In his latest post, Steve Spriggs discusses how British education perhaps shouldn’t rest on it’s laurels and should consider looking further afield for inspiration.
The British education system is revered around the world for its classical look, but the truth is it is not British education that is celebrated per se, but the independent school model. With its boater hats and large stately premises, most people will be picturing an Eton or Harrow rather than the ‘standard’ state schools operating up and down the country. The reality is these schools have their own positives and negatives, and systems around the world all have their own traits that our institutions could learn from.
It is telling that international schools operating around the world utilise a British curriculum in their delivery. Built over hundreds of years curriculum in the UK is looked at as a leading educational blueprint, with a glowing global reputation and entrenched in academia. Unlike some international systems the National Curriculum aims to provide a framework for young people to build their skillsets in everything from English and Maths, to Social Studies and Technology. In this regard the UK’s educational heritage ensures the world looks to the country for guidance and inspiration, however, no system is perfect and there are some traits of schools internationally that Britain could and perhaps should learn from.
Homework is institutional with Britain; in fact students are subject to one of the highest amounts of homework in the world with an average of 4.9 hours per week. While benefits of finding a balance between school and personal life are still debated, it is clear that the hours put in do not always correlate with the results produced.
Taking Asia as an example, South Korea is ranked as the world’s best performing school system with 80% of high school graduates continuing onto university, yet they only spend an average of 2.9 hours per week on homework. Of course, there is the additional aspect of students in the country spending the most time in the classroom (both during the day and with Hagwon, private study schools, at night).
Unsurprisingly perhaps, the sheer amount of hours put in by Korean students results in high grades and a culture of educational importance. Education secretaries have lauded their system for its results and calls are intermittently put out to try and replicate the culture of success ingrained within the society of Korea. While there are mental health concerns, the results are impressive and Britain could take some lessons on the length of school days and extraordinary levels of importance placed on education with the family home.
Starting times across various countries vary, while classes in the UK generally begin at 9:00 there has been arguments in favour of delaying this for the well-being of student health. Looking elsewhere however would suggest that 9:00 is later than many countries with some beginning as early as 7:00 such as Brazil and slots between 7:30 and 8:30 favoured by mainland Europe. Despite these differences, professionals disagree with calls for a later start time. Studies suggest an earlier start to the day results in better academic performance, fewer absentees, and overall improved health.
The British school uniform has also found itself romanticised internationally yet is another aspect being questioned by professionals who have studied the impact of a uniform. While it has its place in levelling out the differences between individual students’ backgrounds, it is also something that some countries do without. Canadian public schools for instance are not required to have uniforms, indeed most religious and private institutes will do, but for the most part there is the freedom to wear what the student feels comfortable in. Across Europe too there are only a few areas that mandate for a school uniform, including Provins, France who voted in favour of them in 2018.
There is an argument that suggests removing the school uniform helps promote independent thinking for students. Through confronting the reality of social groups, economic classes, and religious traditions, the earlier students are introduced to such concepts the faster they learn about the outside world and how they can affect it. A supplementary impact also lies on the help abolishing student uniform would have in helping families who struggle to afford new school tailored blazers and ties every other year.
The current school system is working; it fulfils its purpose of educating the next generation despite consistent budget cuts and political attacks. The UK is still looked at as a pinnacle for education advancement but that is no excuse to rest on its laurels and relax, the leader in any field should always be looking over its shoulder to see what tips it can pick up from the competition. Whether it’s the length of a school day, amounts of homework expected of students, school uniforms, or another aspect of schools around the world, insulating our thinking geographically is no example to set for the students.
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