The American education system is failing compared to other developed nations. Since 2000, American students scored average on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In 2013, the US ranked below average for math and ranked 17th overall out of the 34 OECD members (1).
Prior to the mid to end of the cold war, America’s education system was solid in teaching students the fundamentals like Math and English. This was partially due to the space race. The US needed to boost its education system to support its efforts. America launched rockets, landed on the moon, and the nation prospered. With that prosperity, however, came one unintended side effect: confidence. The nation’s belief that the US was the best nation resulted in scaled-back education programs. Since the 1970s, the US lagged behind other nations when it came to education. One way America can solve this problem is by modeling its education current system after those found in Europe.
Similar to the United States, European students spend at least 10 years in school with compulsory education starting at around age 5. However, students in Finland, one of the European finest nation when it comes to education, focuses on promoting health and wellbeing for young students. This enables kids to conduct themselves properly in an academic environment. Students who are “model students” are able to learn more effectively because they are not distracted by other things. It also builds discipline with the child. Most importantly, this kind of early age emphasis solidifies their habits. Young children are malleable and any bad behavior can be corrected early. Finland also emphasizes the fun in learning through enriched language and communication. From a science perspective, humans are social animals and learn from one another. Reinforcing social interactions allows students to learn together, inquire about topics, and build social bonds that are key to learning (2).
Looking back at the US, quite the opposite is happening. In America, kids are taught how to deal with standardized tests and are forced to memorize information than fully understanding the concept. This is partially due to how the American system is set up as school systems depend on standardized testing to gain funding.
In science, this makes sense. During tests or other activities that require active memory retrieval, some students may begin second-guessing themselves because they do not have anything else to rely on for information. The human mind is designed to only do things we are familiar with or things we fully understand. We hesitate to try new things because of that uncertainty. When we are in a difficult situation, we rely on logic and past experiences. If that does not work, we depend on our instincts (which often does not go well). Ben Franklin understood this very well:
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
If teachers involve the students and enable more interactions, the students’ understanding of the discussion will strengthen.
Another important aspect is that teachers are a huge part of the equation. In Europe, teachers are highly valued. Being a teacher is seen as a highly-respected career. It also pays well which in turn draws many smart people. The European model is simple: the best need to be taught by the best.
Lastly, The academic environment contributes to student performance. Schools in Finland provide services to children in need, ranging from daily hot meals to dental services. These services help low-income families, allowing their children to gain access to further education. Granted, the US education system is much larger than the European system, but Finland’s system emphasizes the need for schools to be more than just a center for academic teaching rather a center to equip students with the skills that will help them flourish in future.