Cleverlands - The Secrets Behind the Success of the World’s Education Superpowers


How much do I want to read more? 8/10

This is the magic of books: you can benefit from the experience of such person walking to 10 top education countries, investigating with teachers and school about how they do it.
This book is about better understanding education. The one that brings results.


Chapter 1: PISA, Politics and Planning a Trip

I told her that I was a teacher from England, and that I was interested in the education in Shanghai because their students do so very well in the international tests.
Shanghai’s 15-year-olds had outperformed teenagers in every other education system in tests of reading, maths and science, and I wanted to know how.

The Politics of PISA

PISA = the Programme for International Student Assessment – which covers reading, maths and science.
Each country that chooses to participate enters a representative sample of 15-year-olds to sit the papers.
in 2000 when the programme began, 43 countries took part.
In 2015, 71 participated.

because PISA is carefully designed to measure students’ ability to apply and use knowledge, rather than just memorising it and reproducing it, participation in the programme can be a useful way of tracking the extent to which the education system is doing this successfully.

The German people went through ‘PISA shock’ in 2001 when they realised that what they had thought was a world-leading education system was in fact below average in reading, maths and science.
the major selling points of the PISA tests is that it allows us to identify success in a particular area of education, and learn lessons from other systems that appear to be doing this better.

My Motivation and Approach

‘What does it mean for the children in Finland that they don’t start school until aged seven, and would I want my own children to go to school there?’

I realised that no one would say yes in case I was a lunatic, so I set up my iPad and made a little video introducing myself to would-be hosts, attempting to appear as sane as possible.

Of the top 10 PISA performers at the time, I chose Shanghai and Singapore because they got phenomenal scores, Japan because it was a large country rather than a small city-state, Finland because it has until recently been one of the only Western countries to outperform the East Asians and Canada because they performed well despite being culturally and geographically diverse.
My approach in each of the countries I visited was to stay with educators to get a deeper understanding of their lifestyle and culture; to visit schools through informal means.
I spent about four weeks in each country and three of those inside schools; sometimes teaching, sometimes helping out, always asking questions.

I learnt a huge amount about different approaches to (and ideas behind) education this way, and I will share some of this with you in this book as I take you on a tour of education in some of the world’s ‘top-performing’ systems.