The winner was: Confucianism!
An international study published last month looked at how students in 65 countries performed in math, science and reading. The winner was: Confucianism!
At the very top of the charts, in all three fields and by a wide margin, was Shanghai. Three of the next top four performers were also societies with a Confucian legacy of reverence for education: Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea. The only non-Confucian country in the mix was Finland*.
The United States? We came in 15th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math.
I’ve been visiting schools in China and Asia for more than 20 years (and we sent our own kids briefly to schools in Japan, which also bears a Confucian imprint), and I’ve spent much of that time either envious or dumbfounded. I’ll never forget pulling our 2-year-old son out of his Tokyo nursery school so we could visit the States and being handed a form in which we had to list: “reason for proposed vacation.”
Education thrives in China and the rest of Asia because it is a top priority — and we’ve plenty to learn from that.
Granted, Shanghai’s rise to the top of the global charts is not representative of all China, for Shanghai has the country’s best schools. Yet it’s also true that China has made remarkable improvements in the once-awful schools in peasant areas.
Just 20 years ago, children often dropped out of elementary school in rural areas. Teachers sometimes could barely speak standard Mandarin, which, in theory, is the language of instruction.
These days, even in backward rural areas, most girls and boys alike attend high school. College isn’t unusual. And the teachers are vastly improved. In my Chinese-American wife’s ancestral village — a poor community in southern China — the peasant children are a grade ahead in math compared with my children at an excellent public school in the New York area. That seems broadly true of math around the country.
For a socialist system that hesitates to fire people, China has also been surprisingly adept — more so than America — at dealing with ineffective teachers. Chinese principals can’t easily dismiss teachers, but they can get extra training for less effective teachers, or if that doesn’t work, push them into other jobs.
* Note, Canada is in 6th place overall . . .
- China’s Education System (kristof.blogs.nytimes.com)
- The Many Chinas (time.com)
- China Beats Out Finland for Top Marks in Education (time.com)
- Top 20 Innovative cities in Asia (drneel.wordpress.com)