The "Best Education in the World"
South Korea's School Success
What Korean Students Really Think About Their Education System
Finland's A+ Schools
What the Best Education Systems are Doing Right
Examining the education systems of the world is fascinating! Perhaps this is because I taught in South Korea for seven years and South Korea is making international headlines due to their education system is producing some of the best results in the world (as per tested measures).
The other leading country, when it comes to producing a high quality education system, is Finland. Having spent time reading about both of these countries (some of what I have read is listed above), I find it incredibly fascinating how drastically different the education systems are, but how similar the social norms are between the cultures.
For example, the South Korean system of education is intense (that may even be an understatement). All of life is planned around a child's education. (I know this, I have seen this.). Parents are not afraid to invest in their child's education because it is really an investment in their own future--child gets good education, child gets high paying job, child is wealthy and can provide for parents in their old age. All decisions are made to support this end. Thus, when one is a student they are 100% a learning machine. As you can see if you look at the reading, it is normal for a student (starting from late elementary to early middle school and continuing through high school) to go to public school from 9am to 5pm, and instead of heading to soccer practice, head to extra tutoring in either a subject area(English being the most common) or an instrument (classical instruments being the most common). They may go to tutors until 10pm at night and then get home to start on homework. Kids playing sports, or even being outside is not a common scene in major cities of this country. Teenagers don't have jobs, school is there job and their performance is heavily monitored by parents. The only way to a good future is to put away play, you can have fun when you get yourself into a position in life that is profitable to you and your family (so when you are 35.)
On the contrast, Finland's education system focuses on a more tender approach to learning. Formal education doesn't begin until age seven. Students have less than an hour of homework each night, after only going to school for six hours. On average, elementary students spend 72 minutes "playing" at school each day. There are no private schools. What? Really. The only standardized test that is given comes at the end of one's senior year of high school.
And guess what? These two systems produce students who rank the highest in the world when it comes to reading, writing and math. How is this possible?
I believe it can be gathered from these articles that it is not so much the educational system that determines the outcomes of a nation's education achievements, but rather the teachers and the social norms that guide the cultures view and value of education.
Here are the commonalities of South Korea and Finland: teachers are highly respected, pay is equitable to other professions that require four to eight years of schooling, the government supports all schools equally and desires to make quality learning available for all students (and they use money to do so, but not nearly as much as the American education system), the culture (meaning most of the people in the culture) operate with the mindset that education is the key to economic success for the country--and they actually put their money where there mouth is. I think it is worth noting that both of these countries created amazing educational systems as a result of being war-ravished lands. These are countries that have known poverty and restriction. They lived under a kind of captivity in which another nation withheld education as a means of keeping power and control. The people of these countries know that the way to raise a successful nation is to support education and educators.
Which begs the question, how do we change the mindset of our culture, so that as a culture our "group think" creates overwhelmingly verbal and monitary support for education systems and EDUCATORS. How do we get to an understanding (as a culture)that education is the key to our children's future and that all decision that are made in this arena affect the economic outcome of our nation.
Personally, I would love to see the Finlander's way of doing education brought to America, but I can also see the value in the South Korean system. Yet, I think what is of most value is to note that they are different, and they both work. (The South Korean system has come under attach due to articles like this: What Korean Students Really Think About Their Education System, but that is material for another post.)
I think the best way to start is by being a voice: in your classroom, in your school, in your district--getting the word out there that the product of our education system is a strong determinate for the future of our country. If the culture can put education on the pedestal it deserves, we will all benefit. And making it very clear, that it isn't so much the system, but the support of the system and those working in the system that will make the biggest difference in the world.
Links to all the, Go and See Study, sessions.