THE BLOG
05/12/2013 06:29 GMT | Updated 03/02/2014 05:59 GMT

Mind the (Education) Gap

According to reports, UK children - or more specifically 15-year-olds - aren't as clever as we would like them to be.

In a recent global study, better known as the Pisa Tests, the UK came out in 26th place, behind the likes of Vietnam, Germany and even *gulp* France. To add salt to the proverbial wound, China doesn't even participate in the survey as a single country, but rather, they're represented as individual cities, with Hong Kong coming third and Shanghai taking the overall number one hotspot in the global education stakes.

Now, here's the thing. I grew up in Hong Kong - my Dad remains an English teacher over there - and the fact that the UK seems to be lagging behind the Chinese, doesn't come as a major surprise to me.

The experience of being dropped from an English-speaking primary school in Hong Kong into a hard comprehensive school in the northeast of England was the cultural equivalent of being slapped in the face with an oversized foam hand. It didn't hurt but you knew there was something not quite right about the whole thing. Suddenly, the kudos of education and the intensity of learning went down a notch or seven.

This isn't a comment on the standard of teaching in the UK. In fact, from what I experienced anyway, the teaching standards were much higher - the teachers, much more focussed and always accompanied with a gritty, determined edge (which they needed, for the most part).

My classroom in Hong Kong, on the other hand, was much more of a laid back, hippy-esque affair with entire terms concentrating around Formula One and Hollywood movies (absolutely true) to enable us to learn about poetry and Pythagoras. They meant well, but most were too caught up in their ex-pat lifestyle, sipping champagne and eating seafood from silver plates to notice the kids most of the time.

However, looking back, the real chasm in the education gap lay with my classmates' attitude, ironically the often-overlooked subject when it comes to education policy and league tables.

Even at that age, my classroom colleagues had a steely focus in their eyes to learn - it seemed they actually wanted it and if they didn't, you got the feeling that their parents would come down on them. Hard. Forcing them to reassess what 'it' was. Their friends would snigger and some well meaning bully would give them a wedgy.

In a class that contained kids from India, China, Australia, Pakistan, New Zealand, Tonga and the UK, most subscribed to a mantra that education was a really important thing - not only in school, but at home and for their long-term success. That was just the norm and it was something that was missing as soon as I started life in the UK.

It's important to point out that this is a huge generalisation and, of course, there were/are exceptions to the rule. However, I think, overall, the gap is not an educational one - or level of smartness even - but rather one of attitude. As long as that factor remains, the UK hasn't got a hope in hell of climbing the table, never mind becoming number one.