Archives for category: International

With the upsurge in the coronavirus, the U.S. and Europe are facing new shutdowns to stop the disease. But there is one big difference. European nations are keeping their schools open, as schools in the U.S. close.

London (CNN) Late last month, Ireland entered a strict, six-week lockdown against the spread of Covid-19, under which social gatherings are prohibited, exercise permitted only within five kilometers of the home, and bars and restaurants closed.

But as he announced the new restrictions, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin emphasized that schools and childcare facilities should stay open. “This is necessary because we cannot and will not allow our children and young people’s futures to be another victim of his disease. They need their education,” Martin said.

There has been a similar story in many European countries including Germany, France and England, which made it their mission to keep in-person learning going, even as they imposed strict measures to combat the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

 In contrast, major cities in the United States, including Detroit, Boston and Philadelphia, are shutting schools and moving classes online in a bid to stave off rising infection rates.

New York City schools may close as soon as Monday.

“There are rates of infection at which is too dangerous to keep schools open, and that has happened in a number of places in Europe,” Anthony Staines, professor of Health Systems at Dublin City University, told CNN.But he said that the major response should be “effective, highly resourced public health.”

“Schools do spread this virus, but they’re not a major route of spread,” he added.

Staines said it was appropriate for different places to employ different measures “because their economic situation is different, the spread of the virus is different.” Israel, for example, faced major outbreaks linked to schools.

School closures “may be part of a response for a period of time” but “with appropriate knowledge, information and understanding, closing schools is not required,” he added.”European countries have made a choice, I suppose, that trying to keep schools open is very important…”

France and England entered month-long second national lockdowns on October 28 and November 4 respectively. In both countries, non-essential businesses, restaurants and bars have closed, with residents only allowed to leave home for work, medical reasons, exercise or grocery shopping.

One key difference from the spring lockdowns in these two countries is that they have chosen to keep schools open.

Amanda Spielman, chief education inspector at UK education watchdog Ofsted, said in a report published this week that the decision to keep schools open during England’s second lockdown was “very good news indeed.” 

“The impact of school closures in the summer will be felt for some time to come — and not just in terms of education, but in all the ways they impact on the lives of young people,” she said.

The Ofsted report, published on Tuesday, found that some children had seriously regressed because of school closures earlier in the year and restricted movement.

It found that younsters without good support structures had in some cases lost key skills in numeracy, reading and writing. Some had even forgotten how to use a knife and fork, the report said. Some older children had lost physical fitness or were displaying signs of mental distress, with an increase in self-harm and eating disorders, while younger children had lapsed back into using diapers, it found.

Some children in Europe, the US and across the world have been missing schooling during the pandemic because of a lack of access to technology — and it’s hitting low-income students much harder.

Pasi Sahlberg is a noted Finnish educator whose book Finnish Lessons awakened Americans to the realization that good schools can flourish without standardized testing. He has focused in his work on the importance of creativity and play for children and the dangers of standardization and the free market.

In this essay, he compares the different experiences of students in Australia (where he currently lives) and in Finland (his native land) and tries to figure out what educators have learned because of the pandemic. One glaring fact is inequality. Will there be a will to address that basic and damaging fact of life after the pandemic?

He draws the following lessons:

  1. Address inequalities early. Preventive health care and high-quality early childhood education can go a long way in avoiding gaps early.
  2. Trust teachers as professionals. They know what their students need.
  3. Build self-directedness among students, teachers, and schools. Too many comply with mandates and are lost when it is time to be thoughtful and make decisions on your own.

Sahlberg is resolute that an excellent and equitable education go hand-in-hand.

In a story in TIME magazine, two Swedish writers declare that Sweden’s approach to the Coronovirus has been a disaster. The authors are KELLY BJORKLUND AND ANDREW EWING. Kelly Bjorklund is a writer and human rights activist who has worked on public policy and advocacy with elected officials, civil society and media for two decades. Andrew Ewing is a professor of molecular biology and chemistry at the University of Gothenburg and a member of the Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Unlike other European nations, Sweden decided not to lockdown the economy, not to close schools, and to count on people to wear masks and practice social distancing. Their public health officials predicted that the nation would quickly achieve “herd immunity” by exposing people to the virus.

The authors write:

The Swedish COVID-19 experiment of not implementing early and strong measures to safeguard the population has been hotly debated around the world, but at this point we can predict it is almost certain to result in a net failure in terms of death and suffering. As of Oct. 13, Sweden’s per capita death rate is 58.4 per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University data, 12th highest in the world (not including tiny Andorra and San Marino). But perhaps more striking are the findings of a study published Oct. 12 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which pointed out that, of the countries the researchers investigated, Sweden and the U.S. essentially make up a category of two: they are the only countries with high overall mortality rates that have failed to rapidly reduce those numbers as the pandemic has progressed.

Yet the architects of the Swedish plan are selling it as a success to the rest of the world. And officials in other countries, including at the top level of the U.S. government, are discussing the strategy as one to emulate—despite the reality that doing so will almost certainly increase the rates of death and misery.

Countries that locked down early and/or used extensive test and tracing—including Denmark, Finland, Norway, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam and New Zealand—saved lives and limited damage to their economies. Countries that locked down late, came out of lock down too early, did not effectively test and quarantine, or only used a partial lockdown—including Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Spain, Sweden, the U.S. and the U.K.—have almost uniformly done worse in rates of infection and death.

Read the article in full to see the graphs and accompanying evidence for the failure of Sweden to achieve “herd immunity.”

UNICEF released a ranking of nations in terms of child wellness. The United States is one of the lowest ranking among the advanced nations of the world. The rankings do not include test scores. It’s important to understand that the test scores are the result of child wellness, not a cause. If we expect to improve children’s academic performance, we should focus on their well-being, which is a summary of causal factors. I have often said that when we are comparing students from different nations, we should look at child poverty, access to healthcare, food security, access to high-quality pre-K, and other indicators of child wellness, not test scores. This important report does that.

See the report here.

Under the weak leadership of the United States, the global reputation of the United States has plummeted, according to a new poll reported in the Washington Post.

President Trump defended his handling of the coronavirus pandemic during an interview with Fox News over the weekend, arguing that he took “tremendous steps” early in the outbreak, which “saved probably two or two and a half million lives.”


But much of the world appears to think otherwise. In a new poll of 13 nations released Tuesday, a median of 15 percent of respondents said the United States had handled the pandemic well, while 85 percent said the country had responded poorly.


The data, released by Pew Research Center, suggests that the international reputation of the United States has dropped to a new low in the face of a disorganized response to the novel coronavirus.

The country leads the world in virus-related deaths.


International affairs analysts say it may be difficult to repair the damage to the United States’ standing overseas.

Among some traditional allies like Germany, views of the United States have declined to the lowest levels since Pew began tracking them nearly two decades ago.

The New York Times explains how China opened its schools safely. As an authoritarian state, dissent is not permitted. No one is allowed to disobey the rules. The rules are strictly enforced.

As a free society, we rely on people to exercise civic responsibility and good judgement to protect themselves and others.

When the president of the nation ridicules people who wears masks and doesn’t wear one himself, it’s difficult to promote civic responsibility.

The Washington Post reports that schools have reopened safely in Germany, with no major outbreaks of coronavirus—yet. The key to success is the rate of transmission in the community. Or so it seems. With this virus, you can never be certain of future behavior. The difference in the U.S. is that some states are making no effort to control the virus, not even mandating mask-wearing. Trump has unfortunately encouraged and modeled anti-social behavior.

When the community is safe, the schools are likely to be safe.

It’s been a month since German children began to lead Europe in the post-summer ­return to school, streaming back into classrooms and onto playgrounds, with little aside from masks to differentiate the scene from pre-coronavirus times.


So far, epidemiologists are cautiously optimistic.
The school openings have been accompanied by some panicked closures and quarantines.

In the first week, there were 31 clusters — amounting to 150 cases — of the novel coronavirus in schools, ­according to Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI). At least 41 schools in Berlin were reported to have been affected in the first two weeks.


But there have been few transmissions within schools themselves, health experts say, and although the number of new daily cases in Germany has been rising, schools haven’t been identified as a driver of infections.


“It’s looking promising,” said Johannes Huebner, president of the German Society for Pediatric Infectious Diseases. “There have not been any major outbreaks yet. Single cases, but they seem to be manageable.”


While Germany’s full-throttle return to class may provide some assurance for those fretting about school returns in the United States and elsewhere, health experts note that it’s still just the early days — and they warn about extrapolating too much. They say the risk associated with reopenings has a lot to do with the levels of the virus circulating in a community.


“The important thing is you have to keep the number in the community low,” said Huebner, who is also head of the infectious-disease department at Munich’s Dr. von Hauner Children’s Hospital. “This is where the United States will have problems.”




Despite a rise in infections that Germany’s RKI said “must be taken seriously,” the 1,484 new cases reported Friday among the country’s population of 83 million compare with at least 37,876 new cases in the latest U.S. report — more than 25 times as many infections in a population just four times as large.

Hong Kong was a British colony for a century and a half. Under British rule, the people of Hong Kong enjoyed democratic freedoms. On July 1, 1997, the British relinquished control and Hong Kong became part of China as a special administrative region. The Chinese government promised to maintain “one country, two systems.” Over the years the Chinese government has asserted tighter control, inspiring rebellions among the people of Hong Kong, who resisted absorption into the government of the Mainland. Twenty-three years after the removal of British rule, mainland China is clamping down, hard, to stamp out freedom of speech, freedom of thought, even freedom to teach.

This article in the Los Angeles Times describes the government’s tightening of control over teachers and textbooks. Teachers who dare to speak out have been purged.

One of the greatest threats to freedom in Hong Kong is China’s intensifying pressure on schools over what to put in the minds of students. Textbooks are being rewritten, teachers are being purged and history is being erased under a new national security law to bring this once freewheeling city more firmly into China’s grip…

With China’s tightening control over Hong Kong, including passage of a new national security law, the territory’s pro-democracy activists, politicians, journalists and others are facing a Communist Party determined to crush dissent. Perhaps the greatest threat from this new purge — one that will affect generations to come — is the increasing pressure on schools and teachers over what to put in the minds of students. Both activists and bureaucrats know that a nation’s soul is distilled in the classroom; history can be erased with the silencing of teachers and rewriting of textbooks.

A Hong Kong art teacher who calls himself Vawongsir expresses his thoughts through pro-democracy doodles.
A Hong Kong art teacher going by the name Vawongsir expresses his thoughts through pro-democracy doodles, which he shares online anonymously. He lost his teaching job after a complaint was made to the authorities.(Chan Long Hei / For The Times)
“They are turning education into a tool for controlling thought in Hong Kong,” said Ip Kin-yuen, a pro-democracy lawmaker representing the education sector who is vice president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union. “There are a lot of cases of teachers being wronged, facing exaggerated accusations. I would describe it as political persecution.”

Hong Kong is being remade before the world. Chinese leader Xi Jinping is capitalizing on his country’s economic power and the planet’s preoccupation with the coronavirus to rein in Hong Kong’s democratic ambitions. Xi wants to subsume this defiant territory into his vision of national unity, even as China faces diplomatic fallout, most notably from the Trump administration, which has drawn closer to a new Cold War with Beijing in a fraught time of high-tech surveillance, shifting supply chains and America’s fallen stature of a global leader.

This is an article based on an interview of me conducted by Carolyn Bassetti of the Canadian publication Alberta Views.

I have recently been emailing with public education advocates in Canada who are alarmed by their government’s drift towards consumerism in education. They are as concerned as we are about the constant attacks on public education.

This story by Stephen Castle appeared in the New York Times:

LONDON — When pupils return to Southend High School For Boys next week, the cafeteria will serve takeout food only and lunch will be eaten outside. Lessons will stretch to two-and-a-half hours to reduce the need to switch classrooms. And new equipment has been bought to spray the sports changing rooms with disinfectant.

“By and large, we are pretty ready to roll,” said Robin Bevan, the school’s head teacher, or principal, as he prepared to welcome 1,300 young people to a building about 40 miles east of London, constructed around a century ago without social distancing in mind.

But there is only so much anyone can do.

“The question, ‘Will schools be safe?’ is a slightly crazy question because nothing in life is safe,” said Mr. Bevan. “The real question is, ‘How far have you reduced the risk?’”

Britain is at a critical moment in its handling of the coronavirus pandemic as millions of pupils return to the classrooms, many for the first time since March, when the country went into lockdown.

The resumption of schooling will be crucial for young people who have fallen behind in their studies, and the government hopes it will spur economic recovery by allowing parents to return to work in deserted town and city centers.

But the move also risks a new spike in infections, as young people and teachers mix together. And overseeing the process is an existential political test for the embattled education secretary, Gavin Williamson, who presided over the chaotic awarding of examination results this summer.

“It’s a very, very, difficult situation where you are genuinely trying to balance the needs of a younger generation with the health needs of society,” said Becky Francis, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, a research institute.

Few deny that children need to be back in school and that those from poorer backgrounds with inadequate internet access or none at all have suffered the most, deepening the country’s socio-economic divide. Policymakers worry about the psychological impact on children of the lockdown and, in some cases, their increased exposure to domestic abuse.

“There is a great deal of good will from schools, the majority of parents and most kids, keen to get back” Ms. Francis said, adding that, without a return, there is a risk of “seeing a generation of children blighted by the knock-on effects of Covid.”

Even during the lockdown schools remained open to children of essential workers and those deemed vulnerable. But not too many parents took advantage of it, and a government plan to get all younger pupils in England back before the summer break fell apart.

This time, there is cautious optimism that, despite nervousness among some parents, most children will attend, as they have done in Scotland, where schools reopened earlier in the month.

But the relationship between the government and teachers is fraught. In June, Prime Minister Boris Johnson attacked “left-wing” trade unions, accusing them of obstructing a return to the classroom.

For their part, teachers’ leaders accuse the government of serial incompetence. Repeatedly, they say, they have pointed out practical concerns, been brushed aside, then proved right.

Studies suggest that children are less susceptible to Covid-19 than adults. But there is a bigger risk to teachers and to the families of pupils who may unwittingly carry the virus, particularly people with existing medical conditions.

At Mr. Bevan’s school, pupils will sit facing forward, with groups of students kept together in “bubbles” and staggered start and finishing times for lessons. But in schools for younger children or those with special needs, that is not practical. So head teachers have had to do their best.

“At a time when the government has been dithering, what local school leaders have done is work out a pragmatic solution in their setting,” Mr. Bevan said.

It is a message echoed by Jules White, organizer of a campaign for more resources for schools and called WorthLess?

“Schools are well prepared, we do know how to follow guidance, but there are a lot of factors. If you have 30 children in a classroom, the idea that you can always have two-meter distancing — well, that isn’t going to happen,” said Mr. White, who is head teacher of Tanbridge House School in West Sussex, in the south of England.

“You can mitigate risk by having desks forward facing, having separate equipment,” Mr. White added. “The job of teachers and head teachers is to make people feel safe.”

At his school, two cleaners will work during the school day, rather than after it, to improve hygiene around the clock. Hand sanitizer has been bought at a cost of £3,500, about $4,500, and drama, sports and other extracurricular activities have been put on hold.

But Covid-19, he added, is “a multi-headed monster,” he said. “You hit one thing and another comes up.”