Why are western education systems dropping behind the east?

Based on the OECD’s (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) 2009 PISA  (Program for International Student Assessment) assessments of students the top five education systems in the world are Finland, Hong Kong, Korea, Shanghai and Singapore. I have already mentioned Finland (No. 1) in an earlier post so thought I would post something about the other four.

My information is taken from a report by the Grattan Institute  titled Catching Up: Learning from the best school systems in East Asia. What is the Grattan Institute?

The Grattan Institute contributes to public policy in Australia as a liberal democracy in a globalised economy.  Our work is independent, rigorous and practical.  We foster informed public debate on the key issues for Australia, through both  private forums and public events, engaging key decision makers and the broader community. Taken from the Grattan Institute Web Site.

Some interesting points from this report include:

  • Average expenditure by OECD countries has increased by 34% between 2000-2008 but overall educational outcomes have dropped.
  • Expenditure on education is not an indicator of success. Korea spends less than the OECD average on education.
  • It is not cultural, these systems have not always been at the top. 11 years ago Hong Kong ranked 17th and Singapore ranked 15th in reading literacy. They now rank 2nd and 4th.
  • The four systems (Hong Kong, Korea, Shanghai and Singapore)  focus on things that are known to matter in the classroom, including a relentless, practical focus on learning and the creation of a strong culture of teacher education, research, collaboration, mentoring, feedback and sustained professional development”. Gratton Report.
  • In Shanghai, all teachers have mentors. New teachers have district-based mentors and two in-school mentors (one onclassroom management, the other on subject content).
  • In Hong Kong, classroom observations aim to change teacher culture and improve pedagogy.
  • Shanghai has larger class sizes to give teachers more time for school-based research to improve learning and teaching.
  • Hong Kong acknowledges that its move away from a strict examination focus has not yet persuaded most parents.
  • The four systems value the input of teachers and view them as partners in educational reform. They attend to international best practice, attract high quality applicants to education and focus on learning and building teacher capacity to deliver it.
  • In Shanghai, the average 15-year old mathematics student is performing at a level two to three years above his or her counterpart in Australia, the US, the UK or Europe.
  • Change in PISA mean reading scores from 2000 to 2009 – Australia (-13), U.S. (-5), OECD average (+1), Hon Kong (+7), Korea (+15).
  • There is a disconnect between policy and the school classroom in countries like Australia i.e. teacher development is often not suited to teacher needs, one off courses are common even though research shows that they are ineffective.

To have a look through the full report click here.

Other links:

Herald Sun article – More dollars but less sense training our teachers and kids