What is education like in different 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!