Visualizing education systems around the world

By Manos Antoninis, Director, Global Education Monitoring Report and Silvia Montoya, Director, UNESCO Institute for Statistics

The International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) was established in the 1970s and updated in 1997 and 2011 to categorize information on education systems in a way that facilitates cross-national comparisons of education statistics. For all countries outside of the OECD and the European Union, these systems are now available in diagram form and in multiple languages thanks to joint work by the UIS and the GEM Report. As from today, they can be accessed at a new ISCED website hosted by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), and at the GEM Report’s PEER website of country profiles. ISCED diagrams for the OECD and the European Union countries are available on their respective websites.

The diagrams help visualize different education system characteristics, including the age of students at different education levels or the length of study required for different tertiary education degrees.

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COVID‑19 highlights an opportunity for out-of-school children

The response of education during the pandemic has revealed the possibilities, both digital and non-digital, to reduce the number of out-of-school children, including those who were already excluded before the COVID‑19 crisis.

By Wongani Grace Taulo, Suguru Mizunoya, Garen Avanesian, Frank Van Cappelle, Jim Ackers

Until about a year ago, being out of school was solely about who you were, where you were born, where you lived and your social and economic conditions. Today, COVID‑19‑related school closures have impacted all children and young people, keeping them out of school for prolonged periods. At its peak, nationwide school closures affected over 90 per cent of the world’s student population resulting in extraordinary challenges to the continuity of learning – particularly for children in marginalized groups. With pandemic school closures, the concept of out-of-school children has taken on a new meaning and attracted increased attention.

Credit: UNICEF/Kanobana

In 2018, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics estimated that over 258 million children, adolescents and youth were out of school – one sixth of the global population of this age group. Lessons from previous school closures show that not all children will return to schools when they reopen. However, as schools reopen, there is a desire to reopen ‘wider’, to accommodate those learners who were already out of school pre‑COVID‑19 – but action is needed now to ensure the numbers of out-of-school children do not increase after this pandemic. 

Can COVID‑19 lessons help against the global problem of out-of-school children?

Efforts to deliver remote learning have shown us that there is an opportunity to exploit the creativity that has emerged in how education can be delivered through more differentiated approaches beyond schools. We have a window to build on the emerging concept of education being delivered any place, any time, to anyone, especially children from the most marginalized populations.

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Counting the cost of COVID-19 on learning in rural Kenya

By Dr Junaid Mubeen, Director of Education at Whizz Education

Learning loss has floated into the lexicon of educators, as we reckon with the consequences of COVID-19 on students’ academic progress. It can be defined in multiple ways. At Whizz Education, we simply take it to mean the erosion of previously acquired knowledge. It is not a new phenomenon: the so-called ‘summer slide’ is an established annual occurrence, with students losing around 2-3 months’ worth of maths knowledge over the extended break. Estimates from the World Bank place the global learning loss as a result of COVID-19 at 6-12 months.  Not all students are affected equally, however. Disadvantaged students from low-resource settings bear the brunt of prolonged breaks from schooling as our own new research from rural Kenya shows.

To date, there have been relatively few studies focused on low-resource settings. Fewer still have probed learning loss at the level of individual topics. To address this gap Whizz Education undertook an analysis of learning levels in rural Kenya, where schools were closed between March and September 2020.

Our analysis of almost 1000 students in Kenya showed that 53% of them experienced a decline in Maths Age (analogous to Reading Age: a nine-year-old student is expected to have a Maths Age of nine and so on)corresponding to learning loss. The average loss among students experiencing knowledge declines was equivalent to 1.1 years, or 13 months, with losses greatest in topics involving formal calculation methods. This confirms the widespread and emphatic nature of learning loss. It reinforces the urgent need for educators and policymakers to direct attention and resources towards recovery efforts.

Figure 1: Learning loss by topic

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What role can schools play to end violence and sexual harassment?

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By Manos Antoninis

Effective sex education programmes can help combat sexual violence in school and in society.

When will it be safe for a woman to walk herself home at night without the threat of assault or worse by a man? And when do we arrive at the moment that all women are safe from their partners in their own homes? When will schools and workplaces be free of gender-based violence? How can we use the power of education to turn these norms around?

Image: UN Women

In the space of just a few months, we have been reminded yet again how vulnerable women still are to violence and harassment. The tragic murder of Sarah Everard in the UK was followed by the senseless shooting of six Asian American women in the state of Georgia. In February, 317 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped from their boarding school in the northwestern state of Zamfara. In India, as people were still reeling from the September 2020 gang rape and subsequent death of a 19-year-old Dalit woman in the Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh, a supreme court judge in New Delhi caused outrage after he was quoted as asking an accused rapist whether he would marry his school-aged victim. In Australia, former government employee Brittany Higgins said she was raped by a male colleague in a government minister’s office in 2019 Meanwhile, there are reports that male government staff have set up a Facebook group so they can share videos of sex acts performed in Parliament in Canberra.

Violence and sexual assault against girls and women are more common than we think. Globally, about 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

On the Instagram page of Everyone’s Invited, an online campaign against rape culture set up in the UK, more than 15,000 disturbing accounts of sexual assault and harassment have been shared by girls and boys. It is striking how many of the accounts took place in education institutions. So disturbing and numerous are some of the testimonies that newspapers referred to one school as a “hotbed of sexual violence”.

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Children with disabilities can learn…and the pandemic should be no barrier!

By Rita Crespo Fernandez, Humanity & Inclusion

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Photo credit: Humanity & Inclusion

Khursaid, who lives in Nepal, is in the 4th grade. He can only see when using glasses and has been using them since he was two. During the lockdown, his glasses broke, and ever since he has had difficulty in performing everyday activities, particularly in doing school work. He has no access to internet and his mother just has a simple phone which is not suitable for distance learning.

His father lost his job, which has affected the household’s income. Currently, it is difficult to see how Khursaid will be able to remain in school without financial support to cover other school costs. His family may also need him to help earn an income, which is currently their biggest priority.

Testimony collected by Humanity & Inclusion in Nepal, as part of the Assessment of education provision for children with disabilities during COVID-19, 2020.

Challenging times for children with disabilities

At the peak of the pandemic, according to UNESCO, 1.6 billion children were out of school. Already before the COVID-19 outbreak, one in five children and young people were excluded from education, children with disabilities being 2.5 times more likely to have never been in school than their peers without disabilities.

While school closures represented a challenging situation for all learners, children with disabilities found it particularly difficult to stay connected and continue learning. A survey conducted by Save the Children showed that during the pandemic 90% of the caregivers of children and young people with disabilities reported encountering obstacles to learning.

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Introducing five new GEM Report Fellows for 2021

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We are pleased to announce five new fellowship appointments for the GEM Report for this year.

The new fellows for 2021 responded to a call for research proposals that would: 

  • utilize the GEM Report’s data resources, notably those household and school surveys linked to the World Inequality Database on Education, to strengthen analyses of global, regional and national education trends on issues of access, equity, inclusion, quality and learning; 
  • strengthen the content of the GEM Report with respect to its coverage of important issues at the global, regional and national level, through evidence-based analyses of education policy and practice; 
  • advance the SDG 4 monitoring agenda, especially on issues related to the global and thematic indicator framework that have been highlighted in previous reports; 
  • support the themes of forthcoming GEM reports, i.e. the 2023 report on technology.

“The GEM Report Fellowship gave me the opportunity to develop a research project in global education and receive feedback from a fantastic team of specialists that encouraged me to combine rigorous data analysis with a special focus on its policy implications.”

Nicolas Buchbinder, GEM Report Fellow 2020

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Female science and mathematics teachers: Better than they think?

By Dirk Hastedt (International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement), Justine Sass (UNESCO) and Matthias Eck (UNESCO)

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More urgently than ever before, more girls and women are needed in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In over two-thirds of education systems, less than 25% of students in engineering, manufacturing, construction, or information and communication technologies (ICT) are women. Yet STEM careers are growing in demand and needed to solve the current challenges facing the world, including the current COVID-19 crisis, climate change and food and water security.

Considering this urgency, UNESCO and the International Association of the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) investigated how teacher self-efficacy – or belief in your own capacity to master a task or accomplish a goal – and gender are related in mathematics and science teaching in a special issue of the IEA Compass: Briefs in Education Series.

Using data from IEA’s Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2015, the analysis looked at 43 education systems at Grade 8 and 52 education systems at Grade 4. The results of this new analysis show that there is no direct relationship between the gender of the teacher and students’ performance in science and mathematics. Grade 4 and 8 students taught by female teachers perform just as well in science and mathematics as their peers taught by male teachers.

However, the analysis finds that female science and mathematics teachers have less self-efficacy overall than their male counterparts. This is particularly the case for science. Grade 4 female science teachers reported lower levels of self-efficacy than their male counterparts in 16 education systems. This was also the case at Grade 8, where female science teachers reported lower levels of self-efficacy in 13 education systems.

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Accelerating the universal prohibition of corporal punishment in educational settings

By Mehnaz Akber Aziz, Member of the National Assembly of Pakistan, one of just eight women out of 342 directly elected members, and Joseph Nhan-O’Reilly, Executive Director, International Parliamentary Network for Education (IPNEd)

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Physical violence or the prospect of it affects children in every country, community and culture around the world. Sadly, much of that violence occurs in educational settings at the hands of teachers and caregivers. Corporal punishment by school staff is not the only form of violence that children in educational settings are subject to, but it is a particularly egregious and harmful one.

Corporal punishment has serious negative impacts for children

As well as violating children’s rights, overwhelming evidence shows that the use of corporal punishment has serious negative impacts on children, including their educational achievements. A recent study found that the brains of children who had been spanked were altered in the regions that regulate emotional responses, the same regions that change in children who had experienced sexual abuse, physical violence or psychological maltreatment, typically viewed as ‘worse’ than spanking. 

Multiple studies demonstrate that the use of corporal punishment in schools can impede learning and contribute to school drop-out. Corporal punishment also undermines positive teacher-child relationships and far from teaching children to behave well; it teaches them that violence is an acceptable way to resolve conflict.

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How to assess the education needs of internally displaced people in Ukraine and Georgia

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The escalation of tensions in Ukraine has been capturing the headlines in recent days.  One of the lesser discussed dimensions is the strain internal displacement has put on education. After our 2019 report on migration and displacement, we revisited the issue in our new regional report for Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Estimates of the number of those affected and their education situation are difficult to make. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), there are 2.6 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in the region.  However, social and political factors means that these estimates are often contested. In Ukraine, for instance, where IDP registration is necessary to be eligible for access to social benefits, the IDMC estimate of 730,000 IDPs reflects those living in government-controlled areas, while the government estimate of 1.5 million includes those living in areas that it does not control

UNICEF reported that 280 education institutions in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions had been damaged by October 2015. In the cities of Dnipro, Kharkiv, Kiev and Zaporizhzhia, which host the most IDPs, education institutions faced challenges such as shortage of classroom space and lack of resources to provide food and transport. While grassroots volunteer organizations, civil society and host communities responded to IDPs’ immediate needs, poverty reduced the likelihood of youth attending upper secondary and tertiary education. According to the IOM, IDP households earned 30% below the subsistence level set by the Ministry of Social Policy.

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Can universities survive the uncertainty of COVID-19?

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The financial model that held up many of the world’s largest universities is under threat. The pandemic has put the fees associated with university degrees in question. Online courses are a far less attractive – and less value for money – alternative to in-person tuition. Many students may simply no longer afford the cost of a degree if the pandemic has a long-term negative economic impact.

Universities who relied upon the funds that came with foreign students are in even more of a tail-spin. In Victoria, Australia, foreign student fees provided one in three dollars of its higher education institutions’ income. Australia’s universities have enrolled 210,000 fewer international students this year than expected, with the loss of AU$1.8 billion (US$1.4 billion) in student fees. More than 17,000 jobs have already disappeared from campuses across the higher education sector. Research by The Sunday Age newspaper shows that these student losses as a result of strict border closures will punch an $18 billion hole in the economy.

University revenue from international students

Source: The Age

Hot on the press at the moment is news that at least four more Australian universities (Central Queensland, Curtin, Griffith and Murdoch) fell into deficit last year as a result of the pandemic. Much of the revenue was from international students. Central Queensland University, for instance, had a U$34 million deficit in 2020, mostly due to a drop in its international education revenue. The Vice Chancellor said it had cut about 290 positions, closed one campus and two study centres, frozen salaries, reduced executive pay and rationalised its operational divisions from seven to four.

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