Why do we send our kids to school? Is it because we want them to know every fact there is to know about the world? Or is it because we want them to succeed in life, knowing how to survive in the real world and how to become the person that they were meant to become? The United States and Asia's educational systems are very different. Is one idea better than the other? Both Asian and American students learn appropriate material for their grade level. However students in US schools are also encouraged to explore individual interests and talents.
Schools in Asia are in session for 220 days out of the year, Monday through Friday all day and for half a day on Saturdays. After the students are done with classes for the day most of them remain at school for an hour or two of club activity or sports.
About a quarter of the students take supplementary classes at private schools called "juku."ÃÂ With juku and homework combined students spend their whole day learning and doing schoolwork. Children need time to relax and have fun with their friends. That's part of being a child. The typical third grader in Asia in addition to calligraphy training has 8 hours a week of Japanese, 5 of arithmetic, 3 of science, 3 of social studies, 3 of PE, 2 of music and 2 of art.
The Japanese theory is that all children have the same potential for learning therefore all children are required to learn large amounts of new material and to move rapidly from one new idea to the next. They believe that anyone can do well if they only try hard enough. A typical teacher begins class by stating the day's goal. Once the goal is stated the teacher rarely varies from that topic. The class may even spend the whole day working on one problem. The classrooms in Asia are very large, and all work is done as a class. The teachers never work with the children individually. Each grade level studies the same topic at the same time and each child is promoted at the same time no child skips a grade nor are they held back. If a child is behind the rest of the class they are expected to make it up in juku.
Asian schools stress the entrance into elementary school. The school meets with the mothers to tell them what is expected of the child. They are told what the child should know and be capable of by the first day of school. Children should have well-organized personal habits, polite use of language and traffic safety. Children are expected to behave at all times. Moral education is taught in the 1st grade, and includes the importance of order, regularity, cooperation, thoughtfulness and participation with a strong emphasis on manners and respect for public property. Children are harshly scolded if they use bad manners or do not show respect to others. All of these aspects of moral education are also relevant in the classroom. If a student doesn't turn a homework assignment in on time they face severe punishment, such as a spanking a call home, or suspension.
The fact that women are expected to clean house and take care of the family could be viewed as a problem for Asian society. The country is loosing the benefit of female talent. The men carry out economic and political work and the women work at home with the children and take care of the house. Another problem is the excessive pressure that is put on the children, the all or nothing impact that school has on their futures. School success means success on the university admission test. This test is the only factor that determines where students go to school to prepare for their career. Getting into a good school is so important that men who do not pass the test initially become "ronin,"ÃÂ wondering warriors, and spend 1-4 years preparing to take the test again.
American schools are in session for only 180 days of the school year. School is attended Monday through Fridays. American classes are smaller than Asian classes allowing teachers to spend more time working with individual children making sure that each child's questions are answered. American teachers aren't as strict as Asian teachers making the classroom a much more comfortable environment for the students. It is much easier to learn and to make decisions when the environment is laid back.
American teachers construct creative assignments to help the children better understand what the teacher is trying to get across. An example that the book gives is of a man who attended an Asian school and his son is now attending an American school. He says when he was in first grade he had to memorize all the names of all the worlds major cities, and then he talks about how his son (while in the first grade) had to draw a map of the route he takes to school including all the areas street names. This is something that a typical first grader should be doing. Why would a 6 year old need to know the names of all the major cities of the world? American public schools focus on ways to develop a child's creativity. This allows children to be able to experiment freely with ideas, think for themselves and believe in themselves.
American's tend to believe there are certain things that each child is good at and that is where that child should concentrate their energy. These varied talents are what make he or she an individual.
American schools produce more creative individuals that possess the ability to think for themselves. Asian students are not taught to be independent thinkers. They spend their years in school being part of a class memorizing facts. Every action is a result of being taught not to question authority. American students are taught both facts and life lessons with out the pressure placed on most Asian students. In the end, it is a more nuturing and supportive environment that produces a student not only capable of telling you about the world, but of actually living in it.