Every three years, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development administers a test called Program for International Student Assessment that measures 15-year-olds’ problem-solving skills. In the most recent one in 2015, US ranked 41st in mathematics, 25th in science, and 24th in literacy out of 72 countries(4). In addition, the US school system has often come under fire from activists and politicians, often being labeled as a “failed school system.” So what can we do to fix it?
One argument is to look at other countries, such as Japan, Canada, EU countries, and China—all of which (with the exception of China when it comes to English literacy) rank exceptionally higher than the US in education.
In this blog, I’ll be taking a look at how China’s education system could potentially be adapted for and used in the United States.
In a sense, every educational system is similar to each other, but I believe that the US’s shortcomings lie in our attitudes and relationships when it comes to education and teachers.
One main difference between the two systems, China’s and US’s, is their attitude towards teachers. In China, teachers, parents, and students live by “teacher knows best” (1), meaning that when it comes to teaching styles and discipline, the parents and students listen to the teacher and don’t raise any objection. In the US, it’s arguably the exact opposite. In the US, I’ve seen that often, when a student gets a bad grade on a test, parents take the opportunity to leap at the teacher, berating them for giving their child a bad grade.
Although the Chinese education system is much harsher and prevents parents from interfering with their child’s education, it also has its benefits. When Chinese teachers have unquestionable authority in the classroom, their students have an advantage when it comes to many STEM-related subjects, such as math or computer programming (1).
In addition, teachers are valued much more in China than in the US. A 2013 study, done by the non-profit Varkey Foundation, revealed that at least half of Chinese parents would encourage their children to become teachers, while only a third of American parents would do so (1).
When it comes to attitudes towards studying and education, Chinese and American students seem to differ greatly. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the main reason why Asian students have an advantage over their white counterparts is that Asian students tend to believe that hard work and grit will always lead the way to success, while white students more often believe that academic abilities are inborn (5).
Obviously, the main disconnects and reasons I’ve provided are based more on an individual’s attitude and value towards teachers and schooling, and these are not easily changed. Countries develop differently and establish their own societal norms in the process. China has always had the same attitudes towards education, starting from the Confucius period: Confucius teachings were centered around listening to the teacher, seeking lifelong education, and hard work. On the other hand, the US school system was never based on a specific set of values and teachings. Of course, any substantial change in attitude will take decades as our entire society as a whole has to change, but the first step in improving our education system is to accept and begin changing.
- Chu, Lenora. “Why American Students Need Chinese Schools.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 8 Sept. 2017, https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-american-students-need-chinese-schools-1504882481
- Klein, Joel. “The Failure of American Schools.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 6 Dec. 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/06/the-failure-of-american-schools/308497/
- DeSilver, Drew. “U.S. Students’ Academic Achievement Still Lags That of Their Peers in Many Other Countries.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 15 Feb. 2017, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/02/15/u-s-students-internationally-math-science/
- Jackson, Abby. “The Latest Ranking of Top Countries in Math, Reading, and Science Is out – and the US Didn’t Crack the Top 10.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 6 Dec. 2016, http://www.businessinsider.com/pisa-worldwide-ranking-of-math-science-reading-skills-2016-12
- Hsin, Amy, and Yu Xie. “Explaining Asian Americans’ Academic Advantage over Whites.” PNAS, National Academy of Sciences, 10 June 2014, http://www.pnas.org/content/111/23/8416.full