Since most European countries seem to find it impossible to learn ‘Finnish Lessons’ (Pasi Sahlberg) in their attempts to improve and ‘reform’ education, it’s very important that the majority of the East Asian countries which currently feature at the top of the world education rankings are demonstrating that the ‘Finnish’ or ‘progressive’ way is best.
We’ve said this before and we’ll no doubt continue to say it – it’s an absolute myth that countries such as Singapore continue to regard the use of high-stakes tests and hothousing (cramming, rote-learning) children as the best way to educate the nation’s children.
Thanks to Canadian educator Joe Bower (http://www.joebower.org @joe_bower) we’ve come across this report from ABC Radio Australia:
By Kevin Ponniah
Should Singapore scrap the primary school exam?
Singapore’s education system is known as one of the most competitive in the world, so it has come as a huge surprise that the country’s Ministry of Education and Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) will stop listing the top-scoring students in all national examinations.
The Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) is seen as a ‘do-or-die moment’ for most Singaporean school kids, and a pass is never enough.
Students sit the exam at the age of 12 and, for the highest achievers, its a gateway to the best secondary schools.
Speaking on national television, the Minister of State for Education, Indranee Rajah, said he understood that the rankings for both schools and students were taken very seriously.
He explained that the proposed changes were aimed at creating a system that wouldn’t “put people through the meat grinder”, arguing that currently “teachers, parents, as well as students are so stressed out that it just becomes an ordeal as opposed to an objective measure of your academic ability”.
Singapore’s Ministry of Education began providing a list of top students in 1999.
Allan Luke, who was a researcher at the National Institute of Education in Singapore from 2003 to 2005, said that by ceasing to do this the government is trying to meet the changing needs of the global economy.
“This is really an issue that has been raised across what we would call East Asian Confucian-based education systems in Singapore, in China, in Hong Kong, in Taiwan and elsewhere,” he said.
“The concentration on examination and testing can have a deleterious effect in a couple of ways. First of all there is documented evidence that kids get stressed out . . . but moreover what we find is that the overemphasis on tests can dampen down some aspects of creativity, critical thinking, originality, aesthetic work and a lot of the kind of higher order competences that are really required for the new economy and for global economies.”
The Education Ministry is conducting a long-term review of the education system that could consider scrapping the PSLE completely.
The suggestion has drawn mixed reactions from parents and students.
Some like Vivian Tan, a mother of two primary school children, says the PSLE leaving exam should be replaced by a more balanced system.
“I’m totally in favour of doing away with the PSLE because the kids are still at a very young age, they may not know the consequences of not doing well in the exam,” she said.
“And at the same time I think one of the most important things is that we want to develop a wholesome being, not somebody who is just obsessed with doing well academically. It has got to be a total development of the person.”
‘Confucian-based’ or not, this is precisely what happens in Finland. It’s unclear whether our Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has access to these facts. He’s evidently a man who respects facts, but he seems to be highly selective with regard to which facts he pays attention to and which facts he acts on. It seems highly unlikely that Mr Gove will do a U-turn with his education policies, regardless of clear evidence that the world’s highest achieving systems are going in precisely the opposite direction to the one Mr Gove continues to advocate.
Sadly, it’s not clear that the Shadow Secretary, Stephen Twigg MP, is any more determined to learn Finnish Lessons than Mr Gove. There was no sign of it during his time as the Schools’ Minister during the New Labour period of government.
What we do know is that the Labour party under Ed Miliband’s leadership is currently carrying out policy reviews that are beng coordinated by John Cruddas MP. Perhaps it’s now or never for teachers and parents to show that people at grassroots level demand that politicians and policy makers take note of what’s happening elsewhere in the world and begin to understand why our current education policies are not fit for purpose in the 21st century.
Is there any teacher or parent who doesn’t want their children to be creative, original, critical thinkers, confident in their higher order competences, wholesome beings, not stressed and not obsessed with doing well academically, with proper development of all their intelligences and with rounded personalities?
As a footnote to these concerns, we should add a comment concerning the development of creative skills and a creative mindset.
We learned from speaking with Lisa Nandy MP at Saturday’s Fabians’ conference that the government of Singapore recognises that the ability to think and to behave creatively will be much more important to individuals and to Singapore in this century than mere academic success. During her visit to that country last year Lisa was told that their schools are now timetabling ‘creativity’ into their curriculum for an hour or more a week.
Need we spell it out how simplistic this way of approaching this issue really is? Creativity must run through everything that children and young people do in schools – for practically every minute of every day. It’s the same with PSHE – personal and social education. It can’t be taught as a curriculum subject! These things have to permeate all of our children’s schooling from the very beginning, and indeed permeate all of their lives.
Social intelligence and personal intelligence must develop through everyday interactions and through having time to reflect on them; creativity must develop through active engagement with all learning and through taking part in problem-solving and enthusiatic reading & research in every area of the curriculum. Maths and science must be approached critically and creatively as much as art, writing and technology.
Sir Ken Robinson is now the world’s go-to expert on learning and creativity – which we’ve reported on in many of these blog posts. “All Our Futures” was a comprehensive report by a government-commissioned committee which Sir Ken chaired back in the late ’90s. He’s made many speeches on this issue, some of which can be seen on YouTube and elsewhere.
People need to pay attention to these matters – especially our politicians and our policy-makers. Sadly, though, too many of those who consider themselves teachers and educationalists need to re-think the purposes and the pedagogy we currently consider acceptable and appropriate for education in this century.
- Return to Singapore (3diassociates.wordpress.com)
- TIMSS, PIRLS and the Plain Truth About Education in East Asia (3diassociates.wordpress.com)
- International Comparisons, Enlightened Education (3diassociates.wordpress.com)
- Compass Education: Radical Approaches to Education Conference – Part Two (3diassociates.wordpress.com)