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sabine blogoct2014-3

By Sabine Hutcheson, Education Consultant at TutorsPlus

Earlier this year the Economist Intelligence Unit compiled a report for Pearson which showed the UK coming into the top 10 education systems in the world. This is a much better score than last year’s PISA report which can be partly explained by the fact that Pearson looked at the rate of students continuing into higher education; a mere detail perhaps but a significant one. This poses the question of an education system’s raison d’être. If we explore this issue, the English curriculum, on offer in many private schools in the Switzerland, certainly ticks all the boxes.

The English curriculum does not grade students in the same way they are graded in Swiss or French schools.  It is based on a set of competences that each individual child acquires throughout their education.  These translate into levels. At the end of primary school some children may have ideally reached a level 5, while others are at level 3. The levels pertain to a child’s acquired skills in literacy and numeracy.  Because students are rated against their own progress and achievements, as opposed to a benchmark or their peers, they move on unhindered until the age of 14. At this point, they will be guided to a choice of qualifications suitable for their academic level and/or vocational aspirations, most of which can lead to university.  

sabine blogoct2014

Between the ages of 14 and 18, a greater proportion of students take academic qualifications than in Switzerland. It would be easy to argue that the content of (I)GCSE and A-Level exams, respectively taken at 16 and 18, must be easier than in the Swiss Maturité, French Bacalauréat or IB diploma. However, let us consider the possibility that more people are able to thrive in higher education in a system that values individual talent, different learning methods and alternative choices of subjects.  Anyone who applies him- or herself in the right choice of subjects for them, will be able to access university. This is because in Britain you are able to specialise in what you are good at before you leave school. While practically all 16 year olds must take a combination of Maths, English, Sciences and Humanities for their GCSE exams, they can, as young as 16, choose 3 or 4 subjects that they know they will enjoy and in which they will succeed. Therefore, a student who excels in Maths and Sciences but struggles to write essays will have access to post-compulsory education and possibly go on to get an excellent degree from a prestigious university. This sounds like it would happen in any other system, but contemplate the reverse situation: a student who excels in Humanities and Languages but cannot get a pass grade in Maths or the Sciences would be denied access to Higher Education and certainly university here in Switzerland. They would, however, have a chance at a Humanities degree at Oxbridge. Surely this is a positive aspect of education, as we may otherwise miss out on the next greatest Philosophy professor of our time!

When exploring different facets of an education system, it is also important to observe teaching practices. Mentalities vary from one country to another and, although I would not like to comment on the training and approaches of my international colleagues, I can safely say that British teachers are trained to facilitate the access to higher education for as many students as possible. This means finding ways of motivating students, adapting their teaching to the students’ preferred learning methods, and questioning their own lessons if learning is not widely taking place in their classroom. Again, at the teachers’ level, we find this concern for individual achievement.

So perhaps the key to the success of British education in leading more students into Higher Education than most countries in the world is this: valuing each individual’s talent and capacity to achieve in one given field, rather than shaping the few to fit a mould based on all rounded general knowledge. The British system of education is about inclusion, not elitist exclusion, and about the benefit of specialisation.

Author's Bio

sabine hutcheson bioSabine Hutcheson is a British-trained school teacher, with over a decade’s teaching experience in Switzerland, UK and neighbouring France. She has taught a variety of subjects to children from 5 to 18 years old, as well as to adults, and is now Education Consultant at TutorsPlus.

Visit www.tutorsplus.com to find out more about their education consultancy, tuition service, SAT college entrance preparation and intensive IGCSE & IB revision courses.