Do you remember from your childhood schoolyard that all practice was frowned upon? It was almost like cheating. If you were the best in mathematics, shooting hoops, or climbing trees, you mustn’t reveal to your friends that you had been practicing to acquire those skills.
As grown-ups, we know better. We understand that becoming good in something typically takes time and practice, practice, practice. Of course innate capabilities play a role, but repetition makes a world of difference.
That being said, seems like grown-ups in some countries have taken this a bit too seriously. I was browsing through the latest Pisa data [PDF] and found some staggering numbers on how much time children spend on school activities outside the actual school hours.
In the following I compare Finland (#12 on the mathematics rank), OECD average, South Korea (#5 on the rank, being highest of OECD countries), Singapore (#2), and Shanghai (#1).
There are differences on the percentage of students attending after-school lessons. In Finland more than half of the students don’t attend those lessons at all, roughly a third spend less than four hours a week, and less than 10 percent spend more than four hours. It was a bit of a surprise to me that the OECD average numbers actually represent less after-school attendance than the Finnish numbers.
But in Far East, things are different. Only a third or less of the students don’t attend after-school sessions at all in Korea, Singapore, and Shanghai. And in Korea, almost a third of the pupils spend four or more hours per week on after-school lessons.
An even more significant finding was related to the amount of homework assigned to the students by the teacher. In Finland, Pisa-aged students receive some 2,8 hours of homework per week. OECD average is almost the double of Finnish amount: 4,9 hours per week.
Korea was a surprise with only 2,9 hours per week, virtually the same amount as in Finland. This does not reveal the whole truth, however. For example, Korean kids spend 3,6 hours per week in after-school classes organized by companies, compared to 0,1 hours of Finnish children.
Back to the homework numbers: Singaporeans do homework for 9,4 hours and Shanghainese as much as 13,8 hours per week! That’s two hours per day, including weekends, against Finland’s half an hour per day, including only weekdays.
Spending as much time on after-school activities as the current top Pisa performers do probably has a direct impact on their positions on the rank. As we grown-ups know, practice makes perfect. But we also know that children need play and recess. Let’s not forget that.