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COVID-19 Leaders: Listen to the Women

By Shlomo  Maital 

  I’ve written this before – but now, today, with the coronavirus raging in the US and EU – it bears repeating.  Women have done far far better than men, as national leaders in the fight against the pandemic.   Question is – why? *

  * see Arwa Mahdawi, “the secret weapon in the fight against coronavirus: women”.  The Guardian, April 11 2020.

    * Tsai In-Wen, a former lawyer, Taiwan’s first female President elected in 2016, has effectively limited the pandemic in her country, from the start.

    * Jacinda Arden has virtually eliminated the coronavirus in New Zealand and won resounding re-election, with a parliamentary majority.

      * Angela Merkel,  lame-duck German Chancellor, has been a voice of calm and reason, in the face of neo-Nazi demonstrations in her country.  She is herself a scientist, and not only listens to the science but truly deeply understands it.

      * Denmark, led by PM Mette Frederiksen, and Finland, led by PM Sanna Marin, have both done well in limiting the pandemic in their countries. 

     * As of 27 September 2020, Norway has performed 1,034,670 tests and reported 13,741 confirmed cases and 274 deaths.   A senior Norwegian Institute of Public Health consultant said one of the major reasons why the mortality rate was significantly lower than in other European countries (such as Italy, Spain, the UK) was the high number of tests performed in Norway.  Erna Solberg has been Norwegian PM for over 6 years.

    *  Iceland joins Taiwan,  mong a group of countries which adopted a cooperative strategy early on in the pandemic, bringing together multiple organizations to tackle the challenges in containing COVID-19.  Katrín Jakobsdóttir is  erving as the 28th and current Prime Minister of Iceland since 2017.

    Seven brilliant women, who have led their countries to safe shores.  Concidence?  When the three biggest failures in controlling the pandemic were led by men:  Trump (US), Bolsinaro (Brazil) and Johnson (UK)? 

    I could list some speculative theories about why women have been far more successful than men in controlling the pandemic crisis. 

    But I leave it to the reader.  Because – you, dear reader, know why. 

Leadership: Give the Keys to Young Educated Women

By Shlomo Maital  

   Of some 200 countries in the world – which have had leaders most competent and successful in leading responses to the pandemic?

   Let’s begin with the losers. Aging autocratic poorly-educated men, in denial, who missed the boat. The ‘orange haired narcissist’, as NYT columnist Roger Cohen calls him, Donald J. Trump. The whacko Brazilian president Jair Bolsinaro, possibly facing impeachment (like his mentor Trump).  “So what?” was his response, when asked about Brazil’s death toll, highest in South America. Vladimir Putin, who cowardly shelters and lets others take the blame. Erdugan, who despite the crisis pursues his foes with paranoid insanity.

   And now for the winners. Young educated women. 39-year-old Jacinda Ardern, who saw what was happening and shut down New Zealand with only 53 proven cases. Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin, 34, one of the youngest political leaders in the world. Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg. (She’s 59, tough, “Iron Erna”, and young in spirit). And never forget German Chancellor Angela Merkel – not young, like the others, but educated, a scientist, and quietly compassionate and competent.  In Iceland, Katrin Jacobsdottir, 44, who organized free COVID-19 testing for all!  And don’t forget Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen, 64.

     Now, a Yiddish saying goes, “for instance is not a proof”. But a spate of terrific female Prime Ministers who have led their country with bravery courage and excellence – this is not an accident, in the face of aging despot men who have utterly failed.

   So suppose the world was a locked house, with a set of keys. Who should get the keys? Smart competent women, who have fought their way up the political ladder against all the odds. Educated women, who speak well, do their homework, listen to experts, and win the trust of their people. Compassionate women, who understand human suffering and communicate this compassion.

     And the despotic men? As Trump loves to say,   “lock ‘em up”. Fast.   Before it’s too late. Figuratively, of course – at the ballot box. Tuesday Nov. 3, 2020, a crucial date for the US and the world. Bye bye, orange-haired narcissist. Hello, Democrat female educated courageous well-spoken Vice President. And future President.

New Thinking About Our Schools:  It’s NOT Rocket Science!

By Shlomo Maital       

Finland schools

   A great many people the world over are troubled about what happens to our children and grandchildren in the school system.   America’s No Child Left Behind Act (2000) has left most children behind, because America still scores poorly in international achievement tests, despite (because of?) billions spent on “Race to the Top”. 

    A simple principle says,  if you want to improve, learn from others.  Benchmark what others do, adapt it,  and get better.   But educational bureaucracies in most countries do not even know what global benchmarking is.

    Take Finland, for example.  Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish educator, has shared Finland’s experience with the world in his 2011 book  Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?   It has been translated into many languages already, including Hebrew. 

    Here are the four key principles Finland used to create a world-class world-leading educational system, for all Finnish kids, not just a handful of privileged ones in Helsinki.

  • Guarantee equal opportunities to good public education for all. In the U.S., that means that schools in rural Louisiana and Mississippi should be up to scratch, as much as ones in Princeton, NJ.
  • Strengthen professionalism of, and trust in, teachers. This is related to pay levels, teachers’ colleges, and in general, how society values those who educate our children. In Finland, it’s really hard to get in to teaching programs, as hard as getting in to engineering.
  • Get parents involved,   educate everyone about education and the key processes, especially assessment       (and note: assessment is NOT just tests).
  • Facilitate competition and innovation among schools; network them, help them learn quickly from one another, let them try experiments and scale up ones that succeed.


These principles are easy to state, hard to implement.  But take #4, for example.  President Bush’s very first Act, in 2000,  brought  free-market competition models to American schools by tying state and federal funding for schools to test performance of kids.   Many countries have copied this dumb idea.   

     There is another way to introduce competitive forces into education.  Let schools experiment, and share the results.  This is the REAL free-market model.  To do this, you need to abandon the insane obsession with testing, hated by kids, parents and teachers alike, and let kids learn to love learning, let teachers love to teach, and evaluate by what children can do, rather than what they can memorize and regurgitate.

      In Finland, it worked.  How come?  What can we learn from it?    How many American educators have spent time in Finland, observing their schools, talking to their educators?    And how long will it take, before educational professionals all realize that No Child Left Behind left a great many kids behind, far behind, and that it is time to dump the whole bad idea, not only in America but everywhere.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital