I found this book a couple of years ago in an airport bookstore — those small bookstores often have the BEST titles! I enjoyed it so much, I chose it as my book club choice that year so all my friends could read it too. (I just might have purchased copies for my three adult daughters also . .)
Ms. Ripley is a journalist writing for several publications, including Time Magazine and the New York Times Magazine. Her research takes her around the world and her assignments often follow education. A few years back, she was surprised to discover that the countries who score the highest on international exams are not always the countries one might expect!
Poland, South Korea and Finland are three such countries. Ms. Ripley located three American students who were planning to do a high school study abroad year in each of these three countries: Tom in Poland, Eric in South Korea and Kim in Finland. She visited each student before they left home, learning what kind of student they were, why they’d chosen the particular country they will be moving to and what they hope to gain from their foreign educational experience. Several months later, after the students have had time to really experience their adopted homes abroad, she comes to visit them again to learn how school in their particular foreign country really is day to day.
Ms. Ripley finds these three countries have a couple of things in common: they have eliminated all extra-curricular activities, including music, theater and sports — feeling the expense and time only benefited a small percentage of the student body — students are free, of course, to pursue any of these on their own at their own expense elsewhere. Also, teachers are rigorously trained and supervised and then highly compensated for their excellent work — teaching having become a highly sought-after and respected career.
That is where the similarities end. South Korea’s methods include long school days, with rigorous late evening tutoring sessions and little time with family and friends, while Finland has shorter school days, and a friendly atmosphere in which students thrive and seek out advanced learning experiences. Poland falls somewhere in the middle. Each of these three countries far outpace the United States on the academic world stage.
If you have concerns about your own children’s education, or are educating them on your own, The Smartest Kids in the World is an excellent book! You’ll find that the U.S. public (and private) school model isn’t the only one out there. Countries are trying diverse methods and finding success — and we have the freedom to learn from all of them!
Books for Parents, 320 pages, Education, Published in 2013.