Why are literacy and numeracy rates in this country lagging so far behind nations such as Japan and Finland?by Annalies Winny / October 21, 2013 / Leave a comment
Well, it’s happening again. Another damming judgment of the English education systems has been delivered, this time by the global policy forum the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. England’s special friend the United States hasn’t done so well either. The takeaway is one we’ve all heard before: when it comes to the three “R”s the kids are not alright.
A recent OECD survey of educational standards in 24 nations ranked England near the bottom (21) and the United States dead last—for numeracy, and they fared little better for literacy coming in at 19 and 20 respectively. As heads shake in dismay, the never-ending English education debate returns to its perennial question: how do we fix it?
Finland and Japan traded off the top spots in the OECD tables, with the Netherlands and South Korea biting at their heels. Countries that consistently come top in international rankings don’t have everything in common. Standardised testing is, if you will, “big in Japan”, while Finland’s holistic approach shuns it until the end of secondary school. We know there is no magic bullet, so everyone has an idea on how to achieve educational excellence.
Scrap the unions. Scrap Michael Gove. Test more. Test less. Close failing schools. Diversify schools. Unite schools. Create choice. Eliminate choice.
Recently, Dominic Cummings has made some particularly uncomfortable suggestions. In his 250-page farewell letter to Whitehall, Michael Gove’s outgoing special adviser throws a number of educational institutions under the bus. Cummings bills Sure Start—the drive to establish educational centres for deprived children—as a waste of billions of pounds with “no real gains.” He identifies mediocrity as the norm in teaching and suggests we plan accordingly.
Marvelling at the blanket assumption that attainment is based on nurture, not nature, he insists that education policy has endangered schools by failing to acknowledge and act upon the real variable: genetics. And the sooner we admit it, the better. This isn’t just natural intelligence but character traits such as conscientiousness and self-control. Lacking the latter, he says, is linked to health problems, being poor, being an addict and being a criminal. The more we can study and identify these traits, the better we can prevent their negative byproducts.
Adopting a system that is “personalised to get the best out of children with different…