Britain looks East for better schools

Longer school days and shorter holidays would help British students catch up with  Asian students, Education Secretary Michael Gove said at an education conference in London.

“If you look at the length of the school day in England, the length of the summer holiday, and we compare it to the extra tuition and support that children are receiving elsewhere, then we are fighting or actually running in this global race in a way that ensures that we start with a significant handicap.”

Gove should “know how boring and soul-sapping rote-learning can be,” responds Clarissa Tam, a graduate of Singapore schools.

Does he know how the emphasis on science, maths and IT can turn students into little robots, affecting particularly those of a more creative bent?

. . . The intense pressure to excel means students often study not for the joy of succeeding, but from the fear of failing. In Singapore they have a term for it — kiasu, which means ‘scared to lose’.

And yet, the drive for excellence can be empowering, Tam writes. When she faces challenges, she recalls that “my parents, my teachers, even my schoolmates have always expected more of me than I have of myself.”

I have even, somewhat to my own disgust, come to appreciate the emphasis on the rigour of science and maths, and even on the importance of rote-learning and putting certain things to memory. At the risk of sounding like a headmistress — discipline and structure must be inculcated, whereas creativity is often innate or inborn. Here’s the thing: once you have the structure, you can pile all the artistic sensitivity you like on top, free as you please. But without any proper foundation, all creativity is for naught.

Gove’s “Look East” policy comes at a time when many Asian countries are looking West in search of “inventiveness, originality and lateral thinking,” she writes. Singapore has created arts and drama schools and is “introducing more project- and team-based work as well as teaching formats such as show-and-tell.”

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  1. I’d be interested to see a demographic breakdown on how far behind the Brits are.

    Is it that the upper and middle classes are behind, or that the permanent underclass is behind? It’s unclear that signapore-style schools would work for the kids whose parents aren’t that interested in education….

  2. British students are not going to be catching up with East Asian students. The average IQ in South Korea and Japan is about 107-108. Although we need more data on the Han Chinese IQ it probably is fairly similar.
    Traits such as conscientiousness, conformity, creativity (i.e. psychopathy), etc. have like IQ a substantial genetic component and the frequently noticed average differences between European descended and East Asian descended populations are primarily genetic.
    Of course in all large populations some individuals will be very far from the mean. So you can have 7 foot Chinese basketball players but it is still true that on average East Asians are shorter, more intelligent and less psychopathic
    (ie creative) than whites.

  3. “introducing more project- and team-based work as well as teaching formats such as show-and-tell.”

    Nothing encourages original, out of the box thinking more than subjecting creative kids to immediate judgment of their ideas by their peers in a group setting. Nope, nothing.