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Coronavirus

COVID School Chaos, Snapshots From 10 Countries Around The World

Teachers, students, parents and society as a whole have suffered through the various attempts at educating through the pandemic. Here’s how it looks now: from teacher strikes in France to rising drop-out rates in Argentina to Uganda finally ending the world’s longest shutdown.

School, they say, is where the future is built. The next generation’s classroom learning is crucial, but schools also represent an opportunity for children to socialize, get help for special needs … and in some villages and neighborhoods, get their one decent meal a day.

COVID-19 has of course put all of that at risk. At the peak of the pandemic, classrooms were closed for 1.6 billion schoolchildren worldwide, with the crisis forcing many to experiment on the fly for the first time in remote learning, and shutting down learning completely for many millions more — exacerbating worldwide inequality in education.

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Chinese Students Now Required To Learn To Think Like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university.

BEIJING — It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education.

The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader.

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How The World's Teachers Handled 1.5 Billion Kids On Lockdown

Learning can never stop, despite the schools being closed. Teachers around the world were forced to get innovative to overcome the lockdown.

When 63 million teachers found themselves confined at home last spring (along with at least 1.5 billion students in 191 countries), they had to start getting creative. The closure of schools around the world served to exasperate existing educational inequalities, especially for those who already had fewer opportunities, including girls, those with learning disabilities and those living in poverty. As around half of the out-of-school students did not have access to a computer and over 40% did not have internet at home, online learning only provided a solution for some. Nevertheless, around the globe, educators found innovative solutions to reach even the most vulnerable students to make sure a pandemic didn't halt their education.

India: In one of the countries worst hit by coronavirus, the majority of students have been left out of online learning. Only 8% of households have both a computer and internet connection. But regional governments and nonprofits have found effective solutions using cheap, available resources that don't rely on technology.

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The Pandemic's Lose-Lose Impact On Egypt's Private Schools

Egyptian students won't attend in-person classes again until September. In the case of most private schools, there won't be any refunds either to the mostly middle-class families.

CAIRO — The COVID-19 pandemic officially arrived during the spring term, and from there it was just a matter of weeks before schools were suspended and, not long afterwards closed until the end of the year. The situation has been disruptive, obviously, for all students, teachers and parents. But because of the economics involved, people connected to private schools face particular complications.

Many parents who had already paid tuition fees are now asking for at least a portion of their money back. But the schools, most of which are run as for-profit businesses, have had mixed responses. Most have refused to refund any tuition, and some have stood their ground even as they have reduced their costs by laying off staff or forcing them to take unpaid leave.

The government, meanwhile, has stayed out of the conflict. "Now is not the time," Education Minister Tarek Shawky said on television earlier this month. Schools are not legally bound to pay back the fees, he said, adding that the ministry would not look into the issue before the end of August because it requires detailed study.

There are three kinds of schools in Egypt: government schools, national private schools and international private schools. Government schools are generally free. National private schools teach the state's curricula but also offer foreign language instruction. International schools, among which the American, French and British schools are the most popular, teach foreign curricula.

Two million students attend a total of 7,500 private national and international schools, according to 2019 government data. Government schools, of which there are nearly 46,000, enroll about 19 million students.

We don't save a dime.

National private schools collect tuition at the beginning of each semester, although some allow this payment to be made over two installments. International schools follow a similar payment pattern, although they also tend to fold in a percentage of the tuition for the following year into the current year's payment. They also charge late fees and can withhold a student's academic records in the case of missed payments, according to parents who spoke with Mada Masr.

Most schools have already collected tuition fees in full for the current year, and some have even asked for next year's payments, says Rania Badran, administrator of one of the most popular Facebook groups for parents of children in international schools. Badran says the page has been flooded with posts from parents demanding repayment of at least part of the fees.

Most parents who send their children to private schools are salaried employees who take out loans from banks or informal savings groups to pay tuition fees, according to Nany Fekry, a mother of two students in a national private school in Cairo. Education in Egypt is "dreadful" she says, and national private schools are "the only chance the children of the middle class have to get a half-decent education."

"We don't save a dime," she adds. "We're only investing in our children."

Hoda* works as a medical doctor and describes her income as decent, but she had to take out a loan to pay for her children's private school. She told Mada Masr about a friend of hers who pays about LE100,000 ($6,350) annually in tuition and school supplies. The friend paid the school in full in December after participating in an informal saving group to which she contributes LE10,000 ($635) monthly. Hoda's friend makes her money through an online store that's been battered by the pandemic.

Computer lab at a school in eastern Cairo — Photo: Ahmed Gomaaa/Xinhua/ZUMA

Now the school is refusing to return the money, saying it has to pay wages for teachers, while Hoda's friend is jobless, and still obligated to pay her savings group monthly.

Other schools have threatened to expel students to force parents to pay the fees in full. Fouad International School in the Sharqiya governorate is insisting on collecting the last LE30,000 ($1,900) installment of its LE135,000 ($8,600) tuition fees, despite forcing its physical education teachers and other staff on unpaid leave, according to several parents in the school. One parent said the school denied her a one-month grace period, despite the overwhelming circumstances. The school did not respond to Mada Masr"s request for comment.

Because the Education Ministry replaced final examinations with research papers, allowing students to matriculate from one year to the next, schools feel they have provided the service they were paid for and are entitled to collect full fees, says Adel Bakhit, a public school teacher.

Special needs students are the most affected by the suspension of schools, both financially and psychologically, because their tuition fees are generally higher than other students and they can't do online classes, said Badran, the Facebook group admin.

A 2017 law stipulates that 10% of classes must include special needs students, such as those with attention-deficit or autism spectrum disorders. Each school must have special units to care for these students.

I'm still going to work and putting myself at risk just to pay for a service I'm not getting.

Heba, a mother of a four-year-old child with autism, put in her son's school application at the end of 2019 in order for him to begin in September 2020. The school offered to enroll him in private sessions from February to June, to help him prepare for full-time enrollment in September. When school was suspended in March, the administration offered to continue the sessions online, despite the fact that her son can't be exposed to screens because of his condition. They also threatened not to admit her son in September as planned if she didn't pay her fees in full.

She has already paid the school LE26,000 ($1,650) this term. "I'm still going to work and putting myself at risk just to pay for a service I'm not getting," Heba says. Her salary was cut by 20% this month.

Heba said private schools usually refuse to admit special needs students, and when they do, tuition fees are doubled to cover the cost of the special care unit. In reality, these units are often non-existent and the school just provides a "shadow teacher," whose salary is paid for out of the parents' doubled fees.

A handful of schools have agreed to share the burden with parents. Windrose Academy reduced its third semester's tuition installment by 20%. Greenland International School has offered financial aid to struggling parents, and is accepting post-dated checks for next year's fees. Others have cut next year's bus fees.

Schools aren't legally obligated to return the fees as long as classes continue online, lawyer Ahmed Ragheb said. But authorities should mediate between schools and parents for the public good, he said, giving the example of the central bank's decision to postpone loan payments for six months, or the stipend offered to informal workers.

There is no easy way out of this problem.

Schools say they are still paying expenses, chiefly staff salaries. That's true for some institutions such as American City International School and Metropolitan International School. Many others, however, aren't doing so. New Vision School has collected full tuition but gave its teachers the option to give online classes while cutting their salaries by half, an employee at the school who asked to remain anonymous said. Meanwhile, the school's administrative staff was offered a choice between continuing normal work at half salary or going on open-ended unpaid leave, the employee said, adding that she chose the latter option.

Valley Language Schools in Giza is forcing teachers to be physically present in the school twice a week, even though study sessions for the end-of-year research projects are almost finished, according to a teacher at the school. Teachers who asked to work from home have been threatened with salary freezes, and those whose children attend the school and haven't paid the last tuition installment had their salaries cut.

Meanwhile, Stanford Integrated Schools forced teachers, supervisors and drivers to take unpaid leave after finishing online review with students at the end of March, according to a teacher at the school.

"There is no easy way out of this problem," Ragheb said. If parents are paid back in full, school staff will suffer, including janitors and bus drivers. He suggests we find a way for schools and parents to share the losses, though how that would work in real terms is easier said than done.

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LA STAMPA
Irene Caselli

Ancient Greek, Greta Thunberg And The Gift Of Education

Should schools add new subjects every year to keep up with the times? Or is their job simply to help students become critical thinkers? A new mother's musings.

MONTE CASTELLO DI VIBIO — When Greta Thunberg appeared in our lives, telling us how urgent it is to fight against climate change, I was in awe. I love how clearly the Swedish teenager exposes her arguments, bringing it always back to herself and her younger sister, Beata. I love her as much as right-wing media outlets despise and ridicule her.

I guess that part of my awe has to do with the fact that two decades ago, when I was Greta's age, I was an activist myself. At 13, I ran in school elections and became the youngest student representative at my school in Naples. When I was elected, an older male student who had lost the election threw a coin at me asking me to step down. Another one suggested that I was a simple secretary because as a girl I could only follow the lead. In my school, it was the boys who occupied political positions. I was young and insecure. I found it hard to speak in public with clarity, to cite facts and make my arguments coherent.

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Sources
Telmo Peña Amaya

On The False Happiness Parents Demand From Schools

-OpEd-

MEDELLÍN — A recurring theme one hears from families coming to school is that, above all, they just want their children to be happy. And when you ask parents what happiness means, they'll say children need more time to play and to have fun — and not be forced to study and think about school all day long.

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THE WASHINGTON POST
Moriah Balingit

The Battle For A Constitutional Right To Literacy

Lawyers representing students in several U.S. states are making the case that the right to literacy is the bridge to so many other rights.

Detroit — When Jamarria Hall strode into Osborn High in Detroit his freshman year, the signs of decay were everywhere: buckets in the hallways to catch leaking water, rotting ceiling tiles, vermin that crisscrossed classrooms.

In the neglected school, students never got textbooks to take home, and Hall and his classmates went long stretches — sometimes months — with substitute teachers who did little more than supervise students.

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China
Yan Yong

China's School Abuse Scandal Shakes Basic Bonds Of Trust

-Analysis-

BEIJING — Two weeks ago, a preschool in Shanghai was exposed for abusing toddlers. One young child was brutally thrown around the floor, while another was forced to eat spicy mustard. Then, last week, a kindergarten in Beijing run by the Red, Yellow and Blue (RYB) Education company, was found to have been injecting children with unknown substances, as well as giving them unauthorized pills. It was not until certain children were discovered to have needle marks that parents were alerted.

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Sources
Jacques Kikuni Kokonyange

Want To Teach In This Congolese City? Better Get Baptized

There is a religious litmus test for teachers in schools in this eastern stretch of Democratic Republic of Congo.

BENI — During a recent morning mass at a church in this northeast Congolese city, the pastor had a sort of job announcement for his congregants: The local school was looking for a biochemistry teacher and someone who speaks English to look after middle school children. But, he added: "The first condition is to be a fervent Christian and available to fill in for pastoral duties."

Over the past few years, identifying yourself as religious has become the first selection criteria for teachers in many contract schools in this city in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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China
Abhijan Barua

China's Grand Soccer Ambitions

The last time China made a World Cup appearance in 2002, the team lost all three group matches and went out without a single goal. While Chinese fans are mad about soccer, their own national team rarely gives them reason to rejoice. But there are grand pl

BEIJING — Twenty thousand soccer schools in China by 2020 — and 50,000 by 2025.

That's what Chinese President and self-declared soccer fan, Xi Jinping, has in mind for the future of the beautiful game in China.

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Geopolitics
Alessandria Masi and Lindsey Snell

The Battle To Teach Syrian Kids When Schools Are Bombed

Regular shelling from all sides has made it too dangerous for students to go to school in the Syrian city of Aleppo, so a group of volunteer teachers decided to open their own.

ALEPPO — Adnan was in fifth grade when an airstrike destroyed the government-run school he attended here in Syria's largest city. He survived, but his education was put on hold.

That was in 2013. For the next three years, schools in Aleppo would be frequently targeted by Syrian government airstrikes or hit by opposition fire. Education became a risk that Adnan could no longer take. Today, Adnan attends a makeshift school in a secluded, bombed-out residence — but he's only in sixth grade.

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Sources
Rosely Sayão

Three Things I Ask Of Mothers For Mother's Day

-Essay-

On Mothers' Day, mothers are recognized and receive praise from their families and society at large. It's a special day that nobody should forget to celebrate, right? My homage will consist of a few requests and some words of gratitude.

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Egypt
Mai Shams El-Din

Ranked Last Globally, Egypt's Public Education Creates Heavy Burden For Parents

CAIRO — Yasmine Hamed worked hard to save money for her marriage five years ago. But by the time her daughter Jannah was old enough for school, she realized that the savings race would have to start all over.

Hamed had stopped working as a secretary after bouncing between two jobs so she could finally marry after a seven-year love story. But she could not sustain this choice for too long.

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LA STAMPA
Flavia Amabile

L'Aquila Shame: Five Years After Quake, Schools Not Rebuilt

L'AQUILA — In this city in central Italy, there is an entire generation of children who ride in cars and go to restaurants like other Italian kids, but still have never gone to a proper school.

These are the kids from L'Aquila, hit by an earthquake five years ago — on April 6, 2009 — that killed 297 in the region and leveled much of the midsized city's historic center. Since then, from the sound of the first bell in the morning through school days that can last eight hours, the children sit and study in prefabricated metal boxes.

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Future

PISA Rankings: Tour The Top 25 Education Nations

PARIS - The results are in, and half a million 15-year-olds from 65 countries have spoken.

This collective voice is the results of high-school students from around the world who were measured in a series of math, science and reading tests for the much-anticipated PISA rankings that were announced Tuesday.

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China
Mark Godfrey

How Belly Dancing In China Has Become The Hip New Thing

BEIJING — Belly dancing has long been associated with the Middle East, but there seems to be plenty of evidence to suggest that its future may be here in China.

There has been a huge growth in popularity of belly dance shows, contests and schools across the country. A recent belly dancing convention in Beijing brought stars from around the world for a weekend of workshops and performances.

Two dozen dancers are going through their routines at an afternoon class at the Wen Kexin Belly Dancing School, located in a plush new commercial complex on Beijing’s east side.
Fan Hui Mi, 25, is a regular student here who, over her parents’ objections, gave up her white-collar job in financial services to become a full-time belly dancing teacher.

“They were really against me starting to belly dance because the outfits weren’t appropriate for a young Chinese woman,” she says. “But then gradually they changed their minds when they saw how artistic and pretty the dance was. And then they saw our performances on TV, and when I danced on a well-known TV show I know my mom was proud.”

This belly dancing school was opened by former singer Wen Kexin, who learned to belly dance a decade ago when she went to Egypt to record a music video. Hers was Beijing’s first belly dancing club and school. Today she has 63 licenced belly dancing schools around China serving 100,000 students.

“There are three kinds of people who learn belly dancing with us,” she says. “There are quite a lot who come to learn to be belly dancing teachers and open their own schools because belly dancing is hot right now. Secondly, we have students who want to be belly dancing stars. They don’t necessarily want to dance in bars or Arab restaurants, rather they want to join a dance troupe and perform in theaters and stadiums, which is popular in China. Many would like to be in my dance troupe or in another troupe called the China Belly Dancing Superstars. And then, finally, we have many students who dance to keep fit. For them it’s a hobby.”

Tao Xue Lie, 30, a business graduate from Zhengzhou in central China, learned to belly dance in 2007. “When I started, it was very hard, but all students find it hard at the start. I had a very helpful teacher. She gave me encouragement, she kept saying, ‘Come on, don't worry, one step at a time, do it again.’ And slowly, slowly I started to build confidence and get better.”

After a week of special training in Beijing, she now sees her future as a belly-dancing tutor. She’s ready to set off to a new Wen Kexin Academy in the southern island province of Hainan.

But it’s not just women who are taking up belly dancing in China. Yao Peng Bu, 32, is a male belly dancing superstar with his own Beijing school and a busy performance schedule. He travels regularly to the Middle East and around Asia to take part in workshops and performances.

“I was talking with a famous Egyptian belly dancing instructor who told me that our belly dancing events are the best attended in the world,” he says. “She attends these events around the world. I have been to other countries, and I think our belly dancing is of a very high artistic standard. In Western countries the cost of staff and property are much higher, so they do things on a smaller scale compared to China.”

Wen Kexin has big plans to grow the art form further in China. “Next year we’ll add five to eight more Wen Kexin academies in regional cities,” Wen says. “Also we’re planning a big Egyptian festival, and I plan to bring some of the biggest stars of belly dancing to China for performances and workshops.”

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