Monday, October 17, 2011

U.S. Education vs. the world

According to the latest scores from the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), 15 year old students from the U.S. ranked at 14th in reading, 17th in Science and 25th in Math, out of 34 countries, around the world who participated in PISA assessment. The results shocked the whole nation when the U.S. education standard fall behind the highest scoring countries including South Korea, Finland, Singapore, Shanghai and Canada. For more details of the news, please click here

So, where does the U.S. education system go wrong? When we look at this recent infographic as below, which compares the education spending and performance of the United States versus 11 selected countries. It is obviously clear that the U.S. spends the most in education but ranks at 9th in Science and 10th in Math performance. How about the rest of 11 countries? How do they manage to maintain the top performance with lower education spending than the U.S.?

U.S. Education versus the World via Master of Arts in Teaching at USC
Via: MAT@USC | Master’s of Arts in Teaching

(Source: MAT@USC dated 8th February 2011)

Generally, we believe that, when we spend a lot on education, we will expect a good return (results) in performance. So, why doesn't the U.S. education reflect as being the top performance in the world from the huge investment by the government?

1. Teachers are secured with 10 years contracts upon probation. 
None of the teachers can be retrenched when they are underperformed. It's quite surprising to me after watching the documentary, Waiting for Superman, which was directed by Davis Guggenheim. When teachers are guaranteed for their jobs for 10 years, they will not be motivated to work hard. To perform well or not, they are secured with monthly paycheck. Moreover, all the American teachers are protected by Teachers Union which is impossible for the government to amend this policy. In many countries, teachers are hired by the governments and they will be accessed by the head of the schools and head of the departments yearly in order to improve the teachers' teaching performances which will eventually help to improve students' education.

2. Unequal education system, standard and policy.
Majority of the countries like in Europe and Asia regions, the education system and policy is set and controlled by the Federal Government. Even, the education funding comes from the Federal Government in order to distribute equal education spending to every school for the facilities and teachers' paycheck. Unfortunately, it's unusual to me that the education system and policy in the United States is controlled by the state governments. Every state has its own education system and standard which is not consistent with the rest of the states. Moreover, the education funding and standard is different from a city to another city within the state itself. This is because the education funding of a school depends on the contribution from the residents' property tax in the city itself. In other words, a rich neighbourhood will be facilitated with a fully equipped school and good teachers while an average and poor neighbourhood will be facilitated with poor facilities and low performing teachers. As such, the biggest pie of education funding and control comes from the states instead of the U.S. Federal Government. Here is the part of the clips from Waiting for Superman documentary, which will give you some idea of the U.S. unstandardised education system:

3. The U.S. culture which emphasizes more on sports than academics.
The culture in the United States is very different from other parts of the world. American children are taught to emphasize and excel in sports performance so that they can enroll to good schools and colleges. In other words, if they are good and have outstanding records in athletics but underachieve in academics, they are still be able to get into good schools and colleges. As such, many of the American children don't regard their education as seriously important as their sports in determining their future. Regrets tend to happen when they aren't able to find jobs due to lack of requirements. However, it's different culture in Asia regions where the academics and extracurricular activities to be considered as crucial entries to good schools and colleges. On top of that, European and Asian students have an extra advantage than the American students in languages. The European and Asian students are taught to learn other languages, besides English in schools, which will enhance children with better future.

4. American students choose the subjects and courses which are not related to Maths and Science.
The American students in high schools are given the options to choose the optional subjects including, Mathematics, Calculus, Science, Biology, Physics etc. while they are in high schools (senior secondary schools). Thus, many of the American students avoid taking any tough subjects which are related to Maths and Science. In Asian countries, Mathematics and Science are still categorised as the compulsory subjects to take while they are in middle and high schools (junior and senior secondary schools). The difference would be the Asian students can choose to specialize further in Science or Arts stream once they are at 10th grade (Form 4). In today's world, most Asian parents emphasize their children to excel in Maths and Science in schools so that, they can enroll in these similar fields in colleges such as biotechnology, Information Technology (IT), Engineering, Science etc. for better career opportunities. On the other hand, most of the American students choose to master in Arts, Language and Business courses as long as they have nothing to do with Maths and Science. As such, jobs opportunities become very limited in the market since there are too many graduates in Arts, Language and Business fields. In the recent CNN special documentary, "Education in America: Don't Fail Me," featuring FRC Team 842, 1403, and 3675, reported by Soledad O'Brien. The United States needs to encourage and inspire the children to take the toughest subjects in Maths and Science in order to compete with the world's technology and secure high tech jobs of the future. "If we don't generate the next group of innovators, scientists, engineers, and problem solvers," inventor Dean Kamen warns, "our standard of living, our quality of life, our security, will plummet!" To learn more, you can watch at this link:

Shanghai, China participated for the first time in PISA 2009 and ranked at the top scoring in literacy, Maths and Science among the participating countries. In this video, PISA shares how the government raises the education standards by getting strong-performing schools to help weaker ones in Shanghai, China.

ABC World News: A wake-up call for the U.S. in the education after the shocking truth from the 2009 PISA results when the U.S. is being defeated to the top 5 ranking from the Asia countries and Finland in literacy, Maths and Science.

When it comes to international results, Finland's schools score consistently at the top. The BBC travels to Helsinki to find out the secret of the Finland' education success.

Therefore, parents and teachers play very important roles in providing strong supports, encouragement and educating children to the right path in education. Children can't see the future by themselves without the guidance from the parents and teachers.

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