What we can learn from teaching methods around the world

teaching methods

What we can learn from teaching methods around the world

While the positive impact of education on individual fulfilment and collective endeavour is universally acknowledged, opinion on the most effective style of education varies widely from country to country. There are lots of factors at play in education outcomes, many of which are influenced by the culture of a particular country. From embracing technology in the classroom to introducing later start times, we look at some of the different teaching methods practised across the globe – and ask what we can learn from them.

Group learning in China

Higher education is notoriously competitive in China, and high school students face enormous pressure to get into top universities. Peking university in Beijing has a reported acceptance rate of just 1% (1), compared to the University of Oxford’s 18% (2) and Harvard’s 5% (3).

In the past, Chinese schools have received criticism for some of their approaches – from excessive homework to over-emphasis on test-taking. However, there’s value to be seen in the same school system’s implementation of group learning. In maths classes, for example, children are encouraged to work out solutions to problems in front of the class, helping them to get comfortable working in front of others.

There’s evidence this preference for group learning is effective in higher education too. A 2013 study looked at 16 third-year Finance students at a Chinese university and saw that they took part in more out-of-class group work activities than in-class group activities. Some of these activities were initiated by the teacher, but others by the students themselves, suggesting that they derive value from engaging in group work at university (4).

Opinion is still divided on how successful the method of group learning really is. However, the idea of getting students comfortable with collaborating and exploring their thoughts aloud is something that many believe helps with children’s development, education and careers.

Teaching mixed ability classes in Finland

Finland is often considered to have one of the best education systems in the world: but what makes it so successful?

There are lots of differences between schools in Finland and the UK, including the fact that Finnish schools give out little homework and only require students to sit one mandatory test at the age of 16. And, whilst UK schools must stick to the national curriculum, teachers in Finland are free to choose what children are taught.

Another big difference is that, unlike schools in the UK, Finland’s education system doesn’t stream pupils according to ability. Because of this, the educational gap between the weakest and strongest pupils ‘is the smallest in the world’ (5). Could it be that having less rigidity in schools is the key to narrowing the attainment gap?

Advocating later start times in the UK

Schools in the UK traditionally start around 9am. However, several experts, including Paul Kelley of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at the University of Oxford, have called for more flexible starting times for lessons. In 2015, Kelley argued that teenagers should start school as late as 11am in order to ‘combat a sleep-deprivation crisis among young people’ (6).

This was further supported by a 4-year observational study in an English state-funded secondary school that saw a 10am start result in a 50% decrease in student illness and a 12% increase in students making good academic progress (7).

A number of schools around the UK, including UCL Academy in London, have trialed later start terms of their own accord. When it opened in 2012, the academy announced it was asking children to arrive at 10am, but leave at 5:30pm. At the time, the headmistress, Geraldine Davies, said, ‘Youngsters are turning up alert and ready to learn and are focused and engaged in lessons’ (8).

Lessons delivered by robots in Singapore

With the flurry of new technology in recent years, it stands to reason that educators are looking for new ways this can help them engage their students. Singapore has been one of the leaders in this. In 2016 the country piloted a scheme where social humanoid robots were introduced into preschools to help teach pupils everything from emotional skills to geography.

There’s still a way to go to develop the technology – the robots found it hard to recognise voices in noisy environments and only had a battery life span of 30 minutes for instance – but initial results are encouraging. Not only did the students look forward to coming to school in order to see the robots, the robots also helped encourage shy children to play with others and come out of their shells (9).

iPad schools in the Netherlands

Much like Singapore, many countries across Europe have dabbled with different forms of technology in the classroom. Several schools across the continent have introduced iPads into their lessons, predominantly to allow students to learn at their own pace. The Netherlands went a step further in 2013, launching a pilot of 22 ‘Steve Jobs schools’, named after the co-founder of Apple.

These iPad schools saw traditional resources such as books and chalkboards replaced with tablets and apps. Not only did this allow schools to adapt lessons to the needs of individual students, it also helped teachers and parents to keep track of students’ academic progress. Introducing more technology into classrooms also helped students to learn valuable technology skills.

The results of this pilot were mixed. While the iPad-first approach and focus on independent learning didn’t work for all students, one teacher at the main Steve Jobs school in Sneek, Netherlands, said that ​​children were much more motivated and got more work done independently (10).

Ultimately the pilot didn’t catch on, with many of the schools leaving due to expense. However, the Netherlands’ experiment proved there’s a lot of untapped potential when it comes to technology in the world of education.

Mindful learning in Bhutan

While other countries may embrace technology in teaching, Bhutan has stripped things back to basics since 2010. To support the country’s philosophy of Gross National Happiness, which measures the collective happiness and wellbeing of the population, schools in Bhutan teach pupils mindfulness exercises throughout the day.

The policy of educating for Gross National Happiness emerged from Bhutanese leaders and educators about the ‘apparent deterioration of human values among youth in Bhutan’ (11). As a result, schools have seen mindfulness exercises and positive thinking become key features of the day, alongside inclusive education through nature.

What can educators learn from these different teaching methods?

If there’s one key takeaway from looking at studying methods around the world it’s this: every student is different. What might work for one student in the UK may not work for another in China – or even another in the same classroom.

It’s important for teachers at all levels to adapt their teaching methods to support all students in their learning, all while supporting their wellbeing and sense of individualism. There’s also undoubtedly a lot of untapped opportunity in the field of technology. By embracing new technological advances teachers can engage more students, help them study and encourage them to reach their full potential.


[1] Edurank.org. Peking University: Statistics. [online] Available at: <https://edurank.org/uni/peking-university/> [Accessed 29 November 2021]

[2] Edurank.org. University of Oxford: Statistics. [online] Available at: <https://edurank.org/uni/university-of-oxford/> [Accessed 29 November 2021]

[3] Edurank.org. Harvard University: Statistics. [online] Available at: <https://edurank.org/uni/harvard-university/> [Accessed 29 November 2021]

[4] Li D, Remedios L, Clarke D, Chinese students’ groupwork practices and experiences in China, Higher Education, 68, No. 2 (August 2014). <https://www.jstor.org/stable/43648712> [Accessed 29 November 2021]

[5] Independent.co.uk 2016. The 11 best school systems in the world. [online] Available at: <https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/11-best-school-systems-in-the-world-a7425391.html, [Accessed 30 November 2021]

[6] Guardian.com 2015. Start school day at 11am to let students sleep in, says expert. [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/sep/08/start-school-later-11am-students-sleep> [Accessed 30 November 2021]

[7] Kelley P, Lockley, S. W., Kelley J and Evans M. D. R. Is 8:30 a.m. Still Too Early to Start School? A 10:00 a.m. School Start Time Improves Health and Performance of Students Aged 13–16. Front. Hum. Neurosci., (December 2017) <https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00588> [Accessed 30 November 2021]

[8] Dailymail.co.uk 2013. School becomes first in Britain to change its start time to 10am to allow pupils to ‘fully wake up’. [online] Available at: <https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2294822/School-Britain-change-start-time-10am-allow-pupils-fully-wake-up.html> [Accessed 30 November 2021]

[9] FT.com 2017, How robots are teaching Singapore’s kids. [online] Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/f3cbfada-668e-11e7-8526-7b38dcaef614, [Accessed 30 November 2021]

[10] Guardian.com 2014. Inside Steve Jobs schools: swapping books for iPads. [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2014/oct/07/text-books-school-ipad-steve-jobs-classrooms> [Accessed 30 November 2021]

[11] Sherab, K., Cooksey, Ray., Maxwell Thomas W., Gross National Happiness Education in Bhutanese Schools: Understanding the Experiences and Efficacy Beliefs of Principals and Teachers. Available at:  <https://hdl.handle.net/1959.11/16997> [Accessed 29 November 2021]

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