Thursday November 29, 2012
In a recent article in The Australian (November 23), Ben Jensen of the Grattan Institute in Melbourne has stressed the undoubted successes of East Asian education, but has ignored all its problems.
The price paid by children in East Asia for this educational success is that they do far more homework than Australian children – for example, Chinese children start serious homework in the first year of primary school, for as much as 2 hours per day, increasing to reach as much as 6-8 hours per day in the final years of high school.
East Asian children also engage in coaching classes from the primary school level on. PISA data show that around 20% of Korean children aged 15 spend over 4 hours per week on coaching in the areas of language, mathematics and other subjects. The comparable figures for Australia are less than 5%.
Therefore, it is simply not clear that what East Asian schools do accounts for the undoubted high achievements. Rather, the extra load carried by children out of school may be a major contributor.
These trends are criticised by many East Asian voices (not just critics in Australia), who argue that the obsession with educational success effectively robs children of their childhood.
In addition to all of this, there are strong arguments to suggest that the rapid emergence of an epidemic of short-sightedness in East Asia has been caused by this educational pressure. This not a minor matter, since in countries such as China, South Korea and Singapore, recent data suggest that over 80% of children need glasses by the time they finish school, and around 20% have such severe myopia that they are at much increased risk of the emergence of sight-threatening pathologies later in life.
In contrast, Australia achieves top 10 PISA performance levels, without imposing such high loads on students, and without an epidemic of myopia. We may have things to learn from East Asia, but East Asia has arguably at least as much to learn from the successes of Australian schools.