Report after report concludes that the American educational system is producing mediocrity when compared to the human products of educational systems in other developed countries. While research studies all come to this same conclusion, the recommendations for change and improvement are widely varied, and, as a result, we seem to be stalled in our efforts. Perhaps the real answer lies in a thorough study of how students and teachers in performing countries approach the entire process of learning and studying! Below are listed some commonalities among cultures that result in superior outcomes.
1. Early Childhood Education is a school/family endeavor: While we in America pay great lip service to early childhood education, our efforts are actually quite minimal and focused on identifying children who may have handicaps of poverty and learning disabilities. Most recently, Congress has reduced funding for Head Start and other early childhood programs that can provide critical educational advantages. One need only look at Japan and Finland, as well as most developed nations in the world, to see the differences. Most formal educational experiences begin at age 3, and students are taught early on that there must be time set aside for study and skill mastery at home as well as in school. These study habits become internalized and cemented at a very young age, so that, as students in these countries progress through their schooling, the entire concept of studying is accepted as natural!
2. Except for Spain and Italy, our focus on mathematics, science, and problem-solving is abysmal. All other developed nations have high expectations and a rigorous curricula in these areas from elementary school forward. While we are still focusing on memorizing math facts and algorithms that calculators can perform, students in other countries are working on problem-solving in math and science, finding new ways to solve word problems and to perform scientific experiments. These are activities we reserve for that tiny percentage of the student population that we have deemed gifted.
3. Homework and Study are Top Priorities: Other cultures place a much higher value on study outside of school. While we are frantic to develop more well-rounded children (enrolling them in sports, dance, gymnastics and a host of other activities), other cultures place homework and study as the single most important activity for their children. Thus, while we are transporting our kids to all sorts of other activities, eating on the run, and hoping there is enough time left for homework (if not, we’ll just sit them down and do it for them), parents in other cultures see that an evening meal is prepared at home and that study time is then the primary evening activity.
4. Inequality in Education is Not Acceptable in Other Cultures: While disparity in public education is widely accepted in the U.S., it is not tolerated in other cultures. Equal national funding to establish equality for all socio-economic groups is a given in other cultures, and the expectations for student learning are equal as well.
5. Studying in Other Cultures is Fostered by Social Programs: In America, students are accountable for homework assignments and test scores, regardless of their social/economic backgrounds, but little is done to promote an environment in which study can effectively occur. In other developed countries that far surpass our educational outcomes, medical and dental care, psychological services, and additional family services are provided through the school systems. A hungry child with a toothache cannot study well, but, in America, that is not a concern of the public educational system!
6. Teaching Students How to Study: We do a terrible job in America of teaching students the basic of effective and efficient study for concept mastery and skill development. Our expectation is that they will somehow become independent learners all on their own! Students in other cultures have the advantage of comprehensive training in how to study smarter not harder, and the results speak for themselves. Because students in other cultural environments are well prepared for the nuts and bolts of studying, they progress at a much faster rate than students in the U.S.
7. Studying and Tests: In other cultures, project-based learning is valued more than it is in the U.S. While our students spend inordinate amounts of time memorizing facts and information to regurgitate on a test, the only study skill they have really mastered is memorization. Students in other countries are learning processes to become life-long learners, as well as to permanently cement what they have learned by more than reading a text and taking a test! We have become testing fanatics in this country through standardized testing procedures at each grade level. In other cultures, standardized testing occurs at benchmark points, an students are not taught the test they rely on the accumulation of knowledge they have garnered and internalized over the years,
8. It’s a Question of Seriousness: When an entire culture adopts education as a societal value, studying becomes a natural part of a young person’s life. Thus, a student values every bit of homework, from essay writing to complex math and physics problem solving, and there is a stronger commitment to be successful.
The American Student Abroad
Many American students who choose to study abroad will experience first-hand the emphasis their foreign peers place on study and course work assignments. Adjusting to this new emphasis will certainly be a challenge, but one that is ultimately significant. When one can adapt successfully to the entire schooling environment in a country that produces greater scholars, that individual is prepared for life in a far better way!
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