By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard Politics and society Last updated: December 3rd, 2013
Britain's poor scores in the Pisa education league are of course shameful. We should be doing as well as the Netherlands, our close cultural kin.
But before we all flagellate ourselves – let alone think of copying the Shanghai success formula – just remember one thing. There is a body of scholarship showing that the collapse of the fertility rate to dangerously low levels across east Asia is the direct consequence of school cramming and "education fever".
This is well-known to demographers and those who follow the Far East closely, but less known in the West. This paper for example on Korea:
In this paper we argue that East Asia’s ultra-low fertility rates can be partially explained by the steadfast parental drive to have competitive and successful children…
Obsession with education in Korea has become an integral part of contemporary Korean culture and affects all aspects of social life. Deeply rooted Confucian values stress education as the best way for achieving high social status and economic prosperity. A collapse of the hierarchical social class system coupled with egalitarian ideas from the West have created the notion that any Korean child can achieve personal advancement, economic prosperity, and social mobility through education. Korean parents widely recognise this and see it as their duty to provide their children with the proper educational resources and support in order to produce successful and competitive children. In the mid-1970s as part of their family planning project, even the Korean government adopted the notion of “quality over quantity” with colourful and creative “population propaganda” exclaiming: “Daughter or son, let's not think about which. Just have two and raise them well”.
The CIA World FactBook says fertility rates have fallen to: Hong Kong (1.04), Singapore (1.10), Taiwan (1.15), Japan (1.20), Korea (1.22). These figures may be a little too low. Japan and Singapore have seen a small bounce lately.
... Since Asia's demographic crisis is a much bigger threat to economic development and social stability than a few points here or there on the Pisa rankings, you really have to wonder whether we should be worshipping at this altar. I strongly suspect that the whole Pisa initiative will be discredited over the next decade, and may perhaps be viewed as extremely foolish.
Now, if we could just induce a Quality Over Quantity mindset in Mali ...
For more postings devoted to analyzing PISA scores, click the Labels: PISA below.