PISA 2015 II: more on Asia  

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After , here we expand on our knowledge of the top-performing Asian countries, which share some important characteristics.

PISA toppings: tops in maths, tops in reading, tops in scienceI spoke to people from each of the top countries (some visited) and in some instances I dated them. It’s something I do.

I don't remember dating a Chinese woman ever, and that's good for the purposes of this article, as China dropped in rankings after cities besides Shanghai were included. It’s as if in the past Romania would only participate in PISA with Bucharest schools.

Interestingly, almost all Asian countries have humongous class sizes, but they also have an ingredient missing from the Western PIZZA: discipline.


Singapore is an outlier, because it is a corporatist/fascistpaternalist (ec-sipat) island-city-state where you go to jail if you chew gum on the street, and where the feeble opposition was embroiled artificially in corruption trials lasting decades (sounds familiar?). The Singapore girl I talked to told me that her family was fishing for survival not many generations ago and saw things change very quickly, but they have a Chinese outlook on life, which means work hard and don’t question your leaders. Singapore’s growing power enabled it to assert it in ways inconceivable only a few decades ago, for instance by challenging the concept of diplomatic immunity more so than even Canada.

But rather than politics, we should focus on what we can learn from their education system. Apart from having just one city do PISA.

Senior education correspondent Sandra Davie writes in the main newspaper (st-sing) that it's not about money, rote learning (“toceala”) or after-school preparation (she calls it "tuition" while in Romania it's called "meditatii"), that technology and computers do not improve outcomes, that class size does not matter, that private schools are irrelevant if the public system works, that quality of teachers and parental involvement + high expectations are most important and, last but not least, the effort and time spent are far more important than inherited intelligence.

For one, Pisa has shown that rote-learning and hours of tuition do not work.

The top placings of East Asian nations, including Singapore, were initially attributed by some detractors to rote-learning and the many hours of tuition that Asian students receive outside school hours. However, Pisa has shown no positive correlation between tuition and performance. (..)

It's also not about money. Pisa studies comparing student scores with spending per student explain only about less than 20 per cent of the performance variation among countries. Also countries with similar spending achieve very different results. Pisa results also show that parents sending their children to private schools are wasting their money. In countries where a substantial proportion of students attend private schools, pupils in public schools score lower in science than students in private schools. But this is not the case once you take into account the socio-economic background of the pupils.

Parents here and in many other Asian nations clamour for smaller class sizes, but Pisa data again shows that it is not about smaller class sizes. The top-performing East Asian nations have larger classes.


Another useful insight from the Pisa data: computers and classroom technology do not improve student performance.

The study, done last year, found "no appreciable improvements" in reading, mathematics or science in countries that invested heavily in information technology. In fact, the frequent use of computers in school is more likely to be associated with lower marks,

Of the seven territories that had the highest levels of Internet use in school, three - Australia, New Zealand and Sweden - were found to have "significant declines" in reading performance, while another three - Spain, Norway and Denmark - had results that had "stagnated".

The territories with the lowest levels of Internet use in school - South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan - are among the top performers in international tests.

In Singapore, students who reported that they "never or hardly ever" browse the Internet for schoolwork in school, performed the best in the digital reading test. They scored more than 30 points better than students who reported browsing the Internet in school "at least once a week".

Similarly, students who reported that computers are not used in maths classes scored the highest in the computer-based maths test.

So, what counts in raising standards?


What six cycles of Pisa data have also shown is that the quality of teachers and the learning environment matter. Also, in top-performing countries, importance is placed on education.

Pisa officials have noted the high expectations that Asian parents and teachers have of their young charges. There is also a strong belief that all children are capable of success and education will help them achieve success.

Pisa surveys on student attitudes in learning mathematics, for example, have shown that student attitudes and motivations matter. Students who believe that they can improve their mathematics skills through more practice and effort tend to do better in the subject than students who put it down to innate ability.

As Dr Schleicher told The Straits Times: "Students in North America would tell us that talent counts. If I'm not born a genius in maths, I'd better study something else. But the majority of students in Asian countries such as Singapore would say that it depends on how much time they spend, and how much effort they put in. "So for them, their achievement depends on how much time and effort they put in, rather than inherited intelligence, which suggests that education and its social context can make a difference in instilling values that foster success in education."


There is another Pisa finding that is significant for Singapore in the light of the debate on PSLE.

Although the MOE has announced changes to the PSLE scoring system to reduce the competition and stress, many have asked if children as young as 12 should be subjected to a high-stakes examination - and one that routes them into different paths in secondary school, at that.

Singapore, despite its high scores, should look to Estonia, Finland and Canada. Many here have suggested routing students into technical or academic paths at age 15 or 16 instead. These countries show that streaming children into academic or vocational streams may work better at a later age.

Pisa has also found that when pupils are diverted from academic tracks at an early age, whether towards a vocational school or a less rigorous stream, it widens the gap between rich and poor children.

Take the Netherlands, for example. Pupils at its vocational schools have results equivalent to about three years less of schooling than their peers at general schools.

Nothing above is surprising. Studies have shown for a long time that Internet and computers are a distraction and do not belong in the classroom.

Yet there are also those who beg to differ. In an editorial back in 2014 (tgm-edi) The Globe attributes South Korea’s success to tech in the classroom, and also tells us that Herr Schleicher was moved to a private school when he was 10, which worked out well for him.

South Korea has also made huge strides in education, by incorporating technology into classrooms. In the 1990s, the country launched a master plan to provide every teacher with a computer and every classroom with internet access. In 2005 it launched a “Cyber Home Learning System” that gives students home access to digital tutoring. Then in 2011, it plowed $2.4 billion dollars into digitizing the country’s entire school curriculum by 2015. By then, South Korean students won’t be using traditional textbooks, they’ll have interactive ones with content that can be continually updated. In the 2012 PISA rankings, Korean students ranked 5th in math and reading and 7th in science. Not bad for a country that, not long ago, was considered a developing one.


Back to Mr. Schleicher. At the age of ten, he was doing so poorly in German public school that his teacher found him ‘unfit’ to move onto an academic secondary school. Furious at the prospect his son would be streamed into vocational training, his father pulled him out and enrolled him in a private Waldorf academy, where he thrived. He earned top marks on his entrance exams to college, and went on to study physics and mathematics.

Technology may help, but teacher quality and involved parents are perhaps the critical factors of success. And, as far as Herr Schleicher is concerned, it may be not so much that private schools are better, but that the German system was streaming too early.


Japan, mon amour (10 –s, 12 +s), is known as the Britain of Asia, meaning that they are imperialist/expansionist with an insular/exceptionalist mentality. It is also known as exceptionally quirky and unique, especially toilets. But really, how different is it? Judge for yourself with videos: 3rd grade homework, Japanese Elementary, US v Japan, school lunch.

I haven’t talked much about education with any of my Japanese ex-girlfriends, but I watched with at least one of them one of the many KoroSensei Assassination Class movies. Japanese culture is full of such explorations of subconscious desires and this education-induced capitulation in front of authority combined with the inherent hatred of it (the French call it l’esprit de fronde) is what makes the series popular. The country that gave the world the tentacle rape has also given the world the tentacled teacher, who challenges students to kill him. He’s a supermaster of martial arts and he’s effortlessly better/faster than them in anything they attempts. After his surviving, the class stands up and salutes politely.

Even the acts of assertion of individualism are somehow collective: upon graduating high-school, almost all Japanese students dye their hair.

Another feature of Japanese education is getting students, from a young age, to clean their classroom, while also providing independence in ways unheard of in the West. I used to think that [cleaning] was only for the students of karate, to show respect for the dojo, but it’s universal. Consequently, all proprietors of hostels, throughout the world, prefer to hire Japanese people for cleaning duties.

LE: And now, they're cleaning up the space junk. Also, an old yearbook has listed for Phillis Belle Johnson's ambition "to murder the faculty".

Have you ever thought about killing your diriga? Unless you have a selective memory, now you know you’re not alone.


But what’s the main difference between Eastern and Western schooling?

Firstly, the Eastern educational system is far more competitive, owing partly to denser and younger demographics. Students often commit suicide due to being unable to cope with the school pressure. If they manage to survive school, they might not survive karoshi.

(Yet that does not seem to apply to penguins. In Japan, they happily move around dressed in Santas while in Canada, they’re seemingly suicidal.)

Secondly, what I have repeatedly heard from both Chinese and Japanese friends is that teachers in the Far East work harder, doing more for their students and preparing their lesson in more detail, while expecting more discipline. Exactly how this goes I could not really tell you, but I’ve also been told by Canadians, Americans and Australians who went there to teach English that this kind of work was far more difficult and demanding than they expected. It’s thus possible that Western individualism, in its opposition to Eastern Confucianism / collectivism starts early, in school.

Thirdly and most importantly, whereas the Western education system is moving toward emphasizing individualism and choice, the Eastern one is retaining its collectivist / group effort characteristics.

It is mainly this last trait that disqualifies Asia as an example for Romania – that would never work and would never make us part of Schengen, unless that’s reinterpreted to become Shenzhen or Shanghai.

Time to move on to conclusions (or read the first part, introductory, if you haven’t).

Sources / More info: st-sing, tgm-edi, ec-sipat

Thank you for reading (mulţam fain pentru cetire)! Publicat Friday, December 09, 2016 . Similar articles under the following categories (poţi găsi articole similare sub următoarele categorii): (Subscribe), (Subscribe) . Dacă ţi-a plăcut articolul, PinIt-uieste-l, ReddIt-eaza-l, stumble-uieste-l altora, trimite-l pe WhatsApp yMess şi consideră abonarea la fluxul RSS sau prin email. Ma poti de asemenea gasi pe Google. Trackback poateputea fi trimis prin URL-ul de sub Comentarii.
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