Wall Street Journal: Why East Asian students are superior - 20/02/2012

20 Feb 2012

By Laurie Burkitt and Shibani Mahtani

American parents looking to send their children to the world¡¯s best schools might want to start looking East.
And by that, we don¡¯t mean the East Coast.

East Asia is now home to the world¡¯s best primary and secondary schools, producing students who are able to outperform their counterparts in the Western world, according to a recent report from the Grattan Institute, a think tank based in Australia.
The report said that the top education systems in the world were all in the Asian region ¨C namely Hong Kong, South Korea, Shanghai and Singapore.

The average 15-year old in Shanghai is performing math at levels that are two or three years ahead of students in the U.S., Australia, the U.K. and Europe, according to the report, which was based on data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development¡¯s Program for International Student Assessment.

Hong Kong students are at least one year ahead in reading and math when compared to U.S. and European children, the report said.

Results of the study underscore a global shift that has been occurring both economically and, according to Grattan, academically. East Asian primary and secondary schools are better at addressing their own weaknesses and know how to improve the classroom through policy, the study said. In 2006, Hong Kong raised the reading levels of its students to No. 2 in international assessments, up from 17th just five years earlier. Singapore has cut courses for teachers that don¡¯t result in higher performance for their students.

Educational institutions in East Asia are also doing more with less, the study says. South Korea spends around half of what the U.S. spends on its primary school students, yet South Korean pupils outperform their U.S. counterparts in reading, math and science.

President Barack Obama recently pledged to earmark $80 million for math and science education, believing it will improve the economy, according to a recent report in the Associated Press.

The study also comes as the U.S. questions its educational standards and as figures such as the ¡°Tiger Mother¡± ¨C a Yale Law School professor who has preached tough discipline for kids ¨C have caused American parents to rethink their own roles in learning and to ask themselves whether Asian mothers are superior.

The U.S. has already taken notice of East Asia¡¯s educational prowess. Earlier this month, a memorandum of understanding was signed between Singapore and the U.S., building on an earlier agreement in 2002 that focused on the teaching and learning of math and science. The new MOU continues to prioritize the two subjects as key areas of collaboration between the two countries, with Singapore having some of the best math and science high school scores in the world ¨C and the U.S. some of the worst.

In 2009, a delegation from Singapore¡¯s Ministry of Education was sent to Washington D.C. to share information on the ¡°Singapore model method¡± for learning mathematics. In the same year, President Obama gave a speech to the National Academy of Sciences, devoting much of it to the importance of math and science education. In his comparison of math scores between the U.S. and foreign countries, the first country he mentioned was Singapore.

¡°Our students are outperformed in math and science by their peers in Singapore, Japan, England, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, and Korea, among others. Another assessment shows American 15-year-olds ranked 25th in math and 21st in science when compared to nations around the world,¡± Mr. Obama said.

In many Asian countries though, including China and Singapore, these rankings are not necessarily cause for celebration. Many in Singapore see the country¡¯s education system, heavily top-down and government influenced, as a reason why critics still maintain that creativity and innovation does not thrive in the city-state.

Even as Singapore sees Ivy League tie-ups with its own universities, some remain doubtful that they will work as the American universities intend them too. A highly anticipated link-up between Yale University and the National University of Singapore ¨C an attempt to bring the Western liberal-arts education style to Asia ¨C has received considerable flak from alumni and others in the Yale community. They say that their university¡¯s focus on a liberal-arts education is inconsistent with the decision to establish a campus in Singapore, a country which has been accused of a top-down approach to government and education and of limiting freedom of speech and the press.

Source: Wall Street Journal

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