Victoria’s Year 12 students are learning remotely. But they won’t necessarily fall behind



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Sarah Prestridge, Griffith University and Donna Pendergast, Griffith University

In early July, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced government school students in prep to Year 10 — in Metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire —would learn from home for term three. Students in Years 11 and 12, as well as those in Year 10 attending VCE or VCAL classes, and students with special needs, would learn face to face.

The exemption for students doing VCE subjects to go class was made to ensure the least amount of disruption to the final years of schooling.

From today, however, after the announcement of harsher, Stage 4 restrictions for metropolitan Melbourne and Stage 3 restrictions for the rest of Victoria, students in Years 11 and 12 will learn remotely with every other student in the state.




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So, will remote learning at the end of schooling mean Victorian students will fall behind the rest of the country?

Setting up Year 12s for further learning

Year 12 marks the end of school and the shift to work and further education for most students.

The Year 12 journey is sprinkled with milestones and rites of passage: the school formal, leadership opportunities, gaining independence with a new driver’s license and for many, turning 18 and being regarded as an adult.

In classrooms, learning is highly regulated by the teacher. Whereas in vocational education and training, and university, learning is rapidly moving to a more online, independent, mode. Even before the pandemic, post-school education required students to be more self-directed learners than they were at school.

This year’s Year 12 students won’t experience many common milestones and rites of passage. But many will have gained significant experiences of learning online, and independently — beyond what they ordinarily would have — which will set them up for similar learning beyond school.




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The chance to develop online learning capabilities while being supported by their school teachers will give Year 12s learning remotely a real advantage.

Year 12s like learning independently

We conducted a survey of students who experienced remote schooling during March and April this year at an independent school in Queensland. Overall 1,032 students completed the survey, across prep to Year 12.

Just over 41% of students, overall, said they found learning at home stressful. But this was generally not the case for students in Year 12. Year 12 students were keen for the flexibility to learn at their own pace, and being free to determine the order of study each week, rather than follow a timetable set by the school.

Younger students find remote learning more stressful than do Year 12s.
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Year 12 students said they preferred to concentrate on one subject a day and to work intensely.

Generally Year 12 students said they disliked live video sessions and found them disruptive to their study flow. While 75% of Grade 7 students valued form class or home room live sessions, only 16% of Grade 12 students did. They preferred to spend their time focusing on given subject materials.

Is online learning inferior to face to face?

Studies have suggested online learning is likely to be less effective than classroom education over the longer-term. But there is also evidence to suggest the impact may be negligible in the short term.

Other studies suggest there is no significant difference in learning outcomes between students in distance education (when students live too far from the school to attend in person) and face-to-face learning.

But there are significant variations in outcomes within each approach. This means a student’s ability to learn online, the design of the online learning environment and even the amount of time needed for students to get familiar with learning online can affect their outcomes.




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Students have been conditioned for over 12 years to learn in classrooms from a teacher. This can make it difficult for them to become familiar with new ways of learning.

A major issue associated with online learning is a student’s ability to regulate themselves. This means being able to stay on task especially when a problem arises. Being unfamiliar with new ways of accessing and interpreting online environments and subject content, as well as working with peers online in communication spaces, presents new challenges for students.

However, the problem may again have to do with age. In our survey, mentioned above, 75% Year 12 students believed they were able to work through a problem productively online. This was higher than the other high-school year levels.

Tips for Year 12 students

There are many advantages to learning online. Students can work at their own pace, revise and review teacher made videos for examples, and engage with extensive notes and study guides to help with assessment and exams.

Students can also access their teachers in more varied ways and at different times of day. In other words, moving online for Year 12 students can provide a world of resources and access to teachers they have not experienced before.




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To make the most of their Year 12 experience, students should keep these simple tips in mind:

  • organise your learning week. Set up your own timetable of tasks to complete. Include breaks and time to relax

  • be an active learner. Make notes while listening to teacher made videos and written materials

  • contact a friend if you have a problem, and work through the issue together

  • use the communication tools available to tell your teachers and friends what you are thinking about

  • participate in live sessions and forums as much as you can.


Correction: this article previously had an incorrect statement about ATAR calculation. This has now been removed.The Conversation

Sarah Prestridge, Senior Lecturer, Griffith University and Donna Pendergast, Dean, School of Educational and Professional Studies, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Exhausted beyond measure’: what teachers are saying about COVID-19 and the disruption to education



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Louise Phillips, James Cook University and Melissa Cain, Australian Catholic University

All Victorian school students will be learning remotely from Wednesday. Prior to the state’s premier Daniel Andrews announcing a tightening of restrictions over the weekend, only students in prep to Year 10 in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire were learning from home.

But on Wednesday, schools will close for Year 11 and 12 students in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire, as well as every student across Victoria — except for students in special schools and children of essential workers.

Like with the last remote learning period in Australia, the current uncertainty in Victoria might cause disarray and stress among teachers, parents and students.




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In response to the closures in April, with seven other researchers across Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and the US, we designed a survey that asked teachers 16 open-ended questions about how COVID-19 affected them and their students.

The teachers ranged from early childhood education through to school and university. We also included other educators, such as at museums.

The survey opened on May 4, 2020 while most countries in the survey engaged in home-based learning. There have been 621 responses to date. Of these, 179 are from Australian teachers, with 65% having over 21 years teaching experience, from which this article reports.


Number of respondents, by sector.
Author provided

Our survey gained rich responses about the sudden closure of schools, transition to online learning, and the difficulties of negotiating social-distancing and increased hygiene maintenance.

Relentless workload

When asked, “How has COVID-19 impacted your teaching and learning?”, responses most commonly referred to technical issues, then the pragmatics of teaching and workload.

Overwhelmingly, teachers from early childhood to higher education experienced a significant increase in their workload. One teacher said the sudden change to online learning created “endless paperwork and programming issues” and “has been relentless”.

Another said

It’s definitely added significantly to my workload and taken the holiday time that would normally provide some respite, meaning I am closer to burnout than ever.

Social distancing requirements also increased teachers’ workload, creating “lots of additional cleaning requirements and having to collect children from the carpark as families are not allowed to enter”.

One teacher said

It is draining. Exhausting. Time consuming. The work never stops.

‘I don’t want to teach anymore’

The impact on the mental and physical health of teachers was the next most frequently expressed — after the technical, pragmatic and workload issues.

One teacher told us:

I struggle to sleep at night for thinking about work all the time. I’m very stressed and anxious; my physical health has been impacted.

Another said:

It has challenged everything I enjoy about teaching.

And another wrote:

All the teachers I work with are EXHAUSTED beyond measure.

Teachers said a lack of voice and agency in decision making made them feel “unmotivated” or “unvalued”.

(we) may have felt more supported had we been consulted and listened to by management and government.

One teacher wrote:

In the beginning, I felt I could have dropped dead at home and my workplace wouldn’t even notice.

Another said:

Going through this, not feeling safe, and then seeing teachers belittled in the media, has made me come to the realisation that I don’t want to teach anymore.

‘It was a scramble’

When asked, “What are the issues you are struggling with and need support with?” some teachers mentioned the management and decision-making concerning school closures.

The word cloud below shows the most frequent words in response to the question.


Most frequent words in response to ‘What are the issues you are struggling with and need support with?’


One teacher said:

Our school closed down at the end of term one. It was a scramble and our management made some decisions which made life harder for teachers.

One early childhood and childcare teacher said:

The government has largely ignored the realities of EC [early childhood] environments, the impossibility of social distancing with children under five, and the fact we have high exposure to bodily fluids.

But the most frequently mentioned struggle for teachers in Australia was maintaining quality in pedagogy and curriculum delivery. Teachers are worried the quality of education might be compromised during this uncertain time.

One teacher said:

We are in social repair time. And you know what — no one cares what we are doing in our rooms — just get through ‘til term’s end.

The teachers named student disengagement, uncompleted work and the disparity of access to online materials as the key challenges to quality.




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The second most frequent struggle was insufficient time to attend to teaching and learning demands. Many reported working 60% to three times more hours than they were contracted and paid. The sudden shift to online required teachers to self manage production and delivery of online teaching and learning materials, without adequate training and resourcing.

In the longer term, this sudden change in education may lead us to think of innovation in the area. But for now, teachers, schools and students are just trying to survive, and they need all the resources necessary to make it through this year — and beyond.The Conversation

Louise Phillips, Associate Professor in Education, James Cook University and Melissa Cain, Lecturer in Inclusive Education and Arts Education, Australian Catholic University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus: how likely are international university students to choose Australia over the UK, US and Canada?



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Gavin Moodie, RMIT University

Australian universities are suffering revenue and job losses due to the current and projected loss of international students. A Mitchell Institute report has estimated the sector may lose up to A$19 billion in the next three years, while modelling from Universities Australia shows more than 20,000 jobs are at risk over six months, and more after that.

On April 3, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said international students in Australia could return home if they could not support themselves. Commentators feared such a flippant attitude would cause Australia to lose its world class reputation if it didn’t come to the aid of international students.

Months of tension with China (the biggest source of Australian university international students, at a third of the total) threatened to further jeopardise our international standing.

On Monday, the Australian government announced it will restart granting international student visas and allow current students to count online study while overseas in a push to restart international education.

But how do we compare with some of Australia’s largest competitors?

Closed campuses

Australia imposed a ban on travel from China on February 1, stranding an estimated 87,000 students abroad who were due to start their academic year in Australia in March.

By that time it was the middle of the second, or winter, semester for Australia’s big English language competitors in the northern hemisphere: the USA, UK and Canada. Most of these countries’ international students stayed to complete their semester, so universities did not suffer an immediate fall in revenue.

But universities in these countries did incur substantial additional costs as many completed the semester by transferring teaching online at short notice.




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While online education meets similar standards to campus-based education, students prefer face-to-face learning. This is particularly true for international students, who see immersion in a different culture as one of the main benefits of studying overseas.

In May, many US and UK universities announced bullish plans to teach their first semester in autumn, starting in September, face-to-face (or mask-to-mask). There were various provisions for plexiglass, physical distancing, masks and regular testing.

But even partial campus reopening plans were never credible in the US when they were announced. Still, many universities in the competitor countries sought to maximise international enrolments by maintaining at least a substantial part of their campuses would be open by September.

The US

US universities no longer seem to be nearly as strong competitors for international students. While the number of new COVID-19 cases has bumpily fallen in Australia, Canada and the UK, they have been increasing in the US.

When it became clear US universities could not responsibly open their campuses, they started reversing their announcements of opening fully in September.

Princeton University. It’s unlikely many US universities will be able to offer full on-campus education in their first autumn semester.
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By July 20 some 53% of 1,215 US universities surveyed still planned to teach in person in September, 11% planned online education, 32% planned a mix of online and in person education, and 4% were considering a range of scenarios or had not yet decided their education mode.

US President Donald Trump sought to pressure universities to open fully by making studying at least partly on campus a condition of international students’ visas. He soon reversed that order, but may issue an alternative seeking the same effect.

US attractiveness as an international study destination is likely to be further reduced by the instability in universities’ plans, the uncertainty of federal immigration conditions, and continuing restrictions on entry from China and elsewhere.

The United Kingdom

Australian universities are in a much more similar position to UK universities, which are long time and powerful rivals for international students. They are expecting to lose substantially from COVID-19’s suppression of international enrolments.

Unlike Australia, the UK government has granted universities access to government-backed support such as a job retention scheme which includes short-term contracts, and business loan support.




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The UK government has also brought forward teaching payments and block research grants, and increased funds for students in financial difficulty.

Unlike Australia, the UK does not impose international travel restrictions but requires entrants from most countries including China and India to self-isolate for a fortnight after entry. It will therefore remain a more attractive destination for new students until Australia lifts or at least relaxes its travel restrictions.

Canada

Canadian universities and colleges have some distinct advantages over their competitors for international students. They enjoy considerable financial and other support from their national and provincial governments.

While Canada’s average proportion of new COVID-19 cases is similar to Australia’s and the UK’s, these are concentrated in the biggest cities of Toronto, Montreal and their environs. The Atlantic provinces have Tasmanian levels of COVID-19 cases, and some of their universities attract very high proportions of international students.

The University of Toronto. Canada’s universities have received more support from their government than Australia’s.
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Canada’s biggest competitive disadvantage is that while it will admit returning international students, it currently is not admitting new students for the foreseeable future.

The Canadian government will grant permits to international students who study online from abroad, and like Australia this will count towards their eligibility for a post-graduation work permit. The government has also introduced a temporary two-stage approval process for international students to expedite their approval to enter to study on campus when this is permitted.




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But Canada is not likely to be a desirable destination for new international students until the government and then institutions can give a firm timetable and clear plans for studying on campus.

So, what should Australia do?

To remain competitive compared to the UK, Australian universities should keep prospective students updated on the issues that affect their study decisions such as entry requirements, start dates, and study and accommodation conditions. This communication should be targeted towards education agents and their clients, and be specific to individual students.

Few students and their parents are convinced about the value and quality of online education. And they fear much of the benefit of immersion in an English speaking university environment would be lost if spatial distancing required social distancing.

Australian universities will have to be as clear as they can about the benefits of the study and living conditions students are likely to experience here.The Conversation

Gavin Moodie, Adjunct professor, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

School is important, and so is staying safe from coronavirus. Here are some tips for returning seniors



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Gerard Fitzgerald, Queensland University of Technology

Victorian senior students returned to school this week, as did those in specialist schools. This follows substantial community transmission of COVID-19, and stage three restrictions, in metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire.

Although senior and specialist school students in the restricted areas are going back to class, government school students in prep to Year 10 (except those doing VCE subjects) will learn remotely for term three.




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Whether schools close or remain open has been one of the more contentious aspects of this pandemic.

The Australian government previously signalled a lack of sustained and widespread community transmission meant it was more important for children to attend school than stay at home. But the situation has now changed, in Victoria at least.

That state recorded 270 new cases of COVID-19 since yesterday, with 147 linked to an outbreak at Al-Taqwa College. Almost all the new cases come from community transmission.

For returning seniors and teachers, it’s important to remember no single measure in isolation prevents disease transmission. It is a matter of reducing the likelihood and enhancing the capacity of the system to deal with events that occur.

School closures have consequences

Most of our evidence on the effectiveness of school closures comes from influenza research. Closing schools has been shown to reduce the speed and extent of influenza spread. This measure won’t be effective in isolation, though, and must be complemented by social distancing and enhanced personal hygiene.

But SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is different to influenza. Children are less likely to become infected and less likely to become seriously ill.

A recently reported German study suggests fewer than 1% of children and teachers had contracted the disease at school. Other analysis has not shown significant benefit from closing schools, even in communities with widespread community transmission.




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That doesn’t mean transmission cannot occur among teachers and students, as we have seen with several outbreaks in Australian schools.

It is just that schools are not the disease incubators they would be with influenza or rhinovirus (which causes the common cold). This means transmission is not as likely in schools as it appears to be among adults.

The Victorian government has indicated Year 11 and 12 students – and those in Year 10 studying for the VCE – should return to school, and special schools should remain open, even in areas under restrictions. But universities, TAFE and adult education must continue online.

Wearing a mask isn’t harmful, and it does offer some protection.
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Even though senior students may have a similar transmission as adults, the logic is that educational and social disadvantage faced by senior students outweighs the risk of disease transmission.

And older students should also be able to understand the importance of health protection strategies and cooperate more readily than younger children can.

They are at a critical stage of their education, where lost access to education for a prolonged period may have longer life implications.

The unique social and personal support offered by special schools may also outweigh the COVID-19 risks.

Meanwhile, adults in higher education institutions usually have alternatives to allow them to continue their education.

So, what should schools do?

Victorian schools need to adhere to enhanced public health protections — this is understandably challenging for principals and teachers.

Whatever the schools can do will help reduce risk — it is not necessary to do everything, if not possible.




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Managing fewer classes by only having senior students and children of essential workers on campus may help schools maximise screening, social distancing and enhanced personal hygiene measures.

Teachers and students who may be at greater risk if they contract this disease, including older teachers and those with chronic illness, should isolate themselves if possible.

The Victorian government has provided guidelines for schools but these contain quite a lot of varied information which could be confusing for staff and parents.

There are five key principles for risk mitigation in schools

1. Maintain a high level of awareness of COVID-19 transmission

This should be done through standard and consistent communication to staff, parents and students.

2. Stop infected people from attending school

Parents, students and staff should be required to stay away from the school if they are infected or have been exposed to someone with the disease.

Schools should screen people on arrival, including, if possible, temperature screening either on arrival or at first class, dependent on the circumstances of the school. Anyone with symptoms or a temperature should be removed immediately and quarantined.

The Victorian government has promised more than 14,000 non-contact thermometers for government, independent and Catholic schools in metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, and to schools in neighbouring areas that need them.

3. Implement a practical level of social distancing

Mass gatherings, assemblies and functions should be avoided, arrival and departure times staggered. Break times should also be staggered and students spread out during them.

5. Maintain hygiene

Students and teachers should wash or sanitise their hands on arrival, before and after breaks and before departure.

Everyone should consider using face masks where social distancing is not possible, such as on public transport. Masks are not harmful, but they do not necessarily protect from COVID-19, so they can’t be completely relied on. They are just one measure of reducing risk.

High traffic areas must be subject to enhanced cleaning and environmental hygiene practices.

No single measure is critical and there are no guarantees, but together, reasonable approaches will reduce risk and offer increased protection.The Conversation

Gerard Fitzgerald, Emeritus Professor, School of Public Health, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Government announces $2.5 billion package to support training and apprenticeships



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Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Morrison government has announced $2 billion – to be augmented by another $500 million from the states – for a skills package to boost training and job creation.

A $1 billion JobTrainer program will provide training or re-skilling for up to 340,700 school leavers and job seekers. Places for courses will be available from September.

This is to be funded on a 50-50 basis with the states. The government says there has been early support from most states after Scott Morrison raised the plan at national cabinet last week.

To get the JobTrainer funding the states will need to sign up to an agreement to reform their vocational education and training systems. Morrison has previously said the VET system needs to be simplified and better attuned to the skills employers are seeking.

The start of the courses would come just before with the scaling back of government COVID support measures. Not only are a huge number of unemployed in the job market but school leavers looking for jobs will find it extremely difficult.

The package also includes an extra $1.5 billion to expand and extend the wage subsidy for apprentices and trainees. This follows $1.3 billion announced in March.

The subsidy now supports 47,000 employers with 81,000 apprentices and trainees – the expansion will take this to nearly 90,000 businesses and 180,000 apprentices.

Eligibility will be widened from small businesses to medium-sized businesses with 199 or fewer employees. The subsidised apprentices will have had to be in place from July 1.

The program will also be extended by six months to the end of March.

The subsidy covers half the apprentice’s wages up to $7,000 a quarter.

Already $365 million has been paid out under the program.

The JobTrainer courses will be free or low cost and aimed at areas of need. These areas will be identified by the National Skills Commission in consultation with the states.

Morrison said: “COVID-19 is unprecedented but I want Australians to be ready for the sorts of jobs that will come as we build back and recover. The jobs and skills we’ll need as we come out of the crisis are not likely to be the same as those that were lost.”

Current sectors looking to expand their workforces include health care and social assistance; transport, postal and warehousing; manufacturing; and retail and wholesale trade.

The courses will be delivered by public, private and not-for-profit providers.

Speaking on Melbourne radio on Wednesday, Morrison again made it clear the government will avoid a hard cut off of assistance at the end of September. He said it would continue to provide income support to those who needed it.

“And obviously in Melbourne in particular, that demand is going to be very great now for some period of time.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Students in China heed their government’s warnings against studying in Australia – less than half plan to come back



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Marina Yue Zhang, Swinburne University of Technology

Only 40% of students in China who previously intended to study overseas still plan to, while just under 50% of those who had studied overseas plan to return to their study after the borders reopen.

These are results from our unpublished survey of 1,012 students we conducted in China between June 5 and 15. We asked them whether they would continue with their plan to study abroad post COVID-19.

These findings are not surprising. Due to growing tensions between China and the West – even before COVID-19 – middle-class parents in China had become increasingly concerned about the safety of, and possible discrimination against, their children abroad, including in the US and Australia.

The pandemic seems to have accelerated this trend.

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What students say about studying in Australia

Of the 1,012 students we surveyed, 404 had registered to study abroad in the next three years (in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore) and 608 had been studying overseas (including in Australia, US, UK, Canada, New Zealand and Japan) before COVID-19 .

In the questionnaire, we presented interviewees with considerations and asked them to nominate which ones would influence their decision about whether to study in Australia after COVID-19, as well as in other countries.




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The first group (group A) includes 304 students who had studied in Australia but who were not able to return due to travel restrictions.

Of these, 50% were undergraduates, 42% graduates, 5% doctoral students, and 3% vocational education or high school students.

The second group (group B) includes students who had never studied abroad before but had registered their intention to in the next three years, including in Australia, before COVID-19.

The second group also answered Australia-specific questions.



Not many students in either group considered issues such as more expensive air travel, less freedom in China and online lectures as critical factors influencing their decision to study in Australia.

But the two groups reacted to some factors quite differently. The students who had studied in Australia before considered the following factors as more critical to their decision:

  • returnees with Australian degrees are not more competitive in China’s job market compared to graduates from top-tier universities in China

  • life is more convenient, safe and easier at home and I don’t want to go abroad to endure the hardship as a foreign student

  • improved political stability and economic prospects in China

  • less of a chance of landing a good job with an Australian degree in China

  • no need to go abroad if lectures are delivered online.

The group of students who hadn’t yet studied in Australia but planned to, considered the following factors as critical:

  • media reported cases of Chinese being “discriminated against” or “abused” in Australia

  • deterioration in Sino-Australia relations

  • not many outstanding returnees from Australia are visible in the media to represent the success of Australian education

  • Australian universities lowered the entry standard for foreign students due to COVID-19

  • Australian degrees are perceived to be less valuable compared to degrees from other English-speaking countries, especially the US and the UK, by HR personnel in China.

What the students said

Not surprisingly, both groups considered the Chinese government’s warnings against visiting, or studying in, Australia important. A decision to study and live abroad is often made by the whole family in China. Official voices weigh significantly in such decisions.

A student who had done some of her master degree in a Melbourne university said:

After the Chinese New Year, Australian borders were closed to Chinese students due to COVID-19. Direct travel was not allowed. So I travelled to Thailand and spent 14 days in a small hotel in Bangkok before I landed in Melbourne. I had to be self-quarantined for 14 days in my rented room.

Then I found all lectures were moved online and the situation of COVID-19 became serious in Melbourne. The PM urged international students to go home. My parents were so worried. They paid for an over-priced air ticket and a quarantine-hotel in Shanghai for me for 14 days before I could go back to my hometown.

When the [Chinese] government announced the travel and study warnings, I couldn’t convince my parents that things aren’t that bad in Australia. They listened to the government and believed the ‘official voices’ rather than their own daughter.

There have been cases (though isolated ones) of Asians or Chinese people being bullied in Australia due to COVID-19. Unfortunately, social media in China often distorts such cases and amplifies the (mis)perceptions. And the tensions between China and Australia have enhanced these negative perceptions.

Sending their children abroad was once a privilege for elites with intellectual, economic or political power in China. But this is now quite common among middle-class Chinese families.

Chinese families spend a large amount of money on their children’s education. Better opportunities (either in the host country or on returning home) after study abroad is an underlining reason Chinese families invest in their children.




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Australia has attracted many Chinese students in recent decades. But if Chinese students with Australian degrees are less appreciated or less competitive compared to those who study in other countries or in local universities, families will look for other options.

A Chinese student who had been studying at a Sydney university told us:

We are the clients and the degrees are a commodity; we pay for our degrees. What if the commodity loses its value? The clients will surely walk away.

COVID-19 has had a negative impact on the number of Chinese students likely to study in Australia. But the downward trend started way before the pandemic.

Australian universities need to adjust their strategies for a future that will not only deliver value for Chinese students, but also strengthen a positive perception about this value.The Conversation

Marina Yue Zhang, Associate Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus and university reforms put at risk Australia’s research gains of the last 15 years



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Andrew Norton, Australian National University

Education minister Dan Tehan will be meeting with university vice-chancellors to devise a new way of funding university research. They will have plenty to talk about.

Australia’s universities have been remarkably successful in building their research output. But there are cracks in the funding foundations of that success, which are being exposed by the revenue shock of COVID-19 and the minister’s reforms announced this month, which would pay for new student places with money currently spent on research.

I estimate the gap in funding that needs to be filled to maintain our current research output at around $4.7 billion.

The funding foundations crumble

The timing of Dan Tehan’s higher education reform package could not have been worse for the university research sector.

The vulnerability created by universities’ reliance on international students has been brutally revealed this year. Travel bans prevent international students arriving in Australia and the COVID-19 recession undermines their capacity to pay tuition fees.




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Profits from domestic and international students are the only way universities can finance research on the current scale, with more than A$12 billion spent in 2018.

Based on a Deloitte Access Economics analysis of teaching costs, universities make a surplus of about A$1.3 billion on domestic students. Universities use much of this surplus to fund research.

Tehan’s reform package seeks to align the total teaching funding rates for each Commonwealth supported student – the combined tuition subsidy and student contribution – with the teaching and scholarship costs identified in the Deloitte analysis.

On 2018 enrolment numbers, revenue losses for universities for Commonwealth supported students would total around $750 million with this realignment. With only teaching costs funded, universities will have little or no surplus from their teaching to spend on research.




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International student profits are larger than domestic – at around $4 billion. Much of this money is spent on research too, and much of this is at risk. The recession will also reduce how much industry partners and philanthropists can contribute to university research.

Australia’s Chief Scientist estimates 7,700 research jobs are at risk from COVID-19 factors alone. Unless the Commonwealth intervenes with a new research funding policy, its recent announcements will trigger further significant research job losses.

Combined teaching and research academic jobs will decline

Although less research employment will be available, the additional domestic students financed by redirecting research funding will generate teaching work.

More students is a good thing in itself, as the COVID-19 recession will generate more demand for higher education.

But this reallocation between research and teaching will exacerbate a major structural problem in the academic labour market. Although most academics want teaching and research, or research-only roles, over the last 30 years Commonwealth teaching and research funding has separated.

After the latest Tehan reforms, funding for the two activities will be based on entirely different criteria and put on very different growth trajectories.

An academic employment model that assumes the same people teach and research was kept alive by funding surpluses on domestic, and especially international, students. With both these surpluses being hit hard, the funding logic is that a trend towards more specialised academic staff will have to accelerate.

We can expect academic morale to fall and industrial action to rise as university workforces resist this change.




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The funding squeeze will also undermine the current system of Commonwealth research funding. This funding is allocated in two main ways. In part, it comes from competitive project grant funding, largely from the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian Research Council.

Academic prestige is attached to winning these grants, but the money allocated does not cover the project’s costs. Typically, universities pay the salaries of the lead researchers and general costs, such as laboratories and libraries.

Universities are partly compensated for those expenses through research block grants, which are awarded based on previous academic performance, including in winning competitive grants. But because block grants do not cover all competitive project grant costs, the system has relied on discretionary revenue, much of it from students, to work. It will need a major rethink if teaching becomes much less profitable.

The stakes are high

University spending on research (which was over $12 billion in 2018), has nearly tripled since 2000 in real terms.

Direct government spending on research increased this century, but not by nearly enough to finance this huge expansion in outlays. In 2018, the Commonwealth government’s main research funding programs contributed A$3.7 billion.

An additional $600 million came from other Commonwealth sources such as government department contracts for specific pieces of research.

In addition to this Commonwealth money, universities received another $1.9 billion in earmarked research funding from state, territory and other (national) governments, donations, and industry.

These research-specific sources still leave billions of dollars in research spending without a clear source of finance. Universities have investment earnings, profits on commercial operations and other revenue sources they can invest in research.

But these cannot possibly cover the estimated $4.7 billion gap between research revenue and spending.

With lower profits on teaching, this gap cannot be filled. Research spending will have to be reduced by billions of dollars.

We are at a turning point in Australian higher education. The research gains of the last fifteen years are at risk of being reversed. The minister’s meeting with vice-chancellors has very high stakes.The Conversation

Andrew Norton, Professor in the Practice of Higher Education Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Yes, we’ve seen schools close. But the evidence still shows kids are unlikely to catch or spread coronavirus


Allen Cheng, Monash University

Brunswick East Primary School and Keilor Views Primary School in Melbourne have temporarily shut down after children from both schools tested positive to COVID-19, while a confirmed case in a year 2 student led to the closure of Sydney’s Lane Cove West Public School. A childcare centre in the Melbourne suburb of Essendon has also closed for cleaning after a child tested positive.

These cases, and others in young children, follow a handful of positive cases in teenage students in Sydney and Melbourne and may be prompting some to wonder whether it’s time to rethink reopening schools after lockdown.

The short answer is: no. The research still suggests that while children can be infected with COVID-19, it is uncommon. They also don’t seem to pass the disease on as efficiently as adults do, and cases of child-to-child infection are uncommon. And when children do get infected, they don’t seem to get very sick.

The temporary closure of schools (and at least one childcare centre) is evidence the system is working as it should — cases are being identified, contact tracing and deep cleans are underway and every effort is made to limit the spread.




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What we know about children and coronavirus

We still don’t know exactly why COVID-19 is much more common in adults than children. The COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) infects people by attaching itself to a receptor called the ACE2 enzyme, and differences in this receptor in children may be one reason why children are less susceptible.

A lot of the thinking around schools and COVID-19 in Australia is based on follow up of school cases by the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS). It was released in April but still reflects what is currently known about the virus and how it interacts with children and school settings.

The report found:

In NSW, from March to mid-April 2020, 18 individuals (9 students and 9 staff) from 15 schools were confirmed as COVID-19 cases; all of these individuals had an opportunity to transmit the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) to others in their schools.

  • 735 students and 128 staff were close contacts of these initial 18 cases
  • no teacher or staff member contracted COVID-19 from any of the initial school cases
  • one child from a primary school and one child from a high school may have contracted COVID-19 from the initial cases at their schools.

Data from the Netherlands also found “children play a minor role in the spread of the novel coronavirus”.

In younger children, a rare but severe complication called PIMS-TS has been described. However, these cases have occurred in areas where there is extremely high transmission of COVID-19 in the community.

A bigger concern around schools is how adults congregate. Schools now have some version of physical distancing in the staff room and on school grounds to limit the risk of transmission between adults. Parents are asked not to enter school grounds or congregate in close quarters at the school gate, although the fact that this is outdoors and not a long period of contact also helps reduce the risk.

What about COVID-19 and high school students?

There have been several reports of cases in high schools both in Australia and abroad.

Older children in high school start to have similar risk to adults, although the risk of complications is still substantially lower than in the elderly. Importantly, kids in this age group are more able to physically distance and adhere to personal hygiene measures than primary school-aged kids.

At least one instance of a high school outbreak in Auckland was related to an event outside the classroom at which many adults were present. So it was less about transmission in the classroom and more related to a particular event.




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The system is working

It’s important that schools remain open. But precautions are still required: teaching children to maintain personal hygiene, enhanced cleaning, and making sure adults (teachers and parents) are appropriately distanced from each other.

The latest school cases are not unexpected, and don’t mean that school closures across the board are required. They show the system is working as it should — we are spotting cases early and intervening quickly to limit the spread.

When we do find COVID-19 cases in children, we don’t usually find cases of child-to-child transmission. But of course, we still need to go through the process of managing each case as it arises.

If there are ongoing cases in the community, it is likely that cases will continue to occur in students or teachers, and schools will need to have contingency plans for this.




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Parents need to make sure their children are well before sending them to school, and be prepared to get them tested and to keep them at home if they show any sign of illness. And of course, hammer home the message about hand washing.

Hand washing and physical distancing remain the very best things we can do to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading.The Conversation

Allen Cheng, Professor in Infectious Diseases Epidemiology, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘I love Australia’: 3 things international students want Australians to know



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Angela Lehmann, Australian National University

A recent statement from China’s education bureau warned Chinese students about studying in Australia due to “racist incidents” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Such statements, and further moves from China’s education agents threatening to redirect students towards international competitors such as the United Kingdom, can negatively affect Australia as a study destination. Australia’s universities are already reeling from the loss of international students due to COVID-19.

There have been reports some international students from China have defended Australia as a study destination. I have been conducting in-depth interviews with ten international students in Australia about their experiences and concerns throughout COVID-19.

They too have, mostly, positive things to say.

Here are three things they believe Australia should know as we plan our recovery.

1. Australians must be more welcoming

Negative experiences of international students are more dangerous to long-term recovery than border closures and flight restrictions. At a time of increased unemployment and pessimistic economic forecasts, we risk anti-foreigner sentiment growing.

Students I spoke with reported this was already happening. One student from Peru said he had “had quite racist comments like ‘go back to your country’”. Another, from India, spoke at length about part-time jobs now being “offered only to Australian citizens. I was told not to even bring in a CV”.




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On April 4, the prime minister called for temporary visa holders to “go home” if they couldn’t support themselves.

Each student I spoke with said this was the point in time when they went from feeling a part of their community, to feeling unwelcome.

One Indian student told me:

I have seen a rise in anti-Chinese sentiment and anti-Asian sentiment. I have seen my Japanese flatmate have abuse yelled at her on the street. Calling her a “filthy Asian” and things like this.

Another student spoke about Labor Senator Kristina Kenneally’s call to “reset” Australia’s temporary migration intake and give Australians a “fair go”.

She said:

Definitely, there is a growing anti-immigrant sentiment here. The talk from people in the Australian government that we should be “getting our jobs back for Australians” is constructed in a way to inherently disadvantage people like me, or immigrants. Because it is government policy it will infiltrate across the country and it’s hard to tackle that on an individual level.

Each student suggested Australia’s reputation as a welcoming, safe and diverse place was what was going to shape how parents and prospective students made decisions about where to study after the crisis.

2. International students are integrated in Australian society

The students I spoke with are looking to integrate in local communities as a central part of their overseas experience. They felt they contributed to various parts of Australian society – as tourists and volunteers.

International students want to be ingrained in Australian society.
Shutterstock

And many played an active role in promoting Australia and their city internationally.

Daniel, from Peru, is based at a regional Queensland university. He volunteers with a local men’s mental health organisation. He’s taken over the weekly Spanish language program on the local radio station and, until the shutdown, worked part time at a bar and volunteered with a research program measuring local water quality.

He said:

Something I have learned here is about a sense of community, about being kind to others. I love Australia and the people I have met so far. Once all this is over, I will go back to my home country and teach them about what I have learned here.

3. The government needs to signal its support through clear policy

International students want clear policy responses and acknowledgement of the valuable role they play in Australia.

Australia’s flattened curve undoubtably works in our favour, giving us an advantage over the United States and the UK.

However, the government’s support and welfare may shape how parents and prospective students make future decisions.

Clear policy responses matter now. They offer a signal to students – current and future – that Australia recognises the importance of international students, and they are a welcome and supported part of our communities.

An example is Australia’s reluctance to guarantee international students will not be penalised from being eligible for a Temporary Graduate Visa if studying online. This visa allows graduates of Australian universities to stay on and work, and is essential to attracting students. Currently students are restricted around the amount of offshore study they can do to be eligible.




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Canada made such an adjustment early on, announcing international students could complete 50% of their study online without it impacting their eligibility to eventually apply for a post-study work permit.

One Indian student told me:

I don’t think Indian students will be deterred from their goal to study abroad and to better their lives. But a lot of where they decide to do this depends on how the government reacts and responds. A lot of students are probably going to start looking at Europe and Canada as a better destination because of the policies they have. Canada has been doing a really great job at protecting its international student community.

International students value human connection and their expectations and contributions extend beyond the lecture hall. They are looking for responses and a recovery strategy that acknowledges this.The Conversation

Angela Lehmann, Honorary Lecturer, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

7 tips to help kids feeling anxious about going back to school


Veja/Shutterstock

Mandie Shean, Edith Cowan University

As COVID-19 lockdown measures are lifted, some children may experience social anxiety about the prospect of returning to school.

People with social anxiety may fear embarrassment or the expectation to perform in social situations, or worry exceedingly about people judging you poorly.

In certain situations, people with anxiety may find their heart beats quicker as adrenalin is released into their blood stream, more oxygen flows to the blood and brain, and even digestion may slow down.




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These are helpful responses if you need to run away or fight danger. But social situations are generally not life threatening, and these physical symptoms can interfere with socialising.

People with social anxiety may fear looking silly, being judged, laughed at or being the focus of attention. For anyone, such experiences might be unwelcome but for those with social anxiety they pose an unacceptable threat.

Social anxiety in Australian children

One Australian report found that about 6.9% of children and adolescents surveyed have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, 4.3% experience separation anxiety and 2.3% a social phobia.

Social phobia (social anxiety) is more common in adolescents, whereas separation anxiety (intense anxiety over leaving caregivers, such as parents) is more prevalent in children.

These figures only account for those who have a diagnosis of anxiety. They do not include undiagnosed young people who experience high stress in social situations.

Not all children will be happy to be back in school.
Tom Wang/Shutterstock

Any recent prolonged absence from school may have increased social anxiety, as avoiding what you fear can make your fear become greater.

This is because you do not get to learn that the thing you fear is actually safe. Your beliefs about the threat go unchallenged.

Anxiety can also increase through what pyschologists call reduced tolerance. The more children withdraw from the situations that cause them fear, the less tolerance they have for those situations.

Anxiety can affect education

The educational cost for students with anxiety is considerable.

The research shows students with poor mental health can be between seven to 11 months behind in Year 3, and 1.5 – 2.8 years behind by Year 9.




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That’s because these students experience more absences from school, poorer connection to school, lower levels of belonging and less engagement with schoolwork.

7 strategies to help overcome social anxiety

So what can children do to overcome anxiety as they return to school? Here are some useful tips.

  1. deal with some of the physical symptoms. It is hard to think if your body is stressed. Use calming strategies like mindfulness or breathing exercises. Slowing your breathing can reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, anger and confusion. Useful apps to help you control your breathing include Smiling Mind (iOS and Android) or Breathing Bubbles (Android only).

  2. anxiety increases while using avoidance techniques such as avoiding eye contact, not raising your hand to answer a question, or not attending school. So the most effective way to deal with social anxiety might be to face it. Allow your child to have small experiences of social success – give their opinion to one person, start a conversation with someone they know – so they can learn to feel safe in these social situations.

  3. fear and anxiety are normal and benefit us by helping us to respond efficiently to danger. Rather than read your body as under threat, think about the changes as helpful. Your body is preparing you for action.

  4. while avoiding your fears is not the answer, being fully exposed to them is not the answer either. Providing overwhelming social experiences may lead to overwhelming fear and failure, and may make anxiety sufferers less likely to try again – or at all. Start small and build their courage.

  5. supportive listening and counselling are less effective than facing your fears because these approaches can accommodate the fears. While you want to support your child by providing them with comfort and encouragement – ensure you also encourage them to face the fears that cause the anxiety.

  6. you cannot promise negative things won’t happen. It is possible you will be embarrassed or be judged. Rather than try to avoid these events, try reframing them. Remember that that we all experience negative social feedback, and this does not make you silly or of less value. It makes you normal. Or, rather than see it as embarrassing, maybe it can be funny.

  7. remember it is the “perception” that something is a threat – not the reality. Reasoning with your child to help them see your perspective may not change theirs. This reality only changes with positive real experiences.

Breathing Bubbles in action.

What we think is truth is often revealed as untrue when we face our fears. There is joy in social situations. Keep turning up to them.




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The Conversation


Mandie Shean, Lecturer, School of Education, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.