Hard working, high scoring — and creative

“Let others have the higher test scores” on international exams, says anti-reformer Diane Ravitch. “I prefer to bet on the creative, can-do spirit of the American people.” 

It’s a false tradeoff, argues Brandon Wright on Flypaper. Those hard-working, high-scoring Koreans and Japanese could be just as innovative as Americans.  

Bloomberg News lists the most innovative countries in the world based on factors including R&D intensity, productivity, high-tech density and percentage of researchers. The U.S. is third, but look at who’s number one.

  1. South Korea (score: 92.10)
  2. Sweden (score: 90.80)
  3. United States (score: 90.69)
  4. Japan (score: 90.41)
  5. Germany (score: 88.23)

Yes, it’s those cram-schooled, stress-crazed Koreans who’ve built a thriving economy out of the ruins of war.

South Korea — often ridiculed for working its students too hard and robbing them of creative, independent thought — might be the most innovative country in the world. Japan, subject to similar derision, slides in comfortably at number four.

“Rigid” Germany — one of only three countries whose PISA math and equity scores have improved since 2003 — is number five on Bloomberg’s list.

“No trade-offs between academic performance and innovation are obvious,” Wright concludes.

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  1. Not much ir really known about “creativity” unlike IQ which has been studied for almost a century now. So most statements about “creativity” rest on little empirical support. Richard Lynn believes that “creativity” as a personality trait is essentially identical with psychopathy.

    • It’s something of a nonsensical measure of creativity. It is arguably more a measure of whether a nation has the infrastructure in place to support industrial innovation. Patent activity does not necessarily reflect innovation in any sense that actually contributes to the economy, while in important sectors such as food, textiles and transportation very few innovations are patented. A measure of products with high R&D intensity as a percentage of manufactured exports does not take into consideration where the R&D occurred, so a nation that manufactures high tech goods can get a boost from having a cheap labor pool that other nations utilize to manufacture high tech items. Also, some creative industries are conspicuously omitted from the measure because in large part they don’t involve patents, research, or manufacturing. The entertainment industry, for example, largely doesn’t factor in.

      If we need a measure of industrial creativity, you have to start somewhere, but the Bloomberg number does not support the contention that South Korean schools foster creativity. Correlation is not causation, even if we assume the number is accurate. School performance, you will note, isn’t even on Bloomberg’s list.

  2. cranberry says:

    So the US is doing much, much better than its scores on international tests would lead one to believe.

    Bloomberg’s definition of “innovation” adds up to: measures of national high tech industry’s share in the national economy as a whole.

    That isn’t creativity. Sorry.

    As tens of thousands of Korean families choose to send their children abroad for education, often beginning in elementary school, I would not choose their school system as a model.


  3. PhillipMarlowe says:

    SEOUL: Nearly 140 South Korean school students killed themselves in 2012, according to a new government report that cited family problems, depression and exam stress as the main triggers.
    The report, published this week by the Education Ministry, covered all students from elementary to high school.

    The figure of 139 suicides recorded last year was the lowest for three years, but still worryingly high in a country with one of the world’s highest overall suicide rates.

    Of the total, 88 were high school students, 48 from middle school and just three from elementary school.

    About 40 percent were motivated by family-related problems, while 16 percent were triggered by depression and 11.5 percent by exam-related stress.

    Dozens of teenagers kill themselves every year around the time of South Korea’s hyper-competitive college entrance exam, unable to cope with the intense scholastic and parental pressure to secure a place in a top university.

    Last year’s student suicide figure compared with 202 suicides in 2009, 146 in 2010 and 150 in 2011.
    South Korea has the highest suicide rate among members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, with an average of 33.5 people per 100,000 taking their lives in 2010, far higher than Hungary (23.3) and Japan (21.2) which ranked second and third.

    The figure for South Korea equates to nearly 50 suicides a day and shows a steep increase from 2000 when the average incidence of suicide was 13.6 people per 100,000.

    The capital Seoul has installed anti-suicide monitoring devices on bridges over the Han river after 196 people jumped to their deaths last year.


  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    As with most things having to do with human society, we need a definition. Number of patents. Number of patents per capita. Per college grad. Per college grad born in the USA.
    Various social and political arrangements and frequency of change.
    Effectiveness of self-ordering, spontaneous group activity. “Little platoons”? Tocqueville’s view. Sheep. Decision making pushed up or down/ How far? Results?

    My experience with foreign exchange students (AFS), is that they are usually surprised at how many ways Americans are free to, among other things, mess themselves up. Only exception is drinking, which shocks them.