December 5, 2013

Asians lead the globe on exams, but paying a price

Long hours of hard work at learning put Asians at the top of testing, but well-rounded education suffers.

By Didi Tang
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Students sit for a university admission test in Tokyo last January. Students from Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea were among the highest-ranking groups in math, science and reading test results released Tuesday.

The Associated Press

Even the party-run People’s Daily noted the burden on Shanghai students. “While many countries have been urged to increase more study time and more homework for their students, Shanghai clearly needs some alleviation,” the editorial reads.

Japan’s education minister, Hakubun Shimomura, pointed to the test results as evidence of success in reforms aimed at reducing class sizes – despite continued criticism of the pressure-filled university entrance exam system. Many Japanese students also attend cram schools to get an extra edge.

“Asian countries do better than European and American schools because we are ‘examination hell’ countries,” said Koji Kato, a professor emeritus of education at Tokyo’s Sophia University. “There is more pressure to teach to the test. In my experience in working with teachers, the situation is becoming worse and worse.”

INVESTING HEAVILY IN EDUCATION

In China, where educational inequity is deeply entrenched, Shanghai has become an oasis of high standards and generous government support. The city invests four times the national average per student.

“Shanghai is an exception, and it is by no means representative of China,” said Jiang Xueqin, deputy principal at the High School Attached to Tsinghua University in Beijing. “It’s an international city where its residents pay great attention to education and where there are many universities.”

Affluent Shanghai parents annually spend an average of 6,000 yuan ($1,000) on English and math tutors and 9,600 yuan ($1,600) on weekend lessons, Jiang has written.

Ironically, many Chinese parents – especially those with means and bemoaning the pressure their children must endure in local schools – are increasingly sending their children overseas for what they consider a more well-rounded education.

TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING

An analysis by the Shanghai Academy of Educational Sciences found that Shanghai students ranked first globally in time spent on homework. On average, they spent 13.8 hours on school-assigned homework every week, far above the international average of seven hours.

Zhang Minxuan, a university president who oversaw the PISA administration in Shanghai, said PISA does not measure students’ social abilities, physical health and aesthetics, and he cautioned against extrapolating to the rest of the country.

“Shanghai is one of the most prosperous Chinese cities and one of the cities with balanced education,” he said, as reported by Shanghai Education News. “Shanghai students’ top placement in PISA is no proof of equal development of education in China. With no denying, China’s education still has a long way to go.”

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