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We've done crap again in the international education league.

(201 Posts)
mrswarbouys Tue 03-Dec-13 13:08:47

Leading to lots of talk on radio today with politicians spouting their lofty rhetoric and pointless statistics. What I'd like to know is what do people believe could be the reason why we're doing so badly?

Two main things came to mind from my experience ....

Firstly I heard a politician speculating on what they might be getting right in Finland, without mentioning their fantastic early years provision (I've worked in the early years sector for 20 years and know there are studies showing what a huge effect good early years provision makes throughout education and into adulthood) Finland, similar to other Scandinavian countries, starts formal education a little later but has incredibly well resourced child care/ early years provision, including great work with the young in forest schools and outside play.

Secondly I lived in Japan for a year and saw how positive and confident my friend's children were about tackling some maths homework. Very anecdotal I know, but I wonder if there is a different culture around maths, with so many children here seeming to write it off as a difficult subject and something they're "no good at"

Rosieres Tue 03-Dec-13 16:21:32

Whenever the PISA scores come out I tend to hear those on the left argue for a Finnish system (start school aged 7, long holidays, learning through play, etc.), which is criticised by those on the right as being too laissez-faire, soft and impractical to combine with modern working family life. And those on the right tend to argue for an East Asian model (strict discipline, drilled in technical subjects, long hours, start young, etc.), with the left pointing out that this knocks creativity out of the individuals and creates a lot of stress among the children. Anyone thinking about what to do in the British situation is presented with two mutually exclusive models and will be damned whichever way they move.

I discussed this recently with a relative who is a retired Education Professor, who has studied education in many different cultures, including Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, USA, Brazil and many places across Europe. He told me that education needs to build on the positives in local culture. In the Far East they have a Confucian/Taoist culture where they revere their ancestors, respect their elders, obey authority and do what they are told (in broad terms!). So you can manage an education system where the children will respect their teachers, do as they are told and can be drilled to do very complex tasks. But they aren't as strong on creative problem solving, and ironically often look to the British education system for ways to improve in this area. In Finland there is a Lutheran culture, with a high respect for literacy - historically you had to be able to sign your name to get married, regular Bible reading was seen as important and with lots of long winter nights you don't have much else to do but stay inside and read. So the Finns have a culture which highly values literacy, and consequently have built up a strong cultural value for education.

To try and copy either model and impose it on the British system would be a mistake, because it would not take into account British culture. Instead, you should analyse what is positive in British culture and work out how it can be capitalised on when we teach our children.

So, what do you think is strong in British culture that we can build on in our education system?

Talkinpeace Tue 03-Dec-13 16:23:36

The UK leads the world in design engineering and much other design : bar none - for a long time
not a bad export industry and sign of good cross curricular creative thinking

Rosieres Tue 03-Dec-13 16:27:21

Talkinpeace - totally agree. I think creativity is something we are very good at, whether it's design engineering, media creativity (we export an awful lot of TV and media concepts) or scientific research.

Perhaps there's something in the British acceptance of eccentricity, thinking outside the box and individuality which we can maximise on.

soul2000 Tue 03-Dec-13 16:32:52

Talkinpeace. I think "Roy Hodgson" needs to contact you for advice on excuses , when England lose their three group games.

It was too hot?

The food was Rubbish?

Perhaps it was the time difference?

Or maybe it was because they were not good enough to compete at the World Cup.

Every educational survey that comes out keeps putting the U.K below the serious countries (EXCEPT USA). You only need to watch BILL O' REILLY once to work out why the USA comes below the UK.

Talkinpeace Tue 03-Dec-13 16:37:04

I was born in the USA - if China had been forced to include data from its backwaters they would have outweighed Shanghai, same as hicksville outweighed Boston.

and frankly if England keep losing they might take football off the telly and then kids might start working in school rather than thinking they are the next Rooney. (fingers crossed)

Very interesting Rosieres, but I'd like to add that I worked in a Japanese Nursery/ Infant school and the younger children were treated quite gently and liberally, for example were not told off for running in the corridors.
I understand that at home too young Japanese children are very much allowed to be children during infancy, with the high expectations only coming in as children get older.
I think we need more study of educational and cultural differences in different countries. I think this area of research seems to be under explored from discussions I hear on the subject. Decisions made do not seem to be thoroughly grounded in relevant research.

Rosieres Tue 03-Dec-13 16:45:35

Juggling - interesting to hear about your experience in Japan. My relative has done some work in Japan and notes they are doing a lot right with regards to teaching maths (his specialism), although he cites Singapore as being even more on the ball. Other East Asian cultures are very good at drilling process into kids but don't necessarily get the conceptual flexibility which British kids are better at.

I am aware that my relative gave a very broad analysis during our brief conversation, and summing up about different cultures was broad brush. But it struck me how sensible it was to look at the local culture underlying an education system, and how too often the discussion assumes you could set up a Finnish or East Asian model in the UK and replicate their outcomes. Cultural differences would undermine this, hence why I believe we need to look at what is strong in the UK and see how we can build on those strengths.

I'm sure that's true Rosieres, especially when you recognise that children's first and most important educators are their parents.

I think creativity is one good call regarding what's best about British strengths and culture - am thinking we have a wealth of fabulous children's literature (for one thing) which we should be sharing and celebrating more confidently with our children in schools (and at home) during their early years particularly.

Talkinpeace Tue 03-Dec-13 16:54:49

Japan has the mother of all demographic time bombs brewing.
They put lots of effort into each child because there are proportionately so few of them.

Korea has created an economic time bomb as there are not enough good "chaebol" jobs to go round and the very narrow skill set of Korean graduates is not in demand elsewhere

Talkinpeace Tue 03-Dec-13 17:04:41

Japan's population "pyramid" for reference ....
unless they start to encourage immigration, their economy is even more doomed than the UKs!

monet3 Tue 03-Dec-13 17:06:10

Talkingpeace, Im not English and my DH is Asian so I know how hard asian children work. I was talking about Eastern Europeans, my SIL lives in Birmingham in her DD class (year 2)there is not one native English speaker the children cant communicate with the teacher yet alone learn.

Talkinpeace Tue 03-Dec-13 17:09:04

WOW, that's a sweeping generalisation based on third hand hearsay.

monet3 Tue 03-Dec-13 17:12:07

Yes, I bet many of the children have great English by Y2 even if English is an additional language for all - young children pick up languages so well
(a generalisation, but I think this one is based on fact!)

florence96 Tue 03-Dec-13 17:17:31

I despair, yet again as soon as a report indicates that there may be something amiss with the UK's education system, educationalists immediately phew, phew it and insist all is rosy in the garden. It would be nice if for once the interests of all children were put first.

monet3 Tue 03-Dec-13 17:18:05

A quick google will tell you it is not a generalisation, Talking.

I think immigration is good for the country generally children from poorer backgrounds have drive and determination to succeed.

OneLittleToddleTerror Tue 03-Dec-13 17:21:00

Rosieres What an insightful post. You have summarised what I had in mind eloquently. I despair every time Gove tried to say something about copying the Far East because I know about the cultural differences. As you say, things like respect your teacher, do as you are told, and valuing academic achievements.

So, what do you think is strong in British culture that we can build on in our education system? I think the British are especially good at thinking for themselves and not afraid of challenging authority. This is a great foundation of a creative workforce.

Talkinpeace Tue 03-Dec-13 17:26:01

The schools in Birmingham with very high English not as first language (over 95%) are predominantly Asian, not Polish.
And I find it highly unlikely that an Asian school will not have Asian teachers in an Asian area.

I happen to live in a city that is 10% east European : and they are much harder workers than the local whites. Both the adults and the kids. They are bringing the results up not pulling them down.

Speaking as an immigrant, I think they are rather good for the UK smile

wordfactory Tue 03-Dec-13 17:29:31

I think the report is interesting and certainly throws up some areas where we need to work.

Noneed to panic, but sticking our fingers in our ears is just idiotic!

Indy5 Tue 03-Dec-13 17:32:09


Eastern European primary children, eg where large majority are Polish, Latvians etc. will not be bringing the stats down, if anything as they will be bringing them up as they progress ...there are certain minorities that are less culturally academic - so you can't even say all Asian cultures are more academic as that is too general - you have to look at pockets, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian as well as other groups and the cultures can be quite different at home ...and certain poor white working class who will also bring the figures down. Its also not true that all immigrants from poorer backgrounds have drive and determination to succeed - it needs a far deeper dive than these sweeping general googled statements.

SuburbanRhonda Tue 03-Dec-13 17:32:49

According to the BBC, Indonesia scores the lowest in these rankings, yet is the country where the highest proportion of children say they are happiest in school.

The least happy pupils are in high-performing Korea.

I know what I would prefer for my children.

Talkinpeace Tue 03-Dec-13 17:38:44

throws up some areas where we need to work

Sadly Gove's dismantling of education networks and focussing on support for those who already look after themselves is exactly the wrong direction to be heading.

The USAs figures are dragged down by poor school boards.
So the way up is to help them, not allow the Massachusetts boards to pull even further ahead.

Those who ARE already achieving their best cannot be expected to do even better to drag up the average.
That can only be done by helping those who are under achieving.
The pupil premium is a step in the right direction.
Segregated state funded schooling of any kind is not.

teacherwith2kids Tue 03-Dec-13 17:42:06

It seems to me a bit like an Ofsted 'Requires Improvement' for a very inclusive school with a comprehensive intake [because as others have pointed out, much of the PISA data is not remotely comparable across countrues].

A HT saying 'ah, we only got that because Ofsted is wrong' is missing the point, but so would a HT be who said 'since we are not Outstanding, everything that we do is dreadful'.

What matters is digging down into the data and reading the fine print. What did we do well? What did we do less well? Would it help our children in their future lives if we can improve some of the things that we do less well? Or are we OK with some of the things that we do less well because we understand that they are a necessary consequence of principles we hold very dear (e.g. inclusion) and so we aren't going to change them?

It is that detailed type of debate that is needed.

wordfactory Tue 03-Dec-13 17:48:16

Completely agree with that teacher.

The stance that the sky is falling in, or that our DC will all commit suicide if we pay this any mind, are both silly.

Quite often one can look at what another country is doing well and look at it in detail, to see where we might be able to apply some ideas in the UK. No one is suggesting that we co op the Korea model wholesale, but it seems foolish to simply dismiss it.

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