Education is an integral part of any culture and they way different cultures and countries approach education varies intensely. From the general attitudes toward schooling to how the school system is actually run, a lot can be learnt about our school system by looking at how other cultures educate their students.
This article originally appeared in the December 2016 edition of UKEdMagazine
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The School Year
I have entered into many a debate about school holidays and their length, I believe that students lose a lot of information over the long 6 week summer holiday. One solution to this could be to have more terms and half terms rather than a big break between years. Most African countries also have three semesters like us each with a one month break in between. It’s difficult to say for certain whether different lengths of school year influence retention rates, not only because of the many other differences between these countries but also because tests are usually taken at the end of each school year with plenty of revision in the build up. If you were to also look at schools, such as in America, who have a longer summer, almost three months, it is argued that having less breaks throughout the year and one big summer means less disruption to students learning. These longer breaks present other problems in terms of child care for parents, but also make it possible for teachers to peruse other things in this three month gap (in which they may look at anything from a second job to further education/CPD). Almost every other country I have looked at, most certainly in the developed world, has a comprehensive summer programme, we in general do not have this. Some schools may run a week long programme for some students or days in Easter for year 11 but I rarely hear of a serious summer programme for those who are below expectations. The reasons for this almost certainly lie with teachers already high work load and school budgets that can’t stretch to the extra teaching budget.
The School Day
In recent months I have heard many calls for the teaching day to be extended to 4:30 pm and I cannot think of a single teacher that liked the idea of this. Naturally, we ma wish to lighten our timetable a little, However, having students in school for another hour could be incredibly beneficial. Students could do an extra curricular activity for that extra time rather than a lesson and this could help develop them as people rather than just as learners. Australia and America have similar days to us. However, in China, considered by many to have an excellent education system, school is from 7:30am to 5pm with a two hour lunch. This longer day is far more realistic in terms of actual working life but it also means there is more time for the core subjects and extra activities. Teachers in China also teach far less than their counterparts in other countries sometimes as few as 2/3 lessons a day. Brazil has a very different school day starting at 7 am and finishing at noon. Though far shorter this compensates the smaller budgets most schools have as well as a strong culture for lunch being the most important meal of the day.
Attitude To Learning
The lament of many a teacher at the moment is the attitude students have to learning. Some students, it is clear, display no interest in being at school and are forced to attend. These students, in my opinion at least, tend to be the ones that are the most disruptive and cause the most issues both in and out of lessons. There are schools with similar issues in countries such as America, however in places such as China, where there is a strong culture of respect, this appears to be less of an issue. My main experience in schools outside of the UK was in Kenya where I did my dissertation. Here it is clear that education is not a right, it is a privilege – it costs money to go to school after a certain age and so many children can’t attend school. However those that can have a far greater appreciation for how lucky they are. I spoke to many students who walked for 2/3 hours to get to school every day. I recently had a student in a class say that he thought students should be paid to go to school, and unfortunately it’s this attitude that in the UK at least appears to be causing a culture that doesn’t respect teachers as much as it should and students that don’t respect the privilege that they have to even be able to go to school. Obviously we should not charge students to go to school but we can teach them about other cultures who don’t have a free education, hopefully this will instil in them the appreciation for education that some other cultures seem to have.
At around 30 students per class, we have one of the biggest class size averages in the world. Few countries have more than this however Nigeria has 40 students per class. Some developing world countries have schools that are improvised for poorer children, where class sizes can reach near one hundred. In the developed world however it is rare to find a class size above 30. Russia has around 16, China 21 and Australia 18. It is obvious that with a smaller class size there can be more attention focused on each student, not just in the lesson but also in the planning and marking. Students will get far more one-on-one time with the teacher as well as any teaching assistants in the room. Also with larger class sizes the pace of a lesson is likely to be far slower and so more can be covered in smaller class sizes. Ask any teacher and they will say smaller class sizes would be a dream, however in the UK it’s the same story again and again, either we don’t have the staff or we don’t have the money. We are at the precipice as a country of needing more teachers and more schools for a growing population, however with more teachers leaving and few joining the profession we may well end up with even bigger class sizes in the future.
What Can We Learn
There are many things that should change within England’s education system but realistically not many changes can be made without far more money and teachers. Yes, ideally smaller classes would be great , and students in school for longer would probably boost results. But I think the most important thing we can change about our system is the attitude students have towards teachers and their education in general. We need to get students to understand how useful school is and how lucky they are that get if for free for so long. If all pupils see the value of their schooling, teaching and learning may be far more easy and rewarding for everyone. Ultimately it is down to schools, parents and teachers to help students see the value. We had a group of year 11 students go to an orphanage in a third world country this year and they all said how humbling it was, but this for me was too late, what if students could grasp this at a much younger age? One thing is clear, we need, as a society, to invest in education.
Upon the subject of education … I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people may be engaged in. – Abraham Lincoln
@MsGlynn2014 is a recently qualified maths teacher near London. She is soon to be leaving for a trip travelling the world, experiencing different cultures and education systems.