I have been listening to commentators respond to the latest PISA results in problem-solving. They either take the tack of being pleased to be second in Europe to Finland (which as everyone knows has a first class education system) or to be disappointed that we are all lagging behind “Asia”.
I can’t say that the result surprises me. About 12 years ago the Shanghai Board of Education was worried about their students’ lack of problem-solving and creative thinking skills. Their response? They put Roamers into every primary school and trained their teachers. Now I can’t claim that Roamer single-handedly improved the thinking skills of every Shanghai student (much as I would like to!) but visiting them it did give me an insight into their education culture.
As part of the process we were launching the Roamer project to all the parents in a specific school. I asked how many parents they thought would turn up for the event. They looked at me blankly and then the light of understanding shone in one of their eyes and he said “Oh yes, some grandparents may come too.”!
We all know that every Parents’ evening the parents we need to see will be missing, while those that diligently attend every school function have children who, on the whole, fulfil their potential. So, just as the concept of parents not turning up was anathema in China, the concept of over 100% attendance was completely foreign to me.
And this to me is the key – it’s not the teaching that ensures success (although as we have seen from the rise of Finland giving your teachers status and trusting their professionalism does pay off to a certain extent) but the culture of parental enthusiasm for education is the killer blow. A culture that has both an ingrained respect for education and 100% schooling wins hands down.
But on the downside, this is the same culture that then expects its children to go straight from school to tuition centres for extra teaching. A Korean visitor couldn’t believe the relaxed happy atmosphere of schools I took him into. The friendly way the students interacted with each other and their teacher had him confused. Even the layout of the classroom appeared avant garde to him.
So whilst I applaud our students for coming second to Finland I actually think that I wouldn’t want them to compete with Asia if it means the sort of hot housing that their Korean counterparts experience. Getting to the top is surely not worth such a reduction in quality of life. Particularly for such a spurious test.