In studying the status of world education, it is inevitable to compare the educational systems of countries around the world primarily because by comparison, it helps in the understanding of the relationship and disparities between two contrasting systems. By doing so, one could not help but wonder how most eastern countries lag behind in terms of proficiency and skills. It is a widely accepted notion that there is indeed a huge gap or disparity between the education systems of the western countries as compared to the eastern countries. This huge difference is undeniable reflected in the common assumption that people who are educated in western institutions are better than their eastern counterpart. The proof of this gap can be based on the fact that an increasing population of students coming from the eastern part of the globe is pursuing their education in western colleges and universities. A recent report from the Institute of International Education revealed that the United States enrolled a record 886,052 foreign students in the school year 2013-2014, which is an 8% increase from the previous year. In the UK, Chinese and students from India comprise the largest population of international students. In the same way, the UK is considered as one of the most popular international student destination with “nearly 26,000 international students studying at over 1,200 independent schools in the UK on a fee-paying basis”. It implies then, that parents in the eastern countries that can afford to send their children to western colleges do so since they perceive western education as better compared to their own educational system. So what is the problem with eastern education and why is it that an increasing number of eastern students are leaving their countries just to study abroad, specifically in western colleges and universities?
Impact of Industrialization and Mass Migration
Eastern economies are rapidly expanding, which has ripple effect on their educational systems as well. For one, educational spending is being steeped up as eastern countries embrace industrialization and globalization. It is readily observable that the east is slowly adopting the western approach in education although they are still strongly influenced by long-held traditions and social norms. However, this was not the case about a century ago wherein the east has lagged behind the west in terms of scientific and industrial advancement. As observed by historians, “During the late medieval and early modern period, brief expansions occurred in many countries. Yet most of these growth episodes sooner or later ground to a halt” . While most of the eastern countries are in political and social upheaval, environmental, political and cultural factors converged in almost perfect timing in the west. The rather peaceful atmosphere of the Western world as well as the unabated scientific activities resulted in the industrial revolution that eventually widened the gap between the Eastern and Western countries not only in technology but also in the distribution of wealth. For a fact, industrialized countries of the West became enormously wealthy while Eastern countries that are quite reluctant to embrace industrialization or does not have the capacity to do so were left behind. As a result, Eastern education may have been affected by the enormous gap between the Eastern infrastructure and economy in the past. Industrialization and economic growth of the west brought about enormous impact to education of the east. One particular adverse impact of industrialization was a record high mass migration of workers and their families in the urbanized areas of the U.S. as they seek for employment in the factories and American industries . The ripple effect is brain-drain that left most eastern countries unable to compete with their western counterpart. Today, most of the talented educators regardless of race are employed in western educational institutions. For the same reason, the quality of their education is also guaranteed.
Disparity in Creativity and Critical Thinking
Scholars believe that there is a huge difference in creativity and critical thinking between western and eastern educational system. Perhaps the liberal orientation of western cultures may have greatly contributed to the level of creativity and critical thinking that is being encouraged in its educational systems. According to Lin, eastern education is teacher-centered as compared to student-centered approach of the western education system. In the Eastern education system, the teacher is the only authority and his teachings could not be questioned while in the western educational system, the students are encouraged to voice out their opinions. Out of traditional showing of respect towards authority, “students expect the teacher to initiate communication, and they speak only when asked to by the teacher”. Obviously, this authoritative approach is consistent with the cultural orientation of eastern education. An analysis of western and eastern culture can be made by comparing the cultural orientation of the United States and China. Using the cultural comparison tool of the Hofstede Centre, it appears that China exhibits strong adherence to authority with low individualism and indulgence. It appears then that Chinese education is inclined on following the established rules with little or no deviations, which is a reflection of eastern approaches in education. In contrast, the liberal culture and academic freedom of the West may have been conducive for cultivating critical and scientific thinking. Indeed, a flurry of ideas and scientific developments occurred in the West with the emergence of scientific school of thoughts developed by notable thinkers such as Rene Descartes, Isaac Newton, Galileo, Galen, Torricelli, and Pascal among many others. According to observers, educational systems in eastern countries often sacrifice creativity due to the enormous amount of memory work and repetition. As one educator has observed, “It seems to me that in China, long hours, extra hours and extra days of classes is perceived as better education”. In contrast, students in the U.S. could not tolerate such long hours of studies and memory work. Rather, they devise ways on how to balance life with leisure and perhaps enhancing their creative inclination in the process.
Perspective towards Education
On how societies view the importance of education is also a major factor that affects the quality of education between the east and the west. Western countries give high regard to education in such a way that their educational programs take a huge bulk of their government spending. The United States and the UK are consistently the top spenders in education. According to research, the United States spent more than any other countries in the world. In 2010, for example, the United States spent $11,000 per elementary student in and more than $12,000 per high school student in support of its public education programs. Westerners strongly believe that education has a crucial contribution to the development of individuals, which has ripple effect on the community and country as a whole. It should be noted though that education does not only pertain to the formal education that is brought upon by academic institutions. Education as a whole pertains to a complex system that also included informal and non-formal education, which characterizes the over-all development of an individual and the society. For the same reason, a positive cultural orientation toward education results in further developments in almost all social aspects. The belief that education can significantly improve society is apparent in most western cultures. As observed, 91% of Americans think that improving basic education is an effective way of helping nations overcome poverty. Indeed, there is a huge disparity between the economic statuses of countries that have high literacy rate as compared to those who have low literacy.
There is indeed strong evidence that eastern education has lagged behind western education in some aspects. Apparently, eastern education has a huge potential but it is drawn back by its traditional culture of extreme regards to authority as well as impacted by the post effects of industrialization. Also, social perspective to how important education is a driving factor for the improvement of education as based on societal support. So far, Eastern societies have been seriously hindered as compared to the west because of their cultural and historical experience in relation to education.
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