SAIS Next Europe


October 31, 2008 3:30 PM

Italy's Students Protest Education Cuts

When I was an undergrad at the University of Southern California, the greatest confrontation between students and administration came when the university decided to stop beer sales at football games. How did the student population react? Write letters? Sign petitions? Organize? Protest? Well, we mostly whined to one another, drank even more before the games, and left at half time feeling bad - and not because of the score - soon forgetting the luxury of ever having been able to drink in the stadium.

In my few weeks as a student in Italy, however, I've been exposed to a whole new world of student activism.

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February 11, 2009 2:51 PM

What Europe and America Each Teach

The most unforeseen merit of studying at Johns Hopkins' campus in Bologna, Italy is that of becoming conscious of the hidden pitfalls of both American academia and the Italian way of life. I say hidden pitfalls because the darker sides of a rigorous, world-class education in one of Europe's most culturally rich locations are exposed more fully then ever when these two worlds overlap and most powerfully, when they collide.

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June 22, 2009 10:26 AM

Education, Our Non-Priority

"The future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens," President Obama noted this spring. Politicians claim education as a priority on both sides of the Atlantic. German Chancellor Merkel declared education the "central task for the next century."

Big words -- yet the Great Recession is testing politicians' promises. In spite of increased fiscal spending, U.S. students in primary and secondary schools from coast to coast are watching their teachers being laid off en masse, while some districts are installing four-day school weeks to cope with the budget crises. At the same time, students across Europe are demonstrating for better education.

It is almost surreal: As Californians shrug at the 25,000 teachers to be laid off, students in Europe are calling for more teachers, greater spending, and educational reform. Do we not care enough, or are they making too much of a fuss?

The situation in the U.S. was already quite bad; now it is becoming worse. Whereas the student-teacher ration in European public secondary education is about 12:1, in the US it is closer to 17:1. And in the 2006 science evaluation of the OECD's Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the U.S. scored significantly lower than the OECD average -- lower than Finland, the Netherlands, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Germany, the UK, the Czech Republic, France and 11 other European countries. (The PISA survey is conducted every three years, so it will be interesting to see how these trends have continued, or changed, when 2009 data is released.)

European students might also reconsider asking for more money. With over $10,000 spent on secondary education per student, the U.S. exceeds the OECD average by over $2500 and the EU 19 average by $2,800. More money won't solve the problem, as top-ranked Finland illustrates: with only $7,325 spent on higher education, it continuously scores top places in the reading, writing and science categories of PISA.

Not all is running smoothly in Europe, of course. Integrating immigrants is still a huge problem in many countries, where second-generation immigrants sometimes do worse in school than their parents did. But so far, there have not been massive teacher layoffs -- even though budgets are tight.

The question is how we will remember these times. Will we look back and ask about the educational bailout that should have followed AIG and GM? If, following Obama's logic, the future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens, it will be a tough road ahead for the recession generation currently in school. Apart from burdening U.S. students with paying off the fiscal expansion, laying off teachers further diminishes their ability to compete in a world demanding highly trained professionals. Perhaps they should be the ones protesting in the streets.

Nikolas Foster is a graduate student in Energy and Environmental Policy and International Economics at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC.

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.