Smartest Kids in the World
I really like the podcasts from American RadioWorks. Here is the latest I listened to about education around the world and why other countries might be doing better than America.[audio http://download.publicradio.org/podcast/americanradioworks/arw_7_02_ripley.mp3]
I should mention here that I taught English in South Korea for a year and have personally seen the differences in education in different parts of the world. Clearly, students in countries like Finland and South Korea have more respect towards school than Americans.
At 6:10, she discusses how teachers are trained in America and Finland. America does not value teachers or education because the belief amongst the general public is that teaching is easier than working in private sector industries. This is where the terrible phrase comes from that says, “If you can’t ‘do’, ‘teach’. If you can’t ‘teach’, ‘teach Phy Ed.’.” I strongly believe that teachers need to be selected much more carefully. They need to have much more rigorous academic requirements in order to become a teacher. They need to really know their material. If we set higher standards for teachers across the board, we will feel better about paying them more. Also, by paying teachers more, we will be able to attract high performing individuals to become teachers instead of going into the private sector where they can currently make twice as much. Along these lines, I also believe that teachers should not all be paid the same. Certain subjects require a much higher skill set in order to teach them well.
Her next big point around 9 minutes is about the prevalence of sports in school. Other countries do not have organized sports as part of school. It is incredibly difficult in school to deal with students always leaving school early in order to participate in sports. At my school, some athletes are released after lunch and miss the entire afternoon of classes. This doesn’t only slow down that student’s progress in class, but the entire class as a whole.
As for her comments about parent involvement, it is very true that Korean parents push their kids very hard to do well in school. Children push themselves extremely hard in school because it is their responsibility to bring respect to their families. They clearly understand that “The harder you work, the more you will achieve.” If a Korean says that they play piano, it doesn’t mean that they have had a few lessons and can play some songs. It means that they can really PLAY piano. They are likely classically trained and would blow you away by their abilities. They achieve this expertise very quickly because they focus very intensely on one thing at a time.
In the podcast, she does not mention the difference in the amount of time students spend in schools between countries. In America, students spend the entire summer out of school for some unclear reason. Why do we need three months of vacation? Whereas in Korea, Elementary students have about 3-4 weeks off in the winter and the same in the summer. However, most of them spend this time attending academic camps such as English, math or science camps. On top of school, most students attend private academies (called “hagwons”) almost daily. As they get older, they spend more and more time studying and learning. By the time they are in high school, they have class every single day with no vacation. They are at school or Hagwons from 7 am until midnight. Then, they still have to do their homework before going to bed. On the weekends, they have special classes at school for science or other subjects. This is all in preparation to take a college entrance exam. The pressure put on students to do all of this results in a very high suicide and depression rate. I do not think this is something America should try to replicate, but I do not believe students should have 3 months of vacation in the summer.
I think the key to her message was at the end (19 min) when she discusses teaching her son how to work hard and fail gracefully. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, it is very important to be okay with making mistakes. You need to be willing to take risks and put yourself out there physically and mentally.