In the last couple of weeks, much has been made of the fact that Australia is falling behind its Asian neighbours in terms of educational outcomes for its students. The recently published Grattan Report stated that, “In Shanghai, the average 15-year old mathematics student is performing at a level two to three years above his or her counterpart in Australia.”
I’m not sure if it’s relevant, but you could reply by saying, “In Shanghai, the average 15-year old mathematics student could not tell you the significance of these three words – Massacre, Square and Tiananmen.“
To head further down this political dead-end, the Australian education system seeks to reward critical, independent thinkers. Indeed to acquire a Band 6 in most NSW HSC subjects these two qualities are sought.
In China, a critical, independent thinker is not what the government are looking for… or in some cases actually they are looking for them; men with guns are looking for them.
Anyway, back to the serious stuff… the Grattan Report went to great lengths to point out why the Asian education systems may be worth a look, and it’s not all to do with cultural stereotypes…
I quote directly from the Grattan Report (which I recommend to anyone genuinely interested in authentic education reform.)
The four East Asian systems (Hong Kong, China, Korea and Singapore) have found ways to connect high-level strategy to what others have been trying to achieve in the classroom.
The role of teachers is essential: they are partners in reform.
In Singapore, they are paid civil servants during their initial teacher education. In Korea they must pass entrance examinations, including classroom demonstrations, before becoming teachers.
In Shanghai, all teachers have mentors. New teachers have district-based mentors and two in-school mentors (one on classroom management, the other on subject content).
In Hong Kong, classroom observations aim to change teacher culture and improve pedagogy. The focus is on openness to new ideas and career-long teacher learning.
These four systems are not afraid to make difficult trade-offs to achieve their goals. Shanghai, for example, has larger class sizes to give teachers more time for school-based research to improve learning and teaching.These systems are neither perfect nor universally popular. Hong Kong acknowledges that its move away from a strict examination focus has not yet persuaded most parents.
The Government seems to miss the irony in wanting to use Asia as a bench-mark yet be at odds with, or only pay lip service to the points made above.
I teach in Hong Kong and have friends with children in local schools. There are SO many cultural factors to consider. Homework, for example, can take a 6-year old one to two hours to complete. More homework is assigned on the weekend “because students have more time.” Our students get significantly less homework – but many parents hire 2-3 after-school tutors so that the children are continually working.
One of my former assumptions was debunked when I looked at the local students’ math homework. My assumption was that math was “kill and drill.” The work was highly conceptual.
In writing, however, student who come from local schools tend to have difficulty with fluency. They write only what they have to because they have been penalized for making grammar/spelling errors. Our philosophy is that the writing process begins with brainstorming and fluency. Students also edit and revise – but not at the expense of fluency.
Anyway, that’s the long way of saying that there is no simple way to compare education in different cultural contexts. And, I’m not convinced that any one philosophical approach will meet the needs of every student.
Janet | expateducator.com
Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.
Your experiences illustrate an essential point – To compare educational systems in isolation is futile. Social, economic and cultural (to name just three) influences are fundamental to the effectiveness of any system, be it educational, healthcare, economic.