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Chalk Talk: Impressive results in the Far East - a 'shadow' over plans to improve our schools?


The vogue is to marvel at the achievements of Far Eastern education systems such as South Korea, Japan and Shanghai in China. After all, they performed far better than us in the international Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) tests in literacy and numeracy so we should be able to learn something from them.

Perhaps, though, a note of caution should be sounded before our education leaders stampede to the airports. A blog posted by a Japan-based educationalist on the website of Schools Improvement Net, dedicated to sharing ideas about improving school standards, gives another explanation.

It seems, according to education writer, Manabu Watanbe, that the impressive results in the Far East may not be down to the performance of schools.

He cites research which shows that in China 73.8 per cent of primary school students received "shadow education", ie, supplementary schools or private tutors. A similar picture emerges in Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea.

Watanbe argues that shadow education is best developed in Japan where about 50,000 "juku" companies have set up, offering distance learning to pupils out of school.

Step off the plane, then. Go to Finland, another high performer, instead?


The vagaries of testing very young children emerged at a conference last week about the Government's new curriculum for primary schools. It is very likely children will undergo "baseline assessment" – testing when they start school so their progress can be measured at the national curriculum tests at 11.

According to Jan Dubiel, from Early Excellence and one of the guest speakers at the conference: "If it is very young children [who are tested], you're not going to get meaningful data." The conference, organised by Westminster Education Forum, was told of one group of children who, when tested on a Monday, were considered "gifted and talented" but, by Friday, registered as "special needs". The answer seems obvious: test them on a Wednesday...