Absolutely WONDERFUL Education System
Dr. Kathie F. Nunley
The more 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.
I spent 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 our children.
While 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 the trade-off.
I met 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.
In South 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?"
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
Again 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.
In Namibia 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
I sat 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.
Doing it Better?
I realize 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?
We hear 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.
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
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.
any learning challenge are educated through grade 9 in special programs.
How many among
us would like the career path of our child determined by their score
on an exam at the age of 13?
Most of 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
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.
For while 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.
Because America has always
been about freedom and that includes our school system.
Dr Kathie Nunley is an educational psychologist, researcher and
author of several books on parenting and teaching, including A
Student's Brain (Brains.org) and the best selling, "Differentiating
the High School Classroom" (Corwin Press). She is the developer
of the Layered Curriculum® method of instruction and has worked
with parents and educators around the world to better structure
schools to make brain-friendly environments. In addition, her
work has been used by the Boeing Corporation, Family Circle Magazine,
the Washington Post, and ABC television.
her: Kathie (at) brains.org