Contrary to expectation

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
essons from abroad, part 1: cash-strapped Swiss grammar school does away with formal lessons for older pupils for a term, sending them off with coursework targets and DIY manuals (Friday magazine, last week). Lessons from abroad, part 2: primary teachers in Hong Kong are not well qualified in maths.

The outcomes of both stories are perhaps counter-intuitive. The Swiss kids did so well that the school extended the project. They read and wrote more, and were more enthusiastic about their work. It just didn't save much money. And Hong Kong pupils top international surveys of maths prowess, despite any personal shortcomings of their primary teachers.

The Swiss results make sense: the pupils benefited from following their own interests and learning styles. Which begs a question: does the Hong Kong paradox have useful lessons for us, too?

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