The Grattan Institute has released a report on four top-performing East Asian schooling systems, analysing the educational and policy features which have fed into the successful outcomes achieved.


The school systems of Hong Kong, Korea, Shanghai and Singapore were identified by the OECD’s 2009 PISA assessments of students as amongst the world’s five highest-performing systems.


According to the OECD analysis, the average 15-year old mathematics student in Shanghai is performing at a level two to three years above his or her counterpart in Australia, the USA and Europe.


The Grattan Institute’s new report, Catching up: learning from the best school systems in East Asia, shows how studying the strengths of these systems can improve children’s lives.


Launching the report, Grattan Institute School Education Program Director Ben Jensen said the OECD PISA tests showed that western countries – including Australia – wereslipping behind East Asian systems in school performance, despite substantial increases in school funding across the OECD between 2000 and 2008.


“That has profound consequences. As economic power is shifting from West to East, high performance in education is too.”


However, Dr Jensen was optimistic Australian schools and education systems could match the successes of their counterparts in East Asia.


“The rise of these four systems is not culturally determined by Confucianism, rote learning, excessive focus on exams or Tiger Mothers,” he said.


Instead, these systems focus on the things that are known to matter in the classroom: a relentless, practical focus on effective learning and the creation of a strong culture of teacher education, collaboration, mentoring, feedback and sustained professional development.


Grattan’s report shows that while Australia cannot and should not import policymaking systems from East Asian countries, it has much to learn from their unrelenting focus on learning and teaching, and readiness to make tough trade-offs to achieve their goals.


“Many countries across the world have tried to instil these practices. Most have further to go. This report shows in detail how it can be done,” Dr Jensen said.


The report, Catching up: learning from the best school systems in East Asia, can be downloaded here