Inclusion in early education in Singapore: towards more equitable foundations

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Just last month the Singapore Government made a welcome announcement. From the second half of 2023, all pre-schools will have an inclusion coordinator.  This new role in schools will identify and provide support for children with developmental needs from the very early years.             

This is much needed. According to the charity Serving People with Disabilities (SPD), 4,000 children in the country have been diagnosed with special developmental needs every year since 2015. Early identification of these developmental issues has the power to foster inclusion and help support a child with special needs to reach their full potential.

Credit: Richard Ricciardi

Yet, there are still many barriers within education systems that make it harder for children to learn. These challenges can have severe consequences later on in life from restricting opportunities to increased poverty for the most marginalised.

The inclusion coordinators in Singapore will have an important role to play in identifying children who have developmental needs. These can vary from physical conditions, such as muscular dystrophy, sensory issues such as vision, or hearing loss and various neurodevelopmental disorders and intellectual disabilities in addition to language developmental delays.

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Posted in disability, Early childhood care and education, Equity, Inclusion | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cancel exams? What is an appropriate response to the COVID-19 disruption?

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‘Dear Government, please remember before deciding between offline and online exams that we’ll be able to vote next year ;)’, tweeted several students in India last week. In recent days, ‘cancelboardexams2021’ has been trending on Twitter in the country with almost a hundred thousand students signing a petition urging the government to either cancel board exams scheduled to be held in May or conduct them in online mode because of the health risks involved. This is just as COVID-19 cases are surging.

Countries around the world have taken multiple different approaches to whether and how exams should happen since the arrival of COVID-19. A UNESCO organized event on the issue in April 2020 concluded that, even then, 58 out of 84 surveyed countries had postponed or rescheduled exams, 23 had introduced alternative methods such as online or home-based testing, and 22 maintained exams, while in 11 countries, exams were cancelled altogether.

Credit: Eric E Castro

In India, for instance, when  COVID-19 hit in 2020, board exams were first postponed and then cancelled, with results announced on the basis of an alternative assessment scheme. In the UK, no exams took place in summer 2020 and those who were to sit A level, AS level or GCSE exams received a calculated grade instead. In France, while Baccalaureate exams were cancelled last month and replaced with continuous assessment, the government currently expects exams to be held in person in June. This has also led to protests, with students reacting to images of crowds being led to exam halls telling the government ‘we are not cattle to be led to an abattoir’.

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We are proud of the first ever policy on inclusive education in Sierra Leone: the National Policy on Radical Inclusion in Schools

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By Dr David Moinina Sengeh, Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education of Sierra Leone and Chair of the Advisory Board for the GEM Report

I became the Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education of Sierra Leone in November 2019, just a few months before Covid-19 disrupted education systems around the world.  Sierra Leone is no stranger to dealing with viruses. The lessons learnt during the deadly 2014 Ebola crisis helped the country address the current education challenges more effectively. This time around, the virus has enabled us to think further how to do things differently, particularly for children who have been adversely affected, starting with building a more inclusive and equitable education system. It inspired much of the direction and content in our new inclusive education policy, validated by education stakeholders and approved by the Cabinet of Sierra Leone.

Credit: Kate Holt/GEM Report

There has been great progress in education in Sierra Leone since 2018. More children are enrolled in schools than ever before, particularly girls. Thanks to the government’s Free Quality School Education programme, 700,000 more students have enrolled in school, with girls in senior secondary school showing the largest proportional increase. The decision in 2020 to overturn the policy that previously banned pregnant girls from attending school also led to a spike in female enrolment.

However, the most marginalised students in the country continue to be excluded from education, due to intersecting disadvantages such as poverty, social norms and stigma. They tend to be children with disabilities, from rural and underserved areas and from low-income households. Poverty remains the most significant barrier to education. The disparities are huge. An estimated 36% of households in the poorest wealth quintile have out-of-school children, as opposed to 6% in affluent households. Hardly any poor rural girls, compared to 42% of urban wealthy boys, had graduated from secondary school in 2017. Hence, girls are also less likely to go to university.

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Look after hidden out-of-school children in high income countries as schools reopen

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Europe is one of the worst hit regions by COVID-19. Schools remain closed in many countries. New closures have been announced in the last few days across France, and many schools are only partially open in Germany, Ireland, Italy and Portugal. It may be assumed that, relative to other countries, high-income countries will be quick to bounce back. But we should not forget that there were already many hidden out-of-school children in those countries before the pandemic.

Credit: Derek Mindler

Many may have been on school registers but were spending large amounts of time outside school. They may have been expelled or suspended, with some even encouraged to un-enrol so as to keep school records rosy. If we think that some children’s behavioural issues may have been problematic before we confined them inside for many months with just screen to stare at all day, we may find a nasty surprise when the world gets back to normal. Preparing to support this ‘lockdown generation’ and the depression many of them have been suffering these past months means looking into providing relevant additional education and counselling services. Zero-tolerance policies may seem suitable off the cuff reactions, but will only exacerbate the problem.

As in any country, some categories of students are disproportionally more likely to be temporarily or permanently excluded. According to one estimate in England, for example, students with special needs were over nine times as likely to be permanently excluded as their peers. In 2017/18, they accounted for almost half of the official 411,000 temporary and 8,000 permanent exclusions (5.1% and 0.1% of the student population, respectively). And this does not include the many students who are ‘off-rolled’, encouraged to un-enrol voluntarily to pre-empt formal expulsion. Schools have both leverage and incentive to off-roll. Students avoid a stain on their records and schools avoid including them in disciplinary exclusion statistics. Recent estimates suggest that 1 in 10 students experiences an unexplained exit during secondary education in the country. About 24,000 students, or 4 in 10 of those who experience an unexplained exit, do not return to a publicly funded school.

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Don’t forget about those who were not in school before the pandemic

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By Andrew Christensen, Dr Carla Pezzulo , Professor Andy Tatem , Dr Victor Alegana and  Omar Bakari, academics and practitioners working in education policy, disability rights, public health, and geospatial and data science

School closures during the pandemic have affected hundreds of millions. But the out-of-school crisis stretched way before the virus, and it may last long after it, unless we think differently about school access.

Before the virus, there had been a virtual standstill on out-of-school youth rates for almost a decade, and the world was already due to fall far short of its universal secondary school target by 2030.

The sheer size and persistence of out-of-school rates suggests that we were already missing something major before the arrival of COVID-19. Estimates suggest that 199 million youth of secondary school age (about 12 to 17 years old) were already out of school pre-pandemic, and that, tragically, the proportion of the secondary school age population that was out of school had scarcely gone down since 2012

When you zoom in, the numbers cause more alarm: before Covid-19, in the regions where most out-of-school youth live, out-of-school rates had actually slightly increased since 2014. Almost three out of four out-of-school youth of secondary school age live in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, and out-of-school rates for countries in those regions where data are available slightly increased (0.4%) in the six years preceding Covid-19; for boys, out-of-school rates increased by almost 6%, which may possibly be driven by child labour trends in Nepal, Benin, Senegal, Lesotho and Zimbabwe.

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Mission: Recovering Education 2021

By Stefania Giannini, Robert Jenkins and Jaime Saavedra

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When your house is on fire, you don’t worry about how big it is, the colour of the paint on the walls, or whether the kitchen is too small. You just focus on putting out the fire. In the education sector, our house is on fire. The COVID-19 pandemic has been the worst shock to education systems in a century, with the longest school closures combined with the worst recessions in decades. More than 1.6 billion children have lost instructional time for many months at a time, if not for much of the last year, and many children are still not back in school. School closures and the resulting disruptions to school participation and learning are projected to amount to losses valued at $10 trillion in terms of affected children’s future earnings. 

Credit: Arete/Ivan Armando Flores/UNESCO

We need to put the fire out right now. Children’s learning has suffered immensely. And because the Education sector also provides health, nutrition, and psychosocial services, the overall welfare of children has declined substantially. Their recovery should start immediately. This is why UNESCO, UNICEF, and the World Bank are launching a joint mission – Mission: Recovering Education 2021  – focused on three priorities: bringing all children back to schools, recovering learning losses, and preparing and supporting teachers. We commit to working together as multilaterals on these priorities and to supporting countries more directly in their efforts to bring children back to school and get them back on track to learning.  These priorities might not give you your dream house; they are meant to put out the fire first.

For each priority, we have set ambitious targets. We will track progress on these through existing indicators following the SDG 4 monitoring framework, as well as more recent data efforts such as the UNESCO-UNICEF-World Bank joint Survey on National Educational Response to COVID-19 School Closures and the COVID-19 Global Education Recovery Tracker, a new tool developed in partnership by Johns Hopkins University’s eSchool+ Initiative, UNICEF, and the World Bank to monitor school reopening and recovery planning efforts in more than 200 countries and territories.

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Posted in Disaster preparedness, emergencies, Finance, Learning, Out-of-school children, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

In which countries do children attend single-sex schools?

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While enrolment rates disaggregated by sex might be easy to find, comparative cross-country data on how many children are in single-sex schools are scarce. As another International Women’s Day passes us by, it seems fitting to also ask the question whether single-sex schools are beneficial or not; evidence on this front is mixed as well. What do we know?

One place to look is cross-national learning assessments, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). In about 60% of education systems in the mostly upper-middle and high-income countries that took part in the 2015 TIMSS, less than 5% of primary schools were single-sex.

However, as the graph above shows, gender segregation in separate classes or schools is common in countries as diverse as Chile, Ireland, Israel and Singapore and is prevalent in many Muslim-majority countries. The prevalence of single-sex schools also generally increases in secondary education, for instance from close to zero for primary to almost one in five for lower secondary education in England (United Kingdom).

In most countries, the proportion of students in single-sex schools corresponds to the proportion of such schools. Exceptions relate to the size and type of schools that tend to be single-sex. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, for instance, single-sex primary schools (66%) enrol 84% of grade 4 students, partly because public single-sex schools are larger than private co-education schools. By contrast, single-sex primary schools in the Russian Federation (8%) account for only 1% of grade 4 enrolment, as single-sex religious and/or private schools are smaller, on average.

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Posted in Equality, Gender, Inclusion | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

How will countries make up for lost learning during the pandemic?

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As one lockdown week morphs into another, the learning of millions of students continues to be disrupted. UNESCO figures show, on average, two-thirds of an academic year has been lost worldwide due to COVID-19 school closures. The learning loss is enormous. The question now in everyone’s mind is: How do we help students who have fallen behind to catch up?

One way of addressing this crisis might be to repeat the entire academic year, as some are calling for. The government in Kenya has already decided to do just this, believing that having students repeat the entire year puts them all on equal footing.

Credit: GPE/Stephan Bachenheimer

Another approach is to reduce and synthesize the curriculum so that students are able to focus on a few subjects and learn them well, as Odisha, India, and Ontario, Canada, have done. Bangladesh has announced its recovery programme, which includes an abridged syllabus for the next two years, focusing on key subjects such as math, Bengali, English, and science in secondary schools.

Catch-up and remedial forms of education have been the focus of much discussion over the past several months — but what type will these be, and how much will they cost?

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Latin American and Caribbean countries must address structural discrimination to create educational opportunities for all

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Latin America and the Caribbean is characterized by wide and persistent disparity by ethnicity. By most measures of well-being, including education, ethnic groups tend to fare worse than the rest of the population. The various forms of direct, indirect, and systemic discrimination have contributed to exacerbate inequalities and exclusion, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which is celebrated on 21 March every year, we look at the exclusion of Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples in the region, and call for combating racism and ensuring educational opportunities for all.

Credit: UNICEF/ UN035945

The region has the highest concentration of Afro-descendant populations in the world, with estimates ranging from 120 million to 170 million. Brazil is home to the majority of the Afro-descendant population in the continent, with 112 million, equivalent to 55% of its population. Despite the fact that one in four Latin Americans identifies as Afro-descendant, Afro-descendants continue to face a situation of structural inequality.

They also suffer continued exclusion in education. The probability of Afro-descendants completing secondary education was 14% lower than that of non-Afro-descendants in Peru and 24% lower in Uruguay in 2015. A similar situation is experienced by indigenous peoples, who despite representing only 8.3% of the population in 2010, constituted 17% of the extremely poor in Latin America. In addition, their school attendance, educational attainment, and literacy rates are lower than those of the general population.

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New GEM Report photo contest on non-state actors in education

Every year, the GEM Report holds an international photo contest to seek out new and original images to complement its innovative findings and analysis. Last year’s winner, Robert Lamu, addressed the exclusion often faced by learners with Albinism. Before that, Domyson Dulay Abuan won a contest around sustainable development in education with an image of recycling in schools in the Philippines. The best photos from each year’s competition feature in the annual UNESCO GEM Report and associated communications products. The winner will be awarded $500, and the runners up $200 each.  To take part in this year’s contest, make sure to submit your photos before April 30th.

The theme

Due out in December 2021, the next GEM Report will focus on non-state actors in education. While everyone wants to achieve the goal of providing quality education for all, who delivers it, who is engaged, and how they are engaged is a subject of much consternation. Generally, debates on the issue tend to be split between those who believe in the principle of full public delivery of education, and those who do not. The 2021/2 GEM Report aims to inform this debate with evidence-based examples, demonstrating that the matter is not “black and white”, but is one of degrees, and is highly dependent on context.

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