PISA Results December 2013

The recently released PISA results have many Asian countries scoring substantially higher than the US, UK, and Canada on math, reading, and science. Some people are saying this shows that the latter countries need to place more emphasis on “the basics” (such as times tables, formulas, spelling, etc.) rather than problem solving and relevance. My response is threefold:

 ·      Part of the disparity in scores is due to typical features of Asian schooling that I don’t think are desirable: high-stakes national exams, cram schools, and enormous pressure on students to learn the basics at any cost. I rarely meet people from Asia who are glad they experienced this kind of schooling.

·      Part of it is because we’ve asked teachers to teach for meaning and relevance without showing them how. In math, for example, we give them an 36 hour math methods course in teacher education and send them out to reverse a lifetime of experience and cultural initiation.

·      Clearly, teachers need to do BOTH – teach the basics AND meaning, relevance, etc. And I believe this is entirely possible. But we need to figure out how to do it and systematically teach and model it in pre-service and in-service (in the context of the various subjects), rather than just making general pronouncements about constructivism, discovery learning, and teaching for understanding.  

                                                                                                                                       Clive Beck


2 thoughts on “PISA Results December 2013

  1. I agree with your points about the differences in the two school systems and cultures. I’d like to add, having lived in Asia for 9 years (not that one needs to have lived there to know this), these countries have developed cultural features to adapt to their huge populations in relatively small nation states. They live in and understand a culture of competition that we are just starting to experience now in North America, and have developed a pure and efficient system of meritocracy to ensure those more ‘talented’ are identified and sent along the relevant pathways. I don’t believe people in Canada and, especially, the USA, the lands of plenty and opportunity, have the sense of urgency about education that exists in these countries. Parents instill a life or death sense of importance of education on their children, which, while likely detrimental to child development in many ways, is quite effective to get the youth of these countries hard at work.

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