What makes a great educational system?

A very timely article appeared in the Economist today given the upcoming PISA results day on the 6th of this month.  “Learning from the world’s swottiest countries” – a review and discussion of Lucy Crehan’s new book based on research during her gap year from teaching science in a secondary school:

“Cleverlands: The Secrets Behind the Success of the World’s Education Superpowers.”

Here are some interesting takeaways from the book/article: Dismissing the success of top performers as a result of culture alone is a “grave mistake”

In top-performing countries, children do not start school until they are at least six or seven years old. Aside from Singapore, all the places she visits wait until children are in their mid-teens before diverting some to less academic tracks.

Teachers are given time to practise and they receive feedback from peers.

Pupils are expected to learn both facts and skills.

She shows that schools can delay selection without harming brighter pupils. This is for two reasons. First, intelligence is not fixed: slow starters can catch up, at least a bit. Second, expectations matter: in delaying selection, top-performing countries suggest to all pupils that they can achieve high standards.”

For me this is the most important and poignant takeaway:

Studies show that academic work can wait, she explains, because otherwise it can go over the heads of kids while hindering social skills and a love of learning.

As the Economist article says: “Too much writing about education is polemical and ill-informed. “Cleverlands” is neither. Ms Crehan is refreshingly fair-minded, acknowledges the limits of research and does not idolise highly stressful school systems.”




  1. I agree, we need to make sure our kids are able to have fun in their early years. While it is easier to teach skills the younger they are, it can have a damaging affect. However, there are also times when some parents take this to the extreme. I had one client that didn’t teach her daughter how to read because she didn’t feel she was ready for it. Now she is in 4th grade and feels she is ready to learn.

  2. alexvear

    Agreed, sometimes as parents or family members we can be too emotionally involved to make the best call with regards to the level of learning. As tutors, we often see children who have been pushed too hard to achieve and are missing the basics and others who haven’t been challenged enough. Once I purchase the book and delve deeper into it I will write an update on the findings. I find it refreshing that there are people out there investigating what makes a good educational system without trying to back up their own preconceived ideas.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top