Why We Shouldn’t Try to Be Just Like Asia
Do we need to panic about Chinese education? This organization thinks so:
The message is clear: While Americans are partying, Asian students are playing the violin, learning math, and preparing to take over the world economy.
I’ve commented on the difference between U.S. test scores and those of other countries, because the gap shows that we could be doing better. However, I do not think that Asian education systems have no problems and we should try to be just like them. With all the recent talk about national standards and tests, we should keep in mind a few reasons not to panic and become just like China or India:
- In some countries with rigid public education systems, poor children do better in private schools. Their test scores are better, and they’re more likely to have access to a sufficient number of computers, drinking fountains, and bathrooms. That’s right, bathrooms. If we really wanted a public education system just like the ones in Asia, we would need to scale back on our plumbing for the poor.
- State-run education systems are unjust. For example, in Singapore students are segregated by ability into different tracks in seventh grade. Which track you’re in determines where you’ll go to high school and college, and what kind of job you’ll eventually get. Students who start out behind aren’t given a chance to catch up.
- Some Asian students get burned out by intense competition as kids, then do nothing when they go to college. Gary Becker notes that this is a problem in Japan.
- The global economy opens the world to competition, but it also means that the relative position of your country matters less. In every country, good students and hard workers will be rewarded. It’s true that foreign countries can be expected to keep catching up with the U.S. economically. It’s called convergence, and it happens naturally in the absence of wars and other trade barriers. This will happen no matter what our education system is like.
We should improve our education system because we’re not as good as we could be, not because we need to be a certain distance ahead of the rest of the world.