The education boom in Asia

Over the past 15 years or so, Asian countries regularly figure among those with the best performing pupils in international ranking systems. Could Asian-Pacific economic growth be the only explanation for this success story? The CIERP (International Centre for Pedagogical Studies) set about analysing the phenomenon and the evolution of teaching on the Asian continent, comparing methods, cultures and performance levels among various countries.

The education boom in Asia

In 2014, in Paris, 45 personalities from 13 different Asian countries, from India to China, via the Philippines ... addressed a conference on this topic. A special issue of the Revue internationale d'éducation de Sèvres, published last April by the CIEP presents the contributions of the speakers at the conference, adding their own analyses.

"The venue provided the first occasion for Asian experts in the field to exchange on this level about differences in their pedagogical practices", says Alain Bouvier, Chief Editor of the Revue. Various lectures and workshops were devoted to examining the complex relationships between prolonging and upgrading the cursus, economic growth, global awareness and transmission of traditions and their values.

The conference also served to demonstrate that there are in fact several Asian education models that produce very unequal results. Emeritus Prof. Jean-Marie De Ketele, Psycho-Pedagogy & Education, Catholic University at Louvain, Belgium analysed results for the PISA test, which covers reading skills, mathematics, scientific culture ... and identified 7 countries with excellent performance ratings: Shanghai, Singapore, Hong-Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Macao and Japan, compared with 3 countries in a group with lower performances than the world average ratings: Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Various explanations were given to explain these discrepancies. With a higher GDP per inhabitant and less rural populations, the countries in the first group allow the parents to let (and support) their children enjoy longer studies. The cultural and philosophic contexts were also discussed by several speakers. To exemplify this, several speakers underlined the Confucian view that stresses the authority of the 'master' in South-East Asian countries. India, with its British colonial past and traditions going back more than a thousand years, called for more specific analyses.

Modelling teaching practice

While school level teaching is still mostly State controlled and has inherited and integrated local philosophical traditions, higher education in Asia has fully turned itself to encompass globalization and free trade competition. Alongside the United States, Australia is the foreign reference for South-East Asian universities. The Australian 'island-continent' attracts many Asian students and higher education there is a prime sector of the national economy. Prof. Anthony Welch, University of Sydney, proposed an analysis of the Australian model and its links with the Asian countries.

It was noted that "shadow education" (development of extracurricular school support, complementing the public cursus) is one remarkable feature of the past decade. In some countries, up to 90% of the pupils benefit from shadow education. Mark Bray, UNESCO Chair Professor of Comparative Education, at the University of Hong Kong explained how South-East Asian families are attempting to make their children even more competitive on a global work market whereas in a country like India, private lessons served to compensate for weaknesses in the national cursus teaching.

A comparative approach also opened new lines of thought outside the Asian educational spheres. Shanghai, Singapore, Hong-Kong, South Korea and Japan are often cited as models to follow or at least to be studied, with results higher than France or other European countries in reading and mathematics. One European country recently adopted the entire Singaporean school programme.

The question is: are success stories like these reproducible? Several authors wondered what the financial commitments and governance systems were to enable such pedagogical systems. Analyses were also forthcoming as to the limits of 'over keen' competition among school pupils and the unending preparation for competitive examinations. According to one investigation, the pupils in South Korea consider themselves to be least satisfied. Could there be a lesson to be meditated here? ...

"L'éducation en Asie en 2014 : quels enjeux mondiaux ?"
Revue internationale d'éducation de Sèvres n°68 avril 2015