Accessible, engaging textbooks could improve children’s learning

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It’s not enough for textbooks just to be present in a classroom. They must support learning.
Global Partnership for Education/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Lizzi O. Milligan, University of Bath

Textbooks are a crucial part of any child’s learning. A large body of research has proved this many times and in many very different contexts. Textbooks are a physical representation of the curriculum in a classroom setting. They are powerful in shaping the minds of children and young people. The Conversation

UNESCO has recognised this power and called for every child to have a textbook for every subject. The organisation argues that

next to an engaged and prepared teacher, well-designed textbooks in sufficient quantities are the most effective way to improve instruction and learning.

But there’s an elephant in the room when it comes to textbooks in African countries’ classrooms: language.

Rwanda is one of many African countries that’s adopted a language instruction policy which sees children learning in local or mother tongue languages for the first three years of primary school. They then transition in upper primary and secondary school into a dominant, so-called “international” language. This might be French or Portuguese. In Rwanda, it has been English since 2008.

Evidence from across the continent suggests that at this transition point, many learners have not developed basic literacy and numeracy skills. And, significantly, they have not acquired anywhere near enough of the language they are about to learn in to be able to engage in learning effectively.

I do not wish to advocate for English medium instruction, and the arguments for mother-tongue based education are compelling. But it’s important to consider strategies for supporting learners within existing policy priorities. Using appropriate learning and teaching materials – such as textbooks – could be one such strategy.

A different approach

It’s not enough to just hand out textbooks in every classroom. The books need to tick two boxes: learners must be able to read them and teachers must feel enabled to teach with them.

Existing textbooks tend not to take these concerns into consideration. The language is too difficult and the sentence structures too complex. The paragraphs too long and there are no glossaries to define unfamiliar words. And while textbooks are widely available to those in the basic education system, they are rarely used systematically. Teachers cite the books’ inaccessibility as one of the main reasons for not using them.

A recent initiative in Rwanda has sought to address this through the development of “language supportive” textbooks for primary 4 learners who are around 11 years old. These were specifically designed in collaboration with local publishers, editors and writers.

Language supportive textbooks have been shown to make a difference in some Rwandan classrooms.

There are two key elements to a “language supportive” textbook.

Firstly, they are written at a language level which is appropriate for the learner. As can be seen in Figure 1, the new concept is introduced in as simple English as possible. The sentence structure and paragraph length are also shortened and made as simple as possible. The key word (here, “soil”) is also repeated numerous times so that the learner becomes accustomed to this word.

University of Bristol and the British Council

Secondly, they include features – activities, visuals, clear signposting and vocabulary support – that enable learners to practice and develop their language proficiency while learning the key elements of the curriculum.

The books are full of relevant activities that encourage learners to regularly practice their listening, speaking, reading and writing of English in every lesson. This enables language development.

Crucially, all of these activities are made accessible to learners – and teachers – by offering support in the learners’ first language. In this case, the language used was Kinyarwanda, which is the first language for the vast majority of Rwandan people. However, it’s important to note that initially many teachers were hesitant about incorporating Kinyarwanda into their classroom practice because of the government’s English-only policy.

Improved test scores

The initiative was introduced with 1075 students at eight schools across four Rwandan districts. The evidence from our initiative suggests that learners in classrooms where these books were systematically used learnt more across the curriculum.

When these learners sat tests before using the books, they scored similar results to those in other comparable schools. After using the materials for four months, their test scores were significantly higher. Crucially, both learners and teachers pointed out how important it was that the books sanctioned the use of Kinyarwanda. The classrooms became bilingual spaces and this increased teachers’ and learners’ confidence and competence.

All of this supports the importance of textbooks as effective learning and teaching materials in the classroom and shows that they can help all learners. But authorities mustn’t assume that textbooks are being used or that the existing books are empowering teachers and learners.

Textbooks can matter – but it’s only when consideration is made for the ways they can help all learners that we can say that they can contribute to quality education for all.

Lizzi O. Milligan, Lecturer in International Education, University of Bath

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Ten sure ways countries can turn away international students

How not to make them feel welcome.

How not to make them feel welcome.

Simon Marginson, UCL Institute of Education

The Conversation’s international teams are collaborating on a series of articles about the Globalisation of Higher Education, examining how universities are changing in an increasingly globalised world. This is the second article in the series. Read more here.

The pursuit of global mobility in a world divided up into nations invokes a fundamental dilemma. Free passage without harassment is a right we routinely expect to exercise whenever we travel abroad. Yet the right of people within a country to determine who enters their nation is enshrined in law. This unresolvable tension between sovereignty and mobility catches international students in its grip.

More than 4.5m students cross borders every year for educational purposes, mostly entering English-speaking countries, Western Europe, China, Japan and Russia. The great majority of these students return home when their education ends, though some become skilled migrants to the country of education, or other countries. Nations compete for international students – every country wants high-quality research students and some make a profit from international undergraduate and masters-level students. In the UK, for example, Universities UK reported that international students spent £4.4 billion on fees and accommodation in 2011-12.

However, education policy is all too often in tension with migration policy. The United States (after September 11, 2001), Australia (in 2010-2011) and the United Kingdom (now) have all slowed down their student intake because of security concerns, or local opposition to migration. In each case numbers fell sharply and stayed down.

Change in number of foreign students.
UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration

What not to do

The past two decades of experience in international student policy suggests a checklist of ten things that a nation can do to ensure that it becomes as uncompetitive as possible in international education, and drives down foreign student numbers:

  1. Make your visas more expensive than the competition. Currently, UK visas are at the top end of costs among the principal education exporting countries. It costs £322 to apply for a Tier 4 (General) student visa from outside the UK.
  2. Slow down the time for visa processing, so education agents push families to choose competitor countries. This happened in Australia in 2011 in relation to Chinese students – families went to the US. The visa rules were relaxed and the numbers picked up again.
  3. Ensure that universities and colleges not only charge high tuition fees, but require families to bank a full year of living cost support for several months before enrolment begins, as the UK does at present.
  4. Use a discriminatory policy against students from major countries such as India or China, or better still, whole regions such as the Middle East. Subject those students, and not others, to extra checks at entry and extra reporting requirements. Ask their universities to spy on them and regularly report to immigration authorities – as with the Patriot Act under George W Bush in the US, and as the UK does in relation to non-EU students at present.
  5. Allow the local media to mount sustained attacks on international students as a group for destroying the national way of life, or triggering an urban crime wave, or consuming fast foods with strange smells in city precincts, or being dangerous drivers. This happened in New Zealand 12 years ago and the Chinese government advised families not to send their student children to New Zealand. Numbers dropped like a stone.
  6. Restrict work rights during study and, better still, impose a blanket ban on international students working during vacations, so students cannot earn the money they need to cover their fees and living costs. Both the UK and Australia limit working time. The UK is planning to introduce this for international students from outside the EU.
  7. Send lightning raids into workplaces in case international students are working more than their maximum weekly hours – and deport them on the spot if they do. Australia used to do this.
  8. Make it hard for international students to open a bank account without a place of residence and impossible to rent an apartment without a bank account – which happens in the UK. Do the same with mobile phone contracts.
  9. Make it expensive to be covered by medical insurance (as it is in Australia), visit a doctor or access hospitals and other emergency services.
  10. Restrict the rights of students to stay and work once they have graduated. This is crucial, as students who want to migrate need work rights to build the bridge to migration, and others need work to pay back their loans. The UK used to encourage students to work for two years after graduation, but in 2012 the policy changed so that a graduate had just four months to get a job worth £24,000 or more a year in their field of training. The number of visas given to former students in the UK declined from a peak of 43,319 in 2011, to 557 in 2013.

The worst possible timing

The UK is now planning to force graduates to leave the UK before applying for graduate jobs, which will make it even harder for them to stay. Highly skilled graduates will go elsewhere.

International students are the collateral damage of migration politics. Cutting temporary migration by students is the easiest way to reduce the number of people coming in to a country, even though most students never become permanent migrants.

In the UK it will probably get worse before it gets better. The home secretary, Theresa May, says that high migration is a threat to national cohesion and higher education institutions must be prepared for a drop in international student numbers. But if the UK government follows May down the migration-bashing route and bears down harder on international student entry and graduate work rights, that is not a recipe for a wobble in the market, but the ongoing loss of a chunk of market share.

Evidence from the US in the wake of the 2001 Patriot Act, and Australia after its slowing of visas and noncompetitive work rights in 2010-2011 suggest that when student numbers fall, the downturn lasts for years, and lingers even after policies reverse again.

But the major problem for the UK is the timing. Different countries have to face popular resistance to migration, but those moments do not always coincide. While the UK government is talking about massive cuts to migration, it so happens that the US, Canada, Australia, China, Japan and Germany are stepping up efforts to attract international students. Growth is surging in the US and Australia. Both countries have learned from past mistakes and are being careful to avoid the ten “dont’s” on this list.

UPDATE: Point seven in this article incorrectly said students were raided for working more than their minimum working hours. It was updated to read their maximum working hours.

The Conversation

Simon Marginson, Professor of International Higher Education, UCL Institute of Education

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Where Are World’s International students moving?

More students attending college outside their home country go to the US than any other nation in the world. But a surprisingly high number of Americans go outside the US to earn their degrees, too.

That’s one lesson from this map from MoveHub, initially spotted by Business Insider, which uses data from UNESCO to show where international students are coming from and where they’re studying:

Courtesy of MoveHub: Where Are World’s International students moving?International Student Mobility

The colour of the country shows how many of its citizens earn their degrees elsewhere. Some nations have circles inside of them showing whether it’s also a top destination for international students.

But what this map doesn’t show so well is that most countries are either a major source of students who study elsewhere, or a major destination — not both.

The United States ranks in the top 10 as both a source and a destination, but the number of international students coming here (740,482) dwarfs the number of Americans who earn a degree abroad (58,133 — the figures don’t count students who study abroad for a single semester or year). China, on the other hand, welcomes a relatively high number of international students, almost 90,000 — but it sends almost 700,000 students abroad.

With thanks to Libby Nelson and Movehub