Ukraine: Education disruption due to war

In February 2022, Russia initiated a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, a conflict that has since disrupted the education of over 5 million children, as reported by UNICEF. Despite the current relative calm and the diversion of public attention to other conflicts, the ongoing struggle of Ukrainian children to access education remains evident. This is underscored by the declining learning patterns in the PISA 2023[i]  results.

UNICEF has been actively working to reconstruct an environment conducive to education for Ukrainian children. Thousands of schools, pre-schools, and other educational facilities have been targeted by continuous attacks, consequently, Ukrainian children struggle to gain access to education. This, coupled with parental concerns for their children’s safety, has led to reluctance to send children to school. [ii]

Education is of utmost importance during times of war for several reasons. It fosters mental health by providing a routine and a sense of normalcy and stability. Moreover, it is fundamental for the post-conflict perspective of the Ukrainian population. The longer a child is kept out of school, the less likely they are to return. Therefore, limiting time away from school is incredibly important. Education also provides the skills and qualifications needed to build lives for oneself and prosperity for one’s community[iii]. In the long term, a quality education promotes peace and post-conflict reconstruction. It helps young people develop the skills and qualifications they need to build lives for themselves and prosperity for their communities[iv]. Furthermore, education can foster resilience and unity among students, for instance, the Kyiv School of Economics has continued its educational activities and launched new projects focusing on the needs of business and society in Ukraine during war[v].

Most recently Russia attacked the capital, Kyiv, a hospital, school, kindergarten, morgue, and residential buildings were damaged in the attack, with the latest update stating that 53 people were injured. Twenty of them, including two children, were hospitalized as a result of the strikes[vi].

UNICEF has been collaborating with the Government to facilitate the return of children to education. This is achieved through various means, including in-person learning in classrooms when deemed safe, as well as online or community-based alternatives. Despite the numerous challenges, nearly two million children were able to access online learning opportunities. Additionally, 1.3 million children were enrolled in a mix of in-person and online learning. However, the attacks that primarily targeted energy sources and electricity have resulted in most failures in accessing education. This makes it impossible for children to continue their education.[vii]

In conclusion, the conflict in Ukraine has disrupted the education of millions of children, a situation that has been further complicated by the destruction of educational facilities and the diversion of public attention to other conflicts. Despite these challenges, UNICEF has been actively working to reconstruct an environment conducive to education for Ukrainian children. Considering the role of the United Nations in this situation is crucial. It is not only a matter of rebuilding schools and preschools, but also of ensuring that the Ukrainian children have access to education, regardless of their location, and provide psychological support. The United Nations, through UNICEF, has a unique opportunity to play a significant role in this situation[viii].



Educational Challenges in Poland: A Deepening Crisis

Written by Aneta Orlowska

The state of education in Poland has reached a critical point, with concerns mounting over the future of the country’s schooling system. Recent research and surveys conducted by various organisations shed light on the challenges faced by Polish schools and the urgent need for action to address these issues.

According to a survey by the Polish Teachers’ Union (ZNP), the situation in schools is rapidly deteriorating, and its impact will be felt by everyone involved. The survey aims to draw attention to the problems plaguing the education system and highlight the need for immediate intervention. While amendments to education laws have been proposed, they do not adequately address the underlying issues.

One of the primary concerns highlighted by the ZNP is the severe shortage of teachers. It is estimated that there will be a shortfall of 25,000 to 30,000 teachers this year alone, but the actual number of deficiencies is expected to reach a staggering 55,000. This shortage has far-reaching consequences, affecting the quality of education and the overall learning experience for students. Classrooms are overcrowded, leaving teachers with limited time and resources to provide individual attention to students. This, in turn, hampers the students’ ability to learn and thrive academically.

The picket organised by the Polish Teachers’ Union on September 1 in front of the Ministry of Education and Science aims to express strong dissatisfaction with the current state of education in Poland. The main focus of the protest is the recently passed amendment to the educational law, which grants parents greater control over the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in schools. This amendment has sparked concerns among teachers and educators regarding its potential impact on the autonomy and quality of education.

Furthermore, the picket also serves as a platform to address broader issues that affect the education system in Poland, such as inadequate funding, overcrowded classrooms, and the lack of resources for students and teachers. By taking part in this protest, the Polish Teachers’ Union hopes to raise awareness and initiate a dialogue with the government and other stakeholders to bring about positive changes in the education sector. Krzysztof Baszczyński, Vice President of the Polish Teachers’ Union, emphasises the need for dialogue and collaboration to improve the situation. The picket seeks to engage NGOs and other stakeholders to join forces in finding solutions that prioritise remuneration, the core curriculum, and working conditions. The participation of NGOs in the protest is crucial, as they play a vital role in shaping the learning environment and supporting educational initiatives. The amendment to the educational law, which may hinder the access of NGOs to schools, is a cause for concern as it limits the resources and support available to students

Critics argue that the amendment to the educational law may further hinder the access of NGOs to schools, leading many directors to question the value of their involvement. The fear of potential repercussions from authorities may discourage schools from collaborating with NGOs, further limiting the resources and support available to students.

The concerns raised by the Polish Teachers’ Union are not limited to the amendment to the educational law. They also encompass the broader issues of staffing shortages, working conditions, and the quality of education. The union estimates that the current vacancies represent only a fraction of the actual need for teachers. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that young people are increasingly discouraged from pursuing a career in education due to unattractive salaries and working conditions.

While the government emphasises the increase in educational subsidies, critics argue that these increases are not sufficient to address the ongoing challenges. They also contend that the difference between the government’s claims and the actual situation highlights the urgent need for comprehensive reforms and increased investment in education. This disconnect between words and actions has significant consequences, as it perpetuates educational inequality and hampers social mobility. It is crucial for policymakers to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation and take decisive measures to bridge this gap. By implementing substantial reforms and allocating ample resources to education, we can pave the way for a brighter future and ensure equal opportunities for all learners, regardless of their socio-economic background.

The crisis in Polish schools is not limited to staffing shortages. In fact, the situation goes beyond just a lack of teachers and educators. The survey conducted by SW Research for rp.pl reveals a deep and widespread dissatisfaction among the public with the government’s education policy. It is clear that there are significant concerns regarding the quality of education and the scarcity of resources available to students and schools alike. This survey serves as a stark reminder that the current education system is in dire need of comprehensive and effective reforms. It is crucial for the government and policymakers to take immediate action to address these pressing issues and ensure a better future for the education system in Poland.

In addition to the shortage of teachers and concerns about education policy, other problems plague the Polish education system. These include inadequate access to mental health support, the politicisation of the curriculum, the lack of resources for extracurricular activities, and the pressing need for comprehensive career counselling. Students and recent graduates stress the need for a more balanced and well-rounded education that not only focuses on academic subjects but also includes practical life skills such as financial literacy, critical thinking, and problem-solving. They believe that this kind of education will better equip them to navigate the complexities of the modern world and prepare them for success in their future endeavours.

Refugee students in Poland face additional challenges within the education system. Language barriers, cultural differences, and limited access to support services make it difficult for students to fully integrate and succeed academically. Many refugee students have experienced interrupted education and trauma, which further complicates their educational journey. There is a need for targeted initiatives and resources to address the specific needs of refugee students and ensure their smooth transition into the Polish education system.

The educational challenges in Poland are undeniable, and urgent action is needed to prevent further deterioration. The government, in collaboration with educational stakeholders, must prioritise addressing the shortage of teachers, improving working conditions, and ensuring access to quality education for all students. Only through a concerted effort to address these challenges can Poland’s education system regain its strength and provide a solid foundation for the future generations.

To overcome these challenges, it is crucial for the government to allocate more resources to education and increase funding for teacher salaries and professional development programmes. Additionally, the government should establish mechanisms to attract and retain qualified teachers, such as offering attractive incentives and improving working conditions. Moreover, there is a need for comprehensive educational reforms that prioritise the holistic development of students.

References

Cover image “Presentation for 6th and 7th graders (Poland)” via Flickr

Educational Challenges in the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is one of the countries that welcomes the largest number of international students into its institutions, especially to its renowned universities. However, the system is not without its challenges, dominated by budget cuts in state-funded education, endemic inequalities across society that permeate the education system, and the attainment gap between rich and poor students, which at the time of writing stands at 3.2%. [[i]][[ii]]

The structure of the education system varies slightly across the UK, as it is a matter of the government in each country: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Generally, there are five stages of education: early years or pre-school, primary, secondary, further education and higher education. All children in the age of compulsory education – from 5 to 16 – are entitled to a free place at a state school, which can be more or less elitist. As of January 2023, there were around 9 million pupils in state-funded schools, and over 2 million were eligible for free school meals. Free school meals are used to identify children from disadvantaged backgrounds.[[iii]]

Over the past decade, the UK has been governed by the Conservative Party, now led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Recently, the country has dealt with the exit of the UK from the European Union – a process known as ‘Brexit’ – and the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic left millions of children in lockdown and exacerbated existing inequalities. This exposed the shortcomings of the education system and perpetuated the attainment gap.

Budget cuts

Underfunding is one of the most pressing problems in the British educational system. This places a tremendous amount of strain on state-funded schools. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) reports that the 2019–2020 school year saw the most significant reduction in per-pupil spending in more than 40 years. This leads to increasing class numbers and student-teacher ratio, a shortage of resources, and even a reduction in teaching hours. There has reportedly been a 258% increase in secondary students in classes with 36 or more students since 2010. The provision of tailored and individualised attention is compromised by class sizes and reductions in support programmes, particularly for children with special educational needs. [[iv]]

Additionally, teachers are taking a big toll due to the budget cuts, as schools are forced to downsize staff. This results in teachers taking on extra duties and working an average of 55 hours per week. The working conditions and increasing pressure to provide individualised teaching without enough means are making some teachers reconsider their career path, with approximately half of the teachers in maths, sciences and languages quitting after five years. Moreover, they often seem to prefer working in private institutions, with a less diverse student population to attend, which requires less additional workload. [[v]]

Picture by Yan Krukau via Pexels

Cuts to the budget also make some schools’ limited access to technology worse. The shift to distant schooling due to the pandemic exposed and exacerbated already-existing technologically-induced educational disparities. Children from higher poverty and economically unstable neighbourhoods have disproportionately inadequate access to technology.  In the modern world, a lack of a laptop or an Internet connection puts one’s access to opportunities at risk. Private schools typically have superior resources to equip their pupils with the most recent technology than state schools, even offering equipment that the students can take home. The government should try to provide state schools with adequate funding that responds to evolving educational needs.

While it is true that since 2020, the effects of COVID-19 have put extra pressure on the government, civil society actors and journalists demand the government to do better. For instance, the NGO 1 Hour Life highlights that of the £15 billion recommended by the education recovery commissioner for England, the government only established a £1.4 billion Covid catch-up budget. [[vii]] Furthermore, Sonia Sodha reflects in The Guardian that the government’s policies have neglected the child’s best interests both before and after the pandemic. [[viii]]

Inequality and the attainment gap

Social inequalities have a significant effect on children and young people’s education. The UK is a country where this is particularly prominent, with a noticeable difference in performance in children from poor and wealthier backgrounds. From their early years, children are affected by the disproportion of resources. State schools in more impoverished areas, like some inner-city areas, are more affected by budget cuts as government spending per student continues to decrease. Implementation of support programmes is also inequal in some regions across England. For example, the North-East region saw a smaller implementation of Covid support programmes than schools in the South. Regarding ethnicity, in a country that is well-known for its multicultural urban areas, it’s generally students from Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller backgrounds who struggle the most because of higher illiteracy and language barriers among their parents. Some children with an uncertain legal status after Brexit or seeking asylum might also experience additional barriers to accessing education. [[ix]][[x]]

A family’s wealth and well-being have a significant impact on students. Almost one in 50 children across the UK miss more than half the time they should be in school because families can’t afford transportation costs, uniforms, school supplies, or school meals. This is more than double from before the pandemic. [[xi]] Despite the free school meals allowance, around a third of children experiencing poverty are not entitled to it. Some children report not eating anything during school time, hiding at lunchtime to avoid watching their peers eat or being shamed for receiving the allowance. This is because an apparent differentiation between children with free school meals and the rest is made: they are only entitled to a limited selection of items at the canteen. The UK should perhaps take notice of other European countries that provide standardised meals for all students. [[xii]] Controlling canteen prices is also important so that child health stops being a profitable market to exploit and that children can develop properly.

The UK must work harder to bridge the attainment gap between poor and rich students. In its voluntary national review of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the government promised that no student would be left behind and fair opportunities would be ensured regardless of socioeconomic differences. [[xiii]] In the long term, social inequalities that the education system fails to redress are life-changing, resulting in higher drop-outs, lower grades, lower than average earnings, increased criminality, and less presence in high-powered positions.

 In the UK, where you study matters. And where you end up studying after compulsory education is highly influenced by where you study your primary and secondary education, which in turn is related to your family’s wealth. For example, in 2020, 8 elite schools, including two state schools, sent more pupils to Oxford and Cambridge than almost 3,000 other UK state schools. Although the number of young people accessing university continues to increase, socioeconomic inequalities continue to be perpetuated again in the higher education system. Students not graduating from universities with a perceived ‘legacy’ and prestige typically miss out on high-powered jobs because of prejudice from employers in the country. [[xiv]] ‘Legacy’ and ‘prestige’ immediately point to the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford. They’re not the only ones, however. There are 24 universities, including these, which belong to the Russell Group – perhaps the closest version to a British Ivy League.

British Prime Ministers and cabinet members historically attended specific colleges in these institutions. Before that, they are typically educated in all kinds of non-state, privately funded institutions with prestige. A total of 30 out of 57 Prime Ministers have been educated at Oxford, and 20 have been educated at Eton College, which has a yearly fee of £48,000. The elitism that persists in positions of power and the most influential law or accounting firms is an example of the uneven spread of opportunities to enter the most prestigious positions. It also shows the profound classism that persists in the country, where people born in certain wealth and in certain areas have access to significantly better-funded education. [[xv]]

Even at a higher education level, England has one of the highest university fees in Europe: around £9,000 a year. Students typically take government loans to subsidise the cost of their studies. On the other hand, Scotland provides free university tuition for undergraduate courses for all Scottish students, aiming to achieve an inclusive education. Tuition fees, however, are not the only costs associated with university studies: with an exploitative renting market and rising living costs, 63% of students struggle to pay for their living expenses, and two in five consider dropping out of their courses. [[xvi]]

Students playing croquet at Eton College in the 1970s / Picture by Annie Spratt via Pexels

Final remarks

It is worth mentioning that other important issues should be addressed when talking about issues in the British education system. These are topics like discrimination, increasing bullying, and prominent peer-on-peer sexual harassment. These need to be explored more deeply in further articles. This article has focused on endemic inequalities in the education system in the UK to highlight how the profoundly classist system works. At the moment, the UK proves to be a country with endemic inequalities that affect where students study, the quality of their education due to poor funding, and the ongoing struggles due to costs associated with education and the increasing cost of living. It seems to be a system that rewards those students born and graduated into privilege.

Under the Conservative government, it is a country that has been continuously cutting down on public spending on education and public services, which would redress the effects of poverty and reduce the attainment gap. An argument can be made that addressing the digital divide, the inequalities within school populations, and redressing budget cuts is highly expensive. And it is. Nonetheless, education is a fundamental right, crucial for the development of children and the basis for a democratic society. A country that only rewards those who can afford private education and private services is doomed to be ruled by elites and have endemic inequalities. Currently, pressing challenges persist in the UK to bridge the attainment and opportunities gap between children and young people from different socioeconomic backgrounds.


References

[i] Studee. (2023). 10 most popular countries for international students. https://studee.com/guides/10-most-popular-countries-for-international-students/

[ii] Explore education statistics. (2023, September 12). Academic year 2022/23: Key stage 2 attainment. UK Government Department for Education, Explore education statistics. https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/key-stage-2-attainment

[iii] Department for Education. (2023). Education system in the UK. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/219167/v01-2012ukes.pdf

[iv] Weale, S. (2023, October 18). Cuts could reduce education in England to ‘bare bones’, headteachers say. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2023/oct/18/risk-of-education-in-england-being-reduced-to-bare-bones-headteachers-say

[v] 1 Hour Life. (2022, February 3). 5 Challenges in Education Today in the UK. https://1hourlife.org/challenges-in-education/

[vi] 1 Hour Life. (2022, February 3). 5 Challenges in Education Today in the UK. https://1hourlife.org/challenges-in-education/

[vii] 1 Hour Life. (2022, February 3). 5 Challenges in Education Today in the UK. https://1hourlife.org/challenges-in-education/

[viii] Sodha, S. (2023, October 22). Empty classroom seats reveal ‘long shadow’ of Covid chaos on Britain’s children. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/oct/22/empty-classroom-seats-reveal-long-shadow-of-covid-chaos-on-children

[ix] Equality and Human Rights Commission. (2022). Submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child: Children’s Rights in Great Britain, 56-75

[x] Race Disparity Unit. (2023). Ethnicity facts and figures. UK Government, Race Disparity Unit. https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/

[xi] Sodha, S. (2023, October 22). Empty classroom seats reveal ‘long shadow’ of Covid chaos on Britain’s children. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/oct/22/empty-classroom-seats-reveal-long-shadow-of-covid-chaos-on-children

[xii] O’Connell, R; Brannen, J. (2023, October 20). A Portuguese lesson on free school meals. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2023/oct/20/a-portuguese-lesson-on-free-school-meals

[xiii] HM Government. (2019). Voluntary National Review of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5d2f3d6aed915d2feeac49f4/UKVNR-web-accessible1.pdf

[xiv] Adams, R. (2023, October 17). Bolton graduates miss out on top jobs because of prejudice, says vice-chancellor. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2023/oct/17/university-of-bolton-graduates-miss-out-on-top-jobs-because-of-prejudice-says-vice-chancellor

[xv] The Week. (2022, October 25). Prime ministers and private schools. https://theweek.com/news/education/958294/prime-ministers-and-private-schools

[xvi] Brown, L. (2023, February 8). National Student Accommodation Survey 2023 – Results. Save The Student. https://www.savethestudent.org/accommodation/national-student-accommodation-survey-2023.html

Prostitution and violence against women and girls

Presented by Daphne Rein, Ioana-Sorina Alexa, Olimpia Guidi, Sarah Kuipers and Sterre Krijnen

In the Netherlands, where prostitution is legalised, hidden forms of prostitution are characterised under illegal forms of prostitution by Dutch law. The city of Amsterdam is well known for its many districts where prostitution attracts tourists1, and in this city, hidden forms of prostitution are illegal. For example, it is illegal for massage parlours to supply sexual services without a licence2. In addition, it is illegal to supply sexual services in private residences unless it is an individual working alone who holds a licence under the municipality of the city to carry out this activity3.

And even if it is illegal and can be prosecuted, child pornography can be considered a hidden form of prostitution4. In the Netherlands, the production, distribution, exhibition, importation, forwarding, exportation, and possession of child pornography are explicitly outlawed under various sections of the Dutch Penal Code5. Specifically, Article 240b criminalises these activities, making them illegal and subject to prosecution. This legal provision, along with related sections such as Article 240c addressing the grooming of minors and Article 240a concerning engaging in sexual acts with minors, forms the comprehensive legal framework aimed at combating child pornography. However, despite these stringent laws, a significant challenge persists. The Internet Watch Foundation revealed in 2019 that the Netherlands hosted 71% of known URLs containing child pornography content online within the European Union6. This alarming revelation underscores the complexity of tackling the issue, prompting a critical examination of the effectiveness of existing laws and the need for enhanced measures to address the online hosting of such illicit content.

This is a report submitted to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

16A_Input_for_SR_VAWG_s_report_on_violence_against_women_and_prostitution

Download the PDF here.

Featured Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay


1Julie Bindel, “Amsterdam turns on its sex punters.”. UnHerd. April 2023. https://unherd.com/2023/04/amsterdam-turns-on-its-sex-punters/

2City of Amsterdam, “Policy: Prostitution”, n.d. https://www.amsterdam.nl/en/policy/policy-health-care/policy-prostitution/

3City of Amsterdam, “Policy: Prostitution”, n.d. https://www.amsterdam.nl/en/policy/policy-health-care/policy-prostitution/

4Government of the Netherlands, «Crime and Crime Prevention: Sentencing » n.d. https://www.government.nl/topics/crime-and-crime-prevention/sentencing

5 Government of the Netherlands, «Crime and Crime Prevention: Sentencing » n.d. https://www.government.nl/topics/crime-and-crime-prevention/sentencing

6 European Commission, “Increased amount of child sexual abuse material detected in Europe”. Migration and Home Affairs. April 2020. https://home-affairs.ec.europa.eu/news/increased-amount-child-sexual-abuse-material-detected-europe-2020-04-28_en

French Guiana’s Education System: Current Challenges

Written by Juliana Campos.

France’s largest territory in South America, French Guiana, faces social and economic growth challenges still yet to be addressed by the French government, including difficulties in administering the Guianese education system.

Guianese population has doubled in the last 20 years and is now estimated at 301,099 inhabitants i. Recently, due to its status as an overseas department of France, the region has experienced a surge in immigration from neighbouring countries such as Brazil and Suriname. The uncontrolled immigration, along with inadequate infrastructure, poverty and elevated unemployment rates have significantly lowered the quality of life in French Guiana and the region faces several challenges which make access to basic services such as healthcare and education more difficult.

The issues which stem from social and economic inequality would greatly benefit from a bigger interest of the French government in improving and expanding education in French Guiana. Although substantial investments have been made in the last decade, money alone is not enough to ensure access to quality education.

The Guianese Education System

In French Guiana, education is free and mandatory from ages 6 to 16. Primary education lasts five years and, for that particular stage of school life, enrolment rates are as high as ever in bigger cities and are slowly improving in more remote areas where there aren’t as many resources, such as in Indigenous settlements. As it is the reality of other developing countries, high Primary School enrolment is contrasted by alarmingly high drop-out rates in Secondary School and High School.

One big contributing factor to this phenomenon is the fact that Primary school is usually cheaper for governments to provide and children in that age group are more likely to stay in school, as parents can’t yet leave them unattended at home while working. In Secondary education, however, many children are given extra tasks at home or in the growing informal market, some live too far from school, and others simply do not receive encouragement from family members to continue their studies.

Besides, it is worth mentioning that although all Guianese children have the right to attend school free of charge, studying is not free. Additional costs with transportation, clothes, food and school materials take a toll on low-income families and may affect students’ attendance rates.

To address this issue, the French government and Guianese authorities have come up with financial aid programmes that aim to motivate students and their families. The bonuses are given to scholarship holders, aiding 46.4% of all middle school and high school students in French Guiana.ii However, there is a lack of follow-up data on whether these measures are actually effective.

Teacher shortage and inequality

Another issue currently hindering quality education in French Guiana is the shortage of trained teachers. The number of licensed educators native to the region is insufficient compared to the number of students, a problem which resulted in overpacked classrooms as the Guianese population grew. This demand brought teachers from mainland France and adjacent countries in South America to work in French Guiana, causing new problems as these professionals are usually unaware of the region’s specificities.iii

In fact, one of the biggest challenges faced by the French government when administering education in French Guiana is its extremely diverse and multicultural society. Though teachers are given freedom to adapt materials to their students’ realities, textbooks are usually made in mainland France and classes are administered in French, the official language.

By erasing French Guiana’s history, geography, languages and heritage from textbooks and national exams, French authorities perpetuate the colonialist idea that mainland France’s history and culture are somehow more relevant than that of its other territories. As a result, children may find school contents difficult to understand or hard to relate to and can grow up unaware of many of their local heroes and historic figures. Besides that, this erasure has a direct effect on students’ self-esteem and may discourage them from continuing their studies.

The adaptation of school contents by local teachers cannot derive much from the French curriculum, as French Guiana students are also subjected to standardized national exams such as the Brevet, the Lower Secondary School exam, and the Baccalauréat, the French academic qualification exam.

Considering the points previously mentioned, it is unsurprising that Guianese students do not reach the same results as mainland French students. According to GrowThinkTank and INSEE (2014), the year of the study in French Guiana, only 76% of students aged 15 to 19 were enrolled in school, whether as pupils, students or apprentices, compared to 89% in mainland France. Furthermore, more than one in two Guianese no longer attend school from the age of 19, compared to 72% in mainland France at the same age.

This stark difference surely doesn’t come from lack of resilience, lack of intelligence or any characteristic exclusive to French Guiana’s youth. It is simply a product of inequality and lack of opportunity. Not being in school or dropping out of school has long lasting effects on young people, not only for their professional future, but also for their individual growth as human beings and as citizens, as school is also the main place where children socialise.

Kids and a Teacher in a Classroom / Photo by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz via Pexels

Education of Indigenous People and other minorities

Indigenous peoples play a substantial role in Guianese society, preserving culturally valuable knowledge, fighting for structural change and demanding protection of their territories. The erasure perpetrated by the French school curriculum affects these populations even more strongly, starting by the lack of data available on them. The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) affirms that, according to estimates, Indigenous peoples represent some 4% of the Guianese population, or more than 12,000 individualsiv, but there is no way to be sure, as the French Constitution prohibits the collection of race-based census data.

For decades in French Guiana, as well as in many adjacent regions, education was only present in the form of Catholic Schools, residential institutions where Indigenous children were forcibly interned and required to replace their traditions and religions with the Catholic ideals. Their native languages were also prohibited and children were taught French instead.

This serves as an example of how school can be used as political tactic, as colonial France risked the disappearance of invaluable Indigenous knowledge in order to maintain its territory. To this day, the French government has not directly dealt with the cultural loss from French Guiana’s period as a colony, and the erasure of Indigenous minorities is still a very present issue, with their history, culture and languages often being ignored by the French education system.

Future Prospects

French Guiana suffers from social and economic inequalities that would greatly benefit from an education system that is better tailored to its extremely multicultural society. The French government has a responsibility to invest in French Guiana’s education by building new schools and preparing and hiring native teachers, as well as training foreign teachers on how to approach French Guiana’s diverse society. This would partially solve the issue of overpacked schools, while also stimulating the local economy.

In addition to these measures, the government should also include more about the history, cultures, geography, climate and religions present in French Guiana in textbooks and standardized exams, which could make school more relatable to students and have a direct effect on the current drop-out rates. A special effort should be made to ensure Indigenous peoples and other minorities have access to quality education which also respects their culture and heritage.

In order to effectively make these improvements, it is crucial that the French government monitors the developments of their investments, either by conducting their own research on the ground or relying on local leaders and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). It is particularly important to collect data on enrolment rates for both Primary and Secondary Education, but also to understand what can be done to make sure these children receive quality education and encouragement to finish their studies.

References:

Educational challenges in Kosovo

Written by Veronica Grazzi

Located in the center of the Balkans, Kosovo is mostly known for its turbulent historical and political events. With its 1.8 million inhabitants, Kosovo has experienced many conflicts and declarations of independence, including changes in government and policy shifts. After separating from Serbia in 2008, the country faces numerous challenges in education, where a lot of obstacles prevent the creation of a consistent and inclusive system.

Because of the conflict, international intervention and post-conflict funds were channeled through the country through the international UN Interim Mission to Kosovo (UNMIK). Education was perceived as one of the ways to contain the conflict between Serbian and Kosovo Albanian imaginaries of Kosovo’s nationhood, so the international community opted for a divided education system.

Today, Kosovo is experiencing substantial reforms in its higher education system. This transformation includes the establishment and growth of higher education institutions, including nine public and twenty-two private universities. While significant improvements have been made, persistent issues continue to hinder the development of a robust and inclusive educational system.

Ethnic Divides and Integration

One component which is normally not missing from any narrative of a nation’s history is that of a nation’s origin or foundation.”

The discursive construction of National Identity, 2009

This citation very well applies to Kosovo; the basis for the current nationalistic discourse in Serbia and Kosovo lies in the various historical interpretations of the contested area of Kosovo.

The society in Kosovo is divided along ethnic lines, and this is evident also in Kosovo’s education system. Up until 1980, Kosovo’s educational system was a component of the old Yugoslavian system. The 1999 Kosovo War left strong antagonism between Albanian and Serbs communities, hampering the creation of an integrated and harmonious educational environment.

More specifically, to avoid further clashes, while Kosovo Serb pupils are taught in schools overseen by the Serbian government, Kosovo Albanian students and other non-Serb minorities attend state institutions of the Republic of Kosovo. The two groups not only follow two distinct curricula, but also they don’t interact or communicate with one another. This results in an obstacle for collaboration among the younger generations, and more in general for the rebuilding of solid peaceful-coexistence process.

Evidence suggests that the existing national curricula in the education systems of Serbia and Kosovo are motivated by sociopolitical and nationalistic ideologies that legitimize the narrative of contested victimization. Both systems do not objectively address historical events, present only one side of the story, and actively work to promote a positive image of the corresponding ethnic group.

Especially in universities, the division follows the political lines and becomes stronger, with opposite visions over the future policies.

Inclusive education

In the Kosovo Education Strategy Plan 2021-2025 launched by the Ministry of Education, providing access to equal and quality education is not only a priority but also a challenge.

Kosovo is among the Balkan countries where girls and boys aged 0-6 have fewer opportunities to attend pre-school education. According to research published by KOMF – a coalition of 29 NGOs dedicated to child protection – only 4.8 per cent of children between the ages of 0 and 4 attend nurseries or kindergartens. The percentage rises to 90 per cent in the 5-6 age group.

According to UNMIK, in 2019 38,000 children with disabilities were not attending schools. Social norms are the first step in this process, as they have the tendency to stigmatize individuals with disabilities. From there, structural barriers like inadequate transportation, inaccessible classrooms, and a lack of specialized support follow. UNMIK reported interesting data about which are the causes according to the young population; society’s mentality (39%), lack of cash benefits (22%), lack of services (14%), and lack of inclusive legislation and policies (14%).

Across all educational levels, inclusive education in Kosovo faces numerous obstacles. Rural locations have low pre-school attendance because of perceived travel distance and indifference. In an analysis promoted by the Kosovo 2.0 portal, it was revealed that most kindergartens are located in cities and few are located in rural areas. This is also partly related to the lack of coherent and coordinated actions between central and local authorities. There are no public transport services to take girls and boys to the kindergartens closest to their residence.

Increasing parent awareness, increasing the number of pre-school classes offered, and enhancing transportation services are some ways that can be used to increase participation. Even though basic education (grades 1–9) is required, up to 25% of students drop out, especially in villages that have satellite schools. Travel distance, females’ security concerns, and budgetary limitations are obstacles. Enrollment rates for secondary education are lower in rural areas than in metropolitan ones, indicating a preference for gymnasiums over vocational institutions. Vocational education reform is essential, and household finances and travel distance have a role in secondary school selection.

With a few notable exceptions, like the prosperous agricultural school in Lipjan, the rural economy, which has been influenced by previous industrial collapse and conflict, affects interest in agricultural vocational schools. Sustaining interest in hands-on training programs and matching educational offerings to changing rural economic demands are continuing difficulties.

High Dropout Rates and Unemployment

High dropout rates are a problem in Kosovo, especially for secondary school. Youth unemployment is a result of both economic difficulties and a mismatch between the skills taught in schools and those required by the job market. This problem is made worse by the poor options for vocational training, which leaves many young people without the skills needed to find work and feeds the cycle of economic stagnation. Kosovo’s economic problems, such as high jobless rates and a faltering economy, have an impact on the educational system. The availability of educational materials, teacher pay, and the quality of education can all be impacted by a lack of funds and resources.

Adults in rural areas report having less access to education, while non-formal education is mostly concentrated in urban areas and occurs occasionally. In order to close the educational gap that exists for adults and youth who are not in school, lifelong learning programs, government backing, and private sector engagement in capacity building and self-employment promotion in rural areas are required. Continued funding from NGOs is essential to keeping up capacity-building initiatives in these communities.

Public Spending in Education

The state budget dedicated to pre-school education, according to a recent Kosovo 2.0 study, has not changed much in recent years. It increased from €14 million in 2017 to €17 million in 2019 and then, in 2020, it dropped to €16 million. In its annual report on Kosovo in 2020, the European Commission pointed out that the shortcomings of Kosovo’s education system – also highlighted by the PISA tests – were also to be attributed to the low inclusion of children in pre-school education.

The demands of the labor market are not being sufficiently met by the educational system. Compared to middle-income nations with similar age demographics, Kosovo invests 4.7% of its GDP on education; nonetheless, the amount spent on elementary and secondary education per student is comparatively low. This is mostly due to the high student-teacher ratio, which is twice as high as the EU average, and the high cost of teacher wages.

Primary school enrollment rates are high, at 96%, and secondary school enrollment rates are high, at 88.1%. However, low PISA scores and relatively high unemployment rates for postsecondary graduates (19.2% in Q2 2018) when compared to the EU indicate deficiencies in the relevance and caliber of education. In the early stages of reforming the vocational education system, the condition of vocational education training (VET) schools is being examined. Nowadays, research expenditures account for a small 0.1% of GDP. Following the inauguration of a new Ministry of Innovation in 2018, two regional innovation centers were awarded a grant of EUR 1.1 million for specialized labs and equipment.

Possible Government Actions

Some improvements can be noted in the field of education. The enrollment rate at all levels is increasing, but it is still significantly below the average, and a lot of young Roma and Ashkali do not reach higher levels of education. In this academic year, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has increased the number of scholarships for Roma, Ashkali (and Egyptian) students from 500 to 600, and has also allocated funds to learning centers that were previously primarily funded by donors.

Promoting Inclusive Education: The government should encourage integrated classrooms that bring together pupils from many ethnic origins as a proactive way to promote inclusivity. The younger generation may become more united as a society and help heal divisions through cultural exchange and shared learning opportunities. Kosovo should prioritize implementing an inclusive education system in order to shield susceptible youth from radicalization. It has advanced somewhat, as seen by the development of a manual for instructors and the thorough training of educators (refer to the section on education). It is one of the active participants in the project for the Western Balkan Counter-Terrorism (WBCTi).

Investing in Infrastructure: A focused investment plan is necessary to address the gaps in infrastructure and resources. Funds allocated for modernizing classrooms, supplying instructional materials, and augmenting educational resources as a whole will help to build a more just and efficient educational system in both urban and rural regions.

Revamping Vocational Training Programs: Redesigning vocational training programs should be the government’s primary priority in order to address high dropout rates and youth unemployment. By matching these programs to industry demands and working together to offer real-world, hands-on experience, we can better prepare students for the workforce, which will lower unemployment rates and promote economic growth.

Building a robust educational system requires addressing historical differences, raising educational standards, encouraging inclusion, and addressing financial limits. Kosovo can set the stage for a society that is centered on knowledge, cooperation, and shared prosperity by making investments in its youth. Although the road ahead is still long, Kosovo can improve its educational system and create the groundwork for a better future by working together.

Cover Image by: Ben Wicks, 2018 via Unsplash

References

Educational Challenges in French Polynesia

French Polynesia/ Tahaa: School Bus via Flickr, photographer: Enrico Silva

Written by Luzi Maj Leonhardt for Broken Chalk

French Polynesia represents a French overseas collective and consists of 121 islands in the eastern South Pacific. The islands comprise the five archipelagos, Society Islands, Tuamotu Islands, Marquesas Islands, Gambier Islands, and Austral Islands. The island of Tahiti and the capital Papeete, represent the political and economic centre of the country. Together, the size of the overall territory can be compared to the size of Europe. French Polynesia has approximately 300,000 inhabitants. 

French Polynesia was colonized by France in 1880 and became a French overseas territory in 1949. Since then, France granted more and more autonomy to local authorities, while the 2004 ‘Organic Law’ played a significant role in the country’s self-government. Consequently, since 2013, French Polynesia has been officially listed as a self-governing territory by the United Nations. 

The political system present in French Polynesia is a parliamentary democracy, with a 57-seat assembly and parliamentary elections in five-year terms. The current president is Moetai Brotherson, who won elections in May 2023 and, for the first time since 2004, belongs to a pro-independence party. However, according to local experts, this will most likely not result in a political referendum, but the high voter turnouts are due to dissatisfaction with the previous government during Covid 19. 

In general, the president of the French Republic is also the head of state of French Polynesia, which reveals the strong influence France remains to have on the economic and political development.

French influence in French Polynesia

Historically, for many people, the French administration in French Polynesia is strongly connected to the 193 nuclear tests conducted by the French state between 1966 and 1996. These areal and underground tests had severe consequences for the environment, health, and economy, and victims struggle to obtain compensation and recognition until today. Even though, in 2021, compensation procedures reached new importance in the Macron administration, the French government still denied their minimalization of the impacts of contaminations during the project.

Nowadays, the economy of French Polynesia is rooted in tourism; approximately 68% of Polynesians work in the service sector. Therefore, the Covid-19 crisis and lockdown had severe consequences for the economy. Additionally, the country relies on the cultivation of black pearls and subsidies. The latter is mainly based on financial support by France to their overseas territory, which makes up 30% of the country’s GDP. These spending are distributed equally on the jurisdictions of the territorial government and French state-based responsibilities. French Polynesia reached autonomy in most local affairs and regional relations over time. However, France retains responsibilities in competencies such as law enforcement, defence, and education.

The educational system in French Polynesia

The French Polynesian educational system is regulated by local authorities and the French government. The state finances public education and subsidizes private institutions, operated by the church. Thereby, France holds key responsibilities in budget management and organization of state exams, such as teacher certifications and high-school finals.

The general school system is similar to the system in place in France, complying with French standards, including the curriculum. However, since the 2004 ‘Organic Law’, local authorities have gained more say and autonomy in the educational sector. This led to slight changes in the curriculum to match local needs and take historical, geographical, cultural, and social realities into account. 

In French Polynesia, education is compulsory until age sixteen, whereby primary education falls between the ages of five and twelve, while secondary education finishes at age seventeen. However, many children fail to comply due to language barriers, economic struggles, and cultural differences. As a form of higher education, the ‘Université de la Polynésie française’ was founded in 1987 in Outumaoro, Punaauia, Tahiti. The university is a non-profit higher education institution and has displayed a significant increase in students since 1999. In 2019, the number of students rose to 2898. Additionally, several technical schools offer special programs such as hotel business, service, and teaching. There are also different adult educational programs. 

The language of instruction in formal educational institutions is French. However, with new efforts of local adjustments and accessibility, the incorporation of the Tahitian language as a language of instruction makes up on average one in seven courses.

Language barrier in the educational system

French Polynesia has always been a multilingual country, with five different local languages in the archipelagos. Tahitian is the language of the islands, however, its recognition as an official language alongside French only took place in the 1980s. The formal recognition of indigenous languages has long been neglected and still plays a role in the contemporary educational system. 

Since the beginning of French influence, the language in the educational system has been French. This also means that until French became more popular in society, children started their academic careers in a foreign language. Especially on smaller islands, people mainly spoke Polynesian as their everyday language of socialization. The former educational system was not very tolerant towards indigenous languages and even formally banned Tahitian in schools for some time. However, in the early 2000s, France extended their early childhood and foreign language promotion as part of the EU’s multilingual education movement. This led to meaningful changes in language learning policies in French Polynesia. The program aimed to provide culturally responsive education and meant the inclusion of the Tahitian language in schools. 

Nevertheless, Tahitian only makes up a couple of hours per week, so nationalist groups proceed to fight for the equal incorporation of indigenous languages in the educational sector. Even though, the literacy rate on Tahiti is 98%, many smaller islands struggle with the educational system provided by the French administration, leading to high dropout rates. Education is compulsory until age sixteen, but only 20% of the students in French Polynesia, mainly from outer islands, finish elementary school. One reason for this is language difficulties, which lower the accessibility to the educational system. 

Additionally, English has become increasingly important over the last decade, especially in the tourism sector. Therefore, it was integrated into the elementary school curriculum in 2010 as a foreign language after a pilot project of five years. Unfortunately, this policy change faced severe difficulties due to a lack of teachers with sufficient language competencies. 

Although the educational system in French Polynesia mirrors the French educational system, statistical data conducted in elementary schools reveals a deficiency in the academic success of French Polynesian students. Experts connect this deficiency directly to the socio-linguistic context and emphasize the dependency of further professional opportunities for the students on educational success.

Unemployment 

French Polynesia faces growing challenges of social and economic inequalities, including differences in wealth. About ¼ of the population lives below the poverty line, while most of the wealth lies with the rich elite, mainly French civil servants. The reason for this involves the absence of redistribution measures in the tax system, namely an income tax. One-half of the citizens live in rural areas due to poverty and a lack of opportunities for young people in urban areas, which leads to the creation of ‘shanty towns’ or slums surrounding bigger cities.

Demographically, French Polynesia is a young country; Approximately ¼ of the population is under 14 years old, and 35% is under 20 years old. However, due to the economic difficulties of the families and the already mentioned language limitations, many children drop out of school before the compulsory age of sixteen, narrowing their prospects for future employment. Consequently, 50% of the under twenty-five-year-olds are unemployed, and a big part of the young population struggles with underemployment. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, the educational approach in French Polynesia based on the French system and curriculum, is stable and provides a basis for substantial education. The foundations of education do not face severe challenges. However, by transferring the foreign French system to the academic sector in French Polynesia, the French administration failed to consider local societal and political circumstances. This is reflected in the clash over the language used in schools. Given that language poses the main challenge in French Polynesia, other issues, like the increase in unemployment, are connected to it. So, it’s crucial to focus on making improvements in this area.

Research on child learning suggests significant advantages of bilingual and multilingual education. Including the children’s native language by linking socialization and education will improve cognitive skills, leading to positive development of language ability and educational success. 

Even though academic policies in French Polynesia started to open up to indigenous languages, the dimension of Tahitian in schools compared to French is still minimal. Therefore, it is necessary to expand on the further development of multilingual programs in schools and universities. 

Additionally, enhancing the dialogue and direct cooperation in originally French political responsibilities, such as education, will improve the legitimation of the system, standing against critical voices in the political sphere, such as nationalist parties. 

The decision-makers on education in French Polynesia set a new goal for evaluating multilingual education. To successfully attain this objective, the implementation of innovative policies to reinforce resolutions, coupled with financial support aimed at equipping teachers with the necessary competencies, is imperative.

Photo by Compare Fibre on Unsplash.
References:

Educational Challenges in the Caribean Netherlands

Written by Sterre Krunen

Every student counts! In 2011, this slogan was the starting shot of the Caribbean and European Netherlands’ combined efforts to achieve educational equity and raise the quality of education on the islands of Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba. Although quality and equity increased, the Caribbean Netherlands still dealt with significant educational challenges in 2023. This article will explore three main challenges: the care for students with special needs, multilingualism, and the effects of poverty.

This article analyses these three challenges to understand the accessibility and quality of education in the Caribbean Netherlands. But first, we need to go into the governance structure of the islands and their relationship with the European Netherlands to fully understand the barriers to tackling the challenges and efforts to address them. Also, the policy programs addressing education and the Education Agendas will be given special attention to show continuing good practices and to explain the context in which the current challenges continue.

This map shows us the Kingdom of the Netherlands, consisting of the European Netherlands and the Caribbean Netherlands. Both thank their name to their geographical location (CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED, Wikimedia Commons: TUBS).

Context-Specific Efforts to Overcome Education Inequity

In 1948, Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba became a part of the Dutch Antilles, a separate country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This changed in 2010: the islands became public bodies under the European Netherlands. Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba are now local governments. An executive council, an island council, and the Dutch national government govern each island. Since this change, the islands have been referred to as the Caribbean Netherlands or the BES-islands.[i]

The Dutch Ministry for Education, Culture and Science is responsible for education. The schools on the islands are part of the Dutch education system and are monitored by the Netherlands’ Inspectorate of Education.[ii] The Dutch Ministry of Education, island councils and other stakeholders cooperated over the past twelve years to develop three policy programs, the Education Agendas.

The Education Agendas address educational equity between the two parts of the Netherlands. The idea is that it should not matter whether a child grows up in the European Netherlands or the Caribbean Netherlands; educational opportunities should be the same.[iii] The agendas address the specific context of the islands, as there are apparent differences from the European Netherlands in terms of culture, history, identity, language, scale, and organization.[iv]

The first two agendas address all three islands within one agenda. During the draft of the first Education Agenda (2011-2016), the level of education of many schools on the BES islands did not fulfil European nor Caribbean Dutch standards.[v] By 2016, most schools reached basic quality standards. However, particular areas still required improvement, again addressed in the second Agenda (2017-2020). [vi] The evaluation of this Agenda in 2020 shows that the main challenges are care for students with special needs and multilingualism.[vii]

While the third Education Agenda has not yet been published, it shall address these challenges.[viii] Furthermore, this agenda will address the challenges on each island separately, showing us a further commitment to context-specific policymaking, which hopefully improves the effectiveness of the third Education Agenda.

Educational Challenge I: Care for Students with Special Needs

The first challenge to discuss is the care for students with special needs. The right to education for children with special needs is a human right. It is taken up in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. While the last Convention was ratified by the European Netherlands, it does not apply to the Caribbean Netherlands.

A statement by the Expertise Centre Education Care Saba in 2021 summarizes the importance of care for these students:  “Students have the right to feel included in a safe and reliable environment with a structured pedagogical climate that is tolerant and encouraging for the development of all”.[ix] Now, children with special needs still face situations in which education is not tailored to them, meaning they do not profit from education as their peers or eventually drop out. Some children do not have access to education at all. Children with a higher need for care face difficulties.[x]

An example of inadequate care is the case of the ten-year-old Arianny on Bonaire. In 2022, the non-speaking girl was in the news as she could not attend education on Bonaire. Arianny had no access. Members of the Dutch parliament asked the then minister of Education, Dennis Wiersma, questions about her situation and the general situation on Bonaire. The minister reacted that all children should have access to education and are required to attend school, despite specific situations. The situation of Arianny and the research in other reports show us that is not yet the reality.[xi]

Why do these problems continue even after the two Education Agendas?

Student care on the BES islands is not comparable to care in the European Netherlands. While both experience similar problems, the expert centre on Saba notes that the main difference derives from scale and school culture, for example, the lack of awareness about the differing needs of students. This also applies to the other islands: children with special needs continue to follow the same program as their peers even though they need additional care. Moreover, there are relatively more students with special needs in Saba than in the European Netherlands. Possible explanations are a lack of education planning, differentiation in the classroom and special education needs teachers.[xii] Also, non-school-related causes affect children’s learning capabilities, such as poverty and domestic violence.[xiii]

This continuing lack of care for students with special needs thus asks for extra efforts. Renewed attention to this problem and policies need to tackle the problem, ensuring (continuance of) access to education for children like Arianny. Individual needs must be considered to optimize the learning experience of already vulnerable students.

Three kids sitting in the port of Kralendijk, the capital of Bonaire (CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED, Flickr: Globewriter).

Educational Challenge II: Multilingualism

Because of the different languages being spoken on each island, the language of education has been a thorny issue. Encountered challenges have been linguistic imperialism, learning challenges, and difficulty accessing tertiary education in Dutch.

On Bonaire, most inhabitants speak Papiamento as their mother tongue. On Saba and St. Eustasius, a local variety of Caribbean English has the upper hand. Despite this, Dutch was the only officially recognized language until the beginning of the century thus, education was in Dutch.[xiv]Nowadays, Papiamento and English can both be used in education. This represents the reality of the islands and a respect for local languages, making it a laudable development and a move away from linguistic imperialism.

However, it also causes new educational challenges, especially for learning results and further education. On Saba and St. Eustatius, the instruction language is English. Dutch is being taught as a foreign language.[xv] St. Eustatius switched to English as an instruction language in secondary education in 2014. Dutch proved to negatively affect learning outcomes and attitudes towards the Dutch language.[xvi] Saba has used English as the instruction language for a more extended period. However, only teaching Dutch as a foreign language hinders access to tertiary education. A low proficiency in Dutch means that students from these islands cannot access (all) tertiary education institutions in the European Netherlands.[xvii] This is especially problematic because the Caribbean Netherlands does not have any universities or universities of applied sciences, meaning inhabitants must move to pursue tertiary education.[xviii]

On Bonaire, education starts in Papiamento  – the native language of most students  – for the first two years of primary school. After these years, the instruction language became Dutch. This causes risks, as the case of St. Eustatius before 2014 showed. Furthermore, it can hinder learning outcomes as children might struggle with Dutch.[xix]

Therefore, multilingualism leads to specific challenges for students regarding access to further education and learning outcomes. It has been difficult to find a balance between Dutch, Papiamento, and Caribbean English that will tackle these challenges. A comprehensive language policy should be developed per island, where native languages and Dutch get a well-balanced place within the education system.

Educational Challenge III: Poverty

This third educational challenge goes beyond the education agendas as it intertwines with the overall situation on the BES islands: life on the islands has become increasingly expensive, and salaries and government support are insufficient to afford this.

This is why children on the BES islands noted poverty as one of the biggest challenges in their lives in 2021. And high poverty levels have continued since then: 11,000 people live below the poverty line in 2023. This is an extremely high number, considering that the islands’ total population is 30,000.[xx] In comparison to the European Netherlands: 800,000 live in poverty on a population of almost 18 million.[xxi]

What do such numbers mean for Caribbean students?

The rapport between the Dutch Ombudsman and the Children’s Ombudsman gives us the distressing example of Shanice, an 11-year-old Bonairean girl. Her mother is a single caretaker, working multiple jobs to stay afloat. She is more often at work than at home. Shanice cares for her younger brothers and sisters, looks after the groceries, and wash dishes instead of having the opportunity to focus on her studies. She goes to school: she likes it there. However, she often feels stressed because of her many responsibilities. Then, she cannot focus or learn. At the same time, Shanice pressures herself to learn: she wants to have a different life than her mom.[xxii]

This example shows how poverty gives children many responsibilities and negatively affects their learning. This example does not comprise all adverse effects. When not having enough money, healthy food is not always a priority, just like schoolbooks or having a good place to study. Extra school costs might not be paid. Parents and kids both experience high-stress levels, which might cause parents to be (emotionally) unavailable and children to have problems focusing. All negatively affect the school outcomes of children.[xxiii]

To tackle this problem of poverty and its effects, there should be governmental support to lift children and their parents from poverty. However, government policies are one of the causes of poverty: the model of living costs for the BES island presents living costs as lower than they are. Policies are developed based on this model. Moreover, this is a recurring argument for not higher social welfare: ensuring social welfare will demotivate people, and they will not work anymore.[xxiv] Hence, policies have contributed to the problem of poverty.

In addition, inhabitants of the BES islands do not always have access to the same resources European Dutch individuals have. These resources are, however, of great importance: European Dutch depend on them, but Caribbean Dutch cannot even access them.[xxv] This is possible because of the special status of the islands. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination noted in 2021 that such differences between the European Netherlands and Caribbean Netherlands are deplorable, that discrimination should be fought, and that equality should be pursued.

The Dutch government has been taking steps. A law ensuring the equal treatment of all citizens in the Netherlands will come into effect for the Caribbean Netherlands.[xxvi] The exact date is, however, unclear. Furthermore, the model of living costs will be adjusted in July 2024. From that date onwards, inhabitants of the Caribbean Netherlands will be able to breach the gap between social security and living costs that exists now. In addition, the Dutch government does undertake other efforts to address poverty, but the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights judges them to be insufficient. [xxvii]

The Dutch government seems to increasingly take responsibility for the high poverty levels in the Caribbean Netherlands. A necessary development: despite statements such as ‘Every student counts!’, the Dutch government has discriminated against Caribbean Dutch citizens. The unfavourable treatment they experience puts them behind their fellow citizens in Europe.

Conclusion

Education quality has increased significantly on the Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba islands. Great efforts have been made to tailor policies to the local contexts of the islands, which is essential for education equity between the European and Caribbean Netherlands. This is praiseworthy and will hopefully continue with the third Education Agenda.

However, great educational challenges persist on the islands. Benefits from and access to education are under pressure.  While multilingualism affects all students, poverty and the lack of special care affect some students disproportionately. Furthermore, the problem of poverty and lack of special care show clear signs of discrimination, which should be condemned and stopped. The case of the islands of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba thus indicates the need for policies tackling discrimination and a comprehensive plan to improve education further.


References

Cover Image: A young girl in costume during a parade on Bonaire (CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED, Wikimedia Commons: Atsme).

[i] Rijksoverheid. (N.d). Caribisch deel van het Koninkrijk. Rijksoverheid. https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/onderwerpen/caribische-deel-van-het-koninkrijk/rechtspositie-politieke-ambtsdragers-bonaire-sint-eustatius-saba

[ii] Rijksoverheid. (N.d.). Caribisch deel van het Koninkrijk. Rijksoverheid.

[iii] Rijksdienst Caribisch Nederland. (N.d). Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap. Rijksdienst Caribisch Nederland. https://www.rijksdienstcn.com/onderwijs-cultuur-wetenschap

[iv] Rijksdienst Caribisch Nederland. (N.d). Onderwijsagenda voor Caribisch Nederland: samen werken aan kwaliteit. Rijksdienst Caribisch Nederland. 1. https://www.rijksdienstcn.com/binaries/rijksdienstcn-nederlands/documenten/brochures/onderwijs-cultuur/onderwijsagendas/eerste-onderwijsagenda-caribisch-nederland/index/Eerste_Onderwijsagenda_NL.pdf

[v] Rijksdienst Caribisch Nederland. (N.d). Onderwijsagenda voor Caribisch Nederland: samen werken aan kwaliteit. 1.

[vi] Inspectie van het Onderwijs. (2017). De Ontwikkeling van het Onderwijs in Caribisch Nederland 2014-2016. Onderwijsinspectie. 39-41. https://www.onderwijsinspectie.nl/documenten/rapporten/2017/03/21/rapport-onderwijsontwikkelingen-caribisch-nederland-20142016

[vii] Buys, Marga. (2021). Evaluatie Tweede Onderwijsagenda Caribisch Nederland 2017-2020. Eerste Kamer. 20. https://www.eerstekamer.nl/overig/20210708/evaluatie_tweede_onderwijsagenda/document3/f=/vlkch545eltd_opgemaakt.

[viii] Buys, Marga. (2021). Evaluatie Tweede Onderwijsagenda Caribisch Nederland 2017-2020. Eerste Kamer. 22.

[ix]. Langerak, Lisa. (2021). Inclusive Special Education on Saba. Expertise Center Education Care. 2. https://www.learningsaba.com/2021_Care_Coordinator/210614%20Project%20plan%20Inclusive%20Special%20Education%20Saba.pdf

[x] Buys, Marga. (2021). Evaluatie Tweede Onderwijsagenda Caribisch Nederland 2017-2020. Eerste Kamer. 20.

[xi] Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap. (2022). Antwoord op schriftelijke vragen van de leden Van den Berg en Peters (beiden CDA) over het bericht ‘Moeder vraagt om hulp: 10-jarige Arianny kan op Bonaire niet naar school. Open Overheid. 2-3. https://open.overheid.nl/documenten/ronl-b6d4ce01be3eac9fe87130ee6b9b0f08d72e664e/pdf

[xii] Langerak, Lisa. (2021). Inclusive Special Education on Saba. Expertise Center Education Care. 5.

[xiii] Kinderombudsman. (2021). Als je het ons vraagt: kinderen op de BES-eilanden. Kinderombudsman. 10-11. https://www.kinderombudsman.nl/publicaties/rapport-als-je-het-ons-vraagt-onderzoek-kinderen-op-de-bes

[xiv] Mijts, Eric, Ellen-Petra Kester and Nicholas Faraclas. (2014). Multilingualism and education in the Caribbean Netherlands. A community-based approach to a sustainable language education policy. The case study of St. Eustatius. NT2. 2. https://www.nt2.nl/documenten/meertaligheid_en_onderwijs/kambel_meertaligheid_binnenwerk_eng_h5.pdf

[xv] Rijksdienst Caribisch Nederland. (N.d). Taal in het Onderwijs. Rijksdienst Caribisch Nederland. https://www.rijksdienstcn.com/onderwijs-cultuur-wetenschap/ouders-leerlingen/taal-in-het-onderwijs

[xvi] Polak, Anneke. (2014). Engels als instructietaal ‘ingrijpend’. Caribisch Netwerk. https://caribischnetwerk.ntr.nl/2014/06/19/engels-als-instructietaal-statia-ingrijpend/

[xvii] Buys, Marga. (2021). Evaluatie Tweede Onderwijsagenda Caribisch Nederland 2017-2020. Eerste Kamer. 20.

[xviii] Rijksdienst Caribisch Nederland. (N.d). Higher Education and Science. Rijksdienst Caribisch Nederland. https://english.rijksdienstcn.com/education-culture-science/higher-education-and-science

[xix] Kloosterboer, Karin. (2013). Kind op Bonaire, St. Eustatius en Saba. UNICEF. 15. https://content.presspage.com/uploads/688/samenvattingkindopbeslowres.pdf

[xx] NOS. (2023). Derde van Caribisch Nederland onder armoedegrens, pleidooi voor hoger minimumloon. NOS

https://nos.nl/artikel/2493122-derde-van-caribisch-nederland-onder-armoedegrens-pleidooi-voor-hoger-minimumloon

[xxi] Den Hartog, Tobias and Laurens Kok. (2023). Op weg naar 1 miljoen armen: bij dit inkomen leef je volgens de overheid in armoede. Het Parool.

https://www.parool.nl/nederland/op-weg-naar-1-miljoen-armen-bij-dit-inkomen-leef-je-volgens-de-overheid-in-armoede~b9c9b7ed/

[xxii] Kinderombudsman, and Nationale Ombudsman. (2023). Caribische kinderen van de rekening. Kinderombudsman. 4. https://www.nationaleombudsman.nl/publicaties/rapporten/2022058#:~:text=Dit%20rapport%20beschrijft%20de%20knelpunten,zelf%20als%20voor%20hun%20kinderen.

[xxiii] Nederlands Jeugdinstituut. (N.d). De invloed van armoede op schoolprestaties. Nederlands Jeugdinstituut. https://www.nji.nl/armoede/invloed-op-schoolprestaties

[xxiv] Haringsma, Phaedra. (2022). Zo wordt ongelijkheid tussen Europees en Caribisch Nederland al jaren in stand gehouden. De Correspondent. https://decorrespondent.nl/13713/zo-wordt-ongelijkheid-tussen-europees-en-caribisch-nederland-al-jaren-in-stand-gehouden/2f84b44f-db88-0d7c-029d-9c1d00ae02b3

 

[xxvi] Netherlands Institute for Human Rights. (2023). Caribisch Nederland krijgt wetgeving gelijke behandeling. College voor de Rechten van de Mens. https://www.mensenrechten.nl/actueel/nieuws/2023/01/25/caribisch-nederland-krijgt-wetgeving-gelijke-behandeling#:~:text=Iedereen%20die%20zich%20in%20Nederland,2010%20bijzondere%20gemeentes%20van%20Nederland

[xxvii] Netherlands Institute for Human Rights. (2023). Report to UN Committee on economic, social and cultural human rights in the Netherlands. College voor de Rechten van de Mens. 4-6. https://publicaties.mensenrechten.nl/file/5803a853-0bbe-b495-7932-3bb751e0aed4.pdf

Educational challenges in San Marino: COVID’s Impact

Written by Eliana Riggi

Background: COVID-19 pandemic impact on school systems around the world

The coronavirus, emerging in the first months of 2020, spread rapidly across countries, and it constituted an unprecedented challenge with which the entire world had to grapple. The pandemic had all-encompassing consequences for societies and states. Not only did it put a strain on national healthcare systems, but it also affected vital policy areas such as education.

Policies and frameworks were adapted to the new reality for national educational systems to be resilient. Governments devised and implemented ad hoc measures to hamper the transmission of the virus and guarantee the right to education simultaneously. School closures soon became a standard practice among countries, and they peaked in April 2020, affecting over 1.6 billion learners worldwide.

To ensure educational continuity, states transitioned from in-person instruction towards distance teaching and learning, extensively using tools such as broadcast media (radio, TV), take-home material packages and online learning platforms. Due to the emergency context, the transition was swift in many cases, but it did require tailored and adequate support to teachers, students and families. Furthermore, quarantines and virus containment measures led to reformed learning assessment methods and high-stakes examinations.

When a lessening of COVID-19 allowed for school reopening, the Ministry of Education coordinated with the rest of government representatives to make that safe. By and large, schools began to reopen in September 2020. Despite this, countries decided on criteria governing future school closures.

Inevitably, the pandemic had adverse effects on learning opportunities and effectiveness. Not every student accessed remote learning because of child labour, connectivity gaps and gender inequality. Thereby, minimum learning losses were unavoidable. In an attempt to mitigate these losses, funds were provided to boost internet access and, at a later time, remedial programmes were introduced. Even after school reopening, an increase in dropout and disengagement rates was observed, especially for students belonging to low-income or rural households. [[i]]

Mental issues affecting learners:  a call to action

Therefore, it seems evident that returning to in-person instruction is not enough to make COVID-19 consequences disappear. What is more, school is not only about learning, but it is also where personal development takes place. Schooling helps children and youth forge their values, ideas, interests, social skills and career aspirations, to name but a few. For this reason, the well-being of learners is essential to safeguard their right to education.

Undoubtedly, the mental health of students, teachers, parents and caregivers has been impacted by the pandemic.  Not only did the pandemic cause mental health issues, but it also exacerbated those already present.

School closures, social isolation, health risks and the death of loved ones have had severe psychological implications on learners. Indeed, children and youth were deprived of the interpersonal dimension of everyday life and could only enjoy face-to-face relationships with family members unless they were infected.  A screen became the only way to communicate and to see faces without masks. [[ii]] Moreover, the stress linked to economic instability and educational disruptions fostered a feeling of uncertainty about studies, aspirations, and school-to-work transition, creating the perception of a hopeless future. [[iii]]   

Critically, students were subjected to pandemic restrictions, but they did not engage in the decision-making processes. Even though they should have had a say in education policies, they could not easily make their voice heard, undermining their self-confidence. [[iv]]  

Extensive literature underlines the need to address learners’ mental issues and advocates the provision of support services to students. Since lockdowns, governments, especially in high-income countries, have acted by setting up hotlines, recruiting counsellors or launching projects facilitating students sharing feelings and concerns. [[v]]

As learning and personal development are strongly intertwined, the Council of Europe has promoted the historical study of crises in schools to help students understand how their peers reacted and felt in the past. Thus, studying history may create a sense of unity and empathy. [[vi]]

In the drawing, we read “Facciamoci contagiare… dai buoni sentimenti!” (Let good feelings contaminate us!). Lower-secondary school students made this and many more drawings during school closures. Picture by Scuola Media della Repubblica di San Marino via Facebook.

Education responses to the pandemic-resulted predicament in San Marino

The Republic of San Marino executed its plan to cope with the pandemic first and foremost by means of nationwide school closures from 23 February to 10 June 2020, but the closures continued until the end of August because of the usual summer academic break. [[vii]] In view of the unfolding pandemic, a mixed approach between in-person instruction and remote learning was adopted. Then, there were only partial school closures during the academic year 2020/2021. To sum up, from March 2020 to August 2021, 4,170 learners were affected by school closures, and most of them belonged to lower- and upper-secondary education levels.

As a result of school closures, authorities opted for a distance learning strategy employing online learning platforms for all education levels. Remote learning required the government to provide teachers with instructions on remote teaching, pedagogy workshops, ICT tools and free connectivity while enabling them to teach from school premises. The coverage of online learning platforms was crucial to safeguard the right to education and educational continuity for all learners. Hence, the distance learning strategy embraced policies that did pay attention to students with disabilities. The latter could attend courses on school premises and were supported with tailored materials. For instance, sign language was included in online learning programmes. Schools committed to offering vulnerable households internet subscriptions and devices at subsidised or zero costs to foster students’ access to connectivity.

A monitoring process was facilitated by observing students’ participation in online classes, their scheduled delivery of assignments, and their participation in written and oral tests. It is confirmed that more than 75 % of students attended distance learning during school closures. More importantly, the collaboration and mutual support between schools and families was enhanced through follow-up practices such as phone calls, instant messaging, emailing, videoconferencing and running household surveys on remote learning strategies.

As regards high-stake examinations for the secondary level, they were not cancelled or postponed, but they took place only via online-based oral tests, and they assessed reduced curriculum content.

As the academic year 2019/2020 was profoundly impacted by the coronavirus disease, the school calendar for the subsequent academic year 2020/2021 was adjusted with the start date on 1 September 2020, two weeks ahead of the previous schedule. The government preferred not to extend the duration of classes or the content of curricula. Learning assessments were organised at the classroom level to address learning losses, and authorities decided to launch remedial programmes in primary- and secondary-level schools as of September 2020.

After school reopening, students’ participation was monitored, and it showed that 100 % of students had attended school since September 2020, except for upper-secondary level schools where attendance share was more than 75% but not 100%. The return to in-person instruction was combined with health and hygiene precautionary measures. In the first place, hand-washing practice, using masks, temperature checks, equipment disinfection and the tracking of COVID-19-infected or exposed people were furthered and supervised by school committees. Moreover, adjustments to school and classroom physical arrangements, reducing or suspending extra-curricular activities, and combining remote and in-person learning were the most widely enforced measures. Teaching in schools’ outdoor places was encouraged in pre-primary and primary schools, whereas the progressive return of students divided into age-based cohorts concerned only pre-primary schools. Finally, classroom attendance scheduled in shifts was promoted exclusively in lower- and upper-secondary schools.

Since the pandemic had far-reaching consequences on education, the Republic of San Marino could rely on additional funds to recruit non-teaching safety personnel in all schools and teachers in pre-primary and primary schools in the academic year 2020/2021. However, only reallocations within the ordinary or even reduced education budget allowed the government to increase the education staff compensation, student loans and scholarships.

In addition to the policies implemented for school reopening, the government determined coronavirus national prevalence rates as the criterion for closing schools again. [[viii]]

The well-being of San Marino students: concerns and efforts

In San Marino’s statement, delivered during the 2022 Transforming Education Summit, the then-heads of State, the Captains Regent of the Republic of San Marino, Mr Oscar Mina II and Mr Paolo Rondelli I, recognised the two main functions of education: learning and personal development. In this respect, they declared the state’s willingness to continue abiding by the principles of equality and inclusiveness. Concerning COVID-19, they emphasise the pandemic consequences on students’ mental health and the educational system’s commitment to standing up to those. [[ix]]

Accordingly, San Marino authorities have been putting great effort into supporting students’ psychological well-being so far. During nationwide school closures, online counselling and teacher assistants lent learners a hand in facing pandemic hard times. In 2021, counselling points were arranged in secondary schools and the Centro di formazione professionale (vocational training centre).

The provision of assistance soon revealed the worrisome framework compounded by the pandemic. During the academic years 2020/2021 and 2021/2022, more than 130 students turned to the counselling services. Issues such as fear, anxiety, problematic anger management, eating and mood disorders, panic attacks, bullying and self-harm were detected. In some cases, they led to truancy and dropout. [[x]] As well, manifold addictions rose during the pandemic and after. Among them, social media, drug, and video game addictions have been widespread.The reason why COVID-19 has aggravated addictions lies in the fact that vulnerabilities consolidated while learners were suffering isolation. Consequently, youth specifically deemed social media, drugs or video games as an escape hatch from the gloomy reality. [[xi]]

Along with counselling services in secondary schools, authorities approved several projects for caring for children in pre-primary and primary schools. Both in 2021 and 2022, artists, teachers and doctors engaged together in school projects. The Giornata degli abbracci (Hugs Day) was outstanding among the initiatives. Considering that the pandemic had altered children’s emotional balance, the Giornata degli abbracci, which took place on 9 June 2022, aimed at restoring mutual trust, solidarity and good mood. [[xii]]  

In December 2022, the government went one step further. After that, citizens called for the direct democracy mechanism Istanza d’ Arengo, a new professional figure, was established. Doctor Rosita Guidi has been appointed as a school psychologist. The school psychologist services are aimed at students of every level, from pre-primary to secondary schools and the vocational training centre. Dr Rosita Guidi can handle counselling requests from students, parents/caregivers, teachers and school committees. If the request concerns a minor, parents’ consent is compulsory.

The school psychologist comes to the aid of learners, teachers and families to promote the well-being of children and youth. When necessary, the undertaking of therapy paths may be suggested. [[xiii]] Although the school psychologist can easily be contacted (directly and via email), schools endorse additional methods due to privacy considerations. For instance, lower-secondary school students can request by inserting a note filled with personal and contact information in a sealed box.

The psychological support service has been warmly welcomed, given that, from December 2022 to April 2023, 60 requests were sent. [[xiv]]   

With regard to students’ voice expression, San Marino has embarked on a renovation process planning to upgrade school curricula with interdisciplinarity, digital and citizenship competencies. The latter is meant to enhance the culture of peace, the education for sustainable development, human rights and gender education. Through this enrichment, students are on the right path to taking responsibility, raising their self-confidence and becoming active citizens in the democratic framework. [[xv]]

Conclusion

Two years after the pandemic outbreak, during the 2022 Transforming Education Summit, 57 % of governments stated the need to support the psycho-social well-being of students and teachers. Along the same line, international organisations and experts have incited states to invest steadily significant and adequate resources in supporting learners’ mental health. [[xvi]] Schools play a crucial role in this sensitive domain, and their role is all the more important if families do not notice psychological distress or underestimate it. San Marino has endeavoured to make the national educational system resilient to the pandemic, and its achievements have been relevant. Specifically, new counselling services have contributed to the country’s journey towards transformed education. It would be worthwhile to fund these services to a greater extent. Also, psychology training for all education staff has been proposed. [[xvii]] For all these reasons, even if San Marino’s educational transformation process is relatively recent, it is promising.

Cover Image via Wikimedia Commons


References:

[[i]] Soroptimist International (2021, March). Solidarity of NGOs facing the pandemic: educationhttps://www.soroptimistinternational.org/solidarity-of-ngos-facing-the-pandemic-education/ ; UNESCO, UNICEF, The World Bank (2020, October). What have we learnt? Overview of findings from a survey of ministries of education on national responses to COVID-19 https://data.unicef.org/resources/national-education-responses-to-covid19/#:~:text=Compiling%20data%20from%20surveys%20on,by%20teachers%20and%20were%20more; UNESCO, UNICEF, The World Bank and OECD (2021, June). What’s next? Lessons on Education Recovery: Findings from a Survey of Ministries of Education amid the COVID-19 Pandemic https://covid19.uis.unesco.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2021/07/National-Education-Responses-to-COVID-19-Report2_v3.pdf

[[ii]] Giannini, S. (2020, April). Prioritise health and well-being now and when schools reopen. UNESCO https://www.unesco.org/en/articles/prioritize-health-and-well-being-now-and-when-schools-reopen; World Health Organization (2022, June). The impact of COVID-19 on mental health cannot be made light of https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/the-impact-of-covid-19-on-mental-health-cannot-be-made-light-of

[[iii]] International Labour Organization, AIESEC, European Union, European Youth Forum, UN Major Group for Children and Youth, UN OHCHR (2020, August). Youth & COVID-19: Impacts on jobs, education, rights and mental well-being https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_emp/documents/publication/wcms_753026.pdf 

[[iv]] UNESCO, Council of Europe (2021, November). The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student voice, Findings and recommendations https://rm.coe.int/finalpublication-theimpact-of-covid19-on-student-voice/1680a42e52

[[v]] UNESCO (2021, March). One year into COVID: Prioritising education recovery to avoid a generational catastrophe, Report of UNESCO Online Conference https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000376984 ; UNESCO, Council of Europe (2021, November). The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student voice, Findings and recommendations https://rm.coe.int/finalpublication-theimpact-of-covid19-on-student-voice/1680a42e52; UNESCO, UNICEF, The World Bank and OECD (2021, June). What’s next? Lessons on Education Recovery: Findings from a Survey of Ministries of Education amid the COVID-19 Pandemic https://covid19.uis.unesco.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2021/07/National-Education-Responses-to-COVID-19-Report2_v3.pdf 

[[vi]] Council of Europe (2020, October). Making the right to education a reality in times of COVID-19, A Roadmap for Action on the Council of Europe education response to COVID-19 https://rm.coe.int/making-the-right-to-education-a-reality-in-times-of-covid-19-a-roadmap/16809fee7b

[[vii]] Pre-primary school closures lasted until 7 June 2020, and the academic year 2019/2020 was extended just for them. School closures-related data can be visualised in interactive maps in the UNESCO Web Archive at the following address: https://webarchive.unesco.org/web/20220625033513/https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse#durationschoolclosures

[[viii]] The information given in this section is contained in San Marino’s responses to the first and third rounds of the four-round Surveyon national Education Responses to COVID-19 School Closures. The first and third rounds of the survey were conducted respectively from May to June 2020 and from February to April 2021. The reader may find more detailed information about the four-round Surveyon national Education Responses to COVID-19 School Closures at the following address: https://tcg.uis.unesco.org/survey-on-national-education-responses-to-covid-19-school-closures/

[[ix]] San Marino (2022, September). National Declaration of Commitment at the 2022 Transforming Education Summit https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/2022/09/san_marino-commitment-statement-french-english-v.pdf . More about governments’ declarations of commitment at the 2022 Transforming Education Summit can be read at the following address: https://www.un.org/en/transforming-education-summit/member-states-statements

[[x]] Salvatori, L. (2022, April). Disagio giovanile: con la pandemia, quasi quadruplicati i nuovi casi. San Marino RTV https://www.sanmarinortv.sm/news/politica-c2/disagio-giovanile-con-la-pandemia-quasi-quadruplicati-i-nuovi-casi-a222522

[[xi]] Camparsi, M. L. (2023, February). Disagio giovanile e dipendenze preadolescenziali: una giornata di formazione a San Marino. San Marino RTV https://www.sanmarinortv.sm/news/attualita-c4/disagio-giovanile-e-dipendenze-preadolescenziali-una-giornata-di-formazione-a-san-marino-a236227

[[xii]] Giornata degli Abbracci: importante momento di condivisione per la fine della scuola. (2022, June). San Marino RTV https://www.sanmarinortv.sm/news/attualita-c4/giornata-degli-abbracci-importante-momento-di-condivisione-per-la-fine-della-scuola-a224659

[[xiii]] More details concerning the school psychologist services are available in the national education portal called Portale dell’ Educazione della Repubblica di San Marino at the following address: http://www.media.educazione.sm/on-line/home-portale-scuole-medie/la-scuola/spazio-dascolto.html

[[xiv]] Giuccioli, A. (2023, April). Lo psicologo entra a scuola in aiuto di giovani e famiglie. In tre mesi oltre 60 richieste. San Marino RTV https://www.sanmarinortv.sm/news/attualita-c4/lo-psicologo-entra-a-scuola-in-aiuto-di-giovani-e-famiglie-in-tre-mesi-oltre-60-richieste-a238898

[[xv]] San Marino (2022, September). National Declaration of Commitment at the 2022 Transforming Education Summit https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/2022/09/san_marino-commitment-statement-french-english-v.pdf

[[xvi]] Giannini, S. (2020, April). Prioritise health and well-being now and when schools reopen. UNESCO https://www.unesco.org/en/articles/prioritize-health-and-well-being-now-and-when-schools-reopen; World Health Organization (2022, June). The impact of COVID-19 on mental health cannot be made light of https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/the-impact-of-covid-19-on-mental-health-cannot-be-made-light-of ; United Nations (2023, January). Report on the 2022 Transforming Education Summit https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/report_on_the_2022_transforming_education_summit.pdf  ; World Health Organization (2022, March). Young people leading the way to a brighter post-COVID worldhttps://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/young-people-leading-the-way-to-a-brighter-post-covid-world

[[xvii]] Camparsi, M. L. (2023, February). Disagio giovanile e dipendenze preadolescenziali: una giornata di formazione a San Marino. San Marino RTV https://www.sanmarinortv.sm/news/attualita-c4/disagio-giovanile-e-dipendenze-preadolescenziali-una-giornata-di-formazione-a-san-marino-a236227

Educational Challenges in the Faroe Islands

Written by Anna Strunk

Nestled in the North Atlantic Ocean, the Faroe Islands are a self-governing territory within the Kingdom of Denmark. The archipelago of 18 islands is populated by around 52,000 habitants, most of which speak the local tongue of Faroese. Despite its isolated and small territory, as well as their small number of inhabitants, Faroese people have a quality of life that excels that of many other countries. For instance, the unemployment rate reached a record low of 0.6% in June 2023, one of the lowest among European countries. The Faroe Islands also possess one of the lowest crime rates in the world, making it an exceedingly safe place to live and travel to. In regard to education, another crucial quality-of-life indicator given its pivotal role in empowering individuals, fostering economic prosperity, and enhancing social well-being, the Faroe Islands’ schooling system is based on the belief that everyone should have equal access to educational attainment. This translates into public free education for the whole population at all levels, from primary school to higher education. However, that being said, education in the archipelago has its problems and challenges, as pointed out by a Faroese student who moved abroad for higher education interviewed for this article, such as the limited university degrees or the nature of the small communities negatively affecting young students.

Nature of small and dispersed communities

An important topic which emerged from the interviews was the nature of the small communities in the Faroe Islands affecting kids’ academic success and well-being in school. Much research has looked into the influence of community type on a child’s academic achievements and social-behavioral skills, among others, and although none have looked at it in the specific case study of the Faroe Islands, one can draw conclusions for it too. For instance, due to their small numbers, the Faroese live in small close-knit communities, in which everyone knows each other. This means that many parents and teachers had relationships or mutual associations before they created a parent-teacher relationship. This may be good, as much research has shown that “positive connections between parents and teachers have been shown to improve children’s academic achievement, social competencies and emotional well-being”[i].

Conversely however, if a teacher harbors negative perceptions of a student’s parents, this can lead to (sometimes unconscious) stigmatization of certain children through biased teacher-student interactions possibly resulting in lower grades. For instance, the interviewee mentioned an instance in which the daughter of a known shoplifter in the Faroe Islands received stricter teaching in which it was harder for her to pass her assignments just because her last name was associated with her dad’s criminal record. Similarly, in one another instance recollected, the daughter of a beloved teacher completed high school with minimal effort due to the positive associations teachers had with her dad. Furthermore, adding to the bias problem related to pre-existing negative perceptions between teachers and parents, Witte finds that small and less densely populated communities, such as those found in the Faroe Islands, experience lower quality parent–teacher relationships than big cities, which she speculated might be due to factors such as less and limited access to partnership-building opportunities and support in rural and town areas compared to big cities[ii].

While primary schools are very accessible, with many of them throughout the various villages or even teachers traveling to kids’ homes, there are less options for gymnasium, which means students and parents have to travel greater distances to go to school or interact with teachers, potentially leading to lower attendance rates and contributing to academic difficulties, or making it less likely for parents to attend ceremonies which involve them in their child’s educational upbringing. Therefore, the nature of the small and dispersed communities in the Faroe Islands can affect kids negatively both due to pre-existing negative associations between parents and teachers, as mostly pointed out by the interviewee, as well as due issues such as the distance between schools and families, which can limit parent-teacher time for collaborative, relationship-building meetings.

Reliance on other countries for educational resources

Another main issue pointed out by the interviewees is the reliance of the Faroe Islands on Denmark and the rest of the Nordic community for educational resources and opportunities. One of the most straightforward examples of this reliance is the fact that University of the Faroe Islands (Fróðskaparsetur Føroya, in Faroese), located in the capital city of Tórshavn, only offers 16 bachelor’s degree options. This means that many students seeking a (specific) higher education after high school are forced to move to another country, often mainland Denmark, in order to pursue their choice of studies. For instance, in the academic year of 2016/2017, 1,202 students pursued their bachelor’s degree in Denmark, 173 somewhere else, and only 996 stayed in the Faroe Islands.

The necessity of relocating abroad for educational pursuits may cause disparities in the accessibility of higher education depending on socioeconomic background, as not everyone has the economic and social means to depart from the archipelago and leave friends and family behind in pursuit of advanced studies. This is most evident by the fact that Faroese people get married and have kids very early on. The interviewee pointed out that some of their friends wanted to study medicine abroad with them, but due to starting families right after high school, leaving the country was not a viable option, and thus had to give up their educational dreams and study something more accessible within the archipelago. However, the effects of socioeconomic background on the possibilities for studying abroad in regard to the Faroe Islands are yet to be researched in-depth.

This trend regarding the expatriation of Faroese students has been on the downturn however, as in 2020 1,018 students stayed in the archipelago while only 767 went elsewhere. As recounted by Linda Klein in an article for DR (Danish Broadcasting Corporation), this is most likely due to young people in the Islands starting to see a future at home: the University has added new degree opportunities in recent years, and a new dorm has been built for students of the University of the Faroe Islands, making it easier and cheaper for students to find their own place in the capital. However, even if the trend is in the downturn, the reasons have not been researched in-depth and the number of students who must leave the Faroe Islands to study is still quite significant. Thus, the government needs to continue to ease the difficulty of choice young people face in the Faroe Islands between their home, family, and friends, and the pursuit of higher education for better job opportunities later in life.

Another facet of this reliance on Denmark, other Northern countries and the English-speaking world in general is the fact that little books and other educational materials are written in Faroese, and more recently more English materials have been introduced in the classroom. Danish has for most of recent history been a principal language in the Faroe Islands, with most of the population speaking it fluently, and has so far coexisted without marginalizing and diluting the Faroese language.

However, with the introduction of English into classrooms, there’s a good likelihood that the Faroese are to become a trilingual society, as evidenced already by young people code-switching between Faroese and English in everyday conversations, and sometimes even only speaking in English. If this trend follows them into adulthood, Rakul Skaale Andreasen argues in her thesis that “it might mean that English will replace Faroese in the future”[iii]. Therefore, less and less people speak Faroese as fluently as they used to, which was pointed out by the interviewee when mentioning that kids nowadays have to be reminded of common words such as ‘airport’, as they only remember it in English. This has been shown to have negative effects on people’s sense of belonging, community, and inclusivity, as good proficiency in the national language contributes to these factors[iv].

Ultimately, university students being forced to an extent to move to other countries and thus receive education in a foreign language, as well as the large-scale introduction of school materials in English, violates Faroese people’s right to be taught in their mother tongue, a right stressed in many international human rights documents and conventions such as Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights and European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. However, more research into the topic is needed, as well as its effects, with Skaale Andreasen’s thesis offering a steppingstone into this field.

Conclusion

Although education in the Faroe Islands is that corresponding to one of general quality, it has many issues which need to be addressed. Of course, given the fact that the Faroese are small in numbers and the territory is dispersed in various islands, the education system cannot be expected to be perfect with all opportunities larger communities with more people can offer. However, the problems these characteristics give rise to need to be identified in order to minimize them, and whether some of those outlined in this article are anecdotal evidence from first-hand accounts or a symptom of a wider problem remains to be studied. Therefore, in order to make the system as accessible as possible and foster students’ well-being to the maximum extent, more research is needed, as without it, it is way more difficult to pinpoint the problems and address them. In this sense, the lack of research could be argued to be one of the main challenges to an ever-improving Faroese education system, which adapts to the various situations and challenges of the time.


References

[i] Sheridan, S. M. (2018). Establishing healthy parent-teacher relationships for early learning success. Early Learning Network. https://earlylearningnetwork.unl.edu/2018/08/29/parent-teacher-relationships/

[ii] Based on findings by Kushman & Barnhardt, 2001.

[iii] Breum, M. (2020). Færøsk in a nutshell. Truer engelsk færingernes sprog? Uddannelses- Og Forskningsministeriet. https://ufm.dk/uddannelse/videregaende-uddannelse/priser-og-konkurrencer/specialekonkurrence-om-rigsfaellesskabet/2020/faerosk-in-a-nutshell-truer-engelsk-faeringernes-sprog. Article on Rakul Skaale Andreasens’ thesis about the attitude of young Faroese towards Faroese, English and Faroese-English code switching.

[iv] Verbal Planet. (n.d.). The Connection Between Language and National Identity. Retrieved October 29, 2023, from https://www.verbalplanet.com/blog/languages-and-national-identity.asp#:~:text=Language%20as%20a%20Source%20of%20Pride%20and%20Identity%3A&text=Proficiency%20in%20the%20national%20language

Cover Image by Max Fischer via Pexels