“Comparing” Education Systems


I am all for cross-cultural insight and appreciating differences. What I do not appreciate is the comparison of the American and Indian K-12 (primary and secondary schools) education systems that insist on ranking. Just searching ‘India-US Education’ reveals a wealth of blogs, discussions, and arguments over whose schools are more effective, almost all of which degrade the American system and glorify Indian education. In my 11th standard I hosted an American exchange student, and it didn’t take long for us both to realize that this opinion is widespread, but not actually based on truth. This brings me to my argument of why contrasting the two systems is not only pointless, it’s also impossible.

Firstly, there is no one cohesive Indian education system. Only a minority of children attend secondary school, and within that group about half attend corporation schools, the majority of which seriously lack infrastructure, teachers, and materials. It seems obvious that the schools Indians boast of are the private system. Well, that is until you consider the wealth of varying private schools- Christian, Hindu, boarding, English-medium, non-English medium, state board, CBSE, etc. Each type of school will have different classes, exams and routines.

Even if you chose one of these myriad school types to compare with the US, you cannot compare systems that have different goals. At my school in Chennai everyone, except a very select few, will attend university. Students are almost universally middle class and come from educated families. At my American sister’s school in the US, many students will not attend university, but rather join the military or go straight to a job. Within her school district, about 10% of students are homeless. Her school is one third African American, with a small number of second-generation immigrants.

My school has one goal: to get each student into the best university possible while instilling traditional values. Her school also has a goal: to give every student a basic education, and those that desire more an excellent one. If these seem different, you are correct. The two schools are geared towards completely different aims! You could say that my school is ‘better’ in that practically every student will go to university, but then it only takes those who pay. On the other hand, public American school has to educate everybody who lives in a certain area, regardless of the socioeconomic background.

From my hosting experience as well as from the rest of my life, one thing I’ve noticed is that we have more in common with foreigners than we think. In the US, there are undoubtedly many kids who do not study. Some go to parties, drink underage, and do drugs. A sizable number are in a relationship. A small number are violent. A reasonable number, my sister included, are interested in achieving a good education. In India many do not study well, and some cheat. Almost all are pressured by their parents to do well. Many have secret relationships, lots drink, and a few do drugs. Then there is a reasonable amount, including me, interested in achieving a good education.

Sound similar? They are. There are vastly different stresses and environments surrounding American and Indian students, but the result is the same- a spectrum of students. Perhaps if we, as a nation, could move on from ranking one above the other, and this petty fight of us versus the obviously inferior them, we could instead focus on the real issues of today.


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