Shanghai’s PISA Scores

Source: The Diplomat Blogs, Sep 2011

Schleicher explained that, twenty years ago, the knowledge that students learned in schools would find them a good job and be applicable for the rest of his or her life but today, technology and the Internet have made knowledge readily available and thus cheap.

What’s important then is the ability to sift through available knowledge, analyse it, and apply it to new situations. In this regard, Shanghai schools are doing well: according to Schleicher, 26 percent of Shanghai students demonstrated complex problem solving skills on the PISA, whereas the OECD average is 3 percent.

But to succeed in the constantly changing global economy today, Schleicher argued, students need to understand that learning is a life-long process, and thus they must possess a passion for learning as well as the ability to learn for themselves. And that’s where Shanghai falls down: 15 year-olds in OECD countries show more curiosity and initiative than Shanghai 15 year-olds, who from the first day of school have been made passive and stressed by too much homework and tests. 

Chinese educators and parents may argue that childhood is a time to develop a strong foundation of knowledge. But Schleicher warned that OECD data suggest that if students haven’t yet developed self-learning skills and a passion for learning by age 15, then it’s unlikely they ever will. 

A question here then is: Do Chinese schools make learning so unpleasant for students that they don’t want to learn anymore after they leave school? Anecdotal evidence suggests that’s the case: After they finish the national examination, Chinese students burn their textbooks, spend four years in college playing video games, and enter the workforce unprepared for the re-learning that their job requires.

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