Monday, February 13, 2017

The message from the top educational systems in the world

Education is the measuring post of a society. The success of the students in school has a strong impact on an economy. The more educated students are the more successful an economy is. Today I explore what makes a great educational system.

There are a number of studies that document good educational systems. The countries I looked at are almost always near the top of the educational standards lists. Finland, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, China, Shanghai, Taiwan, and Poland among others. All have amazing similarities.  

Most countries have 3 abiding principles that are at the core of their beliefs. The first is getting the right people to become teachers. They do this by recruiting people right out of high school. They believe that those who have the right attitude for learning need to be given the opportunity to become leaders in education. In giving them this chance it leads to the second principle, that educators need to be developed into effective instructors. These countries spend much time and money doing this. Countries, like Finland have such a great belief in this that they expect their educators to all have a Masters Degree and to have a strong foundation in special education.  Thirdly in supporting their educators they also believe that they need to ensure that the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction for every child. Every teacher is an expert teacher. Every country delivers on their promises to education.

To support education the society in each country believes that teachers are important for the country’s growth and are treated with the utmost of respect. The teachers are thought of in positive ways and work to support their communities. Countries in Asia and in Finland feel very strongly about this. Supporting teachers and the successes of the students demonstrates a more positive way of life. By providing the best teachers possible, providing the resources necessary to do the job and providing a vibrant curriculum that allows the teachers to deliver it with strength they are committed to being the best they can be.
These school systems set high expectations for what each and every child should achieve, and then monitor performance. They do this because they understand that the children of today are the leaders of tomorrow in all the different fields that are available to them. These countries see that success and innovation make their country stronger. Children struggling in school is not acceptable. These countries have in place effective interventions at the level of the school to help these struggling children. Teachers in South Korea spend extra hours after school and on weekends providing extra courses for those struggling. Finland has Special Education teachers in every school, 1 for every 7 classes. They also have Social Services within the school to help make sure all children are given the essentials to succeed. Special education teachers work with a wider support team – psychologists, nurses, special needs advisors to help ensure the success of their children. Canada has a number of programs that allow students struggling with reading to succeed.

Countries with strong school systems also identify schools that are not performing satisfactorily, and intervene to raise the standards of performance. The very best systems intervene at the level of the individual student, developing processes and structures within schools that are able to identify whenever a student is starting to fall behind, and then intervening to improve that child’s performance. They also target schools which are underperforming and spend additional money and give resources and retraining to help them become more successful.

These countries also recognize that testing students on their knowledge alone is not an effective marker of their knowledge level. Every class is designed to develop the student’s thinking skills. They are asked to take their knowledge and apply it to everyday situations that require them to use the higher levels of thinking and apply them to the problem. They are able to analyse and criticize effectively as well as come up with solutions. Students are able to defend their work with sound reasoning.  This represents a movement from the instruction of facts to a model which focuses on competencies such as critical thinking, character, creativity, innovation, as well as digital and computer literacy as well as personal skills, like time management, and communication. Some countries have moved from rote memorization to higher level thinking skills. Students now are tested not only with traditional assessments, but also with real life applications.

The Hong Kong educational system values constructivist based learning and students get hands on training and practice with many skills. Shanghai has integrated science and humanities courses. This is a move towards becoming inquiry based. Students no longer just acquire information. They work to gather and use their knowledge in productive ways. Taiwan considers itself a knowledge economy. The learning and application of knowledge across subject areas is seen as widening the base which students can grow from.

Some countries are working towards engaging families more in their child’s education. Together this demonstrates to children that education is important. Others are working towards erasing the number of dropouts from their systems by engaging the students in participating more in class through dialogue and differentiated instruction. Some countries believe that early learning pays off with better outcomes later in school and life by involving children in school at early ages. They are able to earlier correct areas of difficult with the necessary structures they have to help overcome this.  

Asian countries believe that their programs need to be rigourous and dense. Japanese students are under enormous pressure to be successful. Their country demands success. Finland on the other hand does not have students start school until 7 years old, has no homework until high school and has the lowest number of hours in school among the countries we looked at.

  1. Within 5 years every teacher graduating from teacher’s college should have a masters degree.
  2. Every memorandum/ correspondence from the educational body should reflect a positive attitude demonstrating support for their teachers and schools. Parents need to become aware of this too.
  3. Assessments should in the area of application of knowledge. When this occurs we can better understand the students growth.
  4. That schools should become the home base of social services that children can receive all the support the need to succeed. This should include parental support where necessary. If schools are the soul of the community then all the resources to ensure the success of children should be found there.
  5. Every school should make inquiry research the basis for their education with the interests of the children being the springboard for their education.
  6. That two years of special education training should become mandatory to help teachers understand how to help weaker students become the best they can be.

For education to be at its best every country needs to make education their primary focus, with health care. The two are intertwined and balance each other out. Countries with the best health care and education will become stronger as they go forward. I don’t believe it is hard to do. It is time to make the change.

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