Pro/Con: Why the US should adopt a school system similar to that of China’s
By: Anna Yuan
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
Pro/Con: The European Way To Solve America’s Education Crisis
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.