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Category Archives: Education

Chart: American Students Have a Math Problem

Source : Statista

Infographic: The Best Universities in America

See large image . . . . . .

Source : Visual Capitalist

Chart: U.S. 9-year-olds Reading and Math Test Scores Dropped

‍The national report card isn’t looking great. Data out this week revealed that 9-year-olds’ math and reading scores took a huge hit in the last two years — a worrying early sign of the pandemic’s impact on education.

Reading results are down some 5 points, the steepest decline since 1990, and math scores have declined for the first time since the National Assessment of Educational Progress began in the 1970s.

Source : Chartr

Brain Drain Hits Hong Kong’s Education Sector As Teachers and Students Join Exodus

Su Xinqi and Holmes Chan wrote . . . . . . . . .

As Hong Kong students return for the new academic year, veteran teacher Wong is counting down the days until the political maelstrom sweeping the city leaves him no choice but to quit.

Wong, 34, fears he will soon join the exodus of teachers and students triggered by Beijing’s tightening grip on Hong Kong, which has started transforming local schools, according to multiple educators.

The latest government figures show more than 4,000 teachers left their jobs in the past school year, a five-year high and a 70 percent spike from the year before.

“I have no faith in the future of Hong Kong or that of the industry. It is hard to nurture a person in this environment,” Wong, who asked to use just his surname, told AFP.

The political crackdown has coincided with the coronavirus pandemic, during which Hong Kong has kept strict zero-Covid rules that have fuelled further departures.

Students have pulled out of school in droves, with 30,000 fewer attending primary and secondary school in September 2021 compared to the preceding October.

Wong, who has taught for more than a decade, said five teenagers from his class of 32 withdrew halfway through a term to emigrate.

“The students are leaving not because they dislike the school, but because of Hong Kong’s environment.”

Patriotic classrooms

China is remoulding once outspoken Hong Kong in its own authoritarian image, following massive and sometimes violent democracy protests in 2019 in which youngsters played a key part.

Teachers have since been ordered to instil patriotism in students and comply with a Beijing-imposed national security law that has criminalised much dissent.

Curriculums are being tweaked to align more closely with Chinese Communist Party ideology.

Earlier this month teachers were told to “study and learn the key messages” of a recent speech by President Xi Jinping.

Students and parents have also been encouraged to report teachers who might be breaching the security law.

Wong received a letter of reprimand from Hong Kong’s Education Bureau last year after his teaching materials analysing the pros and cons of civil disobedience drew anonymous complaints.

“It shattered the trust that was fundamental to teaching,” he recalled.

Between 2019 and 2021, Hong Kong authorities received 344 complaints against teachers in relation to the democracy protests, with 55 percent of cases found to be substantiated.

One high-school principal told AFP he would instruct staff to keep their heads down and comply with government guidelines to the letter.

“Everyone is being very careful… If some (teaching materials) may touch on political sensitivities, then we’ll skirt around it,” said the principal, who requested anonymity.

“Nobody wants trouble and the teachers don’t want to be held personally responsible.”

Lower standards?

Authorities have rejected the idea of an emigration wave and argue teachers choose to leave their posts for various reasons, including retirement and further study.

Hong Kong’s education chief said schools were generally operating smoothly and there were enough qualified teachers despite a “slightly higher” attrition rate.

But a recent survey of 140 schools showed each institution on average lost 32 students and seven teachers over the past year.

Newspaper Ming Pao surveyed its classified section and found at least 200 schools were still looking for teachers in late July. In previous years most vacancies would be filled by the end of May.

Administrators say some schools have been forced to hire less-qualified candidates.

Schools are also competing to poach students, as their headcount often determines their government subsidies and protects against closure.

And education is not the only sector affected by brain drain.

The city’s labour force has dropped about six percent since 2018 to 3.75 million people, according to the latest official figures, the lowest number in nearly a decade.

A new generation of Hong Kong teachers are now weighing options and assessing risks that come with their careers.

University graduate Mak, 23, has spent a year teaching English at a secondary school even though he does not have a teacher’s diploma — a fact his employer did not seem to mind.

“I’ll continue teaching for the next few years, but not necessarily in the long term,” he said.

Mak feels he has little control over what happens to his profession.

“There’s not much that can be changed,” he sighed. “You either submit, or quit.”

Source : Hong Kong Free Press

Read also at SCMP

Hong Kong principals appeal to city leader John Lee to plug education brain drain as teachers desert classrooms . . . . .

Chart: Where U.S. Student Debt Is Highest and Lowest

Source : Statista

China’s Gen Z Is Dejected, Underemployed and Slowing the Economy

The most educated generation in China’s history was supposed to blaze a trail towards a more innovative and technologically advanced economy. Instead, about 15 million young people are estimated to be jobless, and many are lowering their ambitions.

A perfect storm of factors has propelled unemployment among 16- to 24-year-old urbanites to a record 19.3%, more than twice the comparable rate in the US. The government’s hardline coronavirus strategy has led to layoffs, while its regulatory crackdown on real estate and education companies has hit the private sector. At the same time, a record number of college and vocational school graduates—some 12 million—are entering the job market this summer. This highly educated cohort has intensified a mismatch between available roles and jobseekers’ expectations.

The result is an increasingly disillusioned young population losing faith in private companies and willing to accept lower pay in the state sector. If the trend continues, growth in the world’s second-largest economy stands to suffer. The sheer number of jobless under-25s amounts to a 2% to 3% reduction in China’s workforce, and fewer workers means lower gross domestic product. Unemployment and underemployment also continue to impact salaries for years—a 2020 review of studies reported a 3.5% reduction in wages among those who had experienced unemployment five years earlier.

More young people taking roles in government may leave fewer jumping into new sectors and fueling innovation.

“The structural adjustment faced by China’s economy right now actually needs more people to become entrepreneurs and strive,” said Zeng Xiangquan, head of the China Institute for Employment Research in Beijing. Lowered expectations have “damaged the utilization of the young labor force,” he added. “It’s not a good thing for the economy.”

Pre-pandemic, 22-year-old Xu Chaoqun was prepared for a career in China’s creative industries. But a fruitless four-month job hunt has left him setting his sights on the state sector. “Under the Covid outbreak, many private companies are very unstable,” said Xu, who majored in visual art at a mid-ranked university. “That’s why I want to be with a state-owned enterprise”.

Xu is not alone. Some 39% of graduates listed state-owned companies as their top choice of employer last year, according to recruitment company 51job Inc. That’s up from 25% in 2017. A further 28% chose government jobs as their first choice.

It’s a rational response in a pandemic-hit labor market. All workplaces have been hit hard by China’s snap lockdowns and strict quarantine measures, but private companies were more likely to lay off workers. Beijing’s main employment-boosting policy has been to order the state sector to increase hiring.

President Xi Jinping may be relieved that the country’s unemployed youth are trying to join the government rather than overthrow it. During a June visit to a university in the southwestern China’s Sichuan province, he advised graduates to “prevent the situation in which one is unfit for a higher position but unwilling to take a lower one.” He added that “to get rich and get fame overnight is not realistic.”

The message is getting through: Graduate expectations for starting salaries fell more than 6% from last year to 6,295 yuan ($932) per month, according to an April survey from recruitment firm Zhilian. State-owned enterprises grew in appeal over the same period, the recruiter said.

But lower income expectations and talent shunning the private sector are likely to lower growth in the long term, challenging the president’s plan to double the size of China’s economy from 2020 levels by 2035—by which point it would likely overtake the U.S. in size.

The phrase “tang ping”—“lying flat”—spread through China’s internet last year. The slogan invokes dropping out of the rat race and doing the bare minimum to get by, and reflected the desire for a better work-life balance in the face of China’s slowing growth. As the unemployment situation has continued to worsen, many young people have adopted an even more fatalistic catchphrase: “bailan,” or “let it rot.”

That concept is “a kind of mental relaxation,” said Hu Xiaoyue, a 24-year old with a psychology masters degree. “This way, even if you fail, you will feel better.” When Hu started looking for work last August, she found it easy to land interviews. “But when it came to spring, only one in 10 companies would offer an interview,” she said. “It fell off a cliff.”

China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) aren’t all unproductive behemoths. But the weight of economic evidence suggests they are, on the whole, less efficient and less innovative than privately-owned companies. China’s economic boom has coincided with a falling share of SOE jobs in urban employment—from 40% in 1996 to less than 10% pre-pandemic. That trend could now go into reverse.

Last year, China launched a regulatory crackdown on formerly high-flying sectors dominated by private companies that previously attracted ambitious young people. Internet companies were hit with fines for monopolistic behavior, real estate businesses were starved of financing and the private tutoring sector was almost entirely shuttered.

Regulatory filings show that China’s top five listed education companies reduced their staffing by 135,000 in the last year after the crackdown. The largest tech companies have kept their headcounts stable, and Zhilian says that there were more tech jobs advertised in the first half of this year than the same period in 2021. Even so, the sector’s allure has faded.

A graduate of the highly ranked Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing, Hu was set for the tech sector—she interned at three internet companies including video-sharing giant Beijing Kuaishou Technology Co. But she has changed her mind. “People who are going to work for Internet companies are all worrying about themselves because they feel like they could be fired any time,” she said.

Instead, Hu landed a position at a research institute within state-owned China Telecom Corp. “The working hours of my future job will be 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and the workload will be quite light. Internet companies are too consuming,” she said.

As well as the movement of talent towards state-owned companies, there’s another mechanism at work that can damage long-term growth. Studies by from the US, Europe and Japan have shown that the longer young people are unemployed at the start of their careers, the worse their long-term incomes, an effect known as “scarring.”

That’s the risk facing Beiya, who was laid off from an e-commerce company this year. The 26-year-old, who gave only one name because she feared that talking about losing her job could hit her employment prospects, missed out on a role with TikTok parent company Bytedance Inc. because of her limited experience.

“I’m a good candidate with potential but they want to see me in two years,” she said. “But how can I get the experience if no one gives me a job now?”

The state sector already employs around 80 million people and the figure could grow by as much as 2 million on a net basis this year, according to Lu Feng, a labor economist at Peking University. “But compared with total demand for jobs, it’s still relatively small,” he said. “We still need private firms to hire.”

That will only happen if the economy grows. To meet its employment goals, economists say China needs GDP to increase between 3% and 5% this year. Economists are predicting growth closer to 4%—with the outlook highly uncertain due to the prospect of more lockdowns to contain the spread of the coronavirus. “Lack of clarity on an exit strategy from the Covid-Zero policy makes companies wary of hiring,” said Chang Shu, Bloomberg Economics’ chief Asia economist.

Beijing has launched a version of the job-support programs seen in Europe during the pandemic, offering tax rebates and direct subsidies to companies who promise to retain workers. But the amounts involved are small: The incentive for hiring a new worker is just 1,500 yuan. Provincial subsidies for graduates who start businesses are also small—just 10,000 yuan in the prosperous Guangdong region.

Even if China can return to strong growth in the second half of this year, the youth unemployment problem will persist—the rate has been rising since 2017, reaching 12% pre-pandemic. Economists attribute that to two factors: urbanization and a mismatch between the education system and employers’ needs.

The hundreds of millions of workers who moved from the countryside to cities used to return to their villages during labor market slumps, acting as an economic shock absorber. Now, younger migrants increasingly stay put when they lose their jobs, pushing up urban unemployment.

“A lot of them are not even raised in rural areas. So they regard themselves as urban people,” says Peking University’s Lu. “The constraints for the government have changed substantially, it’s tougher than in the past.”

Second, the annual number of graduates in China has increased tenfold over the last two decades—the fastest higher-education expansion anywhere in the world, at any time. The share of young Chinese people attending college is now almost 60%, similar to developed countries.

The number of vocational graduates lags far behind those receiving academic degrees. Such is the stigma around vocational education that students rioted last year when told their university was being rebranded as a vocational school. Highly educated young people are rejecting factory jobs. “That’s the basic matching problem. It is huge in this country,” said Lu.

That’s left manufacturers complaining about shortages of skilled technicians. “There are not a lot of people applying for those jobs, such as electrician or welder,” said Jiang Cheng, 28, an agent for electronics factories in central China.

Other sectors are oversubscribed. According to a 2021 study of 20,000 randomly selected jobseekers on Zhilian’s website, some 43% of the job applicants wanted to work in the IT industry, while the sector accounted for just 16% of recruitment posts.

Half of jobseekers had a bachelor degree, but only 20% of jobs required one. “There is now compelling evidence of over-education,” the study’s authors wrote, warning that the misalignment “could have profound influences on both individuals and the nation.”

In the longer term, it’s possible that government intervention may get the private sector hiring again, while education reforms and market forces can smooth the misalignment in the labor market.

China is easing its regulatory campaigns, and a vocational education law passed this year aims to improve standards. A study by Wang Zhe, an economist at Caixin Insight, found college majors that attracted a wage premium in 2020 became more popular in 2021. As applicants’ academic choices adapt to demand in the jobs market, mismatches stand to ease.

But the share of graduates from China’s nine top-ranked universities joining the private sector has fallen since the pandemic, according to research from Hong Kong’s Lingnan University. That suggests ideological shifts, and not just market forces, are at play. Some graduates at top universities are adopting “ cadre style,” according to online forums where they seek tips on where to buy the black zippered windbreakers favored by Xi.

Even in the current environment, Kay Lou, 25, would be a leading candidate for any number of private-sector jobs. She has a masters in law from top-ranked Tsinghua University and has interned for a legal firm, an Internet giant, a securities brokerage and a court.

In the end, she won a government position in Zhejiang province—where some roles attract as many as 200 applicants.

“I felt my work wasn’t meaningful,” she said. “I became increasingly opposed to the capitalists’ pursuit of wealth after I read Marx, so in the end I chose to become a civil servant.”

Source : BNN Bloomberg

University of Hong Kong Makes National Security Law Course a Mandatory Graduation Requirement

Candice Chau wrote . . . . . . . . .

Undergraduate students at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) will have to take an introductory course on the Beijing-imposed national security law in order to graduate.

According to an email sent to all HKU students on Monday seen by HKFP, pupils will have to enrol in a non-credit bearing course titled “Introduction to the Constitution, the Basic Law and the National Security Law.” The requirement will kick in from the 2022/23 school year.

The course will be conducted online, and will adopt “a self-directed learning approach,” according to the email. More details will be announced on September 1 when the new school year begins.

Including HKU, all eight University Grant Committee-funded (UGC) universities in the city have launched or will launch national security courses.

Ming Pao reported on Monday that national security courses at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University will begin next school year.

Hong Kong Baptist University, the Education University of Hong Kong, Lingnan University, and City University of Hong Kong have already incorporated national security content into their curriculum in forms of seminars and workshops, Ming Pao reported.

Source : HKFP

Infographic: 中國新时代基础教育强师计划

Source : 央视网

Infographic: 关于中國加强科技伦理治理的意见

Is Chinese Math Education as Good as It Seems?

Tang Lu wrote . . . . . . . . .

In 2015, Nature published a cover story about how the artificial intelligence firm DeepMind was training machine learning models to play old arcade games. Unlike dedicated chess supercomputers like IBM’s Deep Blue, DeepMind — a Google subsidiary and the developer of AlphaGo — wanted its algorithm to be able to master any game from scratch. Instead, the algorithm would explore each game’s world slowly, triggering rewards and punishments and gradually accumulating information about the game until it could compete against, and even beat, top human players, all without help from the company’s engineers.

DeepMind’s algorithm quickly mastered dozens of Atari classics — but a handful of titles withstood the onslaught of the machines. In Montezuma’s Revenge, for example, the algorithm failed to score a single point. The game, which requires players to navigate an Aztec temple filled with ropes, ladders, and other deadly traps, proved immune to DeepMind’s programming, in part because, unlike games such as Video Pinball, players in Montezuma’s Revenge do not score points until they collect the last item in a level. Left to its own devices, DeepMind’s machine learning algorithm, which was designed to jump from one point-scoring opportunity to the next, was stumped.

As an AI researcher, the Nature article had obvious appeal, but the story caught my attention for another reason as well. The story of DeepMind and Montezuma’s Revenge seemed a perfect metaphor for another field I care deeply about: education.

Since the advent of “reform and opening-up” in the late 1970s, China’s economic rise has been meteoric. At first, Chinese firms focussed on manufacturing, but over the past decade, much of the country’s GDP growth has been driven by the emergence of a vibrant tech start-up scene. Yet years of dazzling GDP figures have masked a fundamental problem: The lack of a solid basic research infrastructure means China’s tech industry is built on shaky foundations, with many of the country’s most innovative products involving the application of existing technologies, rather than the pioneering of new ones.

China’s poor track record in basic research is closely tied to long-term problems with the country’s basic education system, especially in fields like science and math, where an entrenched belief in the power of tests and scores to determine and reward performance continues to get in the way of key national goals like fostering innovation and creativity.

In 2000, a total of 3.75 million students signed up to take the gaokao — China’s national college entrance examination and by far the most important factor in university admissions decisions. By 2007, amid a rapid expansion of the country’s higher education sector, this figure topped 10 million. It has remained at that level ever since.

But as college enrollment and acceptance rates rose, educational resources failed to keep up. Now, as with the economy finally showing signs of slowing down, the chasm between the educational haves and have-nots is widening, and competition for admittance into a handful of top schools has become fierce.

This battle is primarily waged through the gaokao, with a secondary student’s test scores potentially determining their entire future.

This points-oriented teaching model shares a lot in common with the DeepMind algorithm that struggled to beat Montezuma’s Revenge. Both are based on well-known learning patterns. As early as the 1940s, psychologist B.F. Skinner proved that a wide variety of animals could be trained to perform seemingly complex tasks by rewarding them for simple actions that were either right or nearly right. To translate this into the educational context, the rewards are points on tests and exams.

Such rewards-based training methods exploit extrinsic motivation to incentivize learning. They may look complex, but they ultimately boil down into the process of shaping children into adults capable of performing complex tasks by stimulating dopamine secretion.

Needless to say, there are obvious problems with this approach. The more psychologists explore the mechanisms behind learning, the clearer it becomes that intrinsic motivators play an important role in the learning process. To give just one example, hungry rats will forgo food or even put up with electric shocks for the opportunity to explore new spaces.

Intrinsic motivation is innate, guided by novelty and wonder, and directed toward free exploration and creativity. And indeed, as researchers at OpenAI and elsewhere have gradually puzzled out how to reward “curiosity” in their models, machine learning programs are increasingly able to handle challenges like those posed by Montezuma’s Revenge.

Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, has always been easier to game. To borrow an example from my own field, researchers once tried training a robot to ride a bicycle by rewarding it for moving closer to its intended destination. However, they neglected to institute punishments for moving away from the destination. The robot started biking in circles to rack up points as quickly as possible. Clearly, it was focused on the reward rather than the researchers’ desired outcome.

The potential lessons of AI for education aren’t limited to how schools reward students. Another common machine learning problem, “overfitting,” is also applicable to China’s current education system. In the context of machine learning, overfitting refers to the common mistake of training an AI model on data sets so precisely that it loses track of the underlying structures it is meant to learn, meaning it can no longer analyze new or emerging datasets.

For a real-world example of this problem, we need to look no further than the way schools prepare students for the gaokao. Rather than teach fundamentals that can be used to solve a wide array of problems, teachers emphasize rote memorization of practice exams. This improves students’ scores, but it doesn’t teach them how to apply the underlying theorems or basic mathematical principles to new problems.

The system of rewards and training that produces such fearsome mathletes at the primary and secondary levels quickly breaks down when students reach university. There are no quick rewards in advanced mathematics; all math students must begin by slowly grasping basic axioms and definitions, then using them to logically deduce various theorems, before slowly constructing stable theoretical systems.

That’s very different from the formulaic, step-by-step process used to drill students for the gaokao. As in Montezuma’s Revenge, the prize is only reached at the end of a long journey, if ever, and many students raised on external motivation and rote memorization feel lost in their studies. This, in turn, results in frustration and self-doubt, and ultimately to them abandoning mathematics.

Until recently, the apotheosis of these two problems — the overreliance on extrinsic rewards and tendency toward overfitting — could be found in the countrywide craze for math Olympiads. The popularity of these contests was not grounded in any particular desire to see children become mathematicians; rather, for years, success at an Olympiad was a potential shortcut to a spot at an elite university. An entire industry of cram schools and tutoring classes soon sprung up to drill students for success in the competition, and China’s dominance at the international level — the country has taken home 22 team titles at the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) since 1989 — became a source of public pride. Proud Chinese parents like to joke that 10 days of math tutoring in China is equivalent to a year’s worth of math classes in the United States.

That may be the case, but China’s success at the IMO over the past three decades has not translated into theoretical breakthroughs. Many participants are more focused on the external motivation of winning the prize — admission into a top school — than the joy of mathematics, and only a fraction have any interest in building a career in the field.

That is not to say the situation is hopeless. The government has cracked down on for-profit tutoring over the past year, and some provinces are trying to ease the pressure of competition that defines the gaokao. Exam designers, for their part, are working to produce more novel question topics to discourage rote memorization of practice exams and give students more room for experimentation.

It’s still too early to tell whether these measures will have their intended effect. In the meantime, China’s deficiencies in basic research loom as a crisis. If there’s an irony here, it’s that, as AI researchers become increasingly adept at finding ways to mimic intrinsic motivation in their algorithms, our schools seem content to turn students into machines.

Source : Sixth Tone