Focus on education in East Asia

This time we talk to Professor Paul Morris from the Institute of Education at the University of London about what works in education across East Asian countries. He has worked in, and has extensive knowledge of, education in the region, and tells us that many of these countries have attempted major reforms to reduce the content coverage of the curriculum and encourage creativity and critical thinking.

Some East Asian countries score highly in international education league tables: could you briefly expand on the picture in the region

In Asia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea have performed well on tests of pupil achievement such as PISA. Japan performs well but not as well as previously. Recently the city of Shanghai was included and performed well.

Is there a strong culture of long hours and ‘cramming’ for examinations? If so what kind of pressures does this result in for pupils?

Yes, many pupils put in long hours after school attending tutorial and revision classes provided by commercial enterprises.

There is a concern in these countries that the focus on preparing for exams has stifled creativity and critical thinking and has had a negative effect in terms of pupil stress/mental health. Thus many of these countries have attempted major reforms to reduce the content coverage of the curriculum and encourage creativity and critical thinking. For example in Japan teaching on Saturdays was stopped in an attempt to reduce pressure on pupils and create a more “relaxed” form of schooling.

What teaching styles tend to be adopted, perhaps in contrast to the UK, and what are classes themselves like?

It is very difficult to generalise and styles are changing. But pupils would tend to be more attentive or passive, classes more orderly or less interactive… it all depends on the eye of the beholder.

Are teachers held in high regard, and how well qualified do they generally need to be?

It varies. Generally teachers need to be professionally qualified before they get a teaching job and their training takes place in the HE sector. There is also a very substantial investment in Continuing Professional Development. They are probably held in higher regard insofar as their governments tend to avoid constantly criticising them.

Is there a significant emphasis on learning languages?

Yes, with the time devoted to their national language and to English as a second language a substantial proportion of time is spent on studying languages. As performance in English in exams is critical in determining future opportunities, like access to a good university or job, pupils spend a lot of time studying it.

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