Clever Lands: a short summary.

Here are some of the main findings discussed in the Clever Lands by Lucy Crehan. 


  • Formal schooling starts much later than the UK (when kids turn 7, if they are ready). Before that they are encouraged to play in a structured way, which allows them to develop their creativity, form prosocial behaviours, or develop skills, such as awareness of letter-sound correspondence. Studies found starting formal schooling (reading and writing) two years later than the UK (or other countries) does not hinder literacy and by the age of 15 there is no difference. They don’t rush the foundational stages of learning by asking children too many questions too soon.
  • All schools have dedicated welfare teams which look to identify the underlying causes of why pupils might be struggling.
  • Teachers showcased elements of intrinsic motivation which made them passionate about their job:
  1. Mastery: our desire to get better at what we do
  2. Relatedness: our ability to build positive relationships with others
  3. Autonomy: our desire to be self-directed
  4. Purpose: our yearning to be part of something larger than ourselves
  • They don’t set students as they believe that more academically able students can help those who are struggling and increase their own deep learning.


  • One of the main purposes of the school is to teach character: pupils spend many years being part of a group: they feel part of their group, take responsibility for the actions of the group they belong to (collective responsibility), learn how to work within a group.
  • Teachers enforce the idea that all pupils have equal potential.
  • There is always an aim in the activities they choose to do, which are discussed with the students. They never introduce an activity or a type of doing the activity just for the sake of doing it.
  • Teachers try to develop the students’ conceptual understanding and one way they try to do that is through ‘lesson study’. Teachers plan and teach the same lesson and observe each other: the aim being to observe students’ reactions to what is taught and improve based on that. Observations, in that sense, are a regular occurrence which are aimed at discussion and reflection.
  • Japanese students had to attend school on Saturdays and attend what can be described as ‘cram sessions’. But the authorities realised that students were getting too stressed and did not have time to pursue their own interests. So, they reduced the curriculum, stopped school on Saturdays and made sure that students were given time to pursue their own academic and personal interests. Some of these changes had to be reversed eventually to fulfil exam standards, even though pupils surveyed showed greater satisfaction in school.



  • The reason Singapore built such a strong education system was because it stopped being part of the Malaysian Federation in the 60s. With no natural resources they believed that the only way to become a strong economy was through education (they went to some extremes to achieve that, e.g. by trying to ensure that graduates would marry and have children together to have ‘clever’ babies).
  • Singapore has used some extreme methods in setting pupils, which would affect pupils’ life trajectory. These are  largely based on some now outdated and misinterpreted tests developed in the early 20th century. Those tests were developed with the belief that knowledge and ability is something that progresses and needs re-testing. However, those who took hold of the IQ tests saw ability as something attributed to birth and separated children based on what they perceived to be their fixed cognitive abilities.
  • Singapore has a very competitive education system with parents doing all they can to get their kids into the more prestigious schools and universities. This primarily means having private tutoring in the afternoons and putting great pressure on children from a young age, which can have detrimental effects on their mental health.
  • However, what the Singaporean government has tried to implement is a system whereby everyone gets to excel in something; which might be a vocational career or aspire to higher academic qualifications.
  • There is a very clear career path structure, which, for example, can make you a Master Teacher (very respected in Singapore) and professional development is integrated into that system to help you reach your career goals.



  • The students showcase a work ethic which stems from Confucian beliefs.
  • Students have other students as role models and they aspire to be like them, either by following some of their learning strategies or by working hard. There is a strong belief that through hard work, everyone can achieve academic results, what Dweck has called growth mindset.
  • Chinese students have been shown to be very persistent, they thrive when challenged and failure spurs them to work even harder, rather than give up.
  • All the students are given the same work to complete, regardless of their abilities. The teachers then reward effort and hard work rather than achievement. Failure is seen, in this way, as the means to improve.
  • In Maths, one of the subjects in which Chinese students do particularly well in international exams, teachers in training are taught very particular ways to teach, they are asked to make connections with what students already know, and how the content might correspond to real-world experiences. Individuality and experimentation are encouraged after teachers have had some experience in the classroom.
  • Teachers typically ask students 50-120 questions in each lesson. Even though they are demonstrating the topic, in a lecture-style way, the lessons are highly interactive with much pupil engagement. Moreover, Chinese teachers tend to ask many follow-up questions after the students gave wrong answers to ensure that they understood the correct answer.
  • A difference between Western and Eastern classrooms was the amount of time spent on each topic, making sure that students reached great depth in whatever they were studying; and the amount of practice they had to do (usually via the large amount of homework given).
  • Chinese students showed great levels of intrinsic motivation.



  • They place great value on learners’ individual needs which might often mean that they implement methods with little scientific basis (such as individual learning styles) but also they might stifle individual potential as they keep the bar low.
  • There is a systemic approach in teaching non-academic topics, such as leadership or presentation skills, and even an attempt to assess them. there is also an emphasis on discovery learning and problem-solving, both influencing the curriculum.

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