Book Review: “The Smartest Kids in the World” by Amanda Ripley

Book information:  New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.  306p. 24cm

At first glimpse, Finland, South Korea and Poland seem to have no association to each other.  However, Amanda Ripley the TIME magazine journalist, followed three American exchange students, Kim, Eric and Tom, to these countries respectively for a year.  To discover the outstanding PISA result of Finland and South Korea, as well as the great leap of Poland’s scores, this book offers a deep understanding of education through various analysis and quoting.  Not only are students interviewed in this informative book, but also other related stakeholders, including teachers and governmental education officials.

Finland’s cutting edge, most importantly, lies in high quality teachers of much calibre and acumen.  Only a handful of elite students would be granted a seat in teacher-training colleges.  Teachers are well-respected and their social status is as prestigious as doctors.  In addition, more academic studies and professional training have been taken place.  Teachers to-be are required to study for seven years comprising a compulsory Master degree, and have to be trained in the best public schools for an entire year.  Therefore, with such outstanding human resources, Finland has always enivably become the locomotive in the international scores rank.

On the other side of the world, in South Korea, students’ intensive diligence, self-discipline and motivation have enabled them to stand out from their counterparts in the globe.  Since the public exam is highly-competitive, students have been taking tears, blood and sweat to study in a such a stressfully demanding environment to midnight.  Thanks to a fierce university entrance exam, haewon celebrity teachers in South Korea have also been striking big pots of gold, similar to Hong Kong’s private tutor kings and queens.  Consist industry of Korean students, needless to say, have prompted them to become high-flyers in the global tests.

Besides, it is no longer surprising to witness Poland’s huge improvement in student performance in recent years.  For fear of lagging behind of the others, numerous educational reforms are expedited to lay down fundamental goals of this new system.  Others incorporating the standard of students to be enhanced, funds to be provided in schools, and students’ streaming to academic or vocational classes to be delayed.

By and large, a thriving education, lies not in boosting education spending and high technology in the classes, but wholehearted dedication of highly qualified teachers, and a consistent curriculum.  After all, teachers serve as illuminating role models for sparking students’ enthusiasm towards continuous learning.  It is more suitable to set up achievable expectations and attempt to strengthen reasoning skills through a right amount of projects and homework.  However, this book also states that merely relying on schools and teachers are not enough.  Parental involvement, for example reading to their children for fun and having conversations about world affairs, is also a vital element for paving way to positive learning environment.  Only by all these culmination of elements, along with students’ certain endeavour can they delve deep into academic field and achieve better learning outcomes. ♦


2 thoughts on “Book Review: “The Smartest Kids in the World” by Amanda Ripley”

  1. Ripley’s book sound truly interesting… Judging per South Korea’s case we can conclude that the surroundings and the proper stimuli are important as they increase or develop intelligence. Great review. Thanks for sharing and best wishes to you. Aquileana 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Aquileana, I am pleased that you like my review. As a TIME magazine journalist, Ripley wrote well in concise language and many examples and explanations were provided. Therefore it has already been ranked into my list of “favourite non-fictions”.


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