Re: Exams as a system
"Their target, as directed by the school head, was to get kids to pass exams, not to educate them."
A perfect example of Goodhardt's law ("When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure"). If schools are assessed based on how many kids pass their exams, their target will be to get kids to pass exams, whether they really know their stuff or not. If schools are assessed based on grades, there is pressure on the teachers to give higher grades even if the work does not warrant it. That's why in the last 20+ years, in countries that rely heavily on this sort of grading system (think GPA in the US), the 'official' scores rise but the level of education is the same or worse.
The best education system in the world, that consistently produces the best results, is Finland. This is known for a couple of decades already, what they do is no secret, but other countries resist adopting a similair approach because it either seems counter-intuitive, or there are political reasons to stop it....
- School times are shorter, and kids don't get any homework. or maybe 20 minutes a week. There is an acknowledgement that playing and socialising with other kids actually teaches important life skills, and doesn't drain away creativity and motivation. Many places load kids with homework to an extent that their day is basically wake up, school, lunch, more school, homework, dinner and bed. Particularly in places such as India, Japan and Korea, where education is either seen as the way out of poverty for a whole family, or culturally very significant, there is huge pressure from the family for the kid to 'succeed', which is clearly not good for the kids' mental health and future performance.
- Teaching is a highly respected profession, and that respect is actually tangibly shown in the pay scales. US and UK talk a big talk about the importance of teachers* but insist on paying them peanuts and then act surprised when the kids education is crap.
- All schools are following the same government standard (I can't remember if private schools are completely not allowed, or they are strictly regulated to the same standards as government ones). Since they are centrally financed, they all have the same level of infrastructure and equipment, and they all have good, motivated teachers. In stark contrast to eg the UK model where the rich send their kids to expensive public schools** and don't really care about the quality of government schools. Or the US model where every district is locally funded, so the rich kids from rich areas get good schools, the kids from the ghettos get to go to schools in run-down old buildings where the only new infrastructure is metal detectors.
*ditto with nurses (and I'm sure there are a few other professions)
**For non-Brits: "public school" in UK actually means private school