articles / Family life / Homeschooling

Keeping up with the Jones’ international education

I saw an interesting post on one of the homeschool pages I’m a member of on Facebook, she posed a question that had never ever even crossed my mind even though I’ve heard it collectively talked about.

Here is (an edited for content version) of the post: “I know that many people have a very laid back approach to home schooling and I admire that. But I have a daughter taking engineering right now and she is in the minority. There from other nationalities, mainly Asian and Indian, that are in the same books at [age] 3 or 4 that [American children are in] at 6. Do we need to wake up to the fact that our kids will compete for careers in a global world and with kids who do surpass them in academics?”

I have to be honest it has never once crossed my mind to compare how I’m educating my children to the way other countries are educating their children. Yes, the education system in America needs a lot of work (it is still good, but a lot can be better — one reason we homeschool), but competition is no reason to try and push our children.

For this post I did a little bit of research (I was a journalist after all). Schools in other countries greatly vary in the same way they do in the US depending on the area and income of the community so I’ll have to quote from generalizations.

China is one of the big ones that we hear about a lot when it comes to high caliber education. Here’s a few talking points about the Chinese education system:

  • Students start school around the time that they are 6 1/2-7 years old (depending on the area)
  • School is from 7:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Extra classes last until around 6:45.
  • School is always Monday through Friday, BUT sometimes schools choose to have school on Saturday and even Sunday.
  • The norm is for students to stay up until past 10 p.m. doing homework each night.
  • Competition for college is steep. There is limited space in higher education settings so students must compete and be high achievers to get the chance to go to college.

If this is what China is doing to create bunches of genius mathematicians and scientists then I’m OK with my children settling for a “lesser” field like maybe a doctor or police man.

Something I didn’t really know was that Finland is often considered to have one of the best education systems in the world, graduating many smart and capable adults. Here’s a few talking points about the Finnish education system:

  • Students start their education at 7 years old
  • Students do not receive homework OR tests until they are well in their teens to create less pressure.
  • Students take a 75 minute break every day
  • Curriculum consists of broad guidelines of each subject

I don’t think when it comes to “comparing” the quality of education we should just focus on test scores and how early or late they start school or how long they stay in school. We need to look at life outside of school.

I did a little more research on China (since it’s the big one). We all know about the one-child policy so I’ll spare you those details. Students in elementary school in China focus on Chinese, math, physical education, and morals and society. They also learn about respect. That’s pretty good…no smoking gun there so I dug a little deeper into the family dynamic. When reading an article about the Chinese culture and how (typical) parents raise/see their children I came across a few disturbing phrases. Phrases like, “considered investment, resource,” “expectations and pressure,” “psychological control and shame,” and “authoritarian parenting.”

In China, what one family member does affects how the whole family is seen in society. Kid messes up, he brings his whole family to shame. This causes pressure and great responsibility at a young age. A small child is being held responsible for the reputation of their entire family. Take this into account too: If a child goes to school at 7:45 a.m. and doesn’t get through until 4:45 p.m. That means basically after dinner and homework (which apparently takes until 10 p.m.) they’re getting ready for bed to be up super early for school the next day. Saturday and Sunday school (not the church kind either)? When do these parents spend quality time with their children? I’m not saying that all Chinese children don’t spend time with their family, but think about it. That type of pressure from the family and school combined with the lack of personal interaction with family is bound to negatively affect a child.

If I was taught from the time I was born that my family’s reputation was based on my behavior and academic performance I’d probably focus more and try and excel too (once again not saying that’s the motivations of all).

So what about Finland? Well, my research came up a little short on the dynamics of the typical Finnish family, but the fact that their educational system seems so lax, I’m going to deduce that their parents don’t believe the reputation of their family should be placed on the child’s shoulders.

Here’s what I’ve gathered from these two school examples:

  • Pressure and pushing a child at an early age can produce a well-educated child.
  • Avoiding pressure and focusing on learning rather than tests/homework can produce a well-educated child.
  • Have long school days and doing school work for several hours and then getting several hours of homework can produce a well-educated child.
  • Taking breaks (relieving pressure) and encouraging play and down time can produce a well-educated child.
  • Having a rigid schedule and curriculum can produce a well-educated child.
  • Having a more fluid schedule and broad curriculum can produce a well-educated child.

When I have the choice between a rigid, pressure-filled environment for education and a relaxed, learning-encouraging environment for education it is a no-brainer. I do not feel like as a general rule that my children will be competing with foreign geniuses for jobs in the future. Either way, why should my concern be that? My concern should be to raise my children to love God above all else, love/respect their family, respect others, and love learning. If I teach them these things, even if they don’t go to Ivy-League colleges or make six figures, they will successful in the eyes of God and in the eyes of those that love them.

 

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