I was fortunate to have receiving my elementary and middle school education as well as one year of high school in the US and all my high school abroad under the British System in the 1950’s. This gave me a first hand view of each system and the strengths and weakness of each. Overall I found the US system geared more towards the educational level needed for the average person to function as an adult and the British system much more geared towards a college education. Under the British system at that time there were no electives. There was a fixed curriculum that was geared towards taking a British college entry exam. It had a heavy emphasis upon memorization and rules. It consisted of English language and literature, history, geography, math and science. English, math and science were quite advanced and intense compared to what I was prepared for by my first year of high school in the US. As a result I had to repeat my first year of high school there. As a result I am convinced that had I gone to high school in the US I would not have considered going to college and become an engineer as I did that lead to a very successful and fairly accomplished career.
It appears that not much has changed in the last 50 years. We are ranked 25th among 39 countries in math, 20th in science, and 12th in reading literacy but by far number 1 in money spent on education. We are the most technologically advanced country in the world but if you look at who is developing this technology you will find a disproportionate number of foreign born technologist doing much of the development. If you visit our most prestigious universities you will find the graduate school often dominated with foreign born graduate and post-graduate students as well as professors.
Then why is the US the top technological country in the world if our educational system is so bad? It is because 70 years ago during World War II the US was the only country involved in the war not to have its industrial infrastructure damaged. Almost all of Europe’s and Asia’s infrastructures and industries were totally destroyed. But during the war Germany developed many advanced technologies such as rocketry and the jet engine which were far more advanced than any that exists elsewhere. Our nuclear capability was a result of many German and foreign born scientist such as Einstein who left their country for the US due to persecution and genocide. Since we did not have to rebuild our industries after the war we had a gigantic technological head start. We also obtains key scientist such as Wernher Von Braun who developed the US space program and ICBM’s. He was responsible for using cruel slave labor at the cost of many lives to build VII rockets during WWII. So it was because of the luck of our geographical isolation that our industries were spared.
It is almost universally acknowledged that our public educational system need a major overhaul to become more competitive with the rest of the world. As second world countries like China and India catch up with the US industrially and technologically they will eventually surpass us technologically if we do not take steps to increase the number of engineers developing new technologies. Many of our top technologists are Chinese and Indians. Once their countries become technologically advanced they will stop working here.
Like most antiquated infrastructures that exist in the US upsetting the apple cart is a major problem. Antiquated systems inherently have built in processes, organizations, and jobs which people feel threatened of loosing if change is implemented. Some of these people hold powerful positions such as union leaders, teachers, and administrators. This is why antiquated systems are so difficult to change and improve. Consequently only small incremental changes or larger changes for only individual schools can be made. Funding for such change is also in short supply.
There are many reasons and excuses for not making sweeping changes to education but the need is urgently and there. The public is aware of the need but it lacks the universal urgency that it deserves. So year after year the nation slowly progresses to simply maintain its mediocre standing in education among nations of the world. Most students lack the motivation to study hard and excel. It is simply not part of our values. Working hard ethics in a career exists but this does not extend into public education. People learn this once they enter the highly competitive work market where you are quickly left behind if you don’t put in the effort and time. It should be that way for education.
I am not an educator but have almost 40 years of engineering experience. I know for a fact that to be good at math, especially advanced math you need to practice over an over again. Math is the backbone of science and engineering. Math is all about recognizing mathematical patterns and quantifying those pattern. Being good requires endless repetitive exercises to gain a sense of these asthmatic patterns. Those who are good at recognizing these patters are good at mathematics. Like video games which is also all about recognizing game patters it takes a lot of practice to be good. If students in America only spent 10% the time they do on math exercises as they do at playing computer games we would not have any math literacy problems. Same for any school subject. Engineering and science are all about identifying certain patters which are mathematically modeled to quantify them. All our technology and physical structures such as tall building and bridges are based upon these mathematical models. So are the smallest integrated circuits that run you computers, smart phones, etc. Practice, practice, practice is the key to the learning for any pattern recognition and creative skill including writing and the arts. So educations is not simply about making it more efficient, it is also about instilling learning values in students. Study is as much about hard work as working in a career.
There are way to motivate and inspire students to excel and be more competitive but the end product is to make students work harder at learning for themselves. It is a fact that students that work hardest excel at the subjects they work hardest at. Look at the top ranked nations in each subject and you will see the truth of what I say. There simply are no shortcuts.
Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don’t recognize them. – Ann Landers