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How the World Learns Lecture

How the World Learns: Comparative Educational Systems

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Publisher's Summary

America's blueprint for mass education has been followed across the globe - yet international student assessments show that achievement varies sharply, with the US and much of Europe typically scoring average at best. Not surprisingly, this state of affairs has sparked anxieties about an educational crisis. Adding even more fuel to the fire: many cite a growing disconnect between what schools teach and the needs of a rapidly changing market.

The problem, if there is one, is highly complex, and in these 24 thought-provoking lectures led by an associate professor of comparative and international education, you'll take a meaningful look at education around the world to understand why.

You'll go beyond prescriptions for quick fixes to engage in a detailed comparison of teaching methods and student achievement, from the focus on STEM instruction and the intent of morals education to the role of preschool and the importance of creativity. You'll discover why Finland and South Korea rank as the two best educational systems despite having diametrically opposed approaches and consider the unique challenges facing schools from America to South Africa.

You'll use internationally comparative data to identify strengths and weaknesses and to see how this information is used - and sometimes misused - to enact policies. The data and systems are not studied in a vacuum, however. Instead you'll explore how cultural, religious, socioeconomic, and historical contexts may influence these methods and whether one nation's best practice could backfire in another.

Along the way you'll contemplate questions about the goals of education and the ways teachers may help students reach them, from whether standardized testing is the best way to measure what a person is capable of to whether teachers should have a role beyond presenting academic content.

©2015 The Great Courses (P)2015 The Teaching Company, LLC

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    Marta 21/05/2016
    Marta 21/05/2016 Member Since 2016
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    4
    1
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Not for everyone"

    I struggled to finish this course: it was quite abstract and policy maker oriented. Author repeated often the same these and there was no clear development of the material from one lecture to another.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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  • Hadi
    Saudi Arabia
    26/08/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "A book I thoroughly enjoyed litening to"
    Any additional comments?

    Here are my key learnings from a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading--one I did not want to finish quickly.

    First, why would anyone learn about other countries’ education systems? I think it is important for any parent or educated citizen. For one, education is maybe one of the most common institutions around the world; you and anyone around the world know the classroom experience, or the anxiety before exams, for example. For another, education, in my opinion, is the best means by which societies transform their economy. Prosperous economies tend to have not only a better standard of living but also better societies—that is, being civil or having fewer crimes, and so on.

    In his book “How the World learns: Comparative Education Systems,” Alexander W. Wiseman argues that education is not only about school factors—that is, the curriculum, school buildings, and teachers’ credentials—but is equally about non-school factors that are more difficult to change. The most important of these are parents’ income and socio-economic status. This is why it is unwise to borrow another country’s education system and copy it exactly without accounting for different social, cultural, or economic differences. As a result of the results of international standardized tests, many countries tried to copy Finland’s education system, but the benefits were very limited.

    To illustrate this point further, we can compare the education system of Finland and that of Taiwan. Both countries’ students are always at the top of international standardized tests rankings, but they couldn't be more different. Finland’s education system is individualized. The emphasis is on developing a long relationship between the teacher and the students, by which the teacher can identify students’ strengths and weaknesses. They have no or few standardized tests that affect a student’s ability to go from one grade to the next. Taiwan’s education system, by contrast, is a high-stakes system in which students must achieve high scores on exams to move from one grade to another or from elementary school to intermediate school. Students’ job opportunities are also affected by their scores on standardized tests. As such, teachers focus their instruction on exam preparation and best ways by which students can pass exams. It is clear that Finland’s and Taiwan’s education systems are very different, which is also good news in that there is no one and perfect way to fix a country’s education system. However, it is important to benefit from those systems that share similar social and cultural factors and pay attention to the country’s background, that is, its unique values and belief system, for example.

    A successful attempt to benefit from a successful education system is one by the UAE, in which they started slowly by opening two Finnish schools in Abu Dhabi. They recruited 50 or so Finnish teachers, and the school was under Finnish management. Local teachers were still teaching students courses in Arabic, religion, and ethics, but the Finnish pedagogy was employed, and local teachers were sent on a regular basis to continuing education programs, similar to what Finnish teachers normally receive in Finland. This experience is successful in many ways. For one, it benefits from Finnish pedagogy. Second, it takes into account the UAE’s unique culture. Third, Finland was chosen carefully as it shares a number of factors with the UAE, for example, the standard of living.

    What is good about this book is that not only does it teach about the different methods by which different countries learn but also the importance of context. Not only in education, we tend to try to copy successful people’s ways without accounting for differences that cannot, sometimes, be altered. If you’re to start a new traditional or online school in Saudi Arabia, you can’t copy any successful model; it is important to emulate those that share a good number of cultural, social, and economical factors. A good example of this is Ali Baba’s success. Unlike the Western model of effective websites, Ali Baba accounted for Chinese preference for flashy colours and Chinese insistence on communication with the seller before buying. After struggling for a few years, Ali Baba sales exceeded those of eBay in China, a feat that no one expected.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • Gregory
    EL CERRITO, CA, United States
    08/09/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Never have so many words said so little"

    How can a course this long contain so little content?

    The author is too academic, yet provides very little information. He essentially keeps rephrasing his main point that everything must be considered in context. In other words, you really can't evaluate a school or school system because it is so influenced by society, families, etc. He then repeatedly uses this to make excuses for our failing schools.

    The author spent a surprisingly small amount of time actually discussing international schools and approaches to education.

    The author hardly said anything definitive - there was almost no useful information.


    What a waste of an otherwise interesting topic...

    8 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • Luca
    29/10/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Repeats the same concept over and over"

    Interesting subject, but when it gets to details, it repeats the same concept with different words and similar examples so many times that I feel like listening the first chapters world have given me the same level of knowledge.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Jim Fuqua
    Hendersonville, TN United States
    15/09/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Disappointing"

    If you are a teacher or parent who hates testing and does not like uniform tests to evaluate a child's progress compared to other students or a teacher's effectiveness in teaching, you will be delighted with the views of this professor.

    If you believe that schools have no duty to exert --whatever it takes-- to help children overcome deficits caused by poor parenting and dysfunctional social conditions in ghetto neighborhoods you will find comfort in the views of this professor.

    This professor thinks helping disadvantaged children borders on hopeless because of their culture and that schools should bear no blame of significance. This is unfortunate when twenty percent of American children fail to graduate from high school. His solution? Don't test.

    He asserts blame goes first to the parents and secondarily to our society for children's failure in school. He assigns the third position of responsibility to a third party, the name of which he could not recall, and put public schools in the fourth position. He then opined that no significant responsibility was left by the time you get to schools.

    The OECD finds that schools in the USA tied for 30th place in science and math when compared to 70 other nations. The International Student Assessment (PISA) ranked the USA schools as 27th among the 34 OECD countries.

    He dismisses as irrelevant the fact that schools in some countries are functioning as many as 220 school days per school year while school in the USA usually are open only 180 days per school year. He assigns the difference in performance to a difference in culture. Perhaps he thinks our culture would not accept more school days. If so, he is wrong.

    As a former school board member, I once caused the school system to solicit the views of parents. Many would have jumped at the opportunity to send their children to school for an extra forty days per year. Many wanted to save on summer daycare expense. In the USA when not in school most young children are in cramped day care facilities at great expense. The majority of parents have jobs outside the home. Many parents would gladly welcome more school days for financial reasons alone.

    I eagerly awaited my Audible monthly credit so I could purchase this series of lectures. I thought it would suggest concrete measures to improve school systems – not just in the USA, but in the whole world. What I got was far from an application of the scientific method to perhaps the most pressing issue facing the world. How could this be?

    The answer perhaps lies in the fact that the good professor is not a scientist. He is an English teacher who, while teaching in Japan, spent much the classroom time, by his own admission, teaching Japanese children to sing songs by the Beatles. While teaching poor children, principally of Mexican and Navajo ethnicity with poor language skills, he concentrated on teaching Macbeth. In his defense, Macbeth was part of the required curriculum, but such thinking is still part of the school problem. When English is a student's second language and the student is struggling, does it make sense to concentrate on Shakespeare?

    Without being a scientist, he could have at least dispelled some of the myths that permeate our educational establishments such as that other nations routinely expel and fail to educate the low performing students while we educate all. It is not true. Some say the top countries use harsh treatment of students to obtain such lofty achievements. Is it true?

    Corporal punishment was used in education since ancient times. Plato commented on it and the Old Testament has many references to it. Corporal punishment is a bad practice, but what has replaced it in public schools in the USA?

    I once inspected a new high school. I looked in every classroom window. Almost every classroom had one or more students sleeping with their head down on their desk. Sleeping would not have been tolerated when I went to high school. Now teachers say they have no means to change the behavior of unmotivated students. They must just let them be.

    In private schools detention outside of school hours and extra study is often used to set a wayward child back on an acceptable track. What methods are common in other nations? This professor never mentions that. Is punishment how other nations get their children to perform better than the USA norm? I doubt it, but I wish the professor had told us more.

    His general explanation of the unique local culture is not enough of an explanation. If extreme harshness is what it takes for schools to do better then we might find our schools more acceptable than the ones that outperform ours.

    This series of lectures was very disappointing. It sounded more like propaganda from a teachers union than a thoughtful search for best practices in public education.

    9 of 15 people found this review helpful
  • KC
    25/07/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Not Much Substance"

    I made it through half the book. From what I read, it did not have much substance. The message I received was that we cannot compare educational systems and that was message was given repeatedly with different examples.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • J. L. E. Pfaff
    Alexandria, VA USA
    28/05/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Good Overview of Various Educational Policy"
    Where does How the World Learns rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    This is good Great Course on global educational policy; however, the title is a bit misleading. I was hoping to hear more about actual teaching and learning philosophies and approaches in the classroom. Much of the policy information I knew. As someone who has taught international students at the university level, I am interested in learning more about the various processes of learning across countries and cultures and how knowing this can shape ones teaching. This course had some of this information but was really more about policy.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The real comparisons in the classroom between cultures, parental attitudes toward teaching and learning.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Kyle
    13/05/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Repetitive"

    Anedotal supplemented with superficial statistics. The same tenants were repeated throughout the course. A few interesting thoughts sprinkled as the exception.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • I am No Expert
    Tampa
    31/03/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "fits the title, but misses the mark."

    I wished it was better than just a quick overview. The author seems to know his subject, but lacks the delivery.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • henry matthews
    29/02/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "not what the title says"

    a bit dry. Does not go into how a person learns, nor does not try and break down the data on the standardized tests taken by the world. I stuck with it through five lectures, but wasn't getting anything out of it so gave up

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Collin
    27/09/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Interesting, but..."
    Would you consider the audio edition of How the World Learns to be better than the print version?

    I think the print version would might me easier to follow the jargon.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Very useful global to local comparisons and clear stated limitation of comparisons. In other word very honest.


    Any additional comments?

    This is very interesting information and the professor does have some personnel bias, but does provides data when able to support opinions. However some of the long worded technical jargon, especially at the end of the book can make it a little difficult to follow. All in all very useful information for any one voting on school issues.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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