Asian countries covet US love of learning, if not test scores

Singapore sends educators to US schools to learn something about quick thinking and problem solving. Some worry NCLB is robbing US of those very traits.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

Why would Asian educators be coming to a middle school in Virginia to observe math and science classrooms, when they are so far ahead of the U.S. in math and science scores?

The Washington Post reports that despite the fact that Singapore's eighth-graders rank No. 1 in science and math in the world and the United States ranks 9th in science and 15th in math, Asian teachers are worried that they don't encourage the teaching of quick thinking and problem solving. They focus on memorizing facts and taking tests but aren't very good at creative innovation.

"How do you measure excitement? How do you measure creativity?" asked George Wolfe, director of the two-year-old public magnet school in Loudoun County, Va. "There's so much publicity about Americans not scoring well on tests, but few people ask the question: Then why are we producing so much innovation from our scientists?"

As part of a new initiative known as "Teach Less, Learn More," Singapore is sending educators around the world to find new methods for improving the quality of instruction rather than quantity - and to give students more time to think.

Loudoun's Academy of Science is an alternative school in Loudoun County, Virginia, which emphasizes hands-on learning through real-world applications.

"Just by watching, you can see students are more engaged, instead of being spoon-fed all day," said Har, research coordinator at the Hwa Chong Institution, a secondary school that draws from the top 3 percent of Singapore's students.

But change is slowly occurring across Asia. Top high schools in Beijing and Shanghai are emphasizing independent research, science competitions and entrepreneur clubs, said Vivien Stewart, vice president for education at the New York-based Asia Society, who arranges cross-cultural tours for educators.

The fact that the U.S. doesn't do well on math and science test is controversial. Some educators feel that there is too much emphasis on test results and that the No Child Left Behind law is stamping out the very creativity other countries covet.

There is no question that hands-on learning at the Loudoun's Academy of Science has the students thinking.

"They don't tell us what to do," he said. "We have to figure it out for ourselves. It's not straight out of the textbook. I like this better," said Ishan Bardhan, 15, a sophomore at the academy who was analyzed plants that afternoon with his classmates.
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