The United States has been thoroughly mediocre in education. By contrast, Poland, South Korea, and Finland were consistently topping the international charts. But which system is worth emulating? The three countries have three radically different ways of going about it.
This led to an in-depth study of the three countries’ educational systems. There were already heaps of data, but the best way to figure out what was actually happening in the classrooms was to involve students. Student exchange programs made this a real possibility. And so, three American high schoolers—a boy from Pennsylvania in Poland, an Oklahoma girl in Finland, a Minnesotan boy in South Korea—became invaluable members of the research team.
These high schoolers provided an in-depth glimpse of what student life was like—a glimpse that an adult could not easily get.
The results are not discouraging, but ultimately cause for optimism. We’ve wasted time and devoted resources to things that don’t matter, but the good news is that change is attainable. The examples of Finland, Korea, and Poland offer clarity for how this could be done. It begins with a firmer grasp of the why behind education.