I’ve recently been in touch with some friends from graduate school that have gone on to teach abroad. We’ve struck up a rich and interesting conversation about how the United States tends to covet and measure U.S. education against other countries like China. I remember that right before I left to live here all the rage was about Finland. Finland this, Finland that, oh boy if only we could reform our system like theirs. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/Why-Are-Finlands-Schools-Successful.html
Or look how China and Japan are churning out such high test scores. Or where I live boasts the highest literacy rate for Central America. Yet I feel that a basic tenet of education, that of questioning and digging further, has sorely been left out of many a discussion on the merits of global education.
Given that I live in the country with the highest literacy rate for Central America you’d think oh wow how unique and refreshing and wonderful. Well it isn’t quite like that. How is literacy defined? At what grade level does one have to be able to read and write to be considered literate? Literacy, it seems, is a very easily manipulated stat without a clear definition. What tax structures are in place to fund public education? How are teachers compensated? What are class sizes like?
How do different cultures carry out public education? The systems are different. Period. Isn’t there that saying “comparing apples to oranges?” Where I live, public education is compulsory and available to all school-age children. But the way in which the content is delivered reminds me of early 20th century schooling in the United States. Sit, absorb, memorize, do worksheets and listen to the all-mightly teacher. What of creativity, of having to dig deeper to explain one’s thinking? Of being pushed to come to one’s own conclusions? In the system I left behind to become a temporary expat, that type of thinking (usually called critical) was what was wanted, hoped for, pushed for? And now that I am outside my own culture, I see clearly that is a highly specific desirable trait and cultural demand.
In the good ole’ los Estados Unidos we value individualism almost above all else. In other cultures, that type of culrural vibe may not be present at all. Where I live now, being agreeable and communal is highly valued. And this in turn, likely greatly shapes an education system.
I recently read an article about Chinese students and test preparation that got me thinking….http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/07/putting-chinese-students-to-the-test/ Is this what we are comparing our system to?
I certainly do not purport to know the first way to reform a whole educational system (re: United States) but I wonder what good it is doing us to compare so much out of its cultural context.