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Why certain kids learn so much and others don't? Amanda Ripley try to answer this and other questions with "The Smartest Kids in the World". She goes after the PISA results (a triennial international survey which evaluates skills and knowledge of 15 year old students from more than 65 countries) and focus in 3 countries: South Korea, Finland and Poland, comparing them with United States.
She follows 3 exchange students, giving a personal, concrete and fresh air to the story, constructing an easy to learn and very interesting book.
Amanda argues that PISA results don't measure only theory, but readiness to solve day to day problems, think critically, how to use the knowledge and comunicate well.
*Korea-- The pressure cooker that goes to extremes-- The public school is not free- in Busan, the price for the family is around 1500 dollars/ year. The school starts at 8 and goes till 16:10. Then, the kids clean the classroom (the kids that don't behave use red pinnies and clean the bathroom). At 16:30, they settled back in their seats for test-prep classes. Then they eat dinner in the school cafeteria. After dinner came yaja, a two hour period of study loosely supervised by teachers. Around 21:00 they get out of school, but the study is not over yet. 70% still go to a private tutor or hagwons till the curfew, 23:00. The teenagers do nothing but study. And they become exhausted, so they have to sleep in class the next day (they bring pillows to school). All of this because they need to pass the exams to enter the 3 best Universities of Korea. The people think that performance comes after hard work and is not a God given talent. They have an academic purpose well established and high expectations of what they can achieve. Education is the country's treasure.
* Finland- The role model- The teaches are rigidly selected, earn well and have autonomy and prestige. Differently from the rest of the world where teachers teach what they don't know they are expected to be the best from their generation. There is a common sense that runs through society about the seriousness of education (everybody care) and a clarity of purpose. Kids can learn how to fail and get back to their feet while still young.
*Poland- a country where 1/6 of children live in poverty, where criminality was high and had a beaten soul. A country that should fail in Pisa, but the Minister of Education took action.The reforms that Handke implemented changed the point of equilibrium-- put more rigor into the system, changed curriculum, created 4.000 schools overnight, forced teachers to learn more and raised expectations about what kids should accomplish. He showed the world that reforms don't take so much time to be felt. Three years later, everybody saw the jump.
Amanda Ripley writes that even today's blue collar jobs need critical thinking and that people graduate from high school without the basics. So, to have the education that our kids deserve, we need to be rigid and care about knowledge, within certain limits.
20 of 21 people found this review helpful
This is a book about kids who wanted to go to school in Europe and found ways to go. This is NOT a book about how those schools are different. Any discussion about the differences in the school systems is a footnote to the real topic of the book- long overly dramatized mini-novels about kids who want to go to Europe- Why do they want to go? Meh, Not important. Every time the writer comes dangerously close to having to say something substantive about her supposed topic she very suddenly and awkwardly changes the subject. She might have though she was being suspenseful but I don't have a whole lot of patience for writers who want to fill their non-fictions with pointless stories, all of which are overly dramatized to pad her book. Who cares how depressed these kids were about the weather and what they thought about their hair when they wanted to go to school in Europe? How about telling us the differences in the schools? Differences in the administration? Differences in the techniques? Differences in the discipline? Differences in the teachers? Differences in the culture? Differences in the schedules, curriculum, athletics, funding ANYTHING! What about a book about The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way? Would that be too much to ask? I am going to get a refund. This book is nothing like advertised. People who like short novels about kids getting into European schools will find this book entertaining.
85 of 98 people found this review helpful