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Friday, 17 January 2014

Grim Reading (aka Taking The Pisa)

Once again the failings in the UK’s dumbed down education system have been exposed. I say ‘dumbed down’, because there was and is a school of thought (what an inappropriate term), amongst educationalists that got a grip on the education system a couple of decades ago, and that said that ‘no one is to be left behind’. So it abandoned streaming classes on the ability of the children, and pretended instead, in a socialist sort of way, that all are equal. Let us therefore have 'multi-achievement' level kids in every class, and teach at the speed of the stupidest.

Grim Reading For The Educational Establishment.

Well the results are there for all to see – an education system that was once one of the best and most admired in the world. That once produced some of the brightest and best minds in the world; now languishing in 23rd spot in the Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment), educational attainment tests, world league table- which are run by the O.E.C.D think tank.  And before the Celtic fringe in the (still) United Kingdom starting wittering on about the ‘special’ education that they offer, now that they are free of the ‘English’ … please note that:

  • Scotland performed only marginally better than England,
  • Who were a bit better than Northern Ireland, and
  • All of whom out performed Wales.

I remember the politician Michael Heseltine (born in Swansea, Wales – but presumably not educated there), suggesting that Wales had been ‘socialist’ for so long, that it had lost the ability for entrepreneurship (a sign of an apathetic education system if ever there was one), and just wanted state sector employment. Maybe he was right, but not just for Wales?

How teachers, faced with the continuing evidence of their collective failure, have the nerve to keep suggesting that they are a professional body that needs no supervising nor instruction, is beyond me, but then I didn’t go to some ‘red brick’ Polytechnic only to emerge full of the latest trendy educational theories, that dictated that ability, attainment, and achievement were all 'dirty words'.

Of course the UK isn’t the worst of the performers (although in Northern ‘rich’ Europe, it’s a pretty poor performer), and across the globe there are some surprising results; Chile for example is the strongest performer among South American countries, but only just above the lowest-performing European country, Albania. Personally I found that surprising, as I would have guessed that Chile, Argentina and maybe Uruguay, would all have done well – certainly to mid European standards, as delivering a good education system is in their interests as societies, and not entirely dependent upon national wealth, as a good cultural attitude towards education is at least as important a factor (as we are rediscovering in the UK).

In some countries, its the regional variations that are marked out by the tests - In Italy, the region of Trento is apparently one of the best in the world at maths tests, but poor southern Calabria is performing below many poor east European countries (approximately two years behind in pupil attainments). Similarly in the USA, where the public education system is generally an average/poor performer in these tests (below countries such as Russia and Spain), there are pockets of high achievement in some individual states: If for example Massachusetts was ranked as a country, it would be sixth best in the world, ahead of any European country – but then I vaguely recall that Massachusetts also took a radical approach to welfare dependency (particularly single parents), but don’t quote me on that, and possibly are reaping the benefits in the attitudes of their children coming from ‘working’ households.

It seems also that the penny may be dropping in some of the Arab nations (not renowned for their secular lessons), because from an admittedly low base in earlier years, one of the biggest improver's in maths and reading is Qatar, where the country has been investing in education.

Example Question: Maths question (top difficulty level):

Helen's got a new bike. It has a speedometer which sits on the handlebar, which tells her the distance she travels and her average speed for the trip.

Helen rode her bike from home to the river, which is 4km away. It took her 9 minutes. She rode home using a shorter route of 3km. This only took her 6 minutes.

What was Helen's average speed in km per hour for the trip to the river and back?

That would not have been classed as top difficulty level in my time, and I don't have a maths O-level.

  • Add up the time and the distance.
  • How many times does the the time divide into 1 hour (4), and
  • Times distance by that time.

So 7km in 15 minutes and 15 goes 4 times into 60 (1hr) and 4 x 7 = 28km per hour ...

What's shocking is that for this level of difficulty, only a third of 15-year-olds in Shanghai did well on these questions of this difficulty level, followed by 20% in Singapore ... but the average for this difficulty level of question in maths, found in countries such as France, Austria and the UK - was just 3% doing well.

In the UK the usual row broke out … The Conservative Education Secretary said that reforms are needed (and under way), while the Labour opposition (who spent billions of pounds on supporting the unreformed teaching ideology, in the belief that if we threw just another 10 billion at the problem, the lefty theorists would be proved right), are saying it’s the current governments fault, even though they themselves were in charge through much of the tested children’s education.

Of course its actually both major parties fault for not recognising what had gone wrong by the mid 1970’s, and for the sake of all our futures sat down and set-down the framework of an education system that ensured that we at least got education in the UK ’right’.

Finally, just a thought … mass immigration over the last two or three decades, where 'English' is not the first tongue of many children entering our schools can't have helped matters. The extra teaching required to bring those children up to speed, must have impacted the amount being taught to the native speakers in school lessons, and therefore negatively influenced the PISA test results? …

But then 'social engineering' via mass immigration, was never meant to improve the UK was it?

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