The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda Riply provides insight into why students from South Korea, Finland, and Poland do well on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam, and have the brightest school children and the best education systems in the world.
I read a synopsis of the book on Blinkist, a subscription service that provides synopses of many non-fiction books. If you love non-fiction, Blinkist is great. It provides an easy way to explore books on a variety of topics.
A previous post of mine, Teach Like Finland, talked a bit about the PISA exam. It assesses critical thinking in three areas – reading, math, and science.
So, what makes South Korea, Poland, and Finland the best?
South Korea has a strong testing culture and many after-school programs. Students are in some form of classroom instruction until 10pm. There are also only a few premiere universities that set the path for students to get the best jobs. Competition is intense.
South Korean parents act as coaches whereas, as the book states, American parents act as cheerleaders. South Korean parents drill and push their children as a football coach might push his or her athletes to get better. American parents encourage their children to do better.
I think a mixture of both behaviors can lead to good results. My dad was a self-learner and passed that gift on to me. He always encouraged me to learn. With that said, it would not have been a bad idea for my dad to have me discuss what I was learning and to test me to see if I was learning what I was supposed to be learning. A bit of pressure and someone to keep you on track is not a bad thing.
Schools in Poland have standardized tests. Unlike the US, however, teachers have the freedom to determine how to teach and what resources are needed to ensure that their students pass the exam. For example, teachers can choose which textbooks to use. This is an excellent idea because teaching is a diverse art and should not be left to one methodology or pre-chosen textbooks.
There is a common saying in the US that those that can’t do, teach. I’m not sure where it originated, but it does provide an unflattering opinion about the teaching profession. Do we want our education system to be known as the place where people who can’t do, work? Do we want our students to view the teaching profession as the job market for those that can’t do?
Anyone in the US can study to become a teacher. However, to get into law school, you need to pass the LSAT, the Law School Admission Test. It makes sense. I want my lawyer to have a high level of intelligence. If you want to become a doctor, you need to pass the MCAT, the Medical College Admission Test. I believe we can all agree that that is a good idea.
Finland requires students who want to teach to pass an entrance exam to pursue a teaching degree. It is a demanding exam and 80% of the students who take this exam are rejected. This sends a message about Finnish society, how they view the teaching profession and the importance of education.
These are just some of the reasons. I’ve always been an optimist so I believe we can improve the US education system. Good ideas can come from anywhere. Let's learn and improve.