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Here are my key learnings from a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading--one I did not want to finish quickly.
First, why would anyone learn about other countries’ education systems? I think it is important for any parent or educated citizen. For one, education is maybe one of the most common institutions around the world; you and anyone around the world know the classroom experience, or the anxiety before exams, for example. For another, education, in my opinion, is the best means by which societies transform their economy. Prosperous economies tend to have not only a better standard of living but also better societies—that is, being civil or having fewer crimes, and so on.
In his book “How the World learns: Comparative Education Systems,” Alexander W. Wiseman argues that education is not only about school factors—that is, the curriculum, school buildings, and teachers’ credentials—but is equally about non-school factors that are more difficult to change. The most important of these are parents’ income and socio-economic status. This is why it is unwise to borrow another country’s education system and copy it exactly without accounting for different social, cultural, or economic differences. As a result of the results of international standardized tests, many countries tried to copy Finland’s education system, but the benefits were very limited.
To illustrate this point further, we can compare the education system of Finland and that of Taiwan. Both countries’ students are always at the top of international standardized tests rankings, but they couldn't be more different. Finland’s education system is individualized. The emphasis is on developing a long relationship between the teacher and the students, by which the teacher can identify students’ strengths and weaknesses. They have no or few standardized tests that affect a student’s ability to go from one grade to the next. Taiwan’s education system, by contrast, is a high-stakes system in which students must achieve high scores on exams to move from one grade to another or from elementary school to intermediate school. Students’ job opportunities are also affected by their scores on standardized tests. As such, teachers focus their instruction on exam preparation and best ways by which students can pass exams. It is clear that Finland’s and Taiwan’s education systems are very different, which is also good news in that there is no one and perfect way to fix a country’s education system. However, it is important to benefit from those systems that share similar social and cultural factors and pay attention to the country’s background, that is, its unique values and belief system, for example.
A successful attempt to benefit from a successful education system is one by the UAE, in which they started slowly by opening two Finnish schools in Abu Dhabi. They recruited 50 or so Finnish teachers, and the school was under Finnish management. Local teachers were still teaching students courses in Arabic, religion, and ethics, but the Finnish pedagogy was employed, and local teachers were sent on a regular basis to continuing education programs, similar to what Finnish teachers normally receive in Finland. This experience is successful in many ways. For one, it benefits from Finnish pedagogy. Second, it takes into account the UAE’s unique culture. Third, Finland was chosen carefully as it shares a number of factors with the UAE, for example, the standard of living.
What is good about this book is that not only does it teach about the different methods by which different countries learn but also the importance of context. Not only in education, we tend to try to copy successful people’s ways without accounting for differences that cannot, sometimes, be altered. If you’re to start a new traditional or online school in Saudi Arabia, you can’t copy any successful model; it is important to emulate those that share a good number of cultural, social, and economical factors. A good example of this is Ali Baba’s success. Unlike the Western model of effective websites, Ali Baba accounted for Chinese preference for flashy colours and Chinese insistence on communication with the seller before buying. After struggling for a few years, Ali Baba sales exceeded those of eBay in China, a feat that no one expected.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
How can a course this long contain so little content?
The author is too academic, yet provides very little information. He essentially keeps rephrasing his main point that everything must be considered in context. In other words, you really can't evaluate a school or school system because it is so influenced by society, families, etc. He then repeatedly uses this to make excuses for our failing schools.
The author spent a surprisingly small amount of time actually discussing international schools and approaches to education.
The author hardly said anything definitive - there was almost no useful information.
What a waste of an otherwise interesting topic...
10 of 12 people found this review helpful