The US at one time was considered as the education leader of the world. In fact, the nation was regarded as a pioneer in making higher education for the masses. Even today, if education expenditure is to be considered, America out-spends most other nations that constitute the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Statistics presented by the OECD in 2013 show that America spent over $10000 per student at the elementary and high school levels. With the additional costs of vocational training or college education for each student, the total amount went up to $15000 per student. In comparison, most other nations that are a part of the OECD including several European ones spent around $9000 on an average for each student (Campbell).
Going by these figures, there is no doubt that the US is doing its bit, at least financially, towards promoting education of students in the nation. However, these numbers do not reflect the entire picture. Despite being one of the top spenders on education, in the recent times students from other OECD nations have been found to repeatedly outperform students from the US (Campbell). According to a 2011 study by the Program on Education Policy and Governance of the Harvard, the percentage of high school students from America who are proficient in math trails that of 31 other countries. American students are also behind learners from 16 other countries in reading (Lastra-Anadon and Peterson) and rank only the 23rd in science (Campbell). The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) also reported in 2009 that 15-year-old US students ranked only 25th in math, 17th in science and 14th in reading as compared to students from 70 other countries across the globe (Koebler). In comparison, according to the 2012 OECD report, European students, particularly those from Germany, Poland, Italy, Portugal, Finland, Switzerland and Turkey showed consistent improvement in their performances especially in mathematics (Sedghi, Arnett, and Chalabi).
The above-mentioned figures clearly indicate that America today would do well to take a leaf out of the education policy books of other countries like those in Europe, if only in an effort to do justice to its moniker of being a ‘world leader’ in all fields. In other words, America should consider adopting an educational system like that existing in Europe.
American Education System and Policies
This is not to say that the American education system is not good at all for churning out a skilled and knowledgeable workforce. In fact, opponents of this change steadfastly insist that the American education system is unique and that nothing needs to be learnt from other nations (Lastra-Anadon and Peterson). To an extent this is true for in America every child is considered as unique as a snowflake, who must be given enough time and opportunities to get into a career of his/her liking. For this reason alone, an American student has time until after completing graduation to choose a specific career. Moreover, the student can go in and come out of several career choices as and when he/she wishes to do so. In that sense, the American education system is quite freedom-loving and forgiving and students have no pressure on them to chart out their career paths early in their lives (Douglass 167).
Another big plus point of the education system in the US is that it encourages the development of creativity and innovation in students right from the elementary school level. At the higher education level, it is the American education system that is practical and job-oriented with a clear focus on applied research. Also, the US offers students at the higher education level a diversified range of course choices whose attention is centered on developing practical abilities rather than just intellectual capacity (Aguilera-Barchet).
In fact, for these very plus points of the US education system, the European Union approved of the Bologna Declaration in 1999 that paved the way for its educational polices and system to be modeled as per that in America (Aguilera-Barchet).
Is The European Education System Better?
Yet, perhaps it is the European education system that is better at bringing out a skilled and talented labor force that can quickly adapt itself to fast-changing environments in the job market. The educational policy of Europe is such that it focuses more on instruction, learning of theory and developing intellectual capacities than emphasizing solely on research and job-oriented learning. Additionally, the European education system offers vocational training suitable to the occupational scenario in the region at the upper school levels apart from the general curriculum to develop specialized skill-sets in students (Krueger and Kumar 167). This implies that while European students have access to a broad-based education system that encompasses both general and specialized education, American students receive only specialized education. This does not mean that the European education system does not foster research. It does so, but only at specific institutions and that too generally after higher education (Aguilera-Barchet).
Another aspect where the European education system scores over the American one is in its tracking methods i.e. measurement of student performance. In Europe students who have completed their primary and secondary education must undergo a difficult selection process before they can join a specialized course at the higher level. There are also ‘gateway tests’ conducted periodically at the school level that judge how well students have mastered the study material. It is true that the US too relies heavily on computer-based examinations to measure the knowledge and skill of students seeking admission for professional courses (Koebler). However, it must be said periodic tests, such as those conducted in the European education system, can better measure the acquisition of knowledge and skill-sets than one single test conducted much after basic education is acquired.
But perhaps, the biggest reason why European education system appears more attractive to students today than the system in the US is the education cost. A majority of the universities in Europe are public whereas in America, most educational institutions depend on private funding, which makes higher education costlier for students (Aguilera-Barchet). This can explain why high school graduation rates in the US have been on a decline in the recent times. Lower high school graduation rate in the US is an important indicator of the standing of the US education system because it reflects the demand for higher education and through it, the skill and knowledge power of the nation’s labor force. Critics may argue that taxpayers funding higher education of students in Europe may not help to keep them motivated to do well in their courses. However, others are of the opinion that low education costs should be maintained in the region if only to make education accessible to one and all, regardless of their parents’ financial standing. Needless to say, access to good education is an imperative for it is that which strengthens not only the economy and society of a nation but also its very democracy (Douglass 176).
Therefore, if America wishes to improve its high school graduation rates and student proficiency in various skills, it must consider making its education system similar to the one existing in Europe. The need of the hour for the US is also to regard this issue as one among the primary political concerns for it holds great economic implications; after all superior scientists, mechanics, engineers, teachers and ministers that sustain a nation’s economy cannot be generated through a mediocre education system. Hence, it is time that America takes a closer look across the ocean to learn ways to improve its education system as a means to remaining a ‘world leader’ in every field in a world where competition is rising by the day.
Aguilera-Barchet, Bruno. “A Higher Education for the Twenty-first Century: European and US Approaches.” Slideshare. LinkedIn Corporation. 15 Mar. 2012. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <http://www.slideshare.net/thinkingeurope2011/a-higher-education-for-the-twentyfirst-century-european-and-us-approaches#>.
Campbell, Johnnie-Ann. “America, AWorld Leader? Not in Education, She’s Not.” Capitol Hill Daily. Wall Street Daily LLC. 1 Jul. 2013. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <http://www.wallstreetdaily.com/2013/07/01/education-rank/>.
Douglass, John Aubrey. “Treading Water: What Happened to America’s Higher Education Advantage?” Globalization’s Muse: Universities and Higher Education in a Changing World. Ed. John Aubrey Douglass, Judson King, and Irwin Feller. Berkeley: Berkeley Public Policy Press, 2009. 165-186. Print.
Koebler, Jason. “U.S. Can Learn from Other Countries’ Education Systems.” US News 25 May, 2011. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/high-school-notes/2011/05/25/us-can-learn-from-other-countries-education-systems>.
Krueger, Dirk, and Krishna B. Kumar. “Skill-specific rather than General Education: A Reason for US-Europe Growth Differences.” Journal of Economic Growth 9.2 (2004): 167-207. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <http://www2.dse.unibo.it/santarel/KruegerKumarJEG2004.pdf>.
Lastra-Anadon, Carlos Xabel, and Paul E. Peterson. “The International Experience.” Education Next 12.1 (2012): 53-59. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <http://educationnext.org/files/ednext_20121_Lastra.pdf>.
Sedghi, Ami, George, Arnett, and Mona Chalabi. “Pisa 2012 Results: Which Country Does Best at Reading, Maths and Science?” The Guardian 3 Dec. 2013. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/dec/03/pisa-results-country-best-reading-maths-science>.