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A PHOENIX BOOK REVIEW

OF

43 Old Cemetery Road: Dying to Meet You

Recently, my husband began frequenting a local library, which, to be honest, we knew existed, but a) never got round to going, or b) never really thought about visiting for some reason. But, just a few weeks ago, the treasure was uncovered.

Although it’s a local library in a suburb of Seoul, I was absolutely amazed that they has such an extensive collection of children’s books IN ENGLISH! I have seriously underestimated this country for the past (almost) 9 years, I can tell you.

Until now, I can’t even calculate how much I’ve spent on books – which have been finished within 30 minutes of purchase on many occasions – such a waste….

But now, Phoenix has the whole of the children’s section to keep him occupied – and, of course, all FOR FREE!

The first book he borrowed today was this one by Kate Klise and illustrated by M. Sarah Klise:

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MAIN CHARACTERS:      Olive the Ghost, E. Gadds the Lawyer, Ignatius B. Grumply the author, Seymour Hope the 11 year-old boy who lives in this house.

PLOT:                               Ignatius B. Grumply moves into the house at 43, Old Cemetery Road to find some peace and     quiet, but he soon finds out that it is already occupied by Seymour, his cat, Shadow and an irritable ghost called Olive. Since Ignatius is a writer, he is distracted by Olive who keeps disturbing him. Ignatius was about to move out of the house because he didn’t pay the bills but Seymour saves the day and buys the house so that they get to stay there as a family.

The book is presented as a series of letters and extracts from the newspaper, the Ghastly Times, which kind of confused Phoenix at the beginning, because he was looking for Chapter One for a while.

But even though it was difficult to get started, Phoenix gave it a 3 out of 5 stars.

He says it was a new experience for him, since he was used to reading chapter books, but once he got started he thought it was quite interesting to read something new like this.

He recommends it for 7 to 11 year olds. But, perhaps I would narrow the gap a little to 8 – 11yrs, since perhaps some of the vocabulary might be slightly complicated for some of our younger friends.

Certainly worth a read though – especially to give our kiddies a new experience with reading a book that’s not in the traditional chapter book format.

Thank you, Phoenix for choosing this one, and sharing your views!

This book is currently retailing for £3.80 on Amazon UK


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I’d like to share with you a book that I have read recently, which I found to be actually quite an interesting read.

It is called “The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way” by Amanda Ripley.

The blurb tells us that,

“America’s most privileged teenagers have high-tech schools and well-educated parents. Yet they perform below affluent kids in twenty-seven other countries in Math. “

And so, Amanda Ripley visited three different countries, Finland, Poland and South Korea to find out  how their education systems differed from the USA.

I was particularly interested in two countries in her list (sorry Poland!). Firstly, I currently live in Korea, so this was of personal interest to me, but I have also been particularly captivated by Finland’s successes in education. It’s also interesting that two extremely different approaches to education could top the OECD’s PISA test league table. So these are the two I’ll focus on here.

What is the PISA test?Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 09.15.33

Firstly, the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) was developed by the OECD (check out PISA here) to evaluate the relative abilities of students and their education systems worldwide. In the past decade, South Korea and Finland have constantly topped the ranks – interesting since these two countries are poles apart in terms of their education systems.

The Case of South Korea

Ripley’s observations in her Korean case study interested me. She noted that since Korea had no natural resources “it cultivated its people instead” (p.59) Education had become a kind of currency that would buy a child’s ticket into the best universities. “Without education obsession,” she states, “South Korea could not have become the economic powerhouse that it was in 2011.” (p.60)

And she’s right. It’s still true today.

The problem in Korea is that there are not enough university places or jobs. So competition is extremely high. Getting accepted to a place at one of the top three, most coveted universities (Seoul National University, Korea University or Yonsei University – SKY)  is every child’s dream – it means everything. It will elevate a family’s status no-end. But this continued pressure to achieve the highest results and win a place at SKY has dominated education in Korea – and the enjoyment of actually learning has been sacrificed as a result.

This unhealthy preoccupation with test scores has lead to a dependence on private tutoring academies (hagwons). Kids are actually busier during vacation times than they are during school time – they are trying to get ahead.

Korea scored highly on the PISA test, but it’s more a result of their and their parents’ efforts – not because of their schools.

Many Korean kids sleep in class; teachers in Korean schools don’t mind, because they know the kids have been studying hard at hagwon the night before. My own observations are that nowadays, it’s illegal for private tutoring academies to operate after 10pm, but it’s amazing how many of these places pull down the black-out shutters after 10 and continue lessons until much later. Interestingly, this has lead to a growing number of hagwon spies stalking the streets at night in search of  illegal operators. They get paid very handsomely, as well, if they find a perpetrator or  two!

Along with it’s top place in the international education league tables, Korea also tops the world in its suicide rates. It’s no coincidence that teenage suicide rates are the highest in Korea than in all other OECD countries. The pressure of education has seen to that.

But amongst all this negativity comes a positive – it is widely thought in Korea that children can handle a lot more than we credit them for. Give them the right conditions -and lots of loving parental support – and they will fly. The problem in Korea’s case is that they’ve gone a little bit over the top.

Let’s now look at Finland…

In her case study on Finland, Ripley recounts an experience of a girl called Kim. She was in a high school Finnish class one day, and they were reading the book Seven Brothers. Since it was written in Old Finnish, the teacher took the time and effort to look for a version of the book that would engage and include Kim in the lessons.

In Finland, the teacher training program is a very rigorous one, and teachers need to be the best.

As a result of such high levels of training, teachers are entrusted with the responsibility of designing lesson plans, materials, assessments etc. which are suitable for the children in their class; in short, they have the responsibility (and autonomy) of making sure their students are engaged, included and motivated to learn.

This style of education in Finland developed over time. It was not suddenly devised one day by government officials sitting around a table. What the Finnish case shows us, I think, is that education systems need to evolve and adapt to the needs of our  students.

An interesting book by Amanda Ripley. Thank you!

If you’d like to try some sample questions from the PISA test, click here.