I’m a big believer in the idea that we should always be asking questions about whether or not our education system is as effective as it could possibly be. Many of the conventions associated with our system of education are hundreds of years old, and they were created in times that looked very different when compared with today’s world. It seems to me that our education system is especially slow-moving when compared to most western countries because of the uniquely decentralized model by which our schools operate. For this reason, I think it is especially important that we pay attention to whatever innovation is going on in other countries.
This article written on the TED website explores the successes of school systems in different countries, and attempts to evaluate what American educators can take away from these school systems.
One important lesson that this article points out is that students in the United States don’t often have the conception that their time in school should be the hardest time of their life. At least anecdotally for me, most of my classmates often think that their schools years, especially high school and college, should be especially fun, that they have plenty of time to live adult life later. The problem with this mindset is that it means that students delay developing real-world skills, and we end up with a less competitive labor force because people have been having fun instead of investing in the most valuable thing they own: their human capital. In the South Korean school system, as told by the article, students are expected to work through a grueling system where every student is assumed to be of equal capability and there is very little room for error for anyone, especially those who’d like to occupy positions of high status in society. While South Korea’s school system may be unpalatable to Americans because of its lack of emphasis on cultural sensitivity and the mental well-being of children, I think that students could afford to work a little harder in high school and college (and I’ve written about how students ought to read more difficult books multiple times on this blog).
Another lesson mentioned in the article, though, is the Finnish model, which places high value on student interests. When I was in high school, students were given a 45 minute period of time three days every week to explore something of personal interest to them. In retrospect, this is a relatively short amount of time, but it still exceeds what most high schools do for their kids. Given the dropout crisis that we still face in our education system, the last thing we need to be doing is disengaging kids from school. Some lessons will just never be interesting to every student, but it’s important for students to feel like they are always gaining something from their days in school. Allowing students to customize their workdays in order to accomplish this will probably lead to happier students, which means fewer behavioral problems and headaches for teachers.