Finland proves the education lie

Hank Pellissier at GreatSchools examines the education system of over-achiever South Korea:

…South Korea is often regarded, along with Finland, as one of the two premier K-12 education systems in the world — in no small part due to the spectacular academic performance of its students. According to a 2006 survey by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which evaluates the scholastic performance of 15-year-olds in 57 nations every three years, South Koreans rank first in reading, third in math (tied with Hong Kong), and 10th in science (tied with Liechtenstein). More than 97% of South Koreans graduate from high school, the highest graduation rate in the world.

South Korea emulates the pressure-cooker classroom environment common in Japanese schools:

South Koreans attend school 220 days per year, almost two months more than the 180 days of Americans. (The Japanese enroll an astonishing 243 days per annum; South Korea abdicated first place in 2005 when its students ceased going to school half days on Saturday.) What distinguishes South Koreans from everyone else, however, is the immense number of hours they study outside the classroom. High schoolers, and even middle schoolers, in South Korea are often engaged in scholastics until midnight or 2 a.m. After taking classes in up to 11 subjects, they attend private academies called “hagwons” where they obtain supplemental learning. The bottom line? Most South Korean children spend 13 hours a day or more with their bottoms glued to a chair.

Should Western schools try to emulate this intensity in an attempt to match South Korea’s outstanding performance? The answer is a resounding NO. Finland offers a far better model.

Although these grueling schedules help South Korea’s high test scores, the nation is remarkably inefficient at another PISA criterion known as “study effectiveness.” When PISA calculates each nation’s achievement based on the number of hours spent studying, South Koreans rank only 24th out of 30 developed nations. The winner in study effectiveness is Finland, the world’s true PISA champ, placing first in science, second in math, and second in reading. Finnish students only attend school 190 days per year (two weeks more than U.S. children) and receive less than a half-hour of homework per day.

Finland is #1 in study effectiveness, achieving outstanding results with little of the “meat-grinder” approach common to so many education systems:

Never burdened with more than half an hour of homework per night, Finnish kids attend school fewer days than 85% of other developed nations (though still more than Americans), and those school days are typically short by international standards…..Finland downplays educational competition in a number of ways. Schools aren’t ranked against each other, and teachers aren’t threatened with formal reviews. At many schools, teachers don’t grade students until the fifth grade, and they aren’t forced to organize curriculum around standardized testing….

Surely this is a model worth emulating? I would be interested in the views of any readers who are employed in education.

Read more at Great Schools: The Finnish Miracle
and Great Schools: Lessons from South Korea

Why children struggle to read

Researcher Jennifer Buckingham writes:

Written English is a code. Once children learn the code, they can read almost any word. Some children learn to read without much formal teaching in phonics – these children are the minority. Most children need to be taught the code through phonics. Children who have not needed much phonics instruction to read well often need phonics to spell correctly. All children from all socioeconomic backgrounds benefit from good phonics instruction, but especially children who have not had the benefit of pre-school or a literacy-rich early home life.

I agree that phonics is important. But if English is a code, shouldn’t educators focus on making that code as simple and easy-to-learn as possible. English started as a phonetic language more than a thousand years ago, but subsequent evolution has introduced a myriad of complex spelling and grammatical rules that take children years to master.

Perhaps that is why education over-achievers Finland and South Korea enjoy such high rankings. Hank Pellissier at GreatSchools writes:

In 2006 the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) conducted a survey of 15-year-olds’ academic skills from 57 nations. Finland placed first in science by a whopping 5% margin, second in math (edged out by one point by Chinese Taipei), and third in reading (topped by South Korea)……Finnish and Korean languages are easy to read and spell; they don’t have the illogical phonetics of English.

Simplifying the structure of English phonetics would go some way to leveling the playing field.

Read more at Publications – Comment: First, become a good reader.