Successful Education: Old School is Good School

Go East, Young Man: Learning from China

Are you ready for this: 30 educators from the UK went to Shanghai to find out why Chinese kids are scoring 30% higher on international tests. The English Minister of Education (Nick Gibb) told the schools to start copying China, and ditch the trendy discovery-based, student-driven techniques. It’s time for teachers to get back up front and TEACH.

The UK’s trip to Shanghai was actually a year ago, but the discovery will take awhile to implement in the West, because we’ve really become enamored of the student-as-driver mentality. Let me point you to two different articles that digest the UK report. First, there’s the article in The Conversation, ‘Chalk and talk’ teaching might be the best way after all’. Then there’s the Business Insider’s article, boldly concluding that “…the West is instructing students wrong”. (Both of these articles are just digesting the original in the Daily Mail).

The debate centers around “Direct Instruction” vs. “Indirect Instruction”. In the U.S., the prominence of Indirect Instruction is aligned old school in Chinawith the UK’s current momentum, and we would expect a group of 30 teachers from the US visiting China to have come home with the same type of observation.

Old School is Good School: some quotes from the articles

  • The Chinese favour a “chalk and talk” approach, whereas countries such as the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand have been moving away from this direct form of teaching to a more collaborative form of learning where students take greater control.
  • There is increasing evidence that these new-age education techniques, where teachers facilitate instead of teach and praise students on the basis that all must be winners, in open classrooms where what children learn is based on their immediate interests, lead to under-performance (emphasis mine)
  • Many in Australian education believe children are only really learning when they are active. As a result, teachers are told it is wrong to sit children at their desks and ask them to listen to what is being taught. Again, the evidence proves otherwise.
  • The psychological evidence is clear that there are no benefits for learning from trying to present information to learners in their preferred learning style.
  • Overly praising students, especially those who under-perform, is especially counterproductive. It conveys the message that teachers have low expectations and reinforces the belief that near enough is good enough, instead of aiming high and expecting strong results.
  • There’s not just one way to teach… In the early years of primary school, children need to memorise things like times tables and poems and ballads so that they can be recalled easily and automatically. Education is also about curiosity and innovation and there will be other times when rote learning will be unsuitable – for example, when students explore a topic that excites them and where they undertake their own research and analysis.

OK, teaching is a complex art, right? I hope no one is denying thatBut I’m sure glad to see that China — always derided for imitating — has not followed the West in terms of classroom instruction methodologies. They’re still standing there as a challenge to what we THOUGHT was a no-brainer improvement!

Ron VanPeursem
Ron VanPeursem is the Content Marketing Strategist for Shift Digital Media, and co-owner of Vihanti Digital Services (India). Ron blogs about Cultural Intelligence, Business in Intercultural Contexts, Education Theory and Content Marketing.

"Words are Powerful Things"