But the reason I am really, really, angry is, officially, according to the world educational ranking, I work in the number 1 educational system in the world. That’s right; according to The Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) South Korea is the number 1 ranked educational system in the world. According to The Guardian newspaper PISA “is highly respected across the globe, and enables politicians and policy-makers to assess how different country’s education systems compare.” If this system is the benchmark that others strive to achieve, surely we are failing the youth of the world on a global scale? Surely something is wrong? And yes, Korea is an extreme, but I don’t think it’s alone in the failing of its youth.
So what has this got to do with ESL/EFL teachers and why do I think we’re special? I think we’re special because often (but not always) we are not bound by the same rules. Often we don’t have national curriculums telling us what we have to teach and how we have to teach it, we’re not bound by cultural stigma that absolutely forces us to teach in a certain way in order to get the educational system higher up the PISA league table and the students into the universities of their choice. Our often lack of accountability in national assessments that will absolutely determine a students future allows us to give the students the chance to relax, to express themselves, to be creative, to think divergently, and, most of all, to enjoy themselves while learning. Our institutions might not always like it, but if we want to, we can do it.
In the past two weeks my students have watched a wonderful video (Caine’s Arcade, if you haven’t seen it I recommend going to you tube and watching it), they have learnt 8 key expressions and then spent over an hour making comic strips predicting Caine’s future that had to use these 8 expressions. It’s such a simple activity, but every student has been awake, actively participating, and I’ve been reliably informed, had a great time. Although I would say this as I’m their teacher and I think they are awesome, it seems to me they produced some really creative and fun work. I asked the students if they have ever made comic strips before, and every one of them answered ‘no’. Second year high school students have never made either a comic strip or poster before, as, in the view of the Korean education system. But what can I expect when education systems are and the ranking they are judged reward rote learning over critical and creative thinking? Although there were other less creative methods and less time consuming methods I could have used that would have involved the students both practicing how to use the 8 expressions and creating language, I passionately believe that sometimes, some things, are just more important. What I am trying to get at is that, as their EFL teacher, I can give them this time and opportunity that their other teachers, for one reason or another, simply can’t. This is why we are special, and this is what we need to take advantage of.
This isn’t about me or my students or Korea though; this is about the opportunities I think we have as ESL/EFL teachers throughout the world to do something different.
But, I think it is important for me to categorically say that I am not saying this to take anything away from our colleagues in the mainstream public education systems who are teaching to national curriculums, or teachers in academies who are having to force information into students to get them through their standardized robotic national examinations, they are absolutely special in their own right, one that I appreciate whole heartedly. If it wasn’t for them, and particularly one called Keith Hodgson, I wouldn’t be a teacher now. In fact, without him, I wouldn’t even have any A-Levels now as the education system and me did not get along too well, and if it wasn’t for the teachers in the school in which I work who do absolutely everything they feel possible to help the students through such a torrid system then my students’ lives could be much worse off.
I know not every ESL/EFL teacher has the freedom I have, but if you do, please, EFL/ESL teachers, use this special opportunity and freedom we have to help our students broaden and expand their minds and personalities in ways other teachers simply don’t have the opportunity to. This is what makes us so special, so let’s use it.
What do you think about the education systems around the world? What can we do to help our students through such a difficult and painful system? I welcome and appreciate any comments below.
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You can see the comics from my first class that has finished them below.
References & Sources:
These are the comics from the class that finished today.
Thanks, my students are really going to be so happy when I tell them how impressed with their comics so many people are!
I absolutely agree regarding the sheer volume of meaningless information, I think a point I didn’t really make clear in my blog is that I feel like Korea is just the extreme, and where I work in Korea is the extreme of an extreme, but I really believe this is a global problem. The amount of tests and memorization of useless information that such young learners go through is nothing but shocking, and it seems to be getting more and for younger students all the time.
I just can’t help but worry about what the long term effects on our young learners are.
Thanks so much for reading and your insightful comment. It’s particularly interesting the way different cultures deal with the effects of such systems, although non (except Scandinavian countries) seem to be dealing with the causes.