Asian Kids Are Great Students, But Then What?

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A new study has cast doubt on the current enthusiasm in the west for copying teaching methods in China and South Korea, where children score highly in international tests, suggesting that cultural factors beyond school also play a part in their success.

via ‘Culture, not just curriculum’, determines east Asian school success | The Guardian.

No shit. So you can’t just force a kid to study three hours a day longer and expect her to become a genius? Imagine that.

I grow weary of politicians and administrators who look for the quick fix for societies’ ills. Anyone who has read Crouching Tiger Mom, Bipolar Child, or whatever the title of Amy Chua’s book was (it’s been a few years) and thinks that “hard work” is all that’s needed to fix education is a simplistic idiot.

The educational problems in places like the U.S. are not just a lack of hard work and low expectations, but the limited engagement by parents, the broken homes and economic pressures on families, and the ridiculous way that Americans fund their schools.

Of course parental involvement, and their specific cultural context, is key. If your father tells you that “learnin’ is for the Godless,” then you probably won’t do too well in school. How to fix this problem? I have no idea, given that the U.S. is an anti-intellectual wasteland these days that rewards ignorance.

In China, you’ve got plenty of hard work going on in the classrooms, which leads to high math scores and success in courses that just require rote memorization. And I suppose that’s all well and good if you want to build a society full of mid-level engineers and doctors, not to mention uninspired lawyers. Come to think of it, a lot of China (and India) kind of looks like that.

But is this sort of education good for the future? It’s a decent platform, but then you need to do some tweaking. Keep the hard work, parental involvement — all the good stuff. But for heaven’s sake, at some point these kids need to learn problem-solving skills. Young brains can only develop so far with flashcards and math problems.

I’ve known many smart Chinese law school grads who could cite chapter and verse what they learned in their “political theory” class, but I couldn’t let them near a client or an actual legal issue. You remember in the Matrix when Neo wakes up gasping after being plucked from his creche in the real world? His muscles don’t work, he can hardly breathe on his own, etc. That’s how these kids brains are. Lots of potential, but that’s about it.

By all means, keep teaching the math problems and even the political theory, but if it continues to be done in a passive manner, only a small fraction of these kids are ever going to contribute meaningfully to a knowledge-based economy. And I believe that’s the real goal, isn’t it?

I thought this was old news? Certainly China gets it; they’ve been at least attempting to reform education here for quite a while now. Of course, such reforms have only filtered down to a limited number of institutions, particularly the ones in big cities that have a lot of money. But it’s a start.

So why would the West attempt to implement educational turn-key solutions based on Asian schools, when even the Asians understand that there are significant areas of improvement to work on over here? My guess is its a combination of ignorance and laziness. Kids in Shanghai have high math scores while ours are low? Then let’s just do what they do.

Problem solved.