World’s Top School Systems Try to Ease Pressure on Students

Jon Emont:

The world’s most competitive school systems, known for their hard-driving approach and top-notch academic results, are easing up.

Students in Singapore, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan score at the top of global tables in mathematics and science, far higher than their American counterparts. But their schools are also often stress factories where children are pushed hard to ace high-stakes national exams, sometimes achieved through long hours of homework and pricey private tutoring.

Governments are trying to rein in the education arms race.

Singapore has scrapped all exams for first- and second-year primary school students, and midyear exams all the way through secondary school—part of a roster of changes intended to make learning joyful, or at least less test-heavy. South Korea is cutting some of the toughest questions on national tests for graduating high-schoolers. Taiwan has begun requiring university applicants to list extracurricular achievements in an effort to reduce the emphasis on exam scores.

China has slashed homework for younger students and banned for-profit tutoring centers. It has forbidden written exams for first- and second-graders, ordered teachers to stop publicizing exam scores in chat groups with parents, and abolished what it calls “strange questions” on tests—a reference to extra-hard queries that go beyond the curriculum, often fueling demand for after-school tutoring.