Education: what works?

Finland & South Korea - that is what works. The problem with copying this success is that Finland and South Korea follow almost polar opposite strategies. South Korea is #2. They follow what seems like a hellish, highly competitive study system where the kids study from early morning until late at night. In contrast, #1 Finland follows a laid back Andy of Mayberry plan. Kids don’t do much homework at night; they don’t even do schoolwork during all of the relatively short school day.

Clearly one size does not fit all and culture makes a big difference. East Asia has a hierarchical educational system with roots in highly competitive civil service examinations that go back 2000 years in China. In theory, anybody could take the test. The tests were cruelly hard, pass rates vanishingly low and the stakes dizzyingly high. Passing the test meant prosperity for the aspirant and his whole family. Failure could mean poverty & misery. This testing culture persists. Finish culture is very different. Hierarchy is not much respected and the idea that a single test could determine someone's future just doesn't seem to make any sense in the north woods.

I am glad that Finland beats out South Korea, even if it is an irony that it in some ways uses a hierarchical list to argue against a hierarchical system. Mine is clearly a value judgment and I don't shy away from making it. Hard work is an important part of life but it is not the only thing and it is just smart to accomplish our goals with as little effort and suffering as possible.

Phrases like "you are always looking for the easy way out" and "you are just picking the low hanging fruit" are often used pejoratively, implying that there is something wrong with doing these things. But who is stupid enough to advocate a harder way to do something if a similarly successful easier way is available? I am willing to work hard when I must but I find no virtue in working hard if not necessary.

I like this phrase, "if it NEED not be done, it need NOT be done." Lots of what we do during a workday add little or no value to the goals we are trying to achieve. One of our top jobs should be to determine things that need not be done and eliminate them. Presumably we can redirect our efforts to more effective and higher priority tasks. One priority task that often gets short shrift is thinking about what we are doing and/or preparing to do so by reading good books or taking training. If you are worried about the exact language in a memo requesting a package of pencils, you are not doing your job or your job isn't very important.

This is what may be happening with education in these places. Korean kids are working full out. They are producing excellent results but are probably spreading their efforts to include lots of low or no priority activities. It is a kind of full court press. It gets everything done but at a high cost to participants.

We emphasize effort a bit too much. Sometimes the added results are not worth the added effort especially if you have other options. Pick the low hanging fruit first and if that is all you need, move along to the next task. There is no virtue in doing what need not be done, unless it if fun and then that is a different type of game.

I didn't really talk much about what works in education. I suggest you listen to this from NPR that inspired me to write. I ordered on Amazon the book "Finish Lessons" mentioned on the program. Maybe I will have a few more ideas after I read it. I have already decided that I would not want the U.S. to copy the Korean model. Finland looks better.

Posted by Christine & John at February 12, 2013 12:27 PM
Comment #361553

The S. Kor approach is so un-American while the Finnish model of ‘laid back in Mayberry’ is right on, IMO. But, this business of education and building success is not so simple, can’t be a cookie cutter approach, IMO.

Seems from the gitgo about 20% of HS grads finished college and became successful. Of late, a lot of effort$ has been put into improving education for the masses with little bang for the buck.

One can drag your points re the selective process for hiring/promotion into this discussion as well. Some of the college grads will be super bright in niche areas and some will have a more generalized ability across many areas. Both are necessary in that you need the true ‘nerds’ for conducting cutting edge scientific research in specific areas of technology. To manage and market products produced by the ‘nerds’ you need folks with a good knowledge of the products but also a good personality and all that goes with that. The recruiter/selector has to be highly attuned to the needs of the corporation in order to develop the right mix of skills/intellect within the corp.

Naturally, some floaters will pop to the surface in all this, meaning that some nerds will have good personality/sales traits that can be used beyond just doing hard science.

S. Kor. parents often push their children to be successful. At around age 11 one parent will go off to Seoul and live with the child around some learning center until the child completes their studies. First up, they must learn English and maybe conduct their studies using English. I suggest the kids will likely be nerds and somewhat devoid of a great personality. Nothing more than a hunch on my part.

So, I like the Finnish model but would put way more emphasis on who is allowed to instruct, what materials are presented and how those materials are presented. My guesstimate is that 80% of the teachers K-college should be barred from the teaching field.

Posted by: Roy Ellis at February 11, 2013 10:56 PM
Comment #361554

Thanks for the link to the NPR discussion. Very interesting contrast between the authoritarian Korean model and the nurturing Finnish model.

I agree with your choice of the Finnish model over the Korean. It strikes me that the Finnish model is predicated upon the assumption that education is a holistic effort. A well adjusted child is a receptive learner. The Finnish model also appears to encourage students to make career and higher educational choices based upon their unique desires, interests, personalities, etc. The strong and well respected upper level vocational training track in the Finnish system is something that is strikingly missing from our educational system.

What is common between the two countries is their strong emphasis on professional competence of teachers and their commitment to providing equality of resources across the socio-economic spectrum. The teaching profession is not only well compensated but a high status career in these high achieving countries.

Posted by: Rich at February 11, 2013 11:26 PM
Comment #361562


I have to read the book “Finnish Lines.” It will probably get here in a few weeks.

I generally like Nordic models. (The nerd in me has to make a distinction. Finland is a Nordic country but not Scandinavian) I lived in Norway for four years and grew up in Wisconsin and Minnesota where there was lots of that sort of influence. I have tried to figure out how much can be applied more widely in the U.S. Much of it is indeed cultural and cannot be easily duplicated.

Minnesota had indices much like Nordic countries. It wasn’t related only to the cold (it gets colder in Minnesota than it does in most of Scandinavia, BTW). I noticed lots of cultural similarities.

The dominant trait in Nordics (also the Germanic cultural sphere more generally), IMO, is lack of ostentation. People don’t show off. Those who try are pounded down. Everybody is supposed to be polite and keep their problems to themselves. There is a lot of what we would call judgement. People think it is their right and even their duty to look down on people who are doing “deviant” things like not working hard enough or showing excess emotion.

I used to carry my two-year-old son my my shoulders. Several times, old ladies would stop me and explain that he was old enough to walk and should no longer be carried.

In many ways, the Nordics are the opposites of our in-your-face American culture of late.

It is more like the American Midwest. I think this might help explain why schools in Iowa or Minnesota are relatively good. But can that model be transplanted to DC or LA?

We all live in different realities. In my circles in the Midwest growing up, nobody I knew dropped out of HS. It just never even occurred to me that any normal person would do that. I had an awkward moment with my brother in law’s family in Arizona. Some of the cousins were talking about having dropped out. They were in their early 20ies and I assumed them meant college. I said something like “lots of kids take a year off…” The parents criticized my easy attitude and the whole think went off the tracks when I found out we were talking HS.

Anyway - I went a long way around. I think being more “judgmental” is a good thing. Some behaviors, like dropping out of HS, are just unacceptable.

Posted by: C&J at February 12, 2013 6:39 AM
Comment #361570

Stop dumbing down classes to accommodate those who do not wish to learn.
Stop trying to “include” everybody by “teaching” BS subjects, and concentrate on meaningful ones that actually mean something to a persons future.
Require a HS diploma in order to qualify for any kind of government assistance.

Posted by: kctim at February 12, 2013 10:19 AM
Comment #361581

I know, let’s rush down to yer ole dept of ed and tell them we want to xfer to the Finnish system. . . . . .

Posted by: Roy Ellis at February 12, 2013 4:32 PM
Comment #361586

How about this one, kctim? Honesty/transparency in higher education management.

An opinion in the WaPo by a 12 year college president relates that ‘there is intense pressure from trustees, alumni, faculty, students and parents to have their school highly ranked. The jobs of those who prepare the data can be at risk if they fall short in the ratings competition.’

He notes that about $200B yearly is up for grabs in federal grant money, and that the jobs of those who massage the data can be at risk if they ‘fall short’ in the ratings competition.

Getting at the truth becomes seemingly more difficult over time.

Like, no one knows how many illegals are here as no one can ask about their status or tabulate data in that regard.

What went on behind the scene with Benghazi?

What don’t we know about ‘fast and furious?

With unemployment rising since the 09 recession, the FED stating that ‘several more years’ are needed to recover, and the Executive shutting down their ‘job creation program’, is there any REAL effort going on to restore the economy? Or, are we being delivered to a ‘soft landing’ for the ‘new normal’?

And so on - - - the truth is a nebulous thing of late…

Posted by: Roy Ellis at February 12, 2013 6:32 PM
Comment #361614


Government money always raises “costs” associated with the task at hand. That is why $10 hammers cost hundreds.

Government money and power also clouds the truth.
Deny illegal aliens any and all participation in society and only criminal data needs be tabulated.
Negligence and illegal activity like Benghazi and F&F will remain the same until both sides hold their own people to the same standard.

“is there any REAL effort going on to restore the economy?”

No! The worse the economy, the more people are dependent upon government. The more people are dependent on government, the easier they are to control. Our large urban areas are proof of that.

Posted by: kctim at February 13, 2013 9:16 AM
Comment #411876

In this article we can read about the Education. In which way Education effect anyone’s life. As we know that education is very necessary to have a successful and happy life. We should admit this facts and aware the people to get education.

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