Asian culture: Struggling shows strength

A Marxist slogan popular in my college days — Dare to struggle, dare to win! — applies to education, according to an NPR story. Struggling in school is seen as a problem in the U.S., but not in Asia.

“I think that from very early ages we [in America] see struggle as an indicator that you’re just not very smart,” Stigler says. “It’s a sign of low ability — people who are smart don’t struggle, they just naturally get it, that’s our folk theory. Whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity.”

In Eastern cultures, Stigler says, it’s just assumed that struggle is a predictable part of the learning process. . . . struggling becomes a chance to show that you, the student, have what it takes emotionally to resolve the problem by persisting through that struggle.

In a study, Stigler asked first-grade students to solve an impossible math problem to see how long they’d struggle with it. In the U.S., the average was less than 30 seconds.  The Japanese students worked for an hour, until researchers told them to stop.

U.S. teachers should teach students to struggle, Stigler believes.

 . . .  in the Japanese classrooms that he’s studied, teachers consciously design tasks that are slightly beyond the capabilities of the students they teach, so the students can actually experience struggling with something just outside their reach. Then, once the task is mastered, the teachers actively point out that the student was able to accomplish it through the students hard work and struggle.

“And I just think that especially in schools, we don’t create enough of those experiences, and then we don’t point them out clearly enough.”

Getting parents to change their beliefs about learning will be difficult. Americans try to build their children’s confidence by telling them they’re smart or talented. “As soon as they encounter a something that’s difficult for them to do, that confidence evaporates,” says psychologist Carol Dweck. Praising the struggle –  “Boy, you worked on that a long time and you really learned how to do it” — gives children the confidence to cope with difficulties.

Schleicher: China’s students are ‘remarkable’

China: The world’s cleverest country? asks the BBC. Shanghai students ace PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment). Now Andreas Schleicher, who runs PISA for the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) says Chinese students all over the country excel in reading, math and science.

“Even in rural areas and in disadvantaged environments, you see a remarkable performance.”

In particular, he said the test results showed the “resilience” of pupils to succeed despite tough backgrounds – and the “high levels of equity” between rich and poor pupils.

. . . “In China, the idea is so deeply rooted that education is the key to mobility and success.”

The results for disadvantaged pupils would be the envy of any Western country, he says.

Asian culture encourages students to work hard, Schleicher tells the BBC.

“North Americans tell you typically it’s all luck. ‘I’m born talented in mathematics, or I’m born less talented so I’ll study something else.’

“In Europe, it’s all about social heritage: ‘My father was a plumber so I’m going to be a plumber’.

“In China, more than nine out of 10 children tell you: ‘It depends on the effort I invest and I can succeed if I study hard.’

“They take on responsibility. They can overcome obstacles and say ‘I’m the owner of my own success’, rather than blaming it on the system.”

The high-scoring Asian countries expect all students to succeed, Schleicher believes. School is not a “sorting mechanism” to find the brightest students.

I’m surprised to hear China described as an egalitarian education system. China’s best (and most politically connected) students attend well-funded  “key” or “super” schools, which lead to top universities, complains this China.org story. Rural students are disadvantaged.