Posted by: KatieLPhillips01 | January 3, 2011

A Global Approach to Education Reform

The Washington Post’s online education column, The Answer Sheet, tackled the difficult question: “What are other countries doing to reform their education systems?” After consistent statistics reporting that the United States is falling behind in education while other countries (like Singapore, Finland, and Canada) are surging ahead, it would seem as though alternative education models are proving more effective — and, that perhaps the United States should re-evaluate its current system.

From The Answer Sheet:

SINGAPORE
Prime Minister Lee of Singapore (Aug. 29, 2010): “I think we should do more to nurture the whole child, develop their physical robustness, enhance their creativity, shape their personal and cultural and social identity, so that they are fit, they are confident, they are imaginative and they know who they are.

“Every child is different, every child has his own interests, his own academic inclinations and aptitudes and our aim should be to provide him with a good education that suits him, one which enables him to achieve his potential and build on his strengths and talents. Talent means talent in many dimensions, not just academic talent but in arts, in music, in sports, in creative activities, in physical activities.

“We need to pay more attention to PE, to arts and music and get teachers who are qualified to teach PE and art and music.

“Give each one a tailored and holistic upbringing, so you get academic education, moral education, physical education, art and a sense of belonging and identity. We aim to build a mountain range with many tall peaks but with a high base, not just a single pinnacle where everybody is trying to scramble up one single peak. And we are realizing this vision.”
FINLAND
Timo Lankinen, Director-General, Finnish National Board of Education (Sept. 13, 2010):

“We are not actually talking a lot about numeracy or literacy, the agenda for change is more about increase of the arts and physical education into curriculum, and the highlight of 21st century skills or as we call them citizen skills.

“We have relatively small class sizes so there is the possibility to individualize that attention for each children (sic) ability to personalize … but we have questions to ask ourselves, do we enable teachers and students to flourish enough, for example giving them individual aspirations, and engaging students so that there will be more experiential learning.

“Looking at basic education and success in PISA [Program for International Student Assessment] results, we have to bear in mind that children also participate in early childhood education … which is mainly through play and interaction.

“We will be great when every student and stakeholder says for example ‘I love school’ and ‘I’m doing well in school’ – so it’s not only the subject knowledge we are seeking after.”

CANADA
Dalton McGuinty, Premier of Ontario, Canada, Sept. 13, 2010:

“It doesn’t matter how much money you invest, it doesn’t matter how much you want change — you won’t get results unless you enlist your teachers in the cause of better education.

“We have worked hard to build a positive, working relationship with our teachers. We do not engage in inflammatory rhetoric. We do not use our teachers as a political punching bag. Public bickering undermines public confidence.

“Policy development and implementation happen in dialogue with our education partners.

“We don’t always agree, but I am reminded of some of the best political advice I ever received. I got it from my mother, on my wedding day, she said: ‘Whatever happens, keep talking.’

“So we keep talking to our teachers. I make it clear to them, and all our education partners, that our pursuit of improvement will be relentless. And there is no place to hide.”

To summarize:

*More emphasis on the whole child, physical education, the arts, fostering talents and citizen skills.

*Less emphasis on numeracy and literacy or testing

*Greater respect for teachers, the profession and their role as partners in educational reform.

I think the emphasis on testing is proving to be a double-edged sword. Obviously, one would think that if the student really has absorbed the knowledge, it would be apparent in his or her performance on the test. But the education models of Singapore, Finland, and Canada are seeking to support students in a more holistic, well-rounded manner, fostering all of their potential interests and talents.

Is it time for the United States to look to more effective models and strive for change?

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