Thursday, February 9, 2012

We Should Leave No Child Behind While Racing to Multiple Mountaintops

Continuing from my last blog post, one of the most valuable insights I gained from Surpassing Shanghai is crystallized in this quote from Tharman Shanmugaratnam, one-time education minister of Singapore: "We need a mountain range of excellence, not just one peak and inspire all our young to find their passions and climb as far as they can" (119). 

The educational metric associated with this philosophy, which is one of two new criteria I have added to my previous thinking in ranking educational systems, is found earlier in the same chapter of the same book: on page 113, Vivien Stewart of the Asia Society refers to the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook's ranking of educational systems based on their ability to provide a local workforce that can supply a globally competitive economy. I realized that this was something I had been looking for: my previous work had multiplied attainment by achievement to get some sense of how well educated the average products of the various educational systems are, and then had gone on to consider how the least and most advantaged students in such systems were faring after emerging from their respective systems. But what I wanted, and what the IMD figures supply in a semi-satisfactory manner, was some way of judging the capacities of the various systems in supporting multiple pathways for students, since not all students will thrive in any single lockstep march to a predetermined "top" that all are supposed to strive for (a phenomenon I witnessed firsthand in Korea in the 1990s, when the dream of practically all students, predetermined by their parents, was to get into Seoul National University), and since the most competitive modern economies are by definition the most diverse, and need a broad variety of highly developed skills to plug into the huge variety of entry points they provide. So this is another reason for me to be glad to have read Surpassing Shanghai.

Incidentally, the current IMD Yearbook lists Finland, Switzerland, Singapore, Canada, Iceland, and Australia as best providing a highly competitive workforce for modern companies, so I adjusted my informal assessments of the various systems accordingly.

But I was not satisfied, and added one additional criterion to assessing the systems, which I will discuss in my next post.

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