This too shall pass – reflections on international education crises

“At some point during each crisis, we worry about the long-term impact on international education”

I remember the feeling, writes Kerry Geffert, product evangelist for Terra Dotta. Restless, hard to focus, antsy, anxious, neither depressed nor positive. It was right after 9/11. Our world had turned upside down and, when we got past the immediate personal implications, those of us in international education wondered what the future held for the work that was near and dear to our hearts.

At that time I was also Conference Chair for the 2002 NAFSA Annual Conference. When we held our first meeting of the planning committee following 9/11, I started by admitting that I had had trouble focusing on our tasks. There was an immediate collective sigh of relief. Turns out I was not alone.

Two lessons from that experience: We are not alone in our feelings of uncertainty. And our professional/industry peers and colleagues are an important part of self-care and mutual support.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its spread, international educators are in month three of the crisis. First, dealing with the impacts in China, then fear and impacts as the virus spread abroad and now, here at home.

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Standing #ApartTogether in times of crisis

“Keeping our communities safe, and focused on moving forward with hope and creativity, is our path through and out of our collective current reality”

It is vitally important to refocus on the importance of community and leadership, writes Tina Bax, Founder of CultureWorks in Canada.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer has tweeted her hope that we might stand #ApartTogether in this.  There’s arguably never been a more important time to be together.  To expand the concept of community that we continually build in our classrooms, to the rest of the world.

In the spirit of humility and service then, here are three communities to consider when we’re trying to take such great care in the coming weeks and months, not just of ourselves but of our world.

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Supporting international students in HE during COVID-19

“As we enter a new normal, we must ensure that no student is left behind”

Covid-19 has thrust the Higher Education sector into the realities of ‘Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity’ (VUCA)  writes senior international lead at the University of Sussex, Tosin Adebisi. As a result, many universities are responding quickly, creatively and moving in-person teaching to online platforms.

I commend universities for developing robust solutions; however, as we develop these learning platforms, how are we supporting international students, especially those unable to fly back to their homes and families? How well are we creating a level learning field that promotes accessibility, participation and inclusion?

In this opinion piece, I argue that we can do more to support international students. I also present suggestions to help universities develop human-centred solutions for this group.

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Migrating digital natives to home-learning in the wake of school closures

“The human interaction aspect of e-learning is crucial for student success and wellbeing – and for teachers too”

This latest blog is by Daniel Jones, Chief Education Officer of Globeducate, one of the world’s leading international school groups that has seen schools in all markets migrate to temporary home-schooling due to Covid-19 in less than a month.

Having anticipated possible school closures early in the new year our leadership team began planning a global strategy for online learning by the start of February. When the news of school closures in Italy broke, ICS Milan, Rome International School and Southlands International School were ready to launch their virtual learning programmes for students aged 3 to 18.

What has been asked of students and teachers all over the world has been immense – students have had to adapt to learning at home, away from the routine of school and the familiarity of their friends and teachers, and teachers have been engaging students in an entirely new environment.

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‘Honesty’ the key component for successful boarding school placements

“Trying to shoehorn a child into an unsuitable environment can be disastrous for both the child, family and the school itself”

When considering an overseas boarding school education, there are so many factors for parents to consider, writes Pat Moores of UK Education Guide. Meanwhile, schools and agents bombard families with information that may or may not be relevant to them.

We asked guardians and schools if they were only allowed to provide just one piece of advice to parents to help them make the best decision for their children, what would it be?

Interestingly, the answers received almost all followed a similar theme and we highlight three responses below:

Julia Evans, Director at Cambridge Guardian Angels, argues that the most important thing is to ask parents and agents to be honest about the information they provide schools & guardians.

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The magnitude of the crisis among international students

“Not many international students are equipped to advocate for themselves when a crisis arises”

This week’s guest blog is by Ruby Cheng, director of the International Enrollment Program (Asian Pacific Region) at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.

I’m writing this article as an international educator, a guardian of a college international student, and an advocate who wants to voice up the concerns for the vulnerable and underrepresented group, international students, during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

When the COVID-19 became imminent in China in early February, I saw a great effort exerted by U.S. institutions, trying to accommodate Chinese applicants. Many international admissions offices offered opportunities for applicants to delay the transcript submission due to the closure of schools and universities in China.

In response to the closure of the testing centres for TOFEL, IELTS and GRE/GMAT, many admissions offices provided flexible policies including online interviews and Duolingo test, which allows students to take the English proficiency test at their homes. Those strategies made Chinese applicants and their families feel welcomed, despite the virus chaos they are experiencing in China.

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The role of think tanks in education

“Education is an important and lasting way in which university-affiliated think tanks can impact the world”

By connecting the worlds of the practitioner and the scholar, says Aaron McKeil of  LSE IDEAS, think tanks – university-affiliated think tanks especially – act as conduits between the two.

They strive to convey concepts and ideas from academia to practice and to bring experience and insider knowledge from practice to academia. Research and working groups are some of the most common mediums for this activity, but education has an important function and role too.

Think tanks, especially university-affiliated think tanks, can provide education by conveying academic knowledge to practitioners, at various levels. They can also provide education by connecting students to the distinct type of expertise that professional practitioners can provide.
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The role of language instruction in learning performance

“Schools that fail to emphasise teaching foreign languages do their students a grave disservice”

Around the world, various countries espouse different attitudes toward language and learning, notes Alyssa Abel of education blog, Syllabusy. She points out that European nations, for example, begin teaching foreign languages in primary school or before while conversely, many American schools do not offer these classes as electives until high school, and several have even eliminated foreign languages as a graduation requirement.

Schools that fail to emphasise teaching foreign languages do their students a grave disservice. Researchers have found a strong relationship between language and learning and its positive impact on academic performance. How can educators motivate their students to expand their linguistic ability beyond their native tongue?

How Does Language Affect Learning?

Research indicates that foreign language instruction bolsters academic performance in many ways — including an upward trajectory in test scores.

In one study, researchers selected random third-grade students to receive Spanish lessons three times per week for one semester. The teacher instructed class entirely in the foreign tongue. The students who received this instruction scored significantly higher in math and language on the Metropolitan Achievement Test (MAT) than those who did not. Given the emphasis on these measures when it comes to funding, the practice offers a valuable means to improve overall scholarship.

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Rethink 2020: Five trends to watch

“In these trying times, rather than fret about the future, it’s useful to take a step back and assess”

Recent head-spinning events – raging fires causing university closures in Australia; the UK exiting Europe; and most recently, a coronavirus outbreak bringing global mobility to a standstill – has the international education sector battered as if by a hurricane of headlines, writes Anna Esaki-Smith, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Education Rethink.

While none of these occurrences relates directly to education, they pose fundamental risks to an industry whose very core is rooted in the free movement of people. However, in these trying times, rather than fret about the future, it’s useful to take a step back and assess.

In Education Rethink’s latest report, Rethink 2020: Five Trends to Watch, we go back to basics by examining the foundational undercurrents driving student mobility towards the English-speaking world.

Consider that, in 2019, the total population of international students across the US, UK, Australia and Canada – grew by more than 115,000, according to the latest student visa issuance data.

But focusing on increasing numbers alone is not enough. Where are students coming from? And what are the factors driving those flows?

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Coronavirus: separated families need greater focus

“Families are bearing the brunt of this disruption on both a psychological and practical level, and more must be done to meet their needs”

As the Coronavirus crisis widens geographically, the immediate focus for the boarding school sector is to provide up to date health advice to help keep schools virus-free. However, as Pat Moores of UK Education Guide writes, alongside this issue there is a massive human story. 

As a result of the Coronavirus outbreak, young people are being separated from their families unexpectedly, uncertain when the situation will improve and concerned about their own welfare and the welfare of their families.

We have heard of one Chinese pupil who has donated £750 of her own money to help Wuhan residents, as many of her friends live in the Hubei region and she is very worried about them.

So what about enhanced pastoral care provision during this crisis?

As Caroline Nixon, General Secretary of the British Association of Independent Schools with International Students (BAISIS) says, “anything a school can do to reassure the child and to put into place arrangements that support them emotionally as well as physically is welcome; the most obvious being keeping the school open so that children without good guardians have somewhere familiar to stay.”

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