The world was surprised to find Shanghai on top of the PISA ranking list published by OECD on the December 7, 2010. But China wasn’t. Curiously, there was hardly any mention of it in its national newspapers. Why?
Probably because they want to get away from PISA. And, probably because they are busy creating a new understanding of education.
Education in the 21st century is about making human beings critical and creative. We know this by now. We also know, that it needs to bring forth a diversity of skills on a national level crucial to feed the growing hunger of the knowledge based economy with fresh, creative, enthusiastic and motivated minds. But the skills of these minds cannot be measured by solely three criterias as measured by PISA – which can be compared to evaluating athletes for the Olympic Games on solely three types of games (see Yong Zhao below). However, PISA is not a bad test, it can be an interesting comparative indicator showing whats going on in schools in different countries. Problematic is only the misleading effect it may have on our minds and our our policy makers (or rather politicians) by creating a very simple picture of a very complex reality … especially in times when we need to gather all our wits to understand what we really need.
Lets look at Finnland – the country which is gaining more and more recognition to have cooked up the magical mix of spices for schools of the 21st century. Their students excelled at the PISA test (#1 in OECD), while maintaining a completely different educational model (see later post) than lets say China. Since the 1960s they have pursued policies that sound innovative by all modern pedagogic standards. Community schools, high quality teachers (top 10% of students recruited from universities), student centred learning, project based learning, social mix etc etc. Being good at PISA is only a side effect for Finnland.
Going back to China – while most countries reported heavily on their performances at PISA (like Austria tumbling down the ladder; Britain too, despite huge investments in schools; Germany celebrating their slight rise on the ladder etc.), China did not even mention its topping the list (see Yong Zhao) in its national newspapers. Instead, it published the comments of a Chinese mother who complained about the Chinese school model and about the inhumanly long hours her child has to spend on school work, and her fear of irreversible mental and physical damage of her child. China seems to be eager to propagate a new understanding of educational. What are they up to?
Yong Zhao, professor at Michigan State University, analysed the case to great detail. Look into his blog to find where the Chinese are heading for, and in contrast, where the US is heading for. His book The Mismeasure of Education: Worthy Knowledge in the Age of Globalization sounds to be quite promising . I decided to make it my Christmas gift : ).