It is no news that the American educational system, in general, has been in trouble. The average American student is known to show poorer test score, higher dropout rate, and lower literacy rate compared to the global benchmark. Recently, Louis Menand wrote an opinion on the New Yorker regarding abolishing homework in schools. Does homework give kids with rich and smart parents an unfair advantage by receiving help from them? The answer to that question really depends on which direction the American people want their educational system to go as Menand points out:
Like a lot of debates about education, what Cooper calls "the battle over homework" is not really about how to make schools better. It's about what people want schools to do.
The article makes reference to a report called "The Learning Curve" published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (a research arm of the company that publishes The Economist) and Pearson. The report addresses the effectiveness of different educational systems around the world by compiling a wide range of data. Unsurprisingly, the United States performed poorly in the 17th place, barely beating countries like Hungary, Slovakia, and Russia. You can see the full report here.
I found it interesting that the two best educational systems in the world belong to Finland and South Korea, despite the two systems being drastically different in their approach to education. The Finnish education system is all about having the best average students with the same opportunities. Its egalitarian approach shows in many aspects of its educational system.
- The Finnish government sponsors everyone's education from elementary school to college, even for foreigners.
- The education system has an exceptionally strong support system to give special care to those who are underperforming. (counselors, special care teachers, etc.) The Finnish leave no child behind.
- The schools virtually give no homeworks for concerns similar to the ones raised in the New Yorker article.
- Kids start school later and stay there shorter than those in most developed countries.
In Finland, education is the foundation of equality and social justice. However, this sometimes leads to exceptionally gifted students being left with unfulfilled potentials.
On the other hand, the Korean system has the polar opposite mentality. (Caveat: I went to school in Korea until 10th grade.) Education is precisely the means to advancement in the social hierarchy. In fact, it is quite similar to the mindset of Wall Street. It weeds out the weak by taking kids to the grindstone day in and day out and, sometimes literally, killing them until only the fittest survive.
- The Koreans take education very, very seriously. Most high school students preparing for college entrance exams study 25 hours a day while their mothers pray during exams.
- While the public school system is somewhat unimpressive, there is a massive private sector (and they make $$$) that tutors students after school. Everyone is on their own. Parents work two jobs to pay for tutors and students are extremely eager to get ahead.
- The purpose of education is results. In other words, rote learning and exam scores.
This brutally capitalistic approach to education leaves a bloody trail. The OECD reports that Korean students are the unhappiest among those in developed countries. I personally know that my friends in Korea went through a series of depressing mental breakdowns and paranoia throughout high school because of pressure to place well for college. However, intelligence is highly respected and you get rewarded for ambition -- which I think is not true to the same extent in the US.
So again, what do the American people want their education system to be? The Finnish ideals seem lofty, but will they ever be exceptionally good at anything? The Korean system appears cruel and suffocating; but don't you have to learn to postpone pleasure and make sacrifices to become successful? Like.. breaking into Wall Street? What is the American way when it comes to education?