TIMSS, PIRLS and the Plain Truth About Education in East Asia

Education for Everyone is a website that’s “A forum for debating policies on education promoted by the Socialist Educational Association.”

This week it published an article on the newly-released TIMSS and PIRLS* test results and asked, “What conclusions can we draw?”



The article ended with these paragraphs:

The leading Asian countries remain, by this measure, the world’s highest achievers. But before we go chasing after what we think are the lessons to be learnt from them, there is a very telling section in the Guardian’s article about these results:

“The paradox is that while Truss and her boss, the education secretary, Michael Gove, seek a move towards an Asian-style system of crammed facts and rigorous exams, educators in those countries are wrestling with the paradox that their pupils too often emerge competent but narrow and uncreative in their thinking. Earlier this year Singapore’s education minister proposed a long-term move towards a less restrictive system.”


That certainly is something we should be thinking about.

To which we say – only “thinking about”? We need widespread action immediately.

The Guardian article referred to here is clearly incorrect in its assumptions. Singapore long ago understood that cramming and frequent high-stakes tests both result in young people becoming stressed and uncreative. It was for this reason that Singapore changed to the Finnish model, which Singapore calls “Teach Less, Learn More.” Singapore’s growing and continuing success in education is the result of this switch, which is also what’s happened in Hong Kong and in Shanghai Province, and will soon be the case in the rest of China now that the Shanghai ‘pilot’ has proved to be successful. This article explains more fully –

https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/2012/11/28/return-to-singapore/ Please take a few minutes to look at the video that’s linked to in the article.

TIMSS2It’s a myth that the whole of East Asia achieves its success in education through ‘traditional’ methods. Sure, South Korea’s children achieve high scores in formal tests and they have  didactic teaching and an incredibly long day of schooling and extra-curricular tutoring/cramming. But even in South Korea there’s a growing awareness that their children are extremely stressed and increasingly unhappy, just as UNICEF noted is the case in Britain. Because of this the South Koreans are also taking note of the Finnish model since they also see that children should enjoy learning – and are more likely to develop creative skills as well as social skills, communication skills and personal self-confidence in settings that encourage collaboration rather than competition, collegiality rather than individualism, and self-directed or co-created learning rather than spoon feeding & cramming.

The power of technology in learning plus a concern for the wellbeing of children and their all-round development are the engines that are driving revolutionary developments in education elsewhere in the world. We continue to ignore these things at our peril – if the wellbeing and the achievements of our children and young people are our real concern. The best British educators already understand these things and are often superb at providing stimulating and motivating learning in our classrooms, in spite of what the ‘traditionalists’ insist is best practice. The CBI has taken note of this and has called for the abolition of all 16+ exams, along with a move towards more creative teaching and learning.


The government can say what it likes, but we must not be fooled into thinking that the East Asian countries have clung to outmoded and damaging forms of education. The leaders in education in those countries are, on the whole, far too smart for that. Teachers in Britain must not be misled into thinking that, apart from ‘whacky’ little Finland, the rest of the high-achieving nations are hell bent on pursuing “an Asian-style system of crammed facts and rigorous exams”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

* Progress in International Reading Literacy Study
Trends in International Maths and Science Study

See also:










About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/ or see our website at www.3diassociates.com.
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