In Britain the trend in schools is towards more testing, a focus on core academic subjects and traditional teaching. A new report
shows that the high performing education systems of East Asia are moving in the opposite direction. Written by Yong Zhao of Victoria University, it is essential reading for anybody interested in learning from these countries.
Tests In China have been abolished in Years 1 to 3, written homework has been banned in primary schools and, under the new "green evaluation"
system (piloted in Shanghai), schools are to be judged on how much they reduce the academic burden on students (from long school days and too much homework). Among the measures that schools will be judged on are student engagement, happiness and lack of boredom and anxiety.
Lessons from China, Singapore, Hong Kong & Korea
Yong's report covers China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Korea and finds a similar trend in all of them. The focus over the last two decades has been on improving equity, loosening central control, de-emphasising testing, transforming pedagogy from knowledge transmission to inquiry-based and constructivist, broadening the curriculum beyond traditional academic subjects, reducing academic burden and reducing the pressure of school work
We in the West have focused on the East Asian high test scores in international comparisons like PISA. However educationalists in those countries have been concerned that alongside those high test scores are much lower scores for confidence and interest in Maths and Science. In PISA 2012 only 43% of Korean students and 53% of those in Shanghai stated they were confident in Maths, compared to 67% in the US and 68% in the UK. In TIMMS 2011 only 2% of Japanese students and 3% of Koreans agreed they were "very confident in Maths", compared to 16% in England and 24% in the US.
The report suggests "that their students’ high performance in tests was not sufficient for the new world." It quotes Jiang Xueqin (deputy principal of Peking University High School): "Chinese schools are very good at preparing their students for standardised tests.” But "they fail to prepare them for higher education and the knowledge economy.”
Creativity and Experiential Learning
The response, for almost two decades, has been to focus on creating "21st century learning". China’s 1999 education reform framework put “the development of creative spirit and implementation abilities” as a key priority. Korea included “creative experiential learning activities” in its 7th Curriculum as a required component, which is given more than half the school time devoted to the Korean language and maths.
Singapore aimed at building a system that produces “creative thinkers who will be measured by the 21st century yardstick of team playing and multi-disciplinary perspectives” (Ministry of Education, 1998a). In 2006, they established the "Teach Less Learn More" movement - a phrase which would surely be anathema to Michael Gove or Nicky Morgan.
The Hong Kong Education Commission of 2000 stated that "Our priority should be to enable our students to enjoy learning, enhance their effectiveness in communication and develop their creativity and sense of commitment."
Shanghai: Inquiry-based Courses
In local educational reform started in 2004, Shanghai issued a curriculum framework which aimed to instill students with "national spirit, global perspective, sense of social responsibility, capacity for life-long learning, creative spirit, execution ability, literacy in science and humanities, healthy personality, and physical fitness".
"Shanghai restructured its curriculum into three elements: basic courses, expansion courses and research courses. The basic courses are similar to traditional core academic subjects that are required of all students. Expansion courses are optional courses for students to explore their interests, actualise their unique potential, and develop self-planning and managing abilities. Research courses are inquiry-based courses that help students develop the ability to identify and solve problems, creative ability and spirit, and collaborative skills. These courses can originate from student interest or from a subject" (From the Shanghai Education Commission of 2004).
On thing that all these systems share, and I may write more about, is a desire for "student-centred education". This contrasts heavily with the UK, where the term "child-centred education" has become almost a term of insult amongst government supporters (eg, Toby Young here
Perhaps it is time to learn more from East Asia and return to a student-centred focus here in the UK.
Note: The information on Chinese schools banning primary homework and eliminating standardised tests were taken from an article
about the report in The Australian. However it is subscriber only.