Finland and South Korea are among the world’s leaders in education. So it is worth asking what these countries do that is different. This TED article tries to answer that question by asking what they are doing that is right? What they found was two very different systems.
Before looking at the two systems it is worth remembering that educational comparisons are based on the measurement of tangible knowledge of skills during and at the end of school. The correlation between end of school results and university performance is fairly weak. for example, the graphs I have seen in the past did show the expected trend of better school results giving better university results. However, the scatter around the trend line was enormous. (Interesting thing is that students from private schools tended to do worse at university than students from the public school system who got the same mark. The problem here is that what you need to do to get good marks interferes with what you should be learning to help at university and later life.
It is also worth noting that performance at university is not all that good at predicting what happens in later life. A lot of us grow up after we finish our education. In addition, the things that may really count for adult and professional life we learn outside of the formal education system and/or after graduating.
If we really want to evaluate an education system we need to wait the 20 to 30 years it takes before a particular group have students are beginning to dominate their country. We will be on to a new fad by then.
So how have Finland and South Korea progressed? TED had this to say:
Fifty years ago, both South Korea and Finland had terrible education systems. Finland was at risk of becoming the economic stepchild of Europe. South Korea was ravaged by civil war. Yet over the past half century, both South Korea and Finland have turned their schools (and economies) around — and now both countries are hailed internationally for their extremely high educational outcomes.
The Korean model: Grit and hard, hard, hard work.
For millennia, in some parts of Asia, the only way to climb the socioeconomic ladder and find secure work was to take an examination — in which the proctor was a proxy for the emperor, says Marc Tucker, president and CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy. Those examinations required a thorough command of knowledge, and taking them was a grueling rite of passage. Today, many in the Confucian countries still respect the kind of educational achievement that is promoted by an exam culture.
Among these countries, South Korea stands apart as the most extreme, and arguably, most successful. The Koreans have achieved a remarkable feat: the country is 100 percent literate, and at the forefront of international comparative tests of achievement, including tests of critical thinking and analysis. But this success comes with a price: Students are under enormous, unrelenting pressure to perform. Talent is not a consideration — because the culture believes in hard work and diligence above all, there is no excuse for failure. Children study year-round, both in-school and with tutors. If you study hard enough, you can be smart enough.
“Koreans basically believe that I have to get through this really tough period to have a great future,” says Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills at PISA and special advisor on education policy at the OECD. “It’s a question of short-term unhappiness and long-term happiness.” It’s not just the parents pressuring their kids. Because this culture traditionally celebrates conformity and order, pressure from other students can also heighten performance expectations….
In Korea, as in other Asian countries, class sizes are very large… in Korea, the goal is for the teacher to lead the class as a community, and for peer relationships to develop. In American preschools, the focus for teachers is on developing individual relationships with students, and intervening regularly in peer relationships.
Jumpy had this to say about his son’s experience with South Korean Students:
My son reckons they suppress their ” dog eat dog ” mentality and are happy to engage in ” You scratch my back, I scratch yours ”
And they did with brilliant results for all concerned.
It’s students teaching students and complaining the teachers are xxxx.
So we have a system that teaches how to learn and work very hard. Also a system that encourages the sort of teamwork that gets results.
There is a problem though. One of my wifes friends has talked about Korean parents sending their children to Australia to get away from the enormous pressures of the Korean system. Pressures that do lead to student suicide.
The Finnish model: Extracurricular choice, intrinsic motivation.
In Finland, on the other hand, students are learning the benefits of both rigor and flexibility.
In Finland, school is the center of the community, notes Schleicher. School provides not just educational services, but social services. Education is about creating identity.
Finnish culture values intrinsic motivation and the pursuit of personal interest. It has a relatively short school day rich with school-sponsored extracurriculars, because culturally, Finns believe important learning happens outside of the classroom. (A third of the classes that students take in high school are electives, and they can even choose which matriculation exams they are going to take. It’s a low-stress culture, and it values a wide variety of learning experiences.)
But that does not except it from academic rigor, motivated by the country’s history trapped between European superpowers, says Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish educator and author of Finnish Lessons: What the World Can Learn From Educational Change in Finland.
“A key to that is education. Finns do not really exist outside of Finland,” says Sahlberg. “This drives people to take education more seriously. For example, nobody speaks this funny language that we do. Finland is bilingual, and every student learns both Finnish and Swedish. And every Finn who wants to be successful has to master at least one other language, often English, but she also typically learns German, French, Russian and many others. Even the smallest children understand that nobody else speaks Finnish, and if they want to do anything else in life, they need to learn languages.”
The things that the education systems of Finland and South Korea have in common are a strong commitment to education, respect for teachers and a system that is compatible with the culture. The countries also have in common small size, a language that is not shared with other countries and a need for ongoing innovation if the country is to survive.
And Australia. Australia used to be a world leader in education. However, somewhere along the line it has become OK to skimp on education and blame underpaid and overworked teachers for everything that is wrong with the country.