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to think that UK schools should try and follow the Japanese model a little more?

(187 Posts)
FreckledLeopard Tue 08-Oct-13 17:12:02

So, according to the OECD, "England is the only country in the developed world where the generation approaching retirement is more literate and numerate than the youngest adults."

Guardian Link

Conversely, the Japanese are at the top of the table with the best literacy and numeracy skills of the OECD.

I volunteer in schools in 'deprived' boroughs as part of the Corporate Responsibility agenda at work. I see primary school (Yr 3) pupils who cannot read, write or count to ten using their fingers. Very few children know their times tables. I appreciate these are the most shocking examples, but it's certainly not uncommon for teenagers not to be able to recall times tables instantly, or to be able to do basic mental calculations. On the other hand, my 97 year old grandmother who died a few years ago could immediately give you the answer to any times table question posed, had immaculate spelling, handwriting and grammar, yet left school aged 14 in 1928.

I know that the argument is put forward that rote learning stifles creativity and critical thinking. Yet if a child cannot read, write or spell accurately, what use is critical thinking to them if they can't get any thoughts down on paper? Similarly, what is wrong with rote learning if it gives pupils a basic grasp of mathematics that will provide them with at least the basic ability to get through life (understanding budgets, shopping, simple percentages etc)?

Surely rote learning, frequent testing and an emphasis on knowing the basics well would serve pupils in good stead and not allow children to fall through the gaps as they currently do? So, AIBU to wish that British schools would try and emulate the Japanese/South Korean model a little more?

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 08-Oct-13 17:16:54

'Similarly, what is wrong with rote learning if it gives pupils a basic grasp of mathematics that will provide them with at least the basic ability to get through life (understanding budgets, shopping, simple percentages etc)?'

Well, you've said it - if it gives pupils a basic grasp.

Does it?

Or does it just give them the ability to parrot rote-learned facts without understanding?

I think it's important to be aware of both possibilities. I do think the basics (especially with maths) could do with being taught more thoroughly, with more emphasis on getting children to understand what they're doing and not just to learn a nifty formula without knowing what it means. Obviously it's useful to have some facts at your fingertips, like basic number-bonds.

But the emphasis on rote-learning I see from Gove seems bizarre, really, and I think there's a lot wrong with it.

I don't know enough about the Japanese model to say more than that - can you explain what it involves a bit more?

reup Tue 08-Oct-13 17:18:14

Everything you mention is pretty standard in every primary school I know . Spelling tests every week. Lots of mental maths. Recently my y1 child was asked to learn all his times tables though its more common from y3.

They are tested all the time so yadbu

SilverApples Tue 08-Oct-13 17:18:46

Can we have Japanese parenting to go along with it?

meditrina Tue 08-Oct-13 17:21:42

Well, the things you list that the year 3s you volunteer with cannot do, are things which are routinely taught and which most pupils pleads (and exceed) by the end of KS1.

That group is totally unrepresentative of the general school pupil population, and probably need skilled intervention. What they need is unlikely to be a sound paradigm for a whole educational approach.

elastamum Tue 08-Oct-13 17:23:55

I expect this has far more to do with cultural expectations and parenting than rote learning in the classroom. MY DC were expected to learn tables and mental maths from an early age, we used to practice them every week.

But what the Japanese children dont get expected to do is think. My DP and I were discussing some of the problems he has had with Japanese post graduate students, who were most upset that they were not being given the answers to questions to learn for their exams (at Msc level!)

FreckledLeopard Tue 08-Oct-13 17:27:07

I know children are asked to learn times tables in this country, but I don't know of any primary schools where the say the times tables aloud day after day, in a parrot-fashion. I know some very bright children, who, if you asked, 9x8, would have to think about it, rather than tell you the answer instantly.

Japan has one of the highest literacy rates in the world (over 99%) and has very high numeracy rates too, at aged 15. Japanese children who stay of for the equivalent of our sixth-form, must take maths, Japanese literature and English.

SpiritOfTheBuskersCat Tue 08-Oct-13 17:31:35

I'm well educated and can't do times tables in my head without using my fingers. As for not being able to read, I lay the blame squarely at the doors of the parents

LRDtheFeministDragon Tue 08-Oct-13 17:31:44

Why would you want children to parrot their times tables, though?

Yes, of course it looks very impressive, but it's not helpful if children don't also learn. And there is a finite amount of time in a school day, so if children are learning to do one thing, they are not learning to do another.

I agree with elasta about possible downsides. I know a couple of people who teach maths at university level, and they have definitely had the problems you describe, with students who, on paper, are very good at maths but who have been disadvantaged relative to UK students by their education, in that they were not encouraged to think in particular ways.

I think it's too easy to say the grass is always greener.

FreckledLeopard Tue 08-Oct-13 17:39:29

Obviously parents play an enormous role. But a lot of parents don't have the language skills, the education themselves, or somtimes, the inclination to help their children learn. At which point the English school system falls down as there's only so much school can do to teach a child, particularly if that child isn't very bright. At least with a rote learning model, a child has a chance of being able to grasp basic maths and english and build on this knowledge.

lljkk Tue 08-Oct-13 17:40:23

How is Japanese parenting so different?
I have a weird feeling that it's one of those places where 90% of parents get tutors in for their kids at some point or another. So in fact, they don't believe in their own education system either. In spite of like... 48 weeks/yr of schooling?

WilsonFrickett Tue 08-Oct-13 17:40:24

Our primary school 'parrot' their times tables. Actually, they sing them, it just sounds like parrots.

I think you are taking your experience of one school and extending it to all schools. The children you are being asked to help are clearly the children with poor role models, low expectations and little home support. That's why you're in doing what you're doing. And I presume you're not there all day - there's probably a bit of parroting going on when you're back at work, no?

Jinsei Tue 08-Oct-13 17:52:34

Japan is a much more egalitarian society than the UK, and there is not such a big issue with social mobility. This, in turn, probably has an impact on parental aspirations for their children and on the value that is placed on education.

Japanese schools do spend quite a lot of time on rote learning, but they also invest a huge amount in the personal, social and moral development of their children, which may also impact on aspirations and motivation etc. in a positive way.

In recent years, there has been much more of a push in Japanese education towards developing creativity in children and young people. The stereotype that they have of themselves as a nation is that they are not sufficiently innovative, though I'm not sure that this is actually borne out in reality. There is also a very strong push towards the development of critical thinking skills, so if anything, they're keen to move away from rote learning.

I think there is a place for rote learning, and for ensuring that all kids know the basics. However, I don't support the emphasis that Gove places on rote learning at all, and I wish he would leave the decision-making to people who actually know what they're talking about!

Bodicea Tue 08-Oct-13 17:54:04

I used to live I Japan and their system is very flawed - it is all about learning and regurgitating information and their is No room for creativity at all. They are not taught to be open minded critical thinkers - they are absolutely useless at learning other languages ( not that we are great but that is for different reasons). They have to put serious hours in to stand a chance of getting into university and their university set their career course for life.
I felt really sorry for the teenagers. They are absolutely lovely people but No I wouldn't want my children being taught in the Japanese system at all. It is not for no reason that their has only been one Japanese Nobel prize winner ever.
We are crap at a lot of things in this country but we are one if the most creative, pioneering countries in the world.

Jinsei Tue 08-Oct-13 17:55:49

lljkk, kids don't have 48 weeks of school a year, but they do tend to rely heavily on tutoring. Not sure if that's because the parents don't trust schools or whether it's just because it's the done thing - I suspect the latter. The evening cram schools are where a lot of the rote learning takes place.

RedHelenB Tue 08-Oct-13 18:00:18

It is a myth that all 97 year olds have good numeracy & literacy skills.

TEErickOrTEEreat Tue 08-Oct-13 18:02:18

I'm 44 I don't know my times table.

Sirzy Tue 08-Oct-13 18:02:29

I think that sort of pressure on children would only serve to make things worse rather than better.

MrsKoala Tue 08-Oct-13 18:03:49

How old are you Freckled? No one of my generation that i know learned their tables and i was at primary 30yrs ago. This is not a new thing as far as i'm aware. There are more important than rote learning. I live in place with a huge amount of people from cultures who rote learned and one of the main issues is inability to problem solve and think creatively and independently.

MrsKoala Tue 08-Oct-13 18:05:26

Oh and constant testing is awful, i have worked in schools where they spend far too long just coaching kids on how to pass a test. And let's face it, you don't fatten a pig buy weighing it all the time.

PeppiNephrine Tue 08-Oct-13 18:06:00

Agree with the point though that critical thinking and imagination aren't worth much if you can't read or write to a standard high enough to make use of them. As for teaching them to be open-minded...there seems to be a lot of people in the UK that are far too open-minded, with many having interests in homeopathy and tarot and crystal healing...there is obviously something very wrong with science teaching for a start!

JenaiMorris Tue 08-Oct-13 18:06:32

No, I've not read the thread in its entirety but this time, I don't actually set much store by the OECD's figures.

Firstly, because my experience doesn't reflect the headline.

Secondly, because 60 yos have had several more decades in which to develop their literacy and numeracy. The comparison between adults and their peers in other countries doesn't hold water either, because it's a shoddy baseline.

Lies, damn lies and statistics, etc.

gordyslovesheep Tue 08-Oct-13 18:07:03

I studied comparative education for my Degree (and yes I count times tables on my fingers and I can never manage the 7's) - japan produced followers - not leaders, not creative thinkers or employees who would challenge their bosses and develop new ways of doing things (in general)

Education should not just be learning facts - you don't get new ideas from simply teaching old ones.

stargirl1701 Tue 08-Oct-13 18:10:28

I think Japan also has a very high suicide rate. It doesn't have an ideal culture to emulate, IMO.

Thisisaeuphemism Tue 08-Oct-13 18:12:22

Agree with bodecia- the Japanese educational system isn't one to aspire too, plus wouldn't work here.

The stats ring true to me though; the people in that age group I know well (3 DNs and 1dss) have been let down massively educationally and despite their gcses can barely read or write.

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