Equity and Excellence in East Asian High-Performing Education Systems – A Paradoxical Relationship?
A number of East Asian education systems (e.g. Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Shanghai, Singapore and Taiwan) have gained international prominence over the years, due to their rapid climbs to top positions in international tests such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). For example, Hong Kong was placed 17th in PIRLS reading literacy, and Singapore ranked 15th in 2001, but within 5 years, they garnered 2nd and 4th places in 2006, respectively. In the 2015 PISA results, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei, Japan and Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Guangzhou (B-S-J-G), China, were top achievers (OECD, Report on PISA 2015: results in focus. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2016).
The sterling report cards of these East Asian systems, combined with the declining performance of western systems such as those of the United Kingdom and the United States, have led the West to a “look East” drive for inspiration. Whether it be scholarly publications or media articles, much literature has been generated on the “success” of education in East Asia, which has become “the new ‘poster boy’ in the global discourse of education policy borrowing” (You and Morris, Compare 46(6), 2016, p. 883).
Increasingly, a good education system is considered one that not only produces high achievements but is also equitable in terms of the distribution of its success across the system and its student population. Perhaps a more nuanced understanding of these East Asian education systems could be facilitated if we could examine them considering both equity and quality issues, since the pursuit of each often affects the other. The chapters in this book illustrate that excellence and equity are not independent and separate but can be paradoxically intertwined.
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