Over the last couple of years I've heard many educational leaders use an analogy of a bus to suggest how schools should function. I've always found this analogy very weak, because a bus is a terrible analogy for a learning environment. The vast majority of people on a bus simply get on or off, they are not active participants in driving the bus, nor deciding where it travels. The only person who gets to do anything on a bus is the driver. The driver gets to make all the choices -- where and when to stop and how long the stop will be. The passengers are a passive group that have no real decision making power; they can either be on board or get off -- that's it. This is not a model of a democratic process, nor the model for a positive learning community. Learners need to feel ownership and they need to be active members of what is happening. I therefore purpose that educational leaders stop talking about buses and begin talking about construction crews.
A construction company is a much better analogy for how a learning community should function. Each crew of the company accomplishes specific tasks, but they must be aware of the plan and collaborate with the entire company in order to have a successfully finished building. One crew shows up to pour the concrete for the foundation; another crew makes the frame of the building; still another crew puts in the plumping and the electricity; the sheet rock crew comes to hang the dry wall; and the finishing crew comes to install all the fixtures and interior work. Together they accomplish an entire building according to an architect's plan and each group contributes in their own way to the larger vision. As the building is going up, some of the crews will suggest modifications to the original plan due to the circumstances on the ground at the job site and the plan will adapt to fit reality. This is a much better analogy for a learning community.
The PISA results are out for 2012 and Korea was near the top with regard to scores again. Koreans take great pride in performing strongly on standardized tests and enjoy ranking in the top of PISA. But after living in Korea for seven years, I think a more interesting question to ask about the PISA results is what is the true cost of these wonderful test results? Every year Korean students go to hundreds of extra hours of "hagwon" (cram school) in a variety of topics outside of the regular school day. According to Rhie (2002), in the book Korea Unmasked, the extra study programs were a $1 trillion industry in 2002. Imagine what the cost must be today!
The World Happiness Index for 2013 also recently came out and the East Asia countries that performed so outstanding on PISA, also happen to do rather poorly in terms of happiness. Korea ranked 41st in terms of happiness. Could it be that the very same actions that push the PISA results in East Asia ever upward are also the same actions that cause people to be unhappy? Possible. Could it be that pushing children to extra study is actually a little counter productive? Very likely.
The Danes perform in the middle of the pack in PISA, but are the happiest people in the world. Is it possible that test results and happiness aren't the same thing? Certainly. And what about my poor adopted brothers, the Turks? They ranked near the bottom in PISA and are 77th in the Happiness Index. Could it be time for the voters in Turkey to end AK Party's dominance? Absolutely.