in the way that it instructs its pupils. There are almost no private schools, college is free, and an ethos of total inclusion seems to reign. It is the closest thing to the liberal education utopia as you will probably ever find.

Despite all of this, Finnish economic inequality and poverty is still quite high, at least when you look at the market distribution of income. In 2010, Finland’s market poverty rate (defined as those with incomes below 50 percent of the median income) was 32.2 percent. By comparison, the United States’ market poverty was actually lower at 28.4 percent. When it comes to overall inequality, Finland’s Gini coefficient in 2010 was 0.479. This was only slightly lower than the U.S.’ Gini coefficient, which stood at 0.499.

Education boosters bizarrely think that providing everyone a high-quality education will somehow magically result in them all having good-paying jobs. But, as Finland shows, this turns out not to be true. Apparently, it’s not possible for everyone to simultaneously hold jobs as well-paid upper-class professionals because at least some people have to actually do real work. A modern economy requires a whole army of lesser-skilled jobs that just don’t pay that well and the necessity of those jobs doesn’t go away simply because people are well-educated.

The reason Finland’s ultimate distribution of income is so equal is not because its great education system has made everyone receive high paychecks (an impossible task), but because Finland has put in place distributive policies that make sure its national income is shared broadly. In 2010, Finland’s tax level was 42.5 percent of its GDP, which was nearly double the tax level of the U.S. By strategically spreading that tax money around through a host of cash transfer and benefit programs, Finland’s high market poverty rate of 32.2 percent fell to just 7.3 percent. Its child poverty rate, which Finland focuses extra attention on, fell down to 3.9 percent. Overall economic inequality took a similar dive.

The real lesson that the Finland story teaches us is not the one about pedagogical techniques that draws so much fierce debate. Rather, it’s a lesson about what very successful pedagogy and excellent education can actually do for a society. Good education can make your society well-educated and more productive, but it cannot generate a labor market in which everyone works a high-paying job. It cannot ensure that market income is distributed evenly or adequately. It cannot even come remotely close to doing those things.

The upshot of this lesson is that the fixation on education as a solution to poverty, inequality or any other distributional problem is totally wrongheaded. Good and equitable education is a huge plus for all sorts of things, but it doesn’t create an egalitarian society. Those who say it will – a group that includes reformers and their opponents – have no idea what they are talking about and, through their ignorant distractions, help sow the seeds of never-ending stratification and low-end material insecurity.

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Where a teen cannot spell, more schools cannot chase more votes



The Indian Express

The hoarding for “Sunbeam School Chaubeypur” displays two improbably white girls reading from the same book. Another, for “St John’s World School”, has a picture of a child playing. “Ved International School, Saidpur” advertises smiling children in front of an algebra-laden blackboard. Welcome to Ghazipur, which goes to vote on Monday. It’s hard to miss the shiny “world” schools being set up on dusty wheat fields here. But at least one person hasn’t noticed. Samajwadi Party candidate Shivkanya Kushwaha, whose party runs the state and controls a majority of the assembly seats here, says, “I don’t know about schools. I am new to politics.”

Kushwaha is from a roster of candidates straight out of an Anurag Kashyap film. Her politician husband is in jail. She is up against a western UP don from a party run by a local variant. The man to beat, though, is the BJP candidate, a landlord. He hopes to benefit from the “Modi wave” in nearby Varanasi.

No candidate though is talking about another wave washing the region – the demand for quality schools. Ghazipur has seen a 72 per cent increase in the number of schools, public and private, between 2008 and 2012, according to the District Information System for Education. This is the second largest increase in any district in India. During this period 2,15,041 additional children were enrolled here, the fourth biggest increase in the country. Many other districts in UP are doing well. What explains this development? Is it leading to votes?

The writings on the wall confirm the private school revolution in Ghazipur. To that extent, the statistics hold true. But improvements in government schools are limited to brick and mortar, and more enrollments doesn’t mean more students in class.

The “upper” primary school (for 6th to 8th standards) in a small village in Ghazipur is freshly painted. Tapeshwar Singh Yadav, the assistant teacher, says three new buildings have been built since 2006, when the Congress-led central government ramped up expenditure on primary schooling. Yadav says: “I have been teaching here since 2002. In 2006, 45 children studied here. Now 90 are enrolled”.

But mere buildings and enrolment do not an education make. Only 12 children are present on the day this reporter visits the school. The remaining 78 are “in the fields, not come, or in private schools”. Yadav also points out that no new teachers have been hired. “There are still three teachers here.” Only two are visible. The third “has gone to her village”. During an afternoon English class, the 12 students leisurely copy ‘CAT’ and ‘HOUSE’ from the blackboard to their books. They have been studying English for six years. One of them is asked to speak in English. She slowly spells her name out, then falls silent.

Asked why buildings have not led to learning, the bureaucrat in charge of primary education in the district replies: “The [central] Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan focused only on accessibility, not on teaching… there is a problem of teachers in entire UP.” The Congress candidate, Mohd Maqsood Khan, is more scathing. “The Centre gave money. But the state has stolen all of it. What can be worse than stealing from the poor. It is a tragedy that an area that once produced IAS, IPS officers, now has a 5th standard child who can’t read.”

Rajeshwar Singh, a former primary schoolteacher and long-time Congress worker, adds: “All that money has made schools into hotels. Children come, eat [midday meals], and go learn elsewhere”.

Singh sends his own children to private schools, as does anyone with means in Ghazipur. “There are four government schools, but 12 private schools [in his village],” Singh says. Baladevan Rangaraju, director of the education think-tank India Institute, argues that the actual number of private schools is likely higher. “These can be even a single room. But unlike government schools, teachers show up and listen to parents. Ghazipur, like the rest of India, is witnessing a private school revolution for the poor. And it is because the government is incapable of delivering quality.”

The worst of private schools are the one-room horrors that Rangaraju mentions. At the top end are schools like Mount Litera Zee School, whose architecture seems more Germany than Ghazipur. For around Rs 2,400 a month, students have access to 21 dedicated teachers, a CBSE syllabus, arts and crafts, and a large computer room. Mohit Srivastava, the director at Mount Litera, says that “in just the last two years, four big private schools have opened here”. Priyanshu Saxena, the school’s headboy, speaks practised English as he explains that his “father has a medical supplies business and mother is a homemaker”. He will soon leave Ghazipur, he says, to study in Delhi.

Politics as usual

Shivkanya Kushwaha is unaware of the surging demand for quality schooling in her constituency. The Express met her in Khanpur village. She is sitting by a truck with an LCD screen projecting videos of party leaders Akhilesh and Mulayam Singh Yadav to villagers. Inside, a live band of singers, harmonium and tabla players belt out Bhojpuri tunes set to Samajwadi lyrics. Asked what the problems of education in her constituency are, she says, “I have just left the home for politics. I will take time to know these things.”

The Congress’s Maqsood Khan sees a sinister motive for this inattention to government schools. Both the BSP and the SP came to power on the backs of backward caste and Dalit voters. Khan says, “Now in government schools, only backward children study. They don’t want their vote bank to get educated. because they will start demanding more”.

Sriram Kiritram, a Dalit, works at the sprawling opium factory in Ghazipur. The eight children in his family are playing hide-and-seek in front of his two-room house. He cannot afford private schools. So they waste their days in the government school, a 100-child nightmare where only one teacher shows up. Asked who is responsible, Kiritram smiles. “Today, we can attend schools with the others. She [Mayawati] gave us strength”.

The BJP’s candidate, Manoj Sinha, claims to strengthen everyone. Speaking to farmers in Phulli village, he promises the “Gujarat model of development for all”. Sinha, MP in 1996 and 1999, is being optimistic, since even BJP workers see no overwhelming “development wave” here. They believe that any of three parties — SP, BSP, BJP — could win. But even a five per cent swing for the BJP may result in victory, such are the workings of the first-past-the-post system in a multi-cornered fight. And the once-dead BJP local unit now has a fighting chance. Asked who her nearest rival is, Kushwaha says “Modi”, not Mayawati. Kiritram adds: “Every shop in Ghazipur has a lotus sign. His [Modi’s] face is on TV all the time”. Kiritram himself will vote for “elephant” [BSP, whose candidate is Kailashnath Singh Yadav], but there are some in his 10-member household who will “try Modi” this time.

Campaigning at Phulli village, Sinha stands atop a steel cot propped over an open drain. He blames the Congress for price rise and warns against regional parties that want votes not to govern but “to sell themselves in the bazaars of Delhi”. But even he is silent on primary education, on the schooling revolution taking place in his constituency. Asked why, he says: “Schools is a state subject. Central government [and so, the MP] can’t do much. We have to win the state first.”

Aspirations and central funds create possibilities for every child. But they turn real only when the state government thinks this will lead to votes. Where that happens, as in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat, schools shine. Where it doesn’t, like here in eastern Uttar Pradesh, aspirations are met through private enterprise and migration. It is the poor, condemned to absent government teachers or high private fees, who suffer most. Ghazipur’s sordid reality is of a 13 year-old girl still struggling to spell.

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Should Students Sit on School Boards?

Curriculum Development, Education


The Atlantic

For centuries, students have been agents of social change, their passion and idealism forming a critical part of the historical landscape; a lesson that, in education, teachers and administrators ignore at their peril. But figuring out how best to appropriate student interests raises difficult questions. Do students belong on school boards? Should they participate in budgetary evaluations and contract negotiations? Are teenagers—who can’t vote in governmental elections or legally purchase cigarettes—equipped to make long-term decisions about their education, or will they inevitably sink to the lowest common denominator? These are issues policymakers have battled for decades, most recently in Los Angeles, the country’s second largest school district, where students now have a voice on their local school board.

Earlier this month, after a series of protests, including one in which participants placed hundreds of empty desks on a street in downtown Los Angeles to represent the number of kids who drop out each week, the L.A. Unified School district accepted a petition to give students a non-voting seat on the school board. The protesters had wanted a peer-elected member. But instead, by a 5-1 vote, the board of education approved an amendment giving superintendent John Deasy 120 days to decide how a student member will be chosen, and the role he or she will fill.

The decision will not be easy. “From a teenager’s point of view, I have two conflicting opinions about students on school boards,” says Dr. John Bryan Starr a lecturer in Yale’s political science department and consultant to the Connecticut Superintendents Network. “During the first half of my tenure as an elected member on the [New Canaan, Conn.] school board, there were these two poor kids, who just sat there glassy-eyed in total boredom. They didn’t have a vote and virtually never had a voice. They realized they were just wasting their time.”

On the other hand Dr. Starr says, based on his Yale seminars, other students who sat on city and state school boards before college have had much more positive experiences. “While it’s highly unusual for them to be given a vote, students were able to assemble opinions, engage in deliberations and felt they were actively representing their peers’ interests.”

But ironically, students already may have too much of a stake in the outcome. Like numerous other states, New Jersey’s state board considers it a conflict if members have family working for the school district, and thus prevents them from voting on items like teacher contracts and selection of the superintendent. Students, too, face inherent conflicts of interests as they negotiate their daily life with teachers and peers at school.

Gene Maeroff, author of School Boards in America: A Flawed Exercise in Democracy and founding director of Columbia’s Hechinger Institute on Education and Media, believes that it’s better for students to have a non-voting role. But that doesn’t mean young people should be discounted entirely: “Of course, you can also get away from some of these problems if you have memberships of recent graduates, over the age of 18, who live in the school district.” And while current students are accused of short-sightedness, focusing on one or two pet issues (say, fewer homework hours or more sports funding), Maeroff points out that adults are also often guilty of pursuing a narrow agenda.

The idea of students on school boards emerges from the progressive notion that children should have a voice and that we should respect their views, explains Matthew Levey, founder of the International Charter School in Brooklyn. But Levey warns that while students can debate topics like cafeteria menus effectively, in large districts like LA and New York teenagers are ill-equipped to grasp the intricacies of financial tradeoffs, like whether a city should issue 30-year bonds. “Take curriculum and hiring choices. 99 percent of adults have trouble making thoughtful decisions,” says Levey. “There is a reason parents set boundaries and enforce rules. Most teenagers, while it’s wonderful how they can articulate their views on many important topics, are not in the best position to make complicated, long-range decisions for themselves or their community.”

In fact, teenagers have “islets of maturity,” according to Dr. Terri Apter, a psychologist at Cambridge and author of The Myth of Maturity: What Teenagers Need From Parents to Become Adults. High school students may appear highly rational in discussing an abstract issue but then revert to childish logic with a parent—say, complaining that something isn’t fair. Also, while adolescents can have as strong a grasp on probability and risk as any adult, their sensitivity to peer pressure can overpower their impartial faculties.

“Adults are so invested in our institutions,” believes Adam Fletcher, founder and director of Sound Out, an organization that promotes student involvement in education. “And we get very worried whenever we have to hand over any modicum of control to young people.” To claim that students are incapable of successfully engaging on school boards reflects a fear-driven perspective that “positions students as empty vessel of an adult-driven society. “If I’ve learned one thing in my work over the last decade, says Fletcher, “it’s that students are actively, passionately, and fully capable of transforming education.”

“Many teens are capable of complex budget discussions,” adds Dr. Apter. “Think of a school board proposing a budget cut. Those on the board should look at the overall well-being and functioning of the school.” However, it will be particularly difficult” for an adolescent to support a decision that disadvantages some of his or her classmates, even if it’s the best outcome for the school.

In general, there is a growing trend to take student input more seriously in educational reform, especially when it comes to their teachers. “There is strong research showing that student surveys can be very important tools and are quite predictive when it comes to teacher quality,” says Nancy Walser, editor of the Harvard Education Letter and author of The Essential School Board Book: Better Governance in the age of Accountability. For starters, the MET Project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, found a strong correlation between students’ experience in a classroom, as reported on survey questionnaires, and a teacher’s overall effectiveness. Beginning in the 2014-1015 school year, districts in Massachusetts will formally start incorporating student feedback into their teacher evaluations.

The problem in Los Angeles, however, is that a single adolescent voice will likely be drowned by adult members and could easily under-represent the interests of the student body as a whole, warns Dr. R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy, a professor and author of the forthcoming book Inequality In The Promised Land: Race, Resources, and Suburban Schooling. School boards often pay disproportionate attention to families savvy enough to hoard educational opportunities among a narrow group. Conversely, those families impacted by homelessness and other social problems, says Dr. Lewis-McCoy, find it difficult to promote their—and their children’s—interests.

The debate over whether to include students in school decisions is an important one. But ultimately, putting one or two teenagers on a school board won’t make much of a difference if they don’t represent families traditionally left from the table in the first place.

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