Differences between American and foreign education

In recent years, the United States has seen the fall of its superiority in education. According to a PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) assessment in 2012, multiple countries surpassed US standardized test scores in three or more subjects. Because America’s education system has grown to be less sufficient and to-the-point, it may be time to look at other countries’ recent success and understand how our country can benefit from said methods.  

Motivation is a large part in learning, and it seems that the widening gap between test scores is largely the result of varying degrees of student motivation. As suggested by research at the George Washington University Center on Education Policy (CEP), the appetite for success in U.S. students results in loss of motivation. Namely, instead of doing well for the sake of learning, we tend to look for shortcuts and loopholes that will—in theory—help us consistently boost our scores. Consequently, students who find incentive only in improving their test scores lose their desire towards learning for the benefits of knowledge.

Unlike America, other countries believe that “less is more.” Take this example: In an American math class, a fourth-grader pulls out sharpened pencils, a notebook, a state-issued textbook, and an iPad. Meanwhile, 4000 miles away in a Finnish math class, a fourth-grader is asked to go outside to collect twigs or berries that can be used to make geometric shapes. These simple and entertaining methods promote a positive outlook on school and learning resulting in increased motivation.

Levels of motivation may also be influenced by the amount of time spent in school. The Center of Public Education reports American students are required to spend a yearly average of 902 hours compared to Finland’s average of 856. As American students move to higher education, the number of hours spent in school increases; little to no time is available for students to undertake studies of interest. On the other hand, Finnish students are spending extra time playing outside and exploring their own pursuits. In addition, subject availability also plays a role in a student’s desire to learn and his or her chances of success.

American schools offer more academic classes, such as math, history, language, or science, while pushing non-academic subjects aside. In America, students often question the amount of practical knowledge they can receive from certain classes such as trigonometry or European history. In Japan, students are required to take classes teaching basic life skills such as cooking and cleaning. The practical application gained from these life skill classes gives students an incentive to continue striving for success in the future.

Improving all aspects of American education is improbable, but looking towards other countries as role-models can yield positive changes. Rather than just attempting to provide students with the best resources, America should also seek more efficient methods to encourage student interests in education in the 21st century and beyond.

By Erica Chang, Staff writer
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