The latest report of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, that measures 540,000 fifteen year olds across 72 countries in maths, reading and science, has revealed that the UK failed to come top ten in any of the three subjects.
In 2017, there were many high-performing secondary schools from all four corners of the UK, such as St Michael’s Catholic Grammar School, London, Allerton High School, Leeds, St Edmund’s Catholic School, Portsmouth, and Kendrick School, Reading, with the majority concentrated within London and the South-East. However, despite the exam successes of last year, more than one in eight schools still underperformed in their GCSEs. Asian countries, such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea, perform the best, with European countries such as Switzerland, Ireland, Finland, and Estonia also high up in the league table.
There’s a lesson to be learned from these results. What are these countries doing to achieve these stats and how can we follow their lead to also improve our literacy, numerical, and science levels? An obvious factor is that these high-achieving countries spend a lot more than the UK does on education – hundreds of billions of dollars. There are also social and cultural differences that contribute to increased learning and better results. According to the MBC Times, the East Asian countries ‘prize effort above inherited “smartness”, have clear learning outcomes and goalposts, and have a strong culture of accountability and engagement among a broad community of stakeholders’.
These countries have an expectation that their children should work hard. In South Korea, children go to school seven days a week. This hard work has produced the incredible result of 100 literacy across the country. However, this also leads to what TED has warned is an ‘enormous, unrelenting pressure to perform.’ This is an extreme case that may not be suited to the UK culture and expectations of education, however, there’s a lesson to be learned from South career about creating dedicated and focused homework time after school away from technological distractions.
Andreas Schleicher, a special advisor on education policy at OECD, also adds that the Koreans have large class sizes. This seems an unusual factor to success, as in the UK we consider smaller classes, like those in private schools, a more effective learning environment. However, in South Korea, ‘the goal is for the teacher to lead the class as a community, and for peer relationships to develop.’ This model of peer-to-peer mentoring has also made the headlines in the UK over recent years, with start-ups such as MyTutor providing tuition for 11 plus students in those LEA’s which still have grammar schools.
Of course, technology is also a significant factor for success. According to Fair Reporters, Japan has maintained its second position in the league tables thanks to ‘a combination of hard work ethic and technology… no other country deploys technology in education to the extent that Japan does. Kids have access to resources that most other students do not, giving them the ability to get answers to some of the most difficult questions’.
In the UK, especially at GCSE learning, there is an issue with rote learning. It gets you through your exams, but it doesn’t ensure sustained learning beyond the classroom. In Singapore, they ensure that their students can solve problems themselves and learn conceptually, which all leads to the all-important independent thinking. Even if UK schools are yet to catch on to this method, parents can still apply it at home. Encourage discussion of a recent news item, politics, culture, or current affairs. By cultivating their own opinions at home, children can then take those independent learning skills into the school environment. Why don’t you start with this article, and get them to discuss what they think needs to be improved in their own education?