Are we doomed to make the same mistakes over and over? Educators and students seem to be stuck in a rut. School budgets are being cut left and right, which means that a lot of the burden could end up falling on the shoulders of hard-working mothers and fathers all across the country.
Education these days is odd. On the one hand, there is so much information available, but on the other hand it seems that students in the United States are not doing as well as they should be on international standardized tests.
In a recent report submitted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. came in 28th out of 78 countries. The 78 countries involved in the rankings were of varying socio-economic makeups. These countries were ranked according to their 15-year-old's success in math and science exams. 28 out of 78 countries. That figure alarmed more than a few people, and the issue really hit home when it was revealed that the United States was ranked lower than much poorer countries, such as Latvia and Poland. Asian countries took the first 5 spots, with Finland – the first non-Asian country – coming in at number 6.
I started this post discussing mistakes, because many consider our system to be just that – a mistake that keeps on repeating itself. How can it be that the United States comes in at number 28? I am sure the answer is multi-faceted, but in its core it has to do with the way we are teaching. Or rather, the environments in which we are expected to teach.
Are we giving our students – our children – the right tools, the necessary tools, to make it in today's world? Or are we simply giving it a half-assed attempt? How much does this have to do with budget, and how much of it has to do with the system itself? Can a teacher, teaching an average classroom of 20-30 students even be expected to get good results?
There are many unanswered questions, and presumably our finest educational minds are working on solutions, so that the next time we are ranked, we will do better. In fact, according to the OECD, that was the entire point of the ranking – getting a good old-fashioned healthy rivalry brewing between the different countries which were ranked. In that sense, you can say it hit the nail on the head. This may also be a chance for renewed cooperation and free exchange of ideas and techniques between the countries. Of course, because of the nature of the societies in question, there are many cultural differences between the United States and the top-ranking Asian countries (Singapore, followed by Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan). However, as different as we are from all of those aforementioned countries, there is certainly a lot that can be gained from observing their ways. Cultural differences aside, education is something which can usually be broken down and emulated. Part of what makes the U.S. such an amazing place to live in, is its emigrants. People who have brought knowledge and lore from other countries, and set up shop here. It has always helped shape the face of the United States for the better.
Perhaps if we snoop around other countries, we will be able to learn from our mistakes, and rank higher the next time around.