Education Reforms: What East Asian Countries Are Doing Correct
Some of the best education systems in East Asia are gradually shifting 'from a uniform, teacher-centered, exam-oriented pedagogy towards diverse, student-centered learning pathways that aim to instill capabilities for lifelong learning.'
A constant question in the field of education is how to improve the classroom experience for students and how to sync learning with the dynamic labor market demands. Every country has a specific education system which is influenced by many factors which involve availability of resources as well as the cultural fabric of the country. However, an education system needs to adapt with time and the changing demands of the labour market.
One of the imposing questions off late has been that students who graduate out of high school or college are either not skilled or have issues with adaptability. While our education system is giving away degrees, it is not preparing students for a labour market which changes every minute.
The problem is not that students do not learn, but that students are not taught that learning is a life long process.
Raja Bentaouet Kattan, who is currently the country Manager for Yemen in the Middle East and North Africa Region for World Bank, writes in a blog post for World Bank that some of the best education systems in East Asia are gradually shifting 'from a uniform, teacher-centered, exam-oriented pedagogy towards diverse, student-centered learning pathways that aim to instill capabilities for lifelong learning.'
This shift, she says, represents an increased focus on skills which are required in the 21st century. These skills she classifies in three broad categories - Learning and Innovation, Digital Literacy, and Life and Career Skills.
In Singapore, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Hong Kong (China), she says, curriculum reforms have given a nod to the fast-changing and increasingly knowledge-based global economy. Hence, there has been an emphasis on "learning to learn" so as to help students develop flexibility and adaptability as per the changes in the labour market demands.
East Asian countries have adopted new pedagogies and new formats for curriculum. They have reduced the size of formal curriculum. Hong Kong revised the curriculum to address four key learning areas. Japan removed 30% of its formal curriculum and Singapore removed one-third of its formal curriculum.
There is also a very perceptible shift from emphasis on rote learning methods to acquisition of skills.
There has been an agreement in East-Asian countries that assessment should shift to performance based assessments. With shift in curriculum there is an increased need to revise assessment methods as well to support the 'learning to learn' dynamic.
Japan will implement an assessment method from 2019 which will test students' critical thinking, reasoning, and expression skills. South Korea, after pilot testing the idea, implemented an exam-free semester in 2016. The exam-free semester allows teachers to make flexible use of one semester and encourages student participation through discussion and practice.
Assessment of skills that are process-based such as reasoning or interpersonal skills is difficult and requires continuous engagement from parents and communities.
Focus Area of Curriculum Reforms
So far the curriculum reforms have focused on three primary areas that is, socioeconomic and cognitive skills, student assessment to inform learning, and support to the teachers.
Acquiring socioeconomic and cognitive skills early on is important for students. It has been revealed in many researches that employers look for cognitive and socioeconomic skills when hiring and not just domain knowledge.
Assessment aspect has already been covered above. It is important to aide teachers when there's a shift toward learning based assessment.
Last but not the least, with the focus on curriculum reforms it is important to focus on pre and in-service teaching training as well.
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