If you watched Foreign Correspondent's recent story about the pressure under which South Korean students suffer when studying for exams, it's hard not to be discouraged. The disenchantment of some parents’ with their education system is particularly distressing.
These poor students studying 18-hour days under immense strain with the result that more than half of South Korea's teenagers have experienced suicidal thoughts, and nearly one-third said they felt 'very depressed'. So is that's what's required of our youth for Australia to be competitive in the Asian Century? Maybe not.
As much as I admire and respect South Korea’s ‘economic miracle’ and the country’s rapid rise from poverty after the Korean War, I do question whether their formulaic approach to academic excellence is either wise or sustainable.
'Drill and Test'
The problem with the 'drill and test' method used by South Korea and many others in the region, is that it limits a student's understanding of a concept to what they've been spoon-fed, rather than teaching learning for mastery.
A good analogy for 'drill and test' is being taught to drive a car through the same controlled obstacle course over and over. Yes, you’ll get faster – on the course. Mastery learning, however, teaches the student to drive in a variety of conditions and to anticipate the unexpected. Who would you rather drive alongside?
Another regional economic success story, Singapore, has recently questioned it’s own obsession with exam results and rote learning known there as ‘study book’, and acknowledged the significant negative impact this focus has had upon society. The island nation is famous for its ability to adapt and is now seeking a more balanced approach.
There is a common thread between these countries and others in the region, such as Taiwan and Hong Kong. They have all in the recent past sought to rapidly raise the numeracy, literacy and language skills of a large population. They have also, in large part, succeeded for which they are to be congratulated.
Australia has a different history and circumstances however, and the benefit of a long established and highly effective education system. We also have the resources to ‘drill and test’ our students to smithereens, but I’d suggest that would be an overly simplified ‘me-too’ solution that is a poor fit for our culture.
The mastery learning approach is based upon the premise that a student cannot progress to concept ‘B’ before mastering concept ‘A’. In that way, a solid foundation can be built at each stage to ensure the student is not later ‘derailed’ by a fundamental weakness.
The main challenge with this approach is that students may need regular, qualified intervention and homework help available in real time and on-demand. The upside is that timely ‘tune ups’ that get students unstuck reduce the necessity for excessive repetition and rote learning. As well as long hours.
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At Studiosity our vision is simple – outstanding academic achievement AND harmonious and rewarding personal lives for students and parents. Thankfully the study life balance no longer needs to be an either/or choice for Aussie students.
Good thing Malcolm Turnbull invented the internet. :)
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