Sociology in the News – Focus on Education

A couple of interesting items in the news this week about the pros and cons of strict systems of education.

This article from the Daily Mail outlines the strict social-control policies at the The Michaela Community School (a free school) in a deprived area of  north west London where pupils, on average, are doing twice as well as those in other comprehensives.

Policies include such things as children not being allowed to talk in lessons, having to walk single file in lessons and being required to do 90 minutes of homework a night.

The school models itself on the strict Tiger Parenting style adopted by Amy Chua, with teachers having extremely high expectations and having a zero tolerance approach to dissent. Parents also have to sign a detailed contract agreeing to support the school ethos.

Interestingly, selection is by lottery, and the school is oversubscribed, although liberal middle class parents are less likely to agree with the educational style.

This seems to show how a strict school ethos can really make a difference for kids from deprived backgrounds, and it also shows the advantages of Free Schools – if done well – as the methods used go against current teaching practices – but more than half of the teachers at this school aren’t qualified, as Free Schools are allowed to hire UQTs.
A second article from The Guardian outlines the centrality of educational achievement and success in South Korea>

South Korea fell silent on Thursday as more than 600,000 students sat the annual college entrance exam, which could define their future in the ultra-competitive country. Success in the exam – which teenage South Koreans spend years preparing for – means a place in one of the elite colleges seen as key to a future career and even marriage prospects.

The government put in place some extraordinary measures to ensure students could focus on the examination:

  • Government offices, major businesses and even Seoul’s stock market opened at 10am, an hour later than usual, so as to clear the roads so that students could get to the exams on time.
  • Transport authorities halted all airport landings and take-offs for 30 minutes in the afternoon to coincide with the main language listening test.
  • Work at many construction sites was suspended and large trucks were banned from the roads near test venues

The pressure to score well in the exam has been blamed for teenage depression and suicide rates that are among the highest in the world.

To bring the two items together – maybe what makes the strictness the Michaela Community School so appealing is that it can enable students to get ahead of their peers in a more liberal education system, but if every school and family adopted this tiger-education approach, we’d just end up with more miserable and suicidal kids in the long run as everyone just spends more and more time trying to get ahead of each other.

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