5 interesting facts about school around the world

  1. Studying in a war zone can have many challenges beyond a pupils’ control
    1. Studying for exams can be hard for any teenager. But for children living in a war zone, there are many practical and psychological barriers to their learning. Dr Sami Miaari (Oxford University Blavatnik School of Government) has been researching the effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the academic achievement of Palestinian students. In his work, he found that when conflict intensifies, many school buildings are damaged partly or completely. Consequently, many students have no choice but to travel to other schools so that they can continue their learning. This not only reduces the amount of time they can dedicate to their studies as more time is spent commuting but it also creates problems of overcrowding in the schools they end up going to. More than this, the study has shown that exposure to conflict-related violence (and the loss of key people in their lives), has a serious impact on the students’ psychological well-being. Students reported problems with their sleep, anxiety levels and concentration, all of which can affect their academic performance. Dr Miaari explains that this feeds into a larger social problem: ‘education is critically important in bringing about change from one generation to the next. Failure to take into account the negative impact of conflict on educational outcomes can lead to continued cycles of violence, rather than breaking them. Poor education leads to low incomes, fewer employment opportunities and a slower pace of economic growth and development.’ And so research studies like these serve an important purpose in creating greater awareness of the day-to-day experience of Palestinian young people, among the research community, and among policymakers who have the power to make positive change. 

  2. Japanese students get more freedom -- but this comes with responsibility!
    1. Anthropologists like Prof. Roger Goodman (University of Oxford) study the way that people behave and live together in different societies across the world. Whilst working in Japan, Prof. Goodman documented his family’s experience of the school system there and compared it to education in the UK. A key difference he noticed was the amount of independence enjoyed by young Japanese children. Even in the largest cities, such as Osaka and Kyoto, children from the age of six walk to school themselves, in small neighbourhood groups generally under the care of the oldest child in the group. They also come home completely independently at varying times between 1.30pm and 5.00pm depending on their timetables and how they feel on the day. Increased student freedoms like these all link to the longstanding belief in Japan that people are still basically good and society is still basically safe. Another key difference to UK schools is the relationship between school and home. For example, all primary school teachers in Japan are required to visit their students’ homes at least once a year and in practice, they often do so more often. Here the teacher checks that students are provided with an appropriate environment to support the work they’re asked to do at school. But this ‘open door’ approach can extend to schools also as many hold an annual open class day whereby parents can come and observe lessons. This is often followed by a meeting with the teacher where parents share comments from their children about everything that happens at school. Lastly, Japanese children are expected to take care of their school alongside their teachers -- and so it's a common sight to see pupils and teachers cleaning their classrooms together. What do you think -- can helping to clean your school help everyone learn about the importance of personal responsibility?   

  3. Some parts of Australia are so remote that students attend an online school
    1. For some remote parts of Australia, the population of school-age children is so small that having a conventional school is not practical. And so in 1951, the ‘School of the Air’ came about. This is a distance-learning programme designed to provide primary and secondary school education to pupils in some of the most isolated parts of the country (e.g. those living on camel farms, in national parks, within Indigenous communities and beyond). Traditionally, lessons were transmitted via radio but with the advent of the internet, students now access their teaching and learning with a computer using online learning software and video conferencing technology. Students take part in daily online sessions and work their way through resources sent out to them. The assigned teacher offers students feedback and guidance during the lessons themselves and via phone and email. Students may only meet their teacher in person once a year, and there is an increased responsibility on parents to supervise their child’s learning.

  4. Child labour may not always be an entirely bad thing...?
    1. The idea of child labour is generally met with a negative reaction, as conditions can be unsafe and exploitative. Having to work may limit a child’s ability to go to school, and put extra stress and burden on them from a young age. However, research at Oxford -- as part of the Young Lives project -- suggests that an outright ban on all types of children’s work may not necessarily be the answer (source). Naturally, the worst kinds of (hazardous) child labour need immediate action, but an assumption that all work is without benefit is incorrect. Young Lives has followed the progress of 12,000 children in 20 poor communities in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam since 2002. The project has shown that children work for various reasons, from needing to support their families financially to needing to cover school expenses (uniform, textbooks, etc.). Without it, they would struggle to access education at all. Some children see their work as a way to gain skills and are proud of their contribution to their families. They’re not simply unfortunate victims of circumstance. And so the researchers recommend that governments carefully develop policies with communities and families so that children who work are neither stigmatised nor punished. Plus, authorities should work with schools to ensure that education is more beneficial and attractive by improving the quality, flexibility and safety of schooling (source). 

  5. Exclusion rates are highest in England compared to the rest of the UK
    1. Permanent exclusion is when a student is told they can no longer attend a particular school and their name is removed from the register. It’s the most serious punishment a school can give. But are the guidelines about permanent exclusion the same across the UK? And what do the numbers suggest about how these guidelines are applied? The multi-disciplinary Excluded Lives group involving colleagues from the universities of Oxford, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Queens Belfast, has been researching this subject. Interestingly, the team found that 97.4% of all children permanently excluded in the UK in 2016/17 were from schools in England (McCluskey et al. 2019). This is despite the main reasons for permanent exclusion across the four UK jurisdictions being pretty similar (i.e. persistent disruptive behaviour by a student which risks harming their own and others’ education and welfare). Plus, the processes for getting excluded share some key similarities around the UK -- for example, the decision to exclude tends to fall with headteachers and/or the local authority. So why are permanent exclusion rates so much higher in England? The team found that there is less emphasis on inclusion, early intervention and emotional health and well-being in schools in England -- as reflected in national government documents and interviews with various practitioners. There’s also been a change in the way students with special educational needs are supported. Moreover, the loss of Local Authority powers and increased financial pressures on schools has resulted in a reduction of support services. It’s often cheaper to exclude a student than it is to provide a personalised programme for them. And this all sits in a growing culture of blaming individuals for their behaviour rather than looking at the wider context. It’s hoped that research like this will help inform policy that supports schools and vulnerable students alike.