Absolutely WONDERFUL Education System
Kathie F Nunley
I travel and see other nations' educational systems (or lack
thereof), the more proud I become of the system we have here
in the United States. So many Americans do not appreciate
how wonderful our system is. I think it truly is the best
school system in the world.
several weeks this summer doing a series of education conferences
in Namibia, South Africa and Botswana. The situations and
people I met there really reinforced my long-held belief that
the United States is doing far more right than wrong in educating
we hear the media and politicians complain that other nations
are outscoring us on tests, they fail to point out the fact
that that may actually be a good thing - not a bad thing.
For while other nations may take a few of their citizens and
educate them exceptionally well, the United States takes ALL
of its citizens and educates them reasonably well. And that's
parents in Botswana who worked multiple jobs and went without
food on the table many nights, just to scrape enough money
together to send their children to independent schools. There
are government schools in Botswana, but those are filled with
classrooms of 60 - 70 children and taught often by teachers
with only an elementary school education. The parents see
the expensive independent school system as the only hope for
educating their children.
Africa I visited with a team of therapists who provided occupational
and speech therapy to students in the independent school system.
They were asking me how parents scheduled and handled getting
their children to and from speech therapist offices in the
United States. "Why, they don't have to take them
anywhere, " I replied, "The therapists are
in the schools as employees of the school system."
came their surprised response. "How do they handle
the billings and payments then?"
their shock to learn that the parents in the United States
don't pay for things like occupational therapy and speech
therapy for their children. It is provided free to all children,
by our government. They were flabbergasted.
in South Africa, most parents see the only viable option for
education available only through the independent school system.
The government system (which also charges tuition) is overcrowded,
poorly run, and has no services for children with any type
of exceptionality. Any special education programs are handled
through the independent schools. Children with any type of
learning challenge, or with parents without funds, have no
school option at all.
I met a young man, David, 22 years old, with autism. David
lives at home with his parents. He does not speak. He cannot
read. He has no skills which could lead to him serving a productive
role in society through his adulthood and no way to get them.
David grew up in Namibia, a nation with no organized special
education program. Luckily David had strong parents who had
the means to send him to a private, independent school and
pay for therapists and teachers to teach some basic self-care
skills to him. With little access to qualified medical and
special education specialists, David is still very much involved
with autism and will remain dependent on his parents, probably
for their entire lives.
through dinner with this beautiful young man and his dedicated
parents. I watched his mother order for him, cut his meat,
spoon feed him and hold his cup so he could drink his cola.
I watched him rock to the piped-in music and shout periodically.
All I could think about was how different David might be today
had he been born and educated in the United States.
Japan Doing it Better?
that schools in southern Africa may seem too distant to hold
in comparison to the United States. But what school system
can we find that we would like to aspire to?
a lot of comparisons to Japan. But look at the Japanese system
and tell me if that is really what we Americans want for our
children. Japan's education is compulsory and funded until
grade 9. But starting in primary grades, children take exams
to determine which junior and senior high schools they can
attend. Schools are assigned to those earning appropriate
scores. Children have no choice in which schools they attend,
what program or whether or not they can even continue. It's
all based on their exam scores at this young age of 9 or 10.
spend countless hours every afternoon and evening attending
"cram schools" in order to better prepare themselves
for these exams. Most children require some type of additional
after-school tutoring, cram school, or study program to ensure
entrance exam scores high enough for their select junior and
senior high schools. This of course leaves no time for leisure
activities such as intramural sports and summer camp.
with any type of learning challenge may attend special programs
at either special primary schools, or occasionally "mainstreamed"
in their local school, but in separate classes. They have
no secondary options.
is another nation often held up as a nation of better scoring
students. Perhaps we should model after their schools.
after primary grades, the children are split or tracked out
based on their intended career path and ability levels. About
20% of the students are allowed to attend a secondary program
designed to give them access to the university system. Children
are also separated into schools based on their native language.
with any learning challenge are educated through grade 9 in
among us would like the career path of our child determined
by their score on an exam at the age of 13?
us know dozens of children with learning challenges, who learned
to overcome them and or compensate to become amazing contributors
to the adult world. Think of our twice-exceptional children
- the ones who while challenged in one area, are highly gifted
in another. How would their lives be different if a paper
and pencil test in grade 5 determined their future?
Does it Better than America?
schools around the world, in developed countries, emerging
nations and third-world countries. I've seen poor village
schools run by community members in Uganda and huge well-appointed
and well-endowed independent schools designed to educate the
children of British royalty and Fortune 500 executives. I've
seen independent and public schools in every corner of the
globe. Yet, I have never seen a country with a school system
I prefer to our own. Never.
there are a lot of nations who may look better on paper when
comparing test scores, the reality is that those scores represent
only a small percentage of their population. The select few,
chosen by their system at an early age. I know of no other
country that allows any and all of its citizens to attend
an open public school, on a university option track, through
a full 12 years, regardless of parental income, ability, or
learning challenges. It's spectacular. It's fantastic. It's
cause for celebration.
Next time you hear
a politician hold up another nation's test scores as higher
than ours, be proud. For
when faced with the option of having the system choose a few
select students to educate extremely well, or letting all
of our children be free to choose their own education (though
it may be just "pretty good") we chose the latter.
has always been about freedom and that includes our school