Sep 14

Part 2: Robert Compton Discusses Educational Reform & His Film “Two Million Minutes”

Written by Steve on Monday, September 14th, 2009 at 5:46 pm
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main_educationIn the second part of our interview with Robert Compton, We delve more deeply into his film “Two Million Minutes” which looks at the pre-university educational systems of India and China and compares them to the equivalent curriculum in the United States. Some of the topics discussed are:

1) What are the comparative number of science courses taught in high school and the amount of time spent on the social sciences and world history?

2) What do Indian and Chinese educators see as the areas most in need of reform within their own schools? Are there myths within the Chinese and Indian educational establishment as to their own perceived weaknesses?

3) How are China, India and the United States approaching the key 21st century industries, especially the ones concerning environmental and energy issues?

4) How can the United States improve their current educational system? At this point, Bob talks about his upcoming film that gives recommendations, “The 21st Century Solution”. Some of his observations might surprise you.

5) As China and India develop and progress, will they also lose some of their work ethic and be less competitive?

6) What is the current situation in educational reform for all three countries? Has the United States had any meaningful educational reform in the last 25 years?

Robert Compton Discusses Educational Reform & His Film “Two Million Minutes” (23min)

After listening to what Bob has to say, we invite your participation in this debate. Where do you agree with him? Where do you disagree? Why?

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25 Responses to “Part 2: Robert Compton Discusses Educational Reform & His Film “Two Million Minutes””

  1. Charles Liu Says:

    On the scale of things US isn’t the most liberal education system. I heard Sweden has skateboarding schools for kids.

  2. dewang Says:

    Compton argued that there are two myths:

    1. From within China, there is a believe that the American education system teaches there creativity, and therefore American students are more creative.

    He said that he then asked American educators what “creativity” education / course they specifically would recommend for the Chinese, and no one had a suggestion.

    2. Many in the U.S. (including many Chinese) believe that China’s education system promotes “rote memorization.”

    He said this cannot be true because of the number of patent applications by Chinese are growing exponentially. He also cited BYD as an example of a massively successful company built largely on creativity and innovation.

    What do you think?

    But there is no question the U.S. is creative – look at the number of patents filed and granted to Americans and American corporations. What accounts for that? No other country on this planet comes close.

  3. Allen Says:

    There is no doubt that the U.S. education in practice is broken in some respects. However I don’t think that as a model, the U.S. education system is broken at all.

    I emigrated to the U.S. when I completed only the first half of the second grade in Taiwan. For a variety of reasons, I didn’t attend school for the next 1 1/2 year (preparing to emigrate, moving, settling in, etc.). When I was ready to start in the U.S., I was asked to skip 4th grade since my sister was in the same grade as I (in Taiwan she had cried when I went to elementary school and she was stuck in kindergarten, so they let her skip a grade to join me in the same grade) and the school in the U.S. wanted to keep my sister and me separate to ensure we don’t just talk to each other and not learn any English. During 5th grade, I spent my time in ESL program where I remember reading picture books most of the day. I started “regular” curriculum only starting 6th grade.

    To make the long story short, by normal standards, I have an education gap of 3 1/2 years between 2 1/2 grade – 6th grade. And to be honest, I don’t think I missed that much. I had to struggle a little in junior high, and in high school, I didn’t make that many honors classes, and I felt I caught up in college – when I felt my education really started in earnest anyways.

    I think stressing out too much about K1-12 education is unhealthy. What is more important is to grow up happy and ready to challenge oneself and be prepared to start learning in high school, and really get going in earnest in college.

    I am all for the Chinese / Korean / Indian / Japanese / whatever system that emphasizes getting ahead in math, science, etc., but if in the process, we put undue pressure of kids, we take childrens’ childhood away, or we start pigeon holing people’s lives based on their performance when they are just children – that seems like a big inefficient waste of people resources – dreams – lives.

  4. Falen Says:

    I think the whole “rote memorization” stigma of the education systems in pretty much every single Asian countries is due to the standardization of curriculum on the national level. Since every single child is using a common sets of teaching material and exercises, it’s simply easier for one to find the “optimal answer” from the supplementary class, material, etc etc.

    Nothing wrong with the curriculums itself, but there must be more actual exercises and practices – writing essays, doing projects, holding discussions, researching topics outside of the textbook – instead of the standardized teaching which give rise to standardized responses. That’s what is still lacking in the Asian education systems.

  5. Zepplin Says:

    I agree with Allen. Bob presents no evidence that math and science knowledge at the secondary level is affecting competitiveness.

  6. TonyP4 Says:

    @Charles #1. Is it the same country that legalizes prostitution (talking about liberal education) but penalizes the johns if they pay for service?

    @Allen #3.

    As in my previous posts, “rote memorization” has its merits. My theory on the no. of patents US over all other countries:

    * You only need genius to create these patents. My rough estimate is we have about 2 to 5 genius (depending on how you define genius) in every million of citizens.

    BTW, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are college dropouts. Just counting the no. of their employees, they contribute a lot to the society.

    Rough estimates. 20% for research scientists. How many doctors, lawyers…are really creative?

    40% for professional jobs like teachers, accountants. The rest for factory jobs, sales clerks, cleaning offices, farm works… that do not need education beyond grade 8.

    The 40% of professional jobs are really applying knowledge/formula and do not require high level of creativity. Exceptions abound.

    * If you look at the patents (or Nobel science winners), you can find a good percent of them are from foreign countries without completing the high school education in US.

    If so, we cannot conclude US high school system is better than other countries. On the contrary, Asian countries routinely beat US in science and math. competition.

    * The patents are the result of the better US environment in research: research facilities, continuation of the established research system, last generation’s scientists serving as leaders, research funds, industry co-operation, easier to convert research ideas to products… Sad to say US is slowing down in all fronts.

    If you compare to the accomplishments of a US Chinese scientist and a EU Chinese scientist, you will find the one in US is doing far better.

    * China does not have a lot to show in science research compared to US and not a single Nobel prize winner in science and math.

    – China needs to have a enforceable patent system. Who is going to spend years in research while other can copy the idea without cost?

    – China is still in the copycat phase of the industry cycle. Some industries are moving to high tech though.

    – Some of Chinese research like stem cell are practical and they want to keep them as secrets.

    – BYO is a good model for Chinese large enterprise for corporation search/application. I’m sure there are many similar corporations like BYO. In the west, it is too rigid and sometimes too controlling. It is all thumbs up to me.

  7. Nimrod Says:

    Continuing TonyP4’s thought, I think it is a combination of both the research environment and the creativity that exists in that environment. People get influenced by other people, especially in research. While foreign scientists who work in the US may not have received that “creative” education in their home countries, they nevertheless are exposed to a particular style of working inherited from their mentors and peers, in other words, the “culture”. In isolation, East Asian countries may have difficulty developing such a culture given the rote memorization promoted in schools, but the good thing is no country is really in isolation. People go back, foreign companies and research labs open up, and eventually these things filter through.

    If the success of foreign scientists in the “right” environment is a sign of anything, it shows that a strong grasp of the fundamentals drilled in by rote practice combined with some encouragement to think creatively (even if that encouragement comes later in life) is the correct combination. That bodes well for China’s internal development, at least in the basic sciences and engineering fields.

  8. admin Says:

    When I was in graduate school, I had an American fellow student who was quite terrible at math and knew little about history. Once he asked who won the Vietnam War. There was one time that he had to make a 500 ml solution but the protocol only specified how to make a 1,000 solution. So instead of doing any calculation, he made the 1,000 ml solution and decanted the extra 500ml. 😉 On the other hand, he is an enthusiastic biker and a triathlete. He got his Ph.D one year ahead of us and went on earned a MD. Now he works as an anesthesiologist.

    I have witnessed that many Chinese scholars in the US, who were educated under Chinese system from elementary school to college, and some have gone through extra extensive “rote learning” to pass TOEFL and GRE on top of that, are as bit as capable and happy as their American peers.

    As Allen pointed out, learning is a long process, and in many cases, a life long process. So to put things into perspective, school curriculum is important, but personal drive, physical environment, family support and culture are more important factors.

    As a side note, creativity is certainly to be admired but factual knowledge is essential too. Mao was quite creative in doing his social engineering in China, and the results were catastrophic.

  9. dewang Says:

    Compton referred to a Stanford University & University of Munich study:

    WSJ had an article on it. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120452027357807261.html

    (Hanushek was the Stanford Professor who co-authored the study which was cited in that WSJ article.)

    Nearly two decades ago, the National Governors Association called for U.S. students to sharply improve in math and science by 2000. If the U.S. had managed to achieve the goal, and joined world leaders like Finland, Hong Kong and South Korea, GDP would be two percentage points higher today and 4.5 points higher in 2015, the study calculated. “Had we figured out some way to improve our schools, or do what we could to improve the learning of our students, we would be a lot better off today,” said Mr. Hanushek.

    Compton then explained from his own experience – if an employee does not have the adequate math and science background to begin with, that person automatically loses out on the opportunity to advance whatever field they are in where the math and science are prerequisites.

    But I feel this phenomenon is automatically addressed by the U.S.’s policy of allowing millions of top students to study in the U.S., and also through H1B visas to allow talent to have the best work in the USA.

    Even if the U.S. were to produce more higher quality graduates natively of math and science, then they would only displace a fraction of the H1B’s. The net GDP effect is probably negligent.

    Furthermore, U.S. corporations reaches into other countries to establish research labs. For example, Microsoft’s R&D centers in China is fairly known for inventing many SW technologies in use in Microsoft’s products today. In effect, U.S. corporations are reaping the benefits of well trained resources where-ever they are.

  10. dewang Says:

    Hi admin,

    As Allen pointed out, learning is a long process, and in many cases, a life long process. So to put things into perspective, school curriculum is important, but personal drive, physical environment, family support and culture are more important factors.

    Well said.

    Hi All,

    Compton has a blog, and he talked about the Four Tenets of Education Reform:

    As we reach to the top, of course our four tenets of educational reform will help propel us there:
    1-putting the best teachers in schools where they’re most needed,
    2- closing down chronically under-performing schools and creating better ones,
    3- data systems that track students from the cradle to college and link student results back to teachers,
    4- world-class standards to help states build their reforms.

    I feel these are all areas China could work on as well. When I think of Project Hope, there are many parts of China where education is still a dream. For many poorer areas, shortage of qualified teachers as a problem would probably be jaw-dropping for Compton if such condition exists in the U.S..

    To me, in the first tenet, the U.S. is already far ahead of China.

    As to the second and third tenets, they seem logical for China.

    On his 4th tenet, I can see that U.S. raises the standard for math and science across the board. However, in the high school that I went to, around 80% of my classmates probably enrolled in some type of AP classes. The curriculum in that school was tremendously broad. There are many schools like it in the U.S.A..

    I guess another question for Compton is how pervasive he thinks this ‘world standards’ issue is in the U.S..

  11. TonyP4 Says:

    Hi folks,

    # Vietnam was won by practicing the book Art of War written years ago. N. Vietnamese practiced the theories in the book while American constantly did the opposite from the book. Now, this book is a required study in West Point.

    # Family support is very important. If the child has no motivation due to not loved, not encouraged, or bad example, that child most likely fails even with the best of curriculum, teachers and facilities.

    # If the employee does not have good writing skill, s/he cannot advance.

    # Foreign students really help US universities than the other way round in term of tuition, cheap research resource… Same for H1 visas. Without them, US will be far behind or have to set up research centers around the world.

    We attract foreign doctors to US, but this could be the worst to the poor country the doctor comes from.

  12. Steve Says:

    I’d like to take Bob Compton’s side on a lot of this. I think he has some very good points:

    1) Teaching credentials: Former Intel CEO Craig Barrett can teach physics at Stanford but can’t teach high school physics at an Arizona high school. Physics teachers in India and China usually have PhD’s in physics. Which student is going to learn more about physics? Which teacher is going to be more enthusiastic, more knowledgeable and better able to transfer knowledge? Instead, a teacher with an Education degree and no knowledge of physics beyond an introductory course can teach physics in high school. How much knowledge can that teacher actually impart to his/her students?

    2) Consistent schooling: If a child is educated in some inner cities, that child’s chance of being taught by highly qualified teachers is almost non-existent. The child might have one or two good teachers throughout their entire elementary school experience. Should a child in one neighborhood get a much better education than one in another, just because of geographic circumstances?

    3) Standard curricula: Again, this addresses a geographic situation. Why should education be very different in one district, one city or one state over another? Shouldn’t a high school degree hold the same value no matter where it is obtained?

    4) A well informed citizenry: TonyP4, this is where I disagree with you. Factory jobs, sales clerks, cleaning offices, farm works, etc. DO need education beyond the 8th grade in order to be well informed citizens and have productive lives not only on their jobs but in their non-working time. How can they make well-informed political decisions to elect competent leaders when they don’t understand politics, history, philosophy, etc.? Just because someone is a factory worker doesn’t mean they’re stupid, it just means that those other occupations weren’t for them. There’s also a chance that the educational system was so poor in their district that they were never taught properly in subjects that they might have excelled in. Many very successful people trace their interest in their profession to an influential teacher/mentor somewhere in the course of their lives.

    Maybe if people understood math, economics and how business worked they’d save more, borrow less and watch way less TV. If they understood how politics actually works and what politicians can and cannot do, maybe they’d stop watching knee jerk talking heads like Limbaugh, Olbermann, O’Reilly, Hannity and Maddow and not believe everything they said. Wouldn’t that help the country?

    5) Science Requirements: In China and India, students are required to take 4 years of physics, chemistry and biology in high school. In California where I live the core curricula are:

    Courses in the subjects specified, each course having a duration of one year, unless otherwise specified.

    Three courses in English.

    Two courses in mathematics, including one year of Algebra I beginning in 2003-04 (California Education Code Section 51224.5).

    Two courses in science, including biological and physical sciences.

    Three courses in social studies, including United States history and geography; world history, culture, and geography; a one-semester course in American government and civics, and a one-semester course in economics.

    One course in visual or performing arts or foreign language. For the purposes of satisfying the requirement specified in this subparagraph, a course in American Sign Language shall be deemed a course in foreign language.

    Two courses in physical education, unless the pupil has been exempted pursuant to the provisions of Education Code Section 51241.

    Other coursework as the governing board of the school district may by rule specify.

    That’s a pretty measly requirement list. Students in India and China take more physics than students are required to take in all the sciences. How can they be competitive and more importantly, educated? How will taking mindless “electives” increase their ability to learn, think and make informed decisions in their lives?

    6) BYD isn’t as well known as Google, but it’s still very impressive and I think Bob makes a good point. Each company has taken advantage of its country’s strengths to become a world leader. Electric battery manufacturing is a labor intensive industry that also requires improvements to existing technology, and China seems to be very good at those kinds of technologies. BYD came out of nowhere to dominate the world market in a very short period of time. Their use of creativity and innovation is relatively unknown.

    7) China IS spending more money on “green technology” R&D. These will probably become the fastest growing companies in the next few decades.

    One aspect of Chinese education (I’m not sure if India uses the same system) that doesn’t exist in the States is the “two tier system” of high schools. Students take an entrance exam to the tier one high schools and if that student tests too low and attends a tier two high school, his/her chance of attending a top university no long exists. Late bloomers have no chance to recover unless they attend a foreign university. With this two-track system, how good is the education in the lower tier high schools? I don’t know the answer to this question but I do know that every colleague I had in China attended a tier one high school and a top university. This system also exists in Japan and I believe in Taiwan, though I’m not sure about Taiwan.

    Based on my discussions with Chinese friends who were well educated and went to the top universities there, I would disagree with Bob about the creativity aspect. What’s the first thing they say when you ask about creativity? “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” This doesn’t apply only to China but also to Japan, Taiwan, Korea and all cultures in that part of the world. I used to give training seminars in China, Taiwan, Singapore and Korea. I had one person in Shanghai who asked questions (she asked really good questions) but received very few questions from the rest of those countries with the exception of Singapore. I was told that you don’t ask a teacher questions, you take notes and then repeat whatever the teacher said on the test. Many times, the instructors from the States would think the students didn’t learn much from their seminars because no questions were asked, so I had to explain the culture to them. The problem with that approach is that without questions, nothing creative happens. Creativity comes from questioning existing approaches. I don’t think Chinese people are any less creative than Americans, but I believe that creativity is smothered in school and only later released in overseas colleges or in the workplace.

    I was talking with a physics professor at Cal State Fullerton one time and he told me he had several students in his post-grad program who had graduated from Qinghua University. He said when the lab was available for each student to try their own experiments, the American students were full of ideas but the Qinghua graduates had no idea what to do. They had never been offered anything like this in their previous schooling. Does that mean they were less creative? No, all it means is that they never explored that side of their thinking.

    So in my opinion, if Chinese schools want to encourage creativity, they need to encourage their students to ask questions and to question the existing information if they have other ideas. They can’t be condemned for expressing those ideas, even if they are wrong in their thinking. How can you learn if you don’t make mistakes?

    Bob was looking at patent filings so I understand where he came up with his idea, but my experience was with high tech training (teaching) and how people responded. Another thing I noticed was that in China, once something is taught a certain way; no one changes from the way they were taught. It isn’t a culture of innovation. Innovation is the province of the engineers, not the people doing the actual manufacturing. Since Japan has added improvements at the actual point of manufacture, I’m sure China will eventually do so but it hasn’t happened yet.

    Because rote memorization is part of language acquisition, rote memorization skills are much better than in the United States. My wife’s memorization skills are ten times better than mine, and I think most of that is because she speaks four languages fluently. I can’t comment on India since I haven’t done business there. But because of language, I think Chinese students will continue to have an overall advantage in this regard.

  13. TonyP4 Says:

    @Steve #12 and point #4.

    Steve, I refer to the education requirement to do a job, like cleaning office, not a requirement for being a good citizen. The cleaning folks in my last office are Hispanic. They do not speak English (the only English word they are required to learn is TRASH to make sure they do not throw away some important items) and do not have a formal high school education in their native country. They do a good job and why they need to waste time in school for this job.

    In the other hand, we know many educated folks are a burden to the society like Madoff. Too many examples to list. Save the discussion on education and being a good citizen for another topic.

    A person should be well-rounded for the society and for himself as a human being. Hence, he can vote and be a good citizen in theory.

    Most folks do not learn how to be a good citizen via physics and math. in high school. They learn it from the family primarily and secondarily from human subjects in high school.

    I have comments on voting recently at FM. Many votes are for special interests (like senior citizens), race (like the black and Hispanic who will become the majority in not-too-distant future)… Are our votes based on our interests and/or biases rather than what is right for the country?

  14. Steve Says:

    Tony, what I meant to say was that “dumbed down”education doesn’t prepare people well for everyday life. The people cleaning your office don’t lead a very good life, but they want their kids (who will use the schools) to have a better life. Their son might be a plumber, but plumbers vote, write checks, pay bills, buy products and contribute to a society’s health. Knowing math and science certainly is useful in everyday life, at least for me. I don’t think time is ever wasted in school unless the teacher can’t teach the subject very well. Why? Because good teachers teach how to think, and that can be applied to every situation.

    You or I might have that family education to vote or be a good citizen, but if that child’s parents came from another country that has a different political system, that family can’t teach how this system works unless they are educated in it. So instead, the child learns from knee jerk talking heads on TV or from friends who have even less knowledge than he does but just repeat rumor and innuendo. That’s no education.

    I agree with you that schools cannot teach morals, that comes from the family. But sometimes a child whose parents have low morals can better his moral compass through education if that child is willing to do so. At least the child has a chance, though a much smaller one than if that child’s parents were more responsible.

  15. TonyP4 Says:

    Hi Steve,

    * It is not up to us to judge whether the cleaning lady has a good life or not. She may be starving in her native country she came from and now she is eating like a queen. Everything is relative as Einstein said.

    A related joke. An American business man showed a Caribbean native how to make more money by hiring more folks and fishing earlier… When he came back to the island, the native became a rich man. The business man asked him how his life had been improved. He told him nothing – still singing with his friends, sleeping in the afternoon and still happy as before.

    * Sad to say the vicious cycle repeats and repeats for multi-generation welfare recipients, prostitutes, teenage mothers, single parents… Few of their children have a chance to succeed. My point is education is really have to start from the family.

  16. Steve Says:

    @ TonyP4: “Everything is relative as Einstein said.” Exactly!!

    The cleaning lady earned X in her native country while others around her also made X. She moves to the States and now makes 3X. She feels very lucky in the beginning and is satisfied with her life. But then she gets used to making 3X and looks around to see that others are making 8X, 12X and even 20X. Suddenly, her 3X isn’t such a great deal anymore and she wants her children to make at least 8X when they grow up. She’s not as happy as she once was. That’s relativity!

    If we put it another way, back during the early ’70s in China, virtually everyone was dirt poor, regardless of their education. But from the stories I heard from my colleagues, everyone stuck together, shared what they had, kept close friendships and were relatively happy. These days, do you think someone who is dirt poor in China is as happy? Aren’t they looking around at others earning much more and want that for themselves? Just because they have plenty to eat, does that mean they’ll be happy with their lot in life? And does this mean they don’t care whether their kids do better than they did?

    For kids stuck in horrible circumstances and family situations, their only way out is through education. Shouldn’t we at least provide that chance for them? If they choose to not take it, then it’s their fault but by not offering it to them, isn’t it then our fault?

  17. dewang Says:

    Hi Steve, #12,

    At some point we are going to have to pick a fight, so here it goes:

    1) Teaching credentials – I think if Compton looked at this problem within China, his jaw will probably drop to the ground.

    “243,000 teachers not qualified” in China

    One of my favorite charities is the China Project Hope (希望工程)

    Teaching credential and access to education is still a massive problem in China if you read some of Project Hope’s reports.

    2) Inner city vs. suburbs education quality:

    I have a group of friends went to one of the worst high schools in Sacramento. About 1/2 dozen of them went to MIT, Berkeley, etc.. Probably 60% of their classmates didn’t even graduate. Their school supported them attending at a nearby community college to take more advanced courses. These 6 students probably have drive and motivation coming from their parents that is common to the parents of the most successful students in the suburbs. The school naturally had the right instinct to help them push their limits.

    Perhaps the more fundamental issue is with parents not expecting enough.

    If inner city schools teaching quality and standard raises, and holding everything else the same as far as the inner city students are concerned, don’t you think their achievement could likely remain mediocre?

    3) No disagreement here.

    4) I agree here. I always find it interesting in America, car dealerships sell cars in terms of “what the monthly payment is.” To me, this is rather insulting to the public, because the thought is Americans are not capable of rationalizing what the total cost of a car is!

    The mortgage crisis is created because many Americans get into mortgages they cannot afford. Knowing some basic math would have certainly dampened this phenomenon (ok, I think).

    5) Compton himself said when Indian and Chinese curricula in physics, chemistry, biology, and math are examined in detail against the U.S.’s version, the requirement in India and China are lot more. That’s consistent with what you detailed here.

    6) BYD certainly has not reached the financial success of Google yet. BYD still has a monstrous step to fully productize their prototype and create a distribution channel for it. BYD does not have any depth in marketing, sales, and certainly not the internation exposure Google has established for itself. When we look at the number of multinationals from the USA, we are talking about orders of magnitude in difference vs. China. In China’s case, we can count with our fingers.

    7) I think China has no choice but to invest in 600billion USD (according to Compton) vs. U.S. 60billion (USD). The U.S. has control over a lot of oil. China’s pollution is still accelerating. Green tech is viewed more as a survival issue for China than it is for the U.S.. The air and water quality in the U.S. is much higher. So I think the investment amount is more a reflection of what the reality is within both countries.

  18. Steve Says:

    @ DeWang #17: Fair enough! Here goes:

    1) These are all valid points. Being from the country definitely places a burden on the student and the type of potential education that student receives. I suppose it’s a numbers game; there are so many people in China that just in the cities alone, the amount of qualified and highly educated students is greater than all the students in the U.S. Even with a lower percentage of well educated people, there will probably be more engineers and scientists than China will need over the coming years. I guess this is another illustration of the city/country, east/west dilemma that the leadership is trying to address, not only in economic development but also in educational opportunities.

    2) I agree with your conclusion but offer another reason for my position. Maybe the majority of inner city kids will not succeed in school because of family situations, but it is the obligation and responsibility of the society to at least give them a chance to succeed. For the U.S., our inner cities can be compared to China’s rural areas in terms of educational opportunities, though I’m sure that currently the education in America’s inner cities is much better than the education in China’s rural areas. The two tiered high school structure in China also contributes to the imbalance in Chinese education. If an 8th grader misses getting into a tier one high school, the only way that student can get into a good university is to go to private school which is an economic barrier for countless families. I knew a girl in Shanghai who was quite smart but missed getting into a tier one high school by one point. She still talked about it even though she was in her 30s. Putting that much pressure on someone that young with such high consequences seems, at least to me, to not be the best possible system.

    6) I agree with you that you can’t compare BYD with Google, but the fact that BYD has developed into a company of its size and technical acumen is pretty impressive. I’m sure there was strong government support for that development, but they are still able to export successfully and give employment to many people. I agree with the rest of your assessment; China’s top quality companies are still few in number.

    7) Pollution is the crazy aunt in the attic for China, as Ross Perot used to say. As an individual living in China from the west, my two greatest concerns had nothing to do with political freedom, human rights, etc. They were pollution and the quality of the food. Both of those affect the daily lives of Chinese in a more direct way that most of what is discussed in this blog.

  19. TonyP4 Says:

    @Steve #16

    Sorry to inform you that the old lady is a real person. She is a 60 year-old virgin (good chance), so she does not have any children and will not have future children (most likely). So, having her educated will not help her children as she has none.

    The child should be educated via the family to be a good citizen (instead of a burden to the society). Does the education system help them out like Bush said ‘no children left behind’? It is debatable and I do not see a simple yes or no answer. From our REAL experience (not idealism and noble ideas that we have a TV discussion tonight led by the black leaders), I say no for the following reasons.

    We should try to help these kids. If they do not want to learn (from the family problems), they will not learn no matter how much money/resource you throw in. The worst is they will screw up the education system. They will affect adversely to the rest of the class. They could bring drug and other crimes to the school. They could threaten the teachers and that will turn good, dedicated teachers into lesser ones. Those are real examples today and in all major cities here. Talk to any urban teacher. We cannot argue with idealism but have to face the facts.

  20. Steve Says:

    Hi Tony~

    Yes, I’d say no future children. 🙂

    I think you make some really good points here, and illustrate a major difference between Asian school systems and American ones, and that is in the use of the “two tiered”high school system in China, Taiwan and Japan. (I’m not sure about other Asian countries) The children that choose not to learn (I was always told in China that kids aren’t smart or dumb but either work hard or don’t work hard, unlike in the States where most seem to believe that you’re either born smart or born dumb.

    My point was that every kid deserves the chance to get ahead, no matter what that child’s home situation is like. Your point is that the ones who choose not to perform or who are disruptive to the class interfere with the education of the ones who truly want to learn. I think both are valid. For whatever reason, if a kid doesn’t want to learn, that kid isn’t going to learn. Nothing the school system can do will change that fact.

    The bad aspect of the two tiered system is that some kids are just late achievers. They’re the ones that get burned by this system. Is that worth losing the potential of the hard working kids? It’s a good question.

  21. dewang Says:

    Hi Steve, #18,

    1) Numbers game. Good point. By sheer numbers, India and China are going to have more competitive students in areas of science, math, physics, etc (STEM) simply because of their population size. Now that we are in the 21st century, these resources are readily tap-able – its an interesting phenomenon.

    I see it as healthy for the U.S. to try the best it can to maintain lead over rest of the world in standards of living, but in the very long run, I just have this gut feeling that standards of living for all societies on this planet will converge to some level where any one is not too far ahead or too far behind.

    2) Interesting. I have always wondered if the Private School vs. Public School and great neighborhood vs. bad neighborhood already has effectively segregated the U.S. into a multi-tiered system.

    7) Agreed.

  22. Steve Says:

    Hi DeWang: I believe political systems are the most important aspects of successful economies and increased standards of living. Having said that, I don’t see a leveling out of standards of living for precisely that reason. Political systems come and go, rise, peak and dwindle, adapt or do not adapt to changing times and circumstances, etc. Because of these reasons, I can still see broad inequities between different civilizations and between different classes within each civilization. The key to really successful economies has always been the development of a large middle class, and I don’t see that changing.

    I agree with your point in #2 that the US is more segregated by neighborhood than by geographic location or two tiered schooling. The proportion of students attending private school is significant but not huge in either country, so I don’t see it having a major effect.

  23. TonyP4 Says:

    Besides the Tier I and Tier II high schools Steve mentioned, there are:

    1. Schools for genius. Both US and China have them. Genius are important to provide jobs for all if their talents are used constructively. I know one genius (from John Hopkins program) dropped out due to planks and did not reach his potential. He could have contributed a lot to the society if he received good guidance and had a better social life there.

    2. Technical high schools for students who will not go to college (not college material and/or not have the financial resources) but need to learn a trade/skill for better jobs.

  24. Reggie Greene / The Logistician Says:

    Interesting piece. I can not seriously disagree with much of what you have written.

    However, the education debate in the US is not really about education but political philosophy and control. Although both sides / factions in this debate (about what went wrong with the US education system) are entitled to their positions, I seriously doubt that any one side is fully or primarily responsible for what is occurring here in our society at this point. It’s probably 50/50 or 51/49 at worst. However, I am reasonably sure that continuing to argue and fight about it, without actually addressing the underlying root problems, will not advance anyone’s interests. We should all Try Harder.

  25. dewang Says:

    Hi Reggie Greene, #24,

    I followed your link and read your profile on blogger. I like it. 🙂
    Curious what you think the underlying root problems are. Can you elaborate for us?

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