The Smartest Kids in the World

Amanda Ripley has written a very interesting book about education.  She poses key BlogSmartestquestions, such as why is the USA (and the UK) so far behind other countries in test scores for average teenagers when so much money is spent on education?  Her pursuit of answers takes her around the world with a particular focus on South Korea, Poland and Finland.

The book works so well because she exemplifies each country through an American student who travels there to go to school.  It makes for an interesting insider view of the practices as well as the values of each country’s education system.  Every school is different, though, and it is hard to generalise about a whole approach to education from one school even though this is what politicians do all the time!  The students, themselves, seem somewhat extraordinary; it takes a huge amount of self- confidence and drive to decide to spend a year at a school at another country.  Yet this in itself is an issue: why doesn’t a system in a highly developed world cater for the most individual or intellectually demanding of students.

Some of the starkest differences are apparent when it comes to self- esteem.  South Koreans would struggle to understand the concept while in Poland test scores and class ranking are used frequently to put people in their place as well as motivate.  Neither is there a system outside the USA that prizes sporting prowess to the point where teachers are employed on their coaching ability; a problem when that teacher has to cope with Maths as well as a sport!

In Britain, of course, the class system is an extra dimension. It doesn’t help that the politicians of our governing party are so keen on private education so that they can keep their children away from the ordinary people.  This doesn’t make for better policy. Neither does the obsession for testing at ridiculously young ages.  There seems to be little appetite in this country for developing thinking children.

I found the American students fascinating, though, and Amanda Ripley has the talent for writing you would expect from an investigative journalist.  Her book is a fascinating read. I imagine that little has changed in the three years since she wrote it.  It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?

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