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The implications of school choice in the United States

By Frank Adamson, Assistant Professor of Education Leadership and Policy Studies at California State University, Sacramento and author of a background paper for the 2021/2 GEM Report

The title of the 2021/2 GEM Report, Who chooses? Who loses? invokes the notion of ‘school choice’, a term encapsulating Milton Friedman’s market-based theory that if students choose schools, those schools must outcompete each other for customers (students), with this competition yielding higher quality education.  By asking Who chooses?, the report raises the issue that schools may actually choose students instead of students choosing schools. The second question of Who loses? self-evidently addresses the global reality that many students lack sufficient educational opportunity.

This blog addresses findings from the GEM report in the context of the United States in three key areas: segregation, competition, and state responsibility.

Education segregation in the United States

Segregation directly addresses the GEM Report’s second question of Who loses? The historical legacies of slavery and segregation in the United States created racial and class divisions that remain today, with segregation in education having increased over the last 30 years.

Despite the desegregation intention of the 1954 Brown vs. Board supreme court case, Jargowsky reports that students in primary and secondary education are “substantially more racially and economically segregated than people not enrolled in school”. Furthermore, our 2019 study found that students of colour in urban contexts often attend intensely segregated schools enrolling over 90% students of colour. Most identify education segregation and inequity as major problems, but market-based, competitive approaches have not alleviated these issues.

Education competition in the United States

Briefly, non-state actor involvement in the U.S. context usually means spending public tax dollars on self-managed schools (the charter school model) or giving students vouchers or tax credits (again tax dollars) to attend private schools, as outlined in the GEM Report (p. 47). Our 2019 analysis shows that charter schools account for 7% of all schools and 5.7% of all enrollments, while “vouchers account for merely 0.34% of U.S. national student enrollments” and “only 0.02% of families nationally participated in Individual Tax Credits, Tax Credit Scholarships, and Education Savings Accounts” (pp. 16-17). While these percentages may not appear substantial, localized analysis produces a very different picture.

The distribution of the most prevalent form of non-state actor involvement, charter schools, varies substantially across the country, with 57% of charters operating in urban environments despite only 25% of students living there. Within charter schools, African American and Latinx students are over-represented, while white students, who comprise around half of the public school population, account for only one-third of charter enrolments. Over 30 school districts in the country have greater than 25% charter school enrolment, including many large cities serving predominantly students of colour, such as New Orleans (93% charter enrolment), Detroit (53%), Washington D.C. (46%), Oakland, California (29%), and Los Angeles (26%).

A heat map of charter schools illustrates their over-representation in urban districts and reveals the intersection of longstanding education segregation by race and class through the targeted deployment of school choice in the form of charter schools.

Figure 1. United States school districts with charter school enrolment greater than 10%

Note: Visualization produced using data from the National Alliance for Public Charters, 2016 and adapted from Adamson, F. and Galloway, M. (2019) (EPAA open-source). Circle size proportional to enrolment.

The rise of charter schools has seen communities lose their public schools as policy-makers close them or convert them to charter schools. For instance, research in the Chicago system shows that, as education privatization increased citywide, African Americans became increasingly segregated into low-income and uni-racial schools due to both enrolment in charter schools and public school closures. Resistance to these school closings by the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, including a 34-day hunger strike, motivated members to create a national black-and-brown led organization called the Journey for Justice Alliance (J4J). Led by Jitu Brown, J4J now advocates in over 30 cities for education justice.

Competition in charter schools often leads to student selection, one of the most detrimental set of practices to educational equity. Selection occurs when schools counsel- or force-out students using different strategies, including a lack of transparency in registration practices, hints to parents that other schools would better serve their children, and schools finding reasons to suspend or expel students with low test scores.

None of these practices is hypothetical. I encountered them in countless interviews while researching a detailed report on New Orleans entitled Whose choice? that describes the myriad ways in which charter schools selected students and stratified the entire district. A new book by Welner and Mommandi, released last year, delves even further, describing 13 different ways in which charter schools choose students to shape their enrolment.

Examples of the cost of competition for students do not stem only from New Orleans and the United States. This GEM Report also describes the collateral damage of competition, noting that “non-state actors may increase cost-efficiency by hiring young or unqualified teachers” or that “non-state providers may be tempted to reduce inputs by focusing on subjects whose results are measured, which may matter for their funding” (p. 13). In these cases, the quality of education suffers through inexperienced teachers and/or truncated curriculum. Furthermore, when states allow, or even support, systems with these results, they abrogate their legal responsibility as the duty-bearer for the human right to education, as described in human rights law and The Abidjan Principles.

State responsibility in the United States

This third issue, state responsibility, starts with the acknowledgement that the pursuit of market-based approaches in the United States has exacerbated inequity and segregation in many contexts. A different course for public education provision could include investing in full-service community schools. According to J4J Alliance, these schools would have engaging, culturally relevant and challenging curriculum, educator roles in professional development and assessment design and use, and wrap around supports such as health and other care for students needing those services. Overall, the U.S. case provides an important and instructive example that other countries should examine before scaling up similar education approaches.

This brings us to a final international point about policy, politics, and influence. While the GEM Report does call attention to the myriad actors and political acrimony that divides opinion on the role of markets and governments in education, the report does not go far enough in naming the power asymmetries in terms of finance and access of different constituencies (e.g., technology companies and venture capital funds having orders of magnitude more resources and policy influence than civil society). To that end, I would add a third question to the report – Who chooses? Who loses? And who benefits? – to interrogate how non-state actors derive profit from the education sector and to help us remember that students should remain the recipients of our education expenditures and resources.

At a more fundamental level, the GEM Report could also have more explicitly identified who stands to benefit from different approaches. There is an inherent conflict of interest between the universal right to education and the goal of increasing profit. As we face increasing global challenges, we cannot afford to further fracture education provision by diluting public investment in the interest of private profit; instead, we must collectively deliver on the vision of the U.N. and treaty law that guarantees the right to a high-quality public education for all students.

The post The implications of school choice in the United States appeared first on World Education Blog.

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Kenya: Alarm as 4000 school girls get pregnant in Machakos since March

Africa/Kenya/21-06-2020/Author and Source:

Over 4000 school girls in Machakos County have been impregnated in last three months. Among these, 200 are under 14 years of age.

This is according to the County Children’s Officer Salome Muthama speaking on Tuesday during the celebrations to mark the Day of the African Child at Machakos Rescue Center in Katoloni, Machakos town.

Ms Muthama described the situation as worrying. She assured that legal action would be taken against those responsible for the beastly action. The Children’s officer blamed the long school holiday occasioned by the Coronavirus pandemic for the upsurge and implored parents to take more responsibility over their children.

“As we celebrate this day here today, just within this Covid-19 period alone, some 4000 girls have been impregnated in our county!” Ms Muthama declared as she blamed parents for not taking keen interest in bringing up their children thus exposing them to the trickeries of wayward adults and bad peer influence.

“This is a very big number and I am calling upon parents to involve themselves fully in taking care of their children especially the girl child,” the officer added.

She noted that following the partial lockdown of major towns like Nairobi and Mombasa due to Covid-19 pandemic, most parents had sent their children to the rural areas where they are being taken care of by aged grandparents who are unable to take keen care of the youths.

“These helpless grandmothers are not able to closely watch over the youths, and as a result the young ones are introduced to bad habits or even molested by peers and other unscrupulous people thus leading to such calamities such as these pregnancies,” she observed.

She said it was not enough for the parents to send food and money from the towns for the children they had dumped at their own grandparents’ homes noting that it behooves them to stay with their children and mentor them.

“Parents should stay with their children so that they watch over them closely and provide appropriate guidance instead of dumping them at their grandparents’ homes claiming that they are protecting them from the Corona pandemic,” she noted.

At the same time Muthama urged those charged with the dispensation of justice to children to make deliberate efforts to eradicate delays in the process. She particularly called on the police to fast track cases involving children so that justice is dispensed with promptly and the children allowed to go on with building their lives.

She told those attending the celebrations whose theme was “Access to a child-friendly justice system in Africa” that delays in dispensation of justice to children amounted to denial of their rights.

“Cases involving children should take at most six months to resolve but here in Machakos some take up to two years or more,” she lamented.

Noting that delay of children’s cases amounted to a denial of their rights, she added, “Children attend court either as offenders, victims or witnesses, and every time a case drags, the children are being denied opportunity to either attend school or other matters that affect their future lives,” she noted.

The children’s officer similarly appealed to members of the society who are witnesses in cases involving children not to shy away from attending court, but come out and participate fully so that the cases are solved promptly.

And reacting to the shocking news, Machakos Women Representative Joyce Kasimbi condemned the wave of pregnancy among children and said local grassroots leaders should explain how it happened.

She said parliament would pass a law that will ensure that anybody who impregnates a child will be held responsible.

Similar sentiments were expressed by two DCI officers who warned of dire consequences.

Speaking when they joined children of at  Mwisoo Children’s home in Kyawango, Maau-eli in Mwala, to celebrate the Day, Machakos Sub County DCI boss Rhoda Kanyi and her Mwala counterpart Catherine Kinoti said the law will be brought to bear on those found molesting minors.

“Men who sleep with minors must be warned that the law will definitely catch up with you,” they warned.

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China: Millions of children across the world aren’t going to school. It’s not just their education that could suffer

Asia/ China/ 10.03.2020/ Source:


For 18-year-old Huang Yiyang, school starts when she opens up her laptop.

Over the past two weeks, there have been no school bells, bustling corridors, busy canteens or uniforms. Instead of physically traveling to her public school in Shanghai, Huang sits at her laptop from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. often in her pajamas, watching livestreamed class after livestreamed class.
For physical education class, her teacher performs exercises for students to follow. For English, she sits silently through lectures to virtual classrooms of 20 to 30 students.
She puts stickers or tissues over her webcam, so her classmates can’t see her if a teacher calls on her to answer a question. «We’re at home, so we don’t look so good,» she says.
Huang barely leaves the house, and she hasn’t seen her friends for a month. But while she is isolated, she’s also part of what may be the world’s largest remote learning experiment.
An English teacher gives online tuition to students at Lushan International Experimental Primary School in Changsha, central China's Hunan Province, Feb. 10, 2020.

China is battling a deadly coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 2,700 in the country alone. In a bid to stop the spread of the disease, schools across the country are closed, leaving about 180 million school-aged children in China stuck at home.
And mainland China is just the start. Millions of students in Hong Kong, Macao, Vietnam, Mongolia, Japan, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and Italy have been affected by school closures. For some, that means missing class altogether, while others are trialing online learning. Authorities in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom have indicated that, if the outbreak gets worse, they could shut schools, too.
But while online learning is allowing children to keep up their education in the time of the coronavirus, it’s also come with a raft of other problems. For some students, the issues are minor — shaky internet connections or trouble staying motivated. For others, the remote learning experiment could come at a cost of their mental health — or even their academic future.

What it’s like doing school from home

The components are the same: a laptop, an internet connection, and a bit of focus. But thetype of online study differs from school to school, and country to country.
For Huang, learning at home means spending hours in front of a computer with little social interaction. There’s no discussion in class, and she often can’t hear her teacher because of the poor internet connection. She feels her classmates — and their teachers — are struggling to stay motivated.
«We cannot give (the teachers) a response even though they want it. So they feel bad and we feel awkward as well,» she said.
Teacher Zhang Weibao shoots a video course at a middle school in Urumqi, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, on February 3, 2020.

Even after class, her work isn’t over. She usually stays up until about 10 p.m. each night, completing homework which she submits online. Although she doesn’t see her friends face-to-face, Huang says she actually feels closer to them — they talk more than they would usually on Chinese online messenger apps such as WeChat and QQ because they’re all hungry for contact.
«Because we can’t meet anyone our age in reality, so we have to go online.»
Across China, primary and middle school students are required to provide online learning, according to state media agency Xinhua. China has started broadcasting primary school classes on public television, and launched a cloud learning platform based on its national curriculum that 50 million students can use simultaneously.
In Hong Kong, where schools have been closed for a month, some teachers are doing things differently.
At the International Montessori School, students work together in small groups on Google Hangouts so they can all see and talk to each other.
The school started off just posting videos and activities for students on their website, but quickly realized that it was crucial for children to see each other and speak with their teachers. Now they study together in small online groups.
«They were all getting cabin fever — they were all locked inside in apartments,» said principal Adam Broomfield. «I’ve never experienced a school closure like this.»
The different learning style has actually led to innovation, he said — a student made a video explaining how they solved a math problem, and a teacher made a video from a beach to help with a geology lesson.

Schooling in Italy

Students in Hong Kong and mainland China have been isolated for weeks already, but in Italy, where the number of people infected with coronavirus soared past 800 this week, remote learning has just started.
What to know about the coronavirus

The novel coronavirus is spreading globally and has killed at least 2,800 people, the vast majority in mainland China. There have been more than 83,000 global cases, with infections on every continent, except Antarctica.

Here’s what’s happening:

Schools closed this week in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto, which include the cities of Milan and Venice, and together have a combined population of about 15 million.
In Milan, Gini Dupasquier’s two daughters have been learning through a combination of live PowerPoint presentations, group work with other students over Google Hangout, and a live chat with teachers.
«Emotionally, they’re fine,» Dupasquier said. «They’re having fun with this new method. So far I see no problem at all.»
A bigger problem for her — like other working parents — is having to balance being at home with her child with the demands of her job as a consultant. «I need to adapt my working hours,» she said. «The balance is a bit tough.»
In Casalpusterlengo, a northern Italian town in the so-called «red zone» where tens of thousands of residents have effectively been cut off from the rest of the country, Monica Moretti’s 15-year-old daughter doesn’t have access to livestreaming — instead, she’s doing homework using an electronic notebook. Unlike many children in mainland China, every afternoon she goes for a walk.

Future-defining exams

Students in senior grades are potentially facing bigger problems than falling behind on their schoolwork.
Jonathan Ye, an 18-year-old high school student in his final year at international school Shanghai Pinghe, has conditional entry to university in the United Kingdom. He still needs to do well on his final International Baccalaureate exam in May if he wants to start university overseas — something he’s been working toward for years.
«If I do not do well on that exam, then I’m screwed,» he said. «I think I’ll be OK because I like to self-study, but I’m not sure. I still get nervous because we are not going to school right now, so we might be missing information from the teacher.»
But Ye’s situation is better than most.
High school students take part in a rally for relieving stress two days ahead of the upcoming annual gaokao or college entrance examinations in China, in Haikou in China's southern Hainan province.

In June, the vast majority of final year students in mainland China are due to sit the gaokao — the notoriously intense and ultra competitive university entrance exams. Even at the best of times, those exams can change lives — they can be the difference between a prestigious university and no university at all.
Students become consumed by studying for the test, and teachers sometimes tell them to focus on nothing else. While it’s possible to resit the gaokao, that would require studying your whole final year again.
The Ministry of Education said it will assess and decide whether to delay the gaokao. Beijing authorities have already said there will be an online mock exam ahead of the gaokao — although that isn’t the actual gaokao exam.
Although Hong Kong schools are shut until April 20, the city will still hold its university entrance exam on March 27 as planned. The only difference: students will be required to wear face masks and desks will be moved further apart than normal.
A teacher gives a lecture with her smart phone during an online class at a middle school in Donghai in China's eastern Jiangsu province on February 17, 2020.

That’s also an issue for students sitting other exams. Hong Kong-based Ruth Benny found home study just wasn’t working for her 14-year-old daughter, who is sitting GCSEs this year. «There was no learning happening. It was just like a big long holiday,» she said. Her daughter has now transferred to boarding school in the United Kingdom.
Some parents have raised concerns over paying expensive international school fees when their child isn’t doing regular schooling.
Benny, who runs education consultancy Top Schools, said that if schools are doing the best they can, there’s no need for reimbursement.Her 12-year-old son normally boards during the week at Harrow International School in Hong Kong, but they’ve reimbursed the cost of boarding while her child is out of school. «It’s really as good as it can be, but I know that it’s not like that for all schools.»
Broomfield, the principal of International Montessori School, said that if schoolsreimbursed parents, the schools might not survive.
«We still have to run, we still have to pay our staff. We still want a school here when all this is over,» he said. «I just don’t see how those refunds can be provided.»
And he pointed out that it had been a difficult time for teachers too, with much longer hours than usual, and a steep learning curve, particularly for the «tech dinosaurs» on their staff.
In a way, the situation was like trying to plumb a bathroom with the water still running, he said. «We had very little preparation for this,» he said. «If you’re going to renovate your bathroom, you turn your water off first. This was a whole replumbing of education, but we had to do it on the run.»

Psychological effects

There’s also a risk that studying from home could impact children psychologically.
Hong Kong-based mental health expert Odile Thiang said the loss of routine and the loss of social activity could have a big impact on children, who were also stuck inside with their parents during an already stressful time. «There’s also that general fear of contamination that people are feeling, so everything is adding up.»
«(The psychological lessons) is yet to be learned, to really see what is going to come out of this major public health experiment that we’re doing here,» she said, adding that children tend to be very resilient.
Chris Dede, a professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, said there were plenty of studies showing the negative psychological effects on students who had been isolated from their peers after suffering serious illnesses.
Children studying from home could experience the same effects. But he pointed out that, in this situation, whole schools were studying remotely — not just one single student who might feel lonely and left out.
«The shared problem becomes a way of having shared support,» he said.

Is studying remotely a good thing?

It’s not the first time that schools have had to shut down or experiment with remote learning. In countries with particularly harsh winters, children sometimes find their school canceled for «snow days.» In Hong Kong, some schools canceled classes last year over the ongoing pro-democracy protests.
And it’s not like education experts have never thought of studying without a face-to-face teacher before. Children in remote parts of Australia have long taken lessons via education programs over the radio. And, in China artificial intelligence has been touted as a way to ensure students in rural communities get a better education.
A teacher gives a lecture in front of a camera during an online class at a middle school in Donghai in China's eastern Jiangsu province on February 17, 2020.

According to Dede, a mix of online and face-to-face teaching is better than learning entirely offline, or entirely online. But the crucial thing isn’t the medium, he said — it is the quality and the method of teaching.
«The worst thing for children would be just to be isolated, at home, without emotional support from their friends, without the opportunity to have a skilled educator to help them learn,» he said.
He sees this as a chance for educators to experiment with new teaching approaches, and then take what works back into the physical classroom.
Regardless of the teaching style, students were still lucky in a sense that this was happening now.
«We have social media, and the internet, and we have smart phones. So the degree of isolation and the degree of lost opportunity to learn would have been much greater if this happened two decades ago,» he said.
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Education innovations in Asia: 5 takeaways from Taiwan’s NXTEducator Summit

Asia/ Taiwan/ 21.o1.2020/ Source:

here’s no question that children in school today will encounter an entirely different workplace than the one we’re in now. The impact of new technologies and a changing climate will influence the kinds of jobs available and the skills needed to be successful in them. While it’s impossible to know what exactly the future will hold, education scholars are emphasizing the need for young people to acquire skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving. These so-called “21st century” skills will help young people thrive in an uncertain future. Around the world, innovators are finding new and creative ways to deliver such skills.

I recently took part in the NXTEducator Summit in Taipei on 21st century skills in Asia, which shed light on the many innovations in the Chinese-speaking world. Co-hosted by the Finnish nonprofit HundrED and the Sayling Wen Cultural and Educational Foundation in Taiwan, the summit brought together more than 100 teachers, administrators, and innovators across China, Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia to learn from seven featured innovators and exchange ideas for delivering a quality, future-ready education for all of today’s young people.

At the Center for Universal Education (CUE) at Brookings, we research education innovations, and the summit provided a window into current trends in the region as well as similarities we see across the globe that can help inform our future work. Below are five takeaways from the summit:

1. Leapfrogging is happening in the here and now. The summit’s featured innovators confirm that rapid, nonlinear progress in education, or what CUE calls “leapfrogging,” is alive and well in communities across the Chinese-speaking world. CUE’s leapfrog pathway highlights how innovation can move education from the status quo to a place where all young people develop the breadth of skills needed to be successful in the future. For example, the Co-Publishing Project in Taiwan works with economically disadvantaged students and students from immigrant families, putting them at the center of learning through hands-on photography projects. Student-centered learning is a core element of leapfrogging, as highlighted in CUE’s leapfrog pathway. The project fosters students’ curiosity about their own cultures and the world around them and allows for their self-expression through the art of photography. Another featured innovation, Teach for Taiwan, recruits university graduates and professionals to teach in economically disadvantaged primary schools through its two-year fellowship program, helping to address educational inequity among rural and urban communities. The innovation represents an example of widening the pool of teachers, another aspect of the leapfrog pathway.

2. Advanced technology is being harnessed for learning. While many well-resourced classrooms have tablets and computers, the use of drones in school is less common. The Drone-based Interdisciplinary Learning and Entrepreneurship Education program in Hong Kong has seized on the greater commercial availability of drones to further student learning. Secondary school students first learn about drones in the classroom, applying math, science, and coding skills to program drones and track their trajectories. They also meet entrepreneurs and professionals who use drones in their day to day careers. Students apply their learnings to the real-life measurement of water quality, first by engineering drones to collect water samples through a testing process in the classroom and then collecting samples from local bodies of water. Back in the classroom, students analyze the collected samples to identify levels of water pollution and pollution sources. The program enables students to solve a local problem through technology, while robustly building their 21st century skills.

3. Familiar models are being used in new ways. Innovation isn’t always the brand new, never-before-seen thing. Indeed, in “Leapfrogging Inequality,” Brookings scholar Rebecca Winthrop defines innovations in education as a break from current practice, whether new to the world or new to a context. Two featured innovations, BEEP Lab and FunMeiker, represent examples of an old idea being adopted to serve a new purpose. Both innovations use concepts from the field of architecture to teach K-12 students. The programs work with local architects as mentors who guide students through the processes of inquiry-thinking, design-thinking, and problem-solving. While architecture’s use in K-12 education is not brand new, these innovations are providing thoughtful, new ways to deliver context-specific concepts and ideas to children in Singapore and Taiwan, such as a focus on the natural and cultural environments in addition to the built environment.

4. Innovation is promoting empathy and cross-cultural exchange. Featured innovation MTA World (Mondragon Team Academy) is a university in which students spend each year in a different country. Students can choose to study in Asia in China and Korea, as well as in Spain, Mexico, and the United States. Instead of classrooms, learning takes place through innovation labs where students work in teams of entrepreneurs. MTA recognizes that when young people have the opportunity to interact with others from different backgrounds, they develop new perspectives and ways of working that will serve them throughout their lives. Another innovation that promotes cross-cultural learning at the tertiary level is City Wanderer, in which teams of university students take on challenges in their city that benefit underserved groups—for example by cooking meals for the homeless or spending time with elderly neighbors. By interacting with others from different backgrounds, students develop empathy and a commitment to improve their world.

5. There is tremendous opportunity for governments to help innovation scale. Six of the seven featured innovations are led by nongovernmental organizations (the seventh is a social enterprise). Many collaborate with formal education systems by partnering with schools to lead after-school and weekend programs. This trend mirrors CUE’s research. In its global catalog of nearly 3,000 education innovations, CUE found that two-thirds of innovations originated from the nonprofit sector, whereas only 12 percent of innovations originated from governments. While innovation tends to occur outside of formal systems for a number of reasons, there is great value in more fully bringing innovation into the mainstream, where it can reach millions more students. CUE has called for a mindset shift among leaders as a starting point to encourage greater uptake of education innovation by local and national governments.

While we can’t say for certain what the world of work will look like 10 or 15 years from now, the conversations at the NXTEducator Summit show us that the education innovations community is putting into practice a range of creative ideas inside and outside of the classroom.

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Kenya: 73 students taken to Bahati hospital following night fire

Africa/Kenya/20-01-2020/Author: Christine Muchira/Source:

73 students were taken to Bahati Sub-County Hospital Saturday night following a fire incident at Bahati PCEA Girls School.

All have been discharged apart from three who were admitted while two were referred to Nakuru Provincial General Hospital.

The source of fire is unknown.

More to follow…..

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More support needed for refugee education in Iran

Asia/ Iran/ 02.01.2020/ Fuente:

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, welcomes Iran’s efforts to extend education opportunities for nearly half a million Afghan children in the country, and recognizes that the country needs greater humanitarian support because of the economic challenges it faces today.

Iran has been one of the world’s leading refugee hosts for decades and currently has some one million registered refugees from Afghanistan. In addition, over two million Afghans are estimated to live in Iran either without documentation or on national passports.

Iran leads by example in including refugees in national services. Since a law introduced in 2015, all Afghan children can go to school, regardless of whether they are refugees, holders of an Afghan national passport or undocumented. Refugee children study side by side with their Iranian classmates, following the national curriculum.

Official figures estimate that some 480,000 Afghan refugee and undocumented children are currently enrolled in school for the 2019-2020 academic year, a steady increase from the previous years. In 2019 alone, Iran has created places for some 60,000 new Afghan students in its schools.

Particularly in light of ongoing economic challenges, the country needs additional humanitarian support to ensure education and other services to refugees are maintained.

In the past year the cost of living in Iran has skyrocketed, making it harder than ever before for families – Iranians and Afghans alike – to make ends meet.

UNHCR remains concerned that without additional global support for refugee operations in Iran, our ability to continue supporting the government in providing education to Afghan children will be drastically affected.

In 2019, UNHCR co-funded with the government the construction of a dozen school buildings for refugees and Iranians (each with 12 class rooms) at a cost of US$650,000 each. With increasing construction costs and without enough funding the same may not be possible in 2020.

In 2016, the Government of Iran removed the school fee that refugee families had to pay to secure a place in school for their children, putting refugee families on a par with Iranians. However, an increase in the cost of school supplies and uniforms has put further pressure on families’ budgets, and a recent threefold increase in the price of petrol is expected to raise the cost of transportation to school for families that need it.

Currently, some schools operate on two shifts to give the opportunity to as many children as possible to get an education. But many schools are still overcrowded, with teachers often struggling to allocate enough time to each student.

A worrying number of refugee and undocumented families have told UNHCR that, due to increased daily costs, they may have to take their children out of school and send them out to work to so they can contribute to the family income.

So far for our Iran operations, UNHCR has received only 30 per cent of the required US$98.9 million to date.

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Why so many Japanese children refuse to go to school

By: Alessia Cerantola.


In Japan, more and more children are refusing to go to school, a phenomenon called «futoko». As the numbers keep rising, people are asking if it’s a reflection of the school system, rather than a problem with the pupils themselves.

Ten-year-old Yuta Ito waited until the annual Golden Week holiday last spring to tell his parents how he was feeling – on a family day out he confessed that he no longer wanted to go to school.

For months he had been attending his primary school with great reluctance, often refusing to go at all. He was being bullied and kept fighting with his classmates.

His parents then had three choices: get Yuta to attend school counselling in the hope things would improve, home-school him, or send him to a free school. They chose the last option.

Now Yuta spends his school days doing whatever he wants – and he’s much happier.

Primary school childrenImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionJapanese primary school children (file picture)

Yuta is one of Japan’s many futoko, defined by Japan’s education ministry as children who don’t go to school for more than 30 days, for reasons unrelated to health or finances.

The term has been variously translated as absenteeism, truancy, school phobia or school refusal.

Attitudes to futoko have changed over the decades. Until 1992 school refusal – then called tokokyohi, meaning resistance – was considered a type of mental illness. But in 1997 the terminology changed to the more neutral futoko, meaning non-attendance.

On 17 October, the government announced that absenteeism among elementary and junior high school students had hit a record high, with 164,528 children absent for 30 days or more during 2018, up from 144,031 in 2017.

A dog hangs out with pupils at Tamagawa Free School

The free school movement started in Japan in the 1980s, in response to the growing number of futoko. They’re alternative schools that operate on principles of freedom and individuality.

They’re an accepted alternative to compulsory education, along with home-schooling, but won’t give children a recognised qualification.

The number of students attending free or alternative schools instead of regular schools has shot up over the years, from 7,424 in 1992 to 20,346 in 2017.

Dropping out of school can have long-term consequences, and there is a high risk that young people can withdraw from society entirely and shut themselves away in their rooms – a phenomenon known as hikikomori.

More worrying still is the number of pupils who take their own lives. In 2018, the number of school suicides was the highest in 30 years, with 332 cases.

In 2016 the rising number of student suicides led the Japanese government to pass a suicide prevention act with special recommendations for schools.

Tamagawa Free SchoolImage copyrightSTEPHANE BUREAU DU COLOMBIER
Image captionFree schools set their own rules

So why are so many children avoiding school in Japan?

Family circumstances, personal issues with friends, and bullying are among the main causes, according to a survey by the ministry of education.

In general, the dropouts reported that they didn’t get along with other students, or sometimes with the teachers.

That was also the case for Tomoe Morihashi.

«I didn’t feel comfortable with many people,» says the 12-year-old. «School life was painful.»

Tomoe suffered from selective mutism, which affected her whenever she was out in public.

«I couldn’t speak outside my home or away from my family,» she says.

And she found it hard to obey the rigid set of rules that govern Japanese schools.

«Tights must not be coloured, hair must not be dyed, the colour of hair elastics is fixed, and they must not be worn on the wrist,» she says.

Two girls in school uniformImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Many schools in Japan control every aspect of their pupils’ appearance, forcing pupils to dye their brown hair black, or not allowing pupils to wear tights or coats, even in cold weather. In some cases they even decide on the colour of pupils’ underwear.

Strict school rules were introduced in the 1970s and 1980s in response to violence and bullying. They relaxed in the 1990s but have become more severe recently.

These regulations are known as «black school rules», reflecting a popular term used to describe companies that exploit their workers.

Now Tomoe, like Yuta, attends Tamagawa Free School in Tokyo where students don’t need to wear a uniform and are free to choose their own activities, according to a plan agreed between the school, parents and pupils. They are encouraged to follow their individual skills and interests.

There are rooms with computers for Japanese and maths classes and a library with books and mangas (Japanese comic books).

Two students in Tamagawa Free SchoolImage copyrightSTEPHANE BUREAU DU COLOMBIER
Image captionStudents can choose what to activities they want to do in free schools

The atmosphere is very informal, like a big family. Students meet in common spaces to chat and play together.

«The purpose of this school is to develop people’s social skills,» says Takashi Yoshikawa, the head of the school.

Whether it’s through exercising, playing games or studying, the important thing is to learn not to panic when they’re in a large group.

The school recently moved to a larger space, and about 10 children attend every day.

Shoes outside the free schoolImage copyrightSTEPHANE BUREAU DU COLOMBIER
Image captionAbout 10 children attend Tamagawa Free School every day

Mr Yoshikawa opened his first free school in 2010, in a three-storey apartment in Tokyo’s residential neighbourhood of Fuchu.

«I expected students over 15 years old, but actually those who came were only seven or eight years old,» he says. «Most were silent with selective mutism, and at school they didn’t do anything.»

Mr Yoshikawa believes that communication problems are at the root of most students’ school refusal.

Takashi Yoshikawa opened a free school in 2010Image copyrightSTEPHANE BUREAU DU COLOMBIER
Image captionTakashi Yoshikawa first opened a free school in 2010

His own journey into education was unusual. He quit his job as a «salary man» in a Japanese company in his early 40s, when he decided he wasn’t interested in climbing the career ladder. His father was a doctor, and like him, he wanted to serve his community, so he became a social worker and foster father.

The experience opened his eyes to the problems children face. He realised how many students suffered because they were poor, or victims of domestic abuse, and how much this affected their performance at school.

Part of the challenge pupils face is the big class sizes, says Prof Ryo Uchida, an education expert at Nagoya University.

«In classrooms with about 40 students who have to spend a year together, many things can happen,» he says.

Prof Uchida says comradeship is the key ingredient to surviving life in Japan because the population density is so high – if you don’t get along and co-ordinate with others, you won’t survive. This not only applies to schools, but also to public transport and other public spaces, all of which are overcrowded.

Students watch rugby practice from their classroom in IchiharaImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionComradeship is key to surviving school

But for many students this need to conform is a problem. They don’t feel comfortable in overcrowded classrooms where they have to do everything together with their classmates in a small space.

«Feeling uncomfortable in such a situation is normal,» says Prof Uchida.

What’s more, in Japan, children stay in the same class from year to year, so if problems occur, going to school can become painful.

«In that sense, the support provided for example by free schools is very meaningful,» Prof Uchida says. «In free schools, they care less about the group and they tend to value the thoughts and feelings of each single student.»

Children playing in Tamagawa Free SchoolImage copyrightSTEPHANE BUREAU DU COLOMBIER
Image captionChildren playing in Tamagawa Free School

But although free schools are providing an alternative, the problems within the education system itself remain an issue. For Prof Uchida, not developing students’ diversity is a violation of their human rights – and many agree.

Criticism of «black school rules» and the Japanese school environment is increasing nationwide. In a recent column the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper described them as a violation of human rights and an obstacle to student diversity.

In August, the campaign group «Black kosoku o nakuso! Project» [Let’s get rid of black school rules!] submitted an online petition to the education ministry signed by more than 60,000 people, asking for an investigation into unreasonable school rules. Osaka Prefecture ordered all of its high schools to review their rules, with about 40% of schools making changes.

Prof Uchida says the education ministry now appears to accept absenteeism not as an anomaly, but a trend. He sees this as a tacit admission that futoko children are not the problem but that they are reacting to an education system that is failing to provide a welcoming environment.

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At least half a million young men in Japan are thought to have withdrawn from society, and refuse to leave their bedrooms. They’re known as hikikomori.

Their families often don’t know what to do, but one organisation is offering «sisters for hire» to help coax these young men out of their isolation.

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