We can learn from the Pacific Rim

10th January 1997 at 00:00
Caroline Gipps' assessment of what we can or cannot learn from the apparent success of Pacific Rim countries (TES, December 20) successfully demolished a straw man but did not take us much further. She implies that those who advocate setting and streaming believe that some children are ineducable, assumes that those who have been impressed by Taiwanese classrooms see nothing in them other than tedious rote learning in whole-class situations and ascribes to the same people the belief that such methods would inevitably lead to higher levels of achievement in the UK.

In fact, those who have observed success in that part of the world are saying precisely that whole-class teaching has been quite wrongly confused with dull teaching, that it can be very sophisticated and that it provides a methodology which makes effective classroom management considerably easier for the average teacher.

Professor Gipps suggests that "we (wrongly) see an authoritarian, expository approach" in Taiwan and Japan. My impression is that it is those who are resistant to the message from the work of people like David Reynolds who want to present the Pacific Rim approach as rigid and deskilling for teachers.

What I find most worrying about Professor Gipps' argument is what lies behind her fairly briefly expressed distinction between Japanese children, who are "traditionally socialised to diligent learning" and children here where the "concept of motivation is much more significant". While not denying that there is some truth in what she says, it seems a relatively small step from there to an acceptance of low standards among the unmotivated. The low status of education in this country is the product of many factors in English culture, but it is at least possible that some of the resistance to a disciplined approach to learning has been encouraged from within the education profession.

It is clear that, however dedicated they are, many teachers are going to have an uphill struggle against the mores that are so widespread in our society. They need every possible weapon at their disposal to undertake the task. Those who point to Taiwan as an example are attempting to provide some of those weapons.

NEIL McINTOSH

Chief executive CfBT Education Services East Street Reading Berkshire

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