Entries in Education (12)


French President Proposes Banning Homework

AFP PHOTO PATRICK KOVARIK/LIONEL BONAVENTURE(PARIS) -- Talk about courting the youth vote. French President François Hollande has proposed banning homework as part of a series of policies designed to reform the French educational system.

“Education is priority,” Hollande said in a speech at Paris' Sorbonne University. “An education program is, by definition, a societal program. Work should be done at school, rather than at home.”

The justification for this proposed ban? Inequality. According to a statement from an official at the French Embassy, “When it comes to homework, the President said it should be done during school hours rather than at home, in order to establish equal opportunities.” Homework favors the wealthy, Hollande argues, because they are more likely to have a good working environment at home, including parents with the time and energy to help them with their work.

Hollande’s education proposal is not limited to a homework ban. According to the embassy, Hollande has also pledged to add 60,000 teaching jobs in the next five years. He has also expressed support for extending the school week by establishing a model in which children would attend school for nine half-days a week. Schools would be able to decide if this is spread over four, five or even six days, in consultation with local authorities and parents.

French children typically go to school for 36 weeks out of the year. The school day is roughly as long as an American workday, lasting from 8:00 to 4:00 or later. However, in most schools the week is only four days, with Wednesdays off in addition to Saturday and Sunday.

Hollande’s proposals are not official yet; they’re part of an ongoing national debate about reforming the education system, which is, according to the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment, ranked 21st in reading, 22nd in math and 27th in science among countries in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation). The United States ranks 17th, 31st, and 23rd in those respective categories.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Chinese Women Protest Gender Discrimination in Education

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BEIJING) -- Seven young women in Beijing have defied authorities to ignite a grassroots confrontation with the Chinese Ministry of Education on gender discrimination.

Four of them shaved their heads Aug. 30 in the center of Guangzhou, in Guangdong province. They were protesting gender discrimination in university admission policies.  After the story gained traction via China’s microblog, Sina Weibo, a woman named Xiong Jing and two female friends followed suit the next day in Beijing.

The women object to several universities across China that make it easier for men than women to gain acceptance.

It comes down to the all-important National Higher Entrance Exam, or GaoKuo. In the United States, students applying to college can take the SAT multiple times. In China, however, there is only one shot at the exam.

More than 9 million students took the test last year. A student’s score is essentially the only thing universities consider in deciding acceptance. And the required score for men is lower than it is for women at several Chinese universities.

Ouyang Le, from Guangzhou, was one of the protesters. Her hair is slowly growing back.

She enrolled in college but is not happy or excited about it at all, she said. Her dream was to go to the University of International Relations in Beijing. She scored an impressive 614 on her entrance exam. But the required score for women there is 628; for male students it is 609.

International relations is among  the subjects that differentiates score requirements based on gender. Others include the arts, language studies and national defense.

Ouyang says the government must address the issue. Her defiance in Guandong was notable in that she chose to shave her head in a public place. Any kind of public protest is strictly forbidden in China without government approval, which she did not have.

Huang Yizhi, a Beijing-based lawyer, and Lu Pin of the Media Monitor for Women Network sent a letter in July to the Ministry of Education asking to clarify which universities and what majors have different standards based on gender, and why.

In a letter shared with The New York Times, the ministry said, “In view of considerations of national interest,” to meet personnel training needs in some areas or specialties, “a few colleges may appropriately adjust the enrollment ratios of men and women.”

The Zhongze Women’s Legal Counseling and Services center, a nonprofit legal services group, says it has taken on the case. Lu Xioaquan, a lawyer there, told ABC News that gender discrimination in education has a long history. Lu says that if the Ministry of Education does not provide a satisfactory response, his organization is prepared to sue the government.

“[The law] in China forbids gender discrimination on several grounds; every citizen should have equal rights to education,” he says. “We will not give up fighting for equality, even though we know it’s going to be a long, tough road.”

While shaving their hair off, the four women reportedly sang together, “I am as strong as you are, and am putting all I have into chasing my dream.”

Ouyang, the student who wanted to attend the University of International Relations in Beijing, had no choice but to enroll in Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. But she said she will continue fight against sex discrimination even if she is never accepted to the school of her dreams.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pakistani Rights Activist, 14, Shot by Taliban

Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(ISLAMABAD) -- In an attack drawing widespread condemnation, a lone Taliban gunman Tuesday approached a crowded school bus in Pakistan's once-volatile Swat region and opened fire. His target: A 14-year-old girl who'd campaigned against the Taliban for the right to go to school.

Television footage showed Malala Yousafzai lying on a stretcher and being airlifted to a military hospital in Peshawar. The gunman approached the bus and asked whether anyone could identify Malala, according to local police.

When one of her schoolmates singled out the teen, the gunman shot her twice, including once in the head. He also shot the girl who identified Malala before fleeing.

Malala is in serious condition, while the other girl's condition is unknown.

A Taliban spokesman has claimed responsibility, referring to her campaign for the right to go to school as an "obscenity."

The Pakistani Taliban are an offshoot of the insurgency movement in Afghanistan that operates along the lawless tribal belt that straddles the Afghan-Pakistan border. They share the same ideology as their Afghan counterparts, but focus their attacks mainly on pro-Western targets inside Pakistan.

Malala's courageous and public stance against the Taliban has earned her widespread acclaim, including being nominated last year for the International Children's Peace Prize.

"This was a shocking act of violence against a 14-year girl who has bravely been fighting for her right to education," Amnesty International said in a statement.  "This attack highlights the extremely dangerous climate human rights activists face in north-western Pakistan, where particularly female activists live under constant threats from the Taliban and other militant groups."

Malala's rise to prominence began in 2009, when she wrote a diary for BBC Urdu under a pseudonym chronicling the oppression she and other girls at her school faced at the hands of the Taliban. At the time, the Taliban had ordered the closure of all girls schools in the region.

Her father, who ran a private school, was forced to comply, leaving Malala and her friends with nowhere to study. In all, 50,000 girls were forced out of school in a matter of days.

In one blog post titled "Do not wear colourful dresses," Malala wrote about not wearing school uniforms, to avoid being detected by the Taliban.

"My friend came to me and said, 'For God's sake, answer me honestly, is our school going to be attacked by the Taleban [sic]?' During the morning assembly we were told not to wear colourful clothes as the Taleban would object to it."

Taliban militants first began flooding into Swat in 2007, forcing men to grow beards, prohibiting women from going to bazaars, and whipping and executing anyone accused of so-called immoral crimes.

Later, as the Pakistani military undertook an offensive to root out the Taliban from Swat valley -- a picturesque area 100 miles from the capital known for its lush green fields and waterfalls -- The New York times produced a two-part documentary chronicling her exile, and later, the family's return to what's left of their home.

Responding to Tuesday's attack, Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said in a statement: "We have to fight the mindset that is involved in this. We have to condemn it.

"Malala is like my daughter, and yours too. If that mindset prevails, then whose daughter would be safe?"


Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Scottish Schoolgirl Wins Heated Food Fight

Comstock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Martha Payne, 9, is one happy girl after a turbulent 24 hours. Her local council in Scotland has lifted a controversial ban imposed Thursday that prevented her from including photographs of food in her blog “NeverSeconds,” documenting her school lunches.

Media coverage of the blog had led catering staff to fear for their jobs, a representative of the Argyll and Bute Council said earlier today. But Council leader Roddy McCuish recently issued a new statement, saying, “There is no place for censorship in this Council and never will be whilst I am leader.”

McCuish added that he wanted to speak with the Payne family, in the hope that “Martha Payne and her friends will have had a strong and lasting influence not just on school meals, but on the whole of Argyll & Bute.”

Martha has been snapping pictures of almost every school meal, and rating her plate, since April 30. Ratings ranged from “3/10″ to “10/10, noting “mouthfuls,” “price” and “health rating.” She was posting anonymously as “Veg” but local newspapers began naming her and identifying her school. The council’s ban came after a piece in Scottish newspaper The Daily Record, who penned a headline, “Time to fire the dinner ladies.”

Martha had published a “Goodbye” post Thursday night, bidding farewell to sharing her dinners with others: “I’ll miss seeing the dinners you send me too.”

She also wrote that she probably wouldn’t meet a fundraising target she had been working on for a charity called Mary’s Meals, responsible for providing food to more than 650,000 underprivileged children worldwide.

Martha’s “JustGiving” fundraising page for Mary’s Meals is linked to her blog, which has more than 2 million hits, with a new page view virtually every second.

With all the publicity Martha’s blog has received, donations to Mary’s Meals have escalated enormously. One of the charity’s chief administrators, Abeer MacIntyre, told ABC News, “We just watched with amazement today. Martha set herself the ambitious goal of raising £7,000 [about $11,000]. She’s managed to not only build a kitchen on the side of a school in Malawi, but to feed all 2,000 children at that school for a whole year.”

JustGiving tweeted today, “Congrats to Martha Payne (aka VEG) for completely smashing her fundraising target today. Here’s her page #NeverSeconds.”

Martha has attracted the support of local politicians, such as MP Louise Mensch, who tweeted this morning, “Dear @ArgyllandBute, what have you to fear from a 9 year old exposing lunch provision? reverse your awful decision.”

Even celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, a spokesman for healthier meals for schoolchildren, offered a few kind words on Twitter: “Stay strong Martha, RT this to show your support #neverseconds.”

Martha’s blog previously inspired the Scottish chef to organize a think-tank on school meals.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Student Pens Letter of Rejection to Oxford

Hemera/Thinkstock(HAMPSHIRE, England) -- Every year, thousands of students are rejected from Oxford, one of the most elite universities in the world. But how many times has Oxford been rejected by a student? The answer is at least once, thanks to Elly Nowell.

“I very much regret to inform you that I will be withdrawing my application,” Nowell, 19, wrote to Oxford’s Magdalen College in a rejection letter that parodied the ones universities send to students who are not admitted.

“I realise you may be disappointed by this decision,” Nowell continued, “but you were in competition with many fantastic universities and following your interview I am afraid you do not quite meet the standard of the universities I will be considering.”

Nowell, of Winchester, Hampshire, told the BBC that the school’s interview process made her feel like “the only atheist in a gigantic monastery.”

In the letter, she criticized the school’s choice to hold interviews in “grand formal settings” and the gap she perceived between “minorities and white middle-class students” at the school.

A spokesperson for the college confirmed to ABC News Nowell had rescinded her application and called it a “non-story.”

Last year, 17,000 people applied for a seat at Oxford. Of that number, only a fraction -- 3,200 -- were admitted.

As for Nowell? According to her Facebook, she’s hoping to attend University College London.

“UCL was the first higher education institution in England to accept students of any race or religious or political belief,” she wrote on her page.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


72 Students Graduate from Oprah 's Leadership Academy

Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images(HENLEY-ON-KLIP, South Africa) -- To most people Oprah Winfrey is known as one of the world's most powerful media moguls. But to the students who attend her Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in South Africa, she's simply "Mom Oprah."

Like any parent, Winfrey beamed and cried as she watched 72 of her "daughters," the school's first class, graduate today.

The young women were dressed impeccably in a uniform of white dresses and matching white heels. They sang a song of gratitude and celebration in Zulu, a South African language. Family and friends cheered as each girl accepted her diploma.

"The pride that I feel today is overpowering," Winfrey said during her graduation speech. "I have been on a mission my whole life to be able to give back what I have been given. Today I am fulfilling that mission."

The opening of the $40 million school, which is located an hour outside of Johannesburg in the small town of Henley-on-Klip, opened in 2007. Since its opening, the academy has faced challenges including accusations of abuse from a school official and the birth of a dead baby to one of the students. Even with the controversies, all but three of the original class of students is graduating, and all the graduates have been accepted to college.

Winfrey has invested her money and time into the project, insuring that the students have everything they need to concentrate on their education. The school is spread over 52 acres and features world-class amenities, including a state of the art library and fully-equipped dorm rooms.

Some of the 400 girls come from homes so poor they didn't even have their own beds. Mashadi Kekana grew up in Alexandria, one of South Africa's most impoverished and violent townships. During her interview five years ago, she told Winfrey that if she was accepted she would never let the talk show host down.

Today Kekana graduated as one of the school's top students and will be heading to the United States to attend Wellesley College in Massachusetts next fall on a full scholarship.

"Mom Oprah, thank you for showing us that we're not just girls, but girls who have greater purpose in this world," said Kekana in her graduation address as Winfrey's eyes welled up with tears.

Winfrey stressed that even though the journey at her school is ending for these young women, she expects them to achieve even greater accomplishments in college and beyond.

"When you invest in the leadership of girls you invest in a nation," said Winfrey. "Every one of these girls is going to serve themselves, their family, community and country in ways that are yet to amaze you."

Education for girls in Sub-Saharan Africa lags far behind the rest of the world. About one in three girls finish high school, according to the South African government.

Tabitha Ramotwala, a graduate who recently found out she was accepted to Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, told ABC News she believes the success of Winfrey's school "shows the world that there's a lot of potential that can be tapped into."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama Talks Education in Australia; Gets Hit with Bieber Fever

Lukas Coch-Pool/Getty Images(CANBERRA, Australia) -- President Obama, meeting with high school students in Canberra, Australia to discuss the future of U.S. education, couldn’t escape Bieber Fever -- even Down Under.

One of the questions Obama took was from a student named Meg who wanted to know if Obama had “ever thought about teaming up with a high-profile celebrity such as Justin Bieber to appeal to more people?”

After some laughter, Obama replied, “I interact a lot with celebrities.  They end up coming to the White House for a pet cause, or some of them were very supportive of me during my campaign.  But generally speaking, hopefully if I’m going to be successful, it’s going to be because of the ideas I put forward and not because I’m hanging out with Justin Bieber.  Although he is a very nice young man, and I’ll tell him you said hi.”

Obama has been asked about the pop star several times before and Bieber was a performer at the White House earlier this year at the annual Easter Egg roll.  Perhaps most movingly, the White House contacted Bieber in May on behalf of a girl whose father was killed on 9/11.

The original purpose of Obama’s visit was to tell the students about his plans for the U.S. education system.

“How do we reform the system overall?” the president asked rhetorically.  ”A lot of it starts with early childhood education.  A lot of poor children don’t get the support that they need when they’re very young, so by the time they get to grammar school, they’re already behind.”

“So working with programs that are geared to young people -- or very young children, when they’re toddlers and infants, to give them a head start, that’s pretty important,” he said.

He also said increasing teachers’ salaries and training would help make for better teachers.

“The most important thing for every grade level is the quality of the teachers.  So we’re spending a lot of time thinking about how do we train teachers more effectively, how do we pay them more so that they have fewer worries about supporting themselves and can really focus on the work that they do,” he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Chinese Education Puts America to the Test

Ryan McVay/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. education system is in desperate need of reform and is at risk of losing its advantage to China and other countries, experts say.

SAT reading scores have fallen to a record low and other scores also fall short when pitted against those of international students. Such performance has prompted worries among education leaders that the United States is losing ground to other countries when it comes to educating its students, and will soon lose its coveted spot as the world leader in education.

The country’s top teacher, National Teacher of the Year Michelle Shearer, traveled to China in August to study the country’s education system and meet with education experts. Shearer does not speak Mandarin and she had never visited China, but she described an instant connection to teachers she met in Beijing.

“We all spoke the language of teaching,” said Shearer, who worked through an interpreter. “We share the same concern and our primary goal is the success of our students.”

By at least one measure, Chinese students have been more successful than their U.S. peers. The most recent international standardized test -- the PISA -- ranked Chinese students first in reading, science and math. U.S. students came out somewhere in the middle.

Part of the problem is a system that fails to help students reach their full potential, education experts say.

“It’s a cookie-cutter system that is not allowing our students to move forward,” White House Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes said.

But when Shearer visited China, Chinese teachers were eager to learn more about U.S. education. China, Shearer said, was looking to the United States for inspiration.

“They would say, ‘Wow our students are so focused on tests, your students have electives and your students can take both vocational and academic courses,’” Shearer said. “They were very, very intrigued by the different options we offer our students.”

China’s education system is focused on testing. High school students spend nearly a full year studying for a national college entrance exam. Failing or scoring poorly on it drives many students to repeat their final year of high school.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the United States has a competitive edge over China and many other countries, but questions for how long.

“These other countries are innovating, they are investing, they are not scaling back opportunity, they are increasing opportunity leaps and bounds,” Duncan said in an interview with Bloomberg News.

The jobs of the future, he continued, “are going to go to the countries that are producing the knowledge workers that can succeed in the global competitive economy.”

Shearer of Urbana High School in Frederick, Md., found evidence of China’s monetary commitment to education during her visit.

“They’re offering full scholarships to talented students in exchange for a 10-year commitment to teaching in China,” Shearer said.

In the United States, teachers are facing harsh backlash in some parts of the country, most noticeably in Wisconsin, where state lawmakers sought steep budget cuts to education, and attempted to strip the teachers unions of bargaining rights.

Shearer said she often meets people who view teaching as a backup plan or a second choice, an outlook that does not help students or educators.

“I define myself as a career classroom teacher. I decided to be a teacher, I chose to be a teacher, and I continue to choose to be a teacher with almost 15 years of experience,” said Shearer, who graduated from Princeton with a degree in chemistry.

One thing the United States does that China does not, Shearer said, is attempt to educate every single student. Teachers in China were shocked to discover that the Maryland teacher learned sign language to teach deaf students chemistry.

“We are taking on a task that I’m not sure other countries are in terms of diversity,” Shearer said.

Shearer says it is unfair to compare America’s education system to China’s, or any other country’s, although there is a lot to be gained from learning and exchanging ideas. Her international trips are paid for by a global education travel group. Shearer will travel to Japan next month to study its education system.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Student Protesters Continue to Riot in Chile

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(SANTIAGO, Chile) -- Hundreds have been arrested as thousands of student protesters continue to battle against riot police in Santiago, Chile, demanding reforms within the country's educational system.  

The protests -- which have been going on for weeks -- began peacefully but escalated when some protesters broke off from the crowd and began fighting police, looting and starting fires in the Chilean capital, according to BBC News.

Demonstrators say Chile's educational system lacks funding and is unfair, prompting President Sebastian Pinera, whose approval rating has recently fallen below 30 percent, to promise additional funds.

Just last week, Chilean policymakers presented a plan consisting of 21 reforms that would increase funding, improve instructor training, provide for more scholarships and address unpaid student loan debt.

Criticizing the government for not also tackling needed improvements in private education, students refused the plan.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Riot Police Fire Tear Gas, Water Cannons at Protesters in Santiago

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(SANTIAGO) -- Riot police fired tear gas and water cannons at crowds during Thursday's unauthorized student protests over educational costs in the Chilean capital of Santiago.

Students set up barricades of burning tires around the city Thursday morning and threw rocks at approaching army tanks trying to put out the fires.

Hundreds of protesters were detained by riot police as they tried to march on the Plaza de Armas in the city center.

In Chile, public schools are owned by municipalities instead of the state and, therefore, the quality of education varies based on location.

Students want public universities to be government-owned and free of charge.

During a second protest in the evening, students holding banners began marching on Plaza Italia.

Within 10 minutes, riot police arrived in tanks and began firing tear gas on the crowd. Students covered their mouths and ran as tears ran down from their bloodshot eyes.

For weeks, more than 100,000 students, most of whom are at the undergraduate or high school level, have been protesting on the streets of Santiago.

Chile spends 4.4 percent of the country's budget on public education, less than the seven percent recommended by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio´╗┐

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