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What is wrong with our education today?

September 2015 | by Perry Pelletier and Rafael Bélanger


Chinese’s schools have become global role models, with consistently high results in international tests – taking first position in a recent OECD Pisa league tables.


It is natural that the English education system looks at the Chinese and other successful world education system, yet some of these countries parents and educators see their own system as corrupt, dehumanizing, pressurized and unfair and are envious of the British teaching method placing emphasis on discovery rather than –feeding children with the answers.

Often in some of these countries education systems place a heavy emphasis on rote memorization, which is great for students’ test-taking ability but not for their problem-solving and leadership abilities or their interpersonal skills – a requirement for the 21st century. These international test simply ignore these factors.

But in neighboring countries like Singapore want to move beyond this and want to develop learning that cultivates creativity and questioning so that it is less about content knowledge and memorization but more about how to process information so as to meet the demands of today’s students for the demands of the economy.

So a gradual shift is occurring in Singapore’s schooling system which has been criticized for being too grades-driven with a high-stress – legacy to one which makes learning fun but still meeting the objectives of learning.

Whilst teachers are aware that fun activities still need to deliver the results, they still structure it such that it is aligned to the learning objectives and the things they are supposed to know for exams.

Similarly, reports suggest that Korean schools can be extremely stressful for children. Surveys tend to suggest that children don’t like going to school – they are often stressed and not happy or they’re bored.

Questions are being asked as to whether the Korean system is producing the sorts of people the economy and society needs. Like the Chinese system, the system does encourage hard work and diligence but the concerns are that it is unduly stressful, does not promote creativity and the ability to be critical. So what examples can these education systems take?

In Finland, the teaching environment is relaxed and they provide educationally-supportive environments where children are granted authority and accountability in and for learning. There is believe that learning and interacting in relaxed educational environments will teach children for life, not for school.

There are elements of the Finnish model which could be implemented in Asian educational systems, such as the emphasis on high quality teachers. Most of Finland’s 62,000 educators in 3,500 schools from Lapland to Turku— earn a required master’s degree in education.

Many schools are small enough so that teachers know every student. If one method fails, teachers consult with colleagues to try something else. They seem to relish the challenges when students are behind – trying to catch the weak students. It’s deep in their thinking and children develop a hard working ethic.

The fact that students in China and Singapore and other countries consistently believe that achievement is mainly a product of hard work, rather than inherited intelligence, suggests that education and its social context can make a difference in instilling the values that foster success in education coupled with the Finnish and British experience.

Reading, science, and mathematics are important in any education system but thinking, innovation reasoning and non-academic subjects rather than memorising is critical to children’s learning in school. So PISA tests tells only a little about these important aspects of a countries school system.



Perry Pelletier and Rafael Bélanger are online tutors for Edison New Jersey.

The authors wish to thank Improve’s  Neil Simard for his contributions to this article.