The reverberations from the PISA bombshell continue with the New York Times picking up the story. The relentless improvement of education results in countries like China, Singapore and South Korea are undoubtedly exercising the minds of our politicians.
The NYT article quotes Andreas Schleicher, director of the OECD's testing programme, as describing Britain’s performance as 'stagnant at best'. To rectify this Michael Gove says that he intends to reform the education system to make it more democratic and stresses the need to 'learn from the best-performing countries'. To do this, his intention is to toughen up the examinations system, 'using tests from China and South Korea as benchmarks', and he insists that he will 'explicitly borrow from these tiger nations'.
On a slightly less reassuring note, the article goes on to quote Nick Gibb as blaming 'text messaging and social networks' as the possible culprit for pupils' lack of interest in reading for pleasure. This is surely not the case. Text messaging is and should be regarded by teachers as only another genre of written language, with its specific conventions like any other genre. I would venture that the reason why many children choose not to read for pleasure is because they find it very hard to do and, in general, children who find something difficult to do tend to avoid it. To get children reading for pleasure, we need to teach them to read so proficiently that their reading is automatic and they have immediate access to meaning.
So, stop worrying about text messaging Nick and train teaching practitioners to teach reading and spelling proficiently from the start.
By the way, if you want to see what standards are like in maths at primary level in Singapore, go to SingaporeMath.com Inc and view the placement tests. Scary, huh?
*With thanks to Catherine Johnson of kitchen table math, the sequel, for drawing my attention to the NYT article.