Saturday, March 11, 2006

What is education like in different countries?

This is a cross-posting here and on the Young Caucasus Women Project - please visit that blog and read what the young women have to say about education in their home countries!

In college, I took a class on comparative education - studying education in different countries. While I learned some interesting things, I felt, when the class was over, that I still knew very little about the day-to-day realities of education outside the United States. Now that I'm a teacher, I have even more questions:

What do people see as the purpose of getting an education?
Here in the United States, most people would tell you that the purpose of education is to give you the opportunity to choose a career that you like and that will allow you to support yourself and your family. It's the idea of the "American dream" - that through education, we give everyone the opportunity to get ahead in life. That's the simple answer. The more complicated answer is that many business leaders think that schools are there to create good workers who have the right skills. And many people believe that schools instill the values and skills that we all need to share to participate in a democracy - tolerance of others, critical thinking, and so on. Finally, we depend on schools to teach our children basic information about health, the environment, and other important issues. What do people in your country see as the purpose of education?

Do all children have equal education opportunities? Or are there some groups that receive a better education than others, maybe based on their gender, culture, religion, or income, or the part of the country where they live?
I work in a school in the south Bronx precisely because some children in the United States do NOT have equal educational opportunities right now. Children whose families are poor tend to go to more crowded schools. Their teachers are less likely to be "highly qualified" and the schools often have fewer resources such as art and music classes and science labs. And the result is that some children leave school much more prepared for college and a career than others:
Ours is a country where nine-year-olds in urban and rural areas are already three grade levels behind nine-year-olds in wealthier suburbs, where less than half of high school students in urban areas graduate, and where those who do graduate often read below basic levels. Ours is a country where a child who happens to be born in the Bronx or in Compton is seven times less likely to graduate from college than a child born in Manhattan or Beverly Hills.
Of course, like everything else in education, this is not a simple problem. Children growing up in poverty may have greater needs than children from more stable middle class homes. They may have more health problems and more mental health problems (many have seen traumatic events). They may have fewer books in their houses and fewer adult role models who have attended college. Figuring out how to address the inequality is very difficult! What about in your country? Do all children have equal opportunities there?

What controversies are there about education in my country?
Here, education can be a surprisingly controversial topic! Everyone believes education is important, but once you start trying to change things, you realize we all have different values and priorities. We disagree on everything from what to teach, to how to teach it. When I read articles about education in other countries, I rarely read about controversies - these articles make it sound like everyone agrees all the time. I find that hard to believe! I'm very interested in what aspects of education are open to debate in your country! Here are two hotly-debated issues in the US at this time:

The teaching of evolution: As a science teacher, I know that the theory of evolution by natural selection is the most widely-accepted theory explaining the diversity of living things. Yet, there are people in the US who believe that God created all living things, and that teaching children about evolution is against their religious beliefs. They want the public schools to teach "creation science" as an alternative theory to evolution. Others think that we should teach children the theory of "intelligent design," which is that evolution cannot explain some of the complicated structures in living things (such as the eye), and that the only explanation is that some intelligent creator must have designed them. They want this theory to have equal footing with evolution in the science textbooks. Is evolution taught in your country? Is it controversial? Are there other topics that are controversial to teach in your country?

Standardized testing: You might have read or heard about the "No Child Left Behind" act, or NCLB. This is a new law that requires each state to give tests every year to measure children's progress. Schools have to improve their students' scores by a certain amount every year, or they can get put on a public list of "failing schools." The good thing about the law is that it requires schools to show that they are helping all their students, including minority groups who might otherwise be overlooked. But the law is very controversial! Many educators believe that standardized tests are biased against certain groups of children because of the way test questions are written. Others believe that standardized tests focus on memorizing facts rather than thinking about ideas. Schools think it's unfair to label them failing if only one group of kids falls behind. And schools with large numbers of very poor children, or children with learning disabilities, or children whose families don't speak English, think this law is unfair because the tests may be much harder for these children. Some educators even think that this law is secretly trying to label all the public schools as failures, so that they can create a new system! Do students take standardized tests in your country? When and for what purpose? Does everyone believe the tests are fair?

I don't want to overwhelm you, so I'll stop here. I hope that you've found one or more of the questions above interesting, and that you can give us an inside view of education where you grew up!

10 Comments:

Anonymous Muriel said...

Here's a little about the French system from my as objective as possible viewpoint.

What do people in your country see as the purpose of education?

There are I think two main things. People see our schools as a means of integration for immigrant populations. Our schools are supposed to teach them our republican and secular values so that they can function in our society. That's not working out so well.
The other main purpose of education is earning a diploma, wether it is a university degree or a vocational diploma. There are diplomas for everything n France, and if you are not qualified (ie have the right diploma) it makes much harder to find a job. Therefore our educational system is supposed to ensure that everyone leaves school having earned his diploma : vocational, technical or general.

Do all children have equal opportunities there?

The law requires that children should have equal opportunities. It also ensures that those who have less get more. Schools in at risk area get additional funding, additional teachers (the maximum number of students per class is 24 whereas it is 30 elsewhere), additional after school programs,additional pay for teachers, etc. Unfortunately it's not enough and there are still disparities between schools in nice neighborhoods and those in at risk areas. Nevertheless these disparities are more on student achievement than on opportunities or funding.

Is evolution taught in your country? Is it controversial? Are there other topics that are controversial to teach in your country?

Evolution is taught in France without any controversy. The secularity of our schools is a very important part of education, therefore no discussion has ever arisen around this issue. Our system being centralized, all curriculum and exams are nation wide. The contents are decided on by the government. I don't have any recollection of any controversy surrounding a topic.

Do students take standardized tests in your country? When and for what purpose? Does everyone believe the tests are fair?


Standardized tests appeared very recently in France (about 5 years agho I think). They are taken by students once in third grade and once in sixth grade. They cover math and language arts only and are graded by the teachersthemselves. The results are entered in a database and sent to the government.
The results are used to identify which children may need remedial help, and help each school identify it's level compared to other schools or the national average. But these tests have no real stakes and no one is held accountable for their results. Since they are given during the first couple of weeks of the school year, they assess what was done the year before, and there is no teaching to the tests. Since we are at the very beginning of standardized testing here, this may change in years to come.

I hope these few answers have given you a better view of education in France.

1:42 PM  
Anonymous Theresa said...

I am Theresa, and I live in Washington State, USA. I live in a well-to-do city, and I go to a middle school with over 700 students. There are two education programs in this middle school. One is a normal education program, and one is a PRISM program. The PRISM program teaches everything a grade early. I am in this program. I have discovered that over half of the people in the PRISM program are asian, and by asian, it is mainly chinese people. Also, after looking at the school directory, I have discovered that most of the people in the normal program are latin-american or european-american.
Even though this school is located in Bellevue, and Bellevue is a well-to-do city, many of the people in the normal education program come from broken families. Most of the PRISM students live in the same community, (i dont live in bellevue) and their houses are about 10 minutes walk apart.
I am not sure what to make of it, but I think this is how education becomes better for people with more money, even only inside a middle school. Yes, I know, I'm in the PRISM program too. But I think it is important that this separation is not because of money, or racial segregation. This should be based on the student's want to learn.

3:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello from Slovenia. I hope my answers to your questions can help you to learn something about our educational system :)

What do people in your country see as the purpose of education?
I think that most people in my country see education as a mean to get a good job. The most valuable thing mainly seems to be "getting the paper" i.e. a diploma degree (from a university). Unfortunately, most students don't see universities as a place where they can learn new things, but as a place that will one they give them the so needed "paper", with which they can get a job. I think the cause for this attitude is the fact that most of our schools focus on facts and don't really encourage critical thinking. TOo often the best way to get through our system is to remember load of facts (that you forget soon after the exam).

Do all children have equal opportunities there?
The answer to this question is mostly yes. In Slovenia there really aren't many private schools, so the majority of kids (both rich and poor) go to public schools. Still - in the last years some differences between schools are emerging and kids from richer families have more chances of getting in better public schools, though the divide still isn't that great. But I am afraid that it could grow in the future.

Is evolution taught in your country? Is it controversial? Are there other topics that are controversial to teach in your country?
Just like in France, evolution is taught at schools with no controversies. The topic that did rise some controversies is the possibility of including religious (christian) education in elementary schools - though only as part of elective additional school content (for which kids usually choose attending music schools, sports activities etc.), but so far the suggestion hasn't been implemented.

Do students take standardized tests in your country? When and for what purpose? Does everyone believe the tests are fair?
We do have standardized tests in my country - the main nationwide test takes place after the completion of a high school and is called the maturity exam. The score from this exam is used by university to accept just the best students when they have too many applications. One of the negative consequences of the described maturity exam is that teachers in high schools are now focusing on teaching topics that are prescribed for the exam and everything revolves about this big exam (which also means that students are mortified of this exam, although it is in fact no big deal). The differences in students' result among schools affects just the reputation of a certain school, otherwise they have no consequence.
In the past years a similar exam was included at the end of elementary school with a similar purpose - to rank students when they apply for high school. And a few years back some standardized tests were also included in elementary school, so now children have to take test every three years (after the end of 3rd, 6th and 9th class). Still - these test don't really have any consequences, but they are raising a lot of questions especially among parents. Generally it is believed that the test are fair to everyone, but the problem is that some doubt their efficiency and purpose, and parents think that they put too much stress on their kids.

5:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello from Slovenia. I hope my answers to your questions can help you to learn something about our educational system :)

What do people in your country see as the purpose of education?
I think that most people in my country see education as a mean to get a good job. The most valuable thing mainly seems to be "getting the paper" i.e. a diploma degree (from a university). Unfortunately, most students don't see universities as a place where they can learn new things, but as a place that will one they give them the so needed "paper", with which they can get a job. I think the cause for this attitude is the fact that most of our schools focus on facts and don't really encourage critical thinking. TOo often the best way to get through our system is to remember load of facts (that you forget soon after the exam).

Do all children have equal opportunities there?
The answer to this question is mostly yes. In Slovenia there really aren't many private schools, so the majority of kids (both rich and poor) go to public schools. Still - in the last years some differences between schools are emerging and kids from richer families have more chances of getting in better public schools, though the divide still isn't that great. But I am afraid that it could grow in the future.

Is evolution taught in your country? Is it controversial? Are there other topics that are controversial to teach in your country?
Just like in France, evolution is taught at schools with no controversies. The topic that did rise some controversies is the possibility of including religious (christian) education in elementary schools - though only as part of elective additional school content (for which kids usually choose attending music schools, sports activities etc.), but so far the suggestion hasn't been implemented.

Do students take standardized tests in your country? When and for what purpose? Does everyone believe the tests are fair?
We do have standardized tests in my country - the main nationwide test takes place after the completion of a high school and is called the maturity exam. The score from this exam is used by university to accept just the best students when they have too many applications. One of the negative consequences of the described maturity exam is that teachers in high schools are now focusing on teaching topics that are prescribed for the exam and everything revolves about this big exam (which also means that students are mortified of this exam, although it is in fact no big deal). The differences in students' result among schools affects just the reputation of a certain school, otherwise they have no consequence.
In the past years a similar exam was included at the end of elementary school with a similar purpose - to rank students when they apply for high school. And a few years back some standardized tests were also included in elementary school, so now children have to take test every three years (after the end of 3rd, 6th and 9th class). Still - these test don't really have any consequences, but they are raising a lot of questions especially among parents. Generally it is believed that the test are fair to everyone, but the problem is that some doubt their efficiency and purpose, and parents think that they put too much stress on their kids.

5:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello from Slovenia. I hope my answers to your questions can help you to learn something about our educational system :)

What do people in your country see as the purpose of education?
I think that most people in my country see education as a mean to get a good job. The most valuable thing mainly seems to be "getting the paper" i.e. a diploma degree (from a university). Unfortunately, most students don't see universities as a place where they can learn new things, but as a place that will one they give them the so needed "paper", with which they can get a job. I think the cause for this attitude is the fact that most of our schools focus on facts and don't really encourage critical thinking. TOo often the best way to get through our system is to remember load of facts (that you forget soon after the exam).

Do all children have equal opportunities there?
The answer to this question is mostly yes. In Slovenia there really aren't many private schools, so the majority of kids (both rich and poor) go to public schools. Still - in the last years some differences between schools are emerging and kids from richer families have more chances of getting in better public schools, though the divide still isn't that great. But I am afraid that it could grow in the future.

Is evolution taught in your country? Is it controversial? Are there other topics that are controversial to teach in your country?
Just like in France, evolution is taught at schools with no controversies. The topic that did rise some controversies is the possibility of including religious (christian) education in elementary schools - though only as part of elective additional school content (for which kids usually choose attending music schools, sports activities etc.), but so far the suggestion hasn't been implemented.

Do students take standardized tests in your country? When and for what purpose? Does everyone believe the tests are fair?
We do have standardized tests in my country - the main nationwide test takes place after the completion of a high school and is called the maturity exam. The score from this exam is used by university to accept just the best students when they have too many applications. One of the negative consequences of the described maturity exam is that teachers in high schools are now focusing on teaching topics that are prescribed for the exam and everything revolves about this big exam (which also means that students are mortified of this exam, although it is in fact no big deal). The differences in students' result among schools affects just the reputation of a certain school, otherwise they have no consequence.
In the past years a similar exam was included at the end of elementary school with a similar purpose - to rank students when they apply for high school. And a few years back some standardized tests were also included in elementary school, so now children have to take test every three years (after the end of 3rd, 6th and 9th class). Still - these test don't really have any consequences, but they are raising a lot of questions especially among parents. Generally it is believed that the test are fair to everyone, but the problem is that some doubt their efficiency and purpose, and parents think that they put too much stress on their kids.

5:05 AM  
Blogger RAKTIMA said...

What do people in your country see as the purpose of education?

As a matter of fact, many parts of our edu system are similar to Slovenia, as i guessed from the previous post. India, you know, is a land famous for diversities, and so there are amazing diversities even when it comes to the education system.
There are many boards, three of which are ICSE, CBSE, WBBSE. Private schools are there aplenty. Purpose of education is supposed to be the fulfilment and enrichment of the thirsty mind, but unfortunately, most parents see it as a means to get a high-paying jobs, and encourage their children to think along the same lines. So, nowadays, some of the school students are turning into participants of a blind rat race. Marks, marks, and better marks...that's all they want. Some of them don't even think about exactly what THEY want from life, and how thier education will help them attain it. They tend to choose subjects which provide them better scopes in the job market, rather than subjects which they love. Parents discourage their students if they want to study Literature and Language, because it doesn't offer them the opportunity of a glorious, high paying job, like Science does. This is a topic for great controversy in our country.



Do all children have equal opportunities there?

HA!! SOUNDS LIKE A JOKE!! While some get high quality education and win international honours, there is a gaping percentage of UNEDUCATED people!!! Most people of the lower classes do not know how to read and write. But that's not surprising, considering that food and clothing are the basic needs of human civilisation, and here there are plenty of people who don't even get two-three square meals a day, let alone dream of getting and education. So many people beg and rot on the streets, and oh, it sounds amazing, but we are used to it...!! Can you imagine that there are actually 3 or so ppl from India in the list of the world's richest men???!! Who'll think that there are people are dying on the other hand...?



Is evolution taught in your country? Is it controversial? Are there other topics that are controversial to teach in your country?

Evolution is taught without controversy. The number of Christians in India isn't that great, you know. Besides, in India, you can't afford to take religious stuff like that into account, bcoz there r soooo many religions here!! Here, education is strictly secular.

Ok, there are plenty of conversies, I can't possibly go into all! But these days, the topic that features the most is this "Ideal Of Education" controversy that I mentioned earlier. And of course, there are diff opinions regarding the distribution of time of work and play, PRESSURE OF STUDIES(very common topic), and whther equal stress should be put on academics and extra/co-curricular activitis.



Do students take standardized tests in your country? When and for what purpose? Does everyone believe the tests are fair?


Yes, we take tests at 16 and at 18 when we're in school. Nowadays, standardized tests are being introduced at 15 and 17 too. School studies revolve totally on these exams, we hardly do anything outside the syllabus. These exams determine our position in society, so to speak. If you flunk these tests, you flunk life.

6:24 AM  
Blogger Serendipity said...

Hi , thou you already have had another of my fellow Indian answer to your questions here are my views :

1. The one and only purpose of education here is to get good grades which enables a regular child to improve his position by getting a high paying job. So in this sense education is but only a means to an end . Indian education stresses on curriculum and data and acquisition of skills. It is a very "service oriented" education system. Entrepreneurs, leaders and innovators need to think in their own mould with the education feeding the foundation rather than teaching them what to do. That, is completely missing.It is indeed a problem considering the talents and resources that go untapped. It harms our progress. We have tremendous syllabus. But syllabus do not an education maketh! Skills and the finer details are taught very well here but what is lacking is comprehension of the "big picture".Any successful education process here or anywhere in the world should be able to recognize the trait of individuals and be able to foster an environment that supplements his/her abilities. In that respect , Indian education system fails hugely.

2) Like Raktima puts it "sounds like a joke " It is not so much as the gap between the rich and the poor ( that exists in all countries ) but more about effectively putting policies in place and implementing them . For eg we have very good schemes like subsidized education in Government run schools but because of lack of interest / total commitment on behalf of the authorities to put them into practice , it has mostly been a wasted effort.

3) Yes we take tests, tests and more tests . The sole purpose of education seems to have boiled down to get good grades which like I said earlier translates into a good job. There is an urgent need to trim the unneccessary frills and have a uniform board of education unlike the 3 we have here running on parallel tracks , with standardized testing all across the nation . Only then the true academic position of any student will be fairly evaluated. But we continue to compare apples with oranges !. And in this melting pot is thrown all kinds of reservation quotas for backward/reserved classes . A far cry from "FAIR".

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