Contributing editor Karen McMahan in the Carolina Journal on a new documentary film on global education, “Two Million Minutes: A Global Examination”:
China has about 194 million students in K-12, India has 212 million and the United States has 53 million. While China and India educate only a fraction of their children compared to the United States, their raw numbers dwarf those of America, and their middle class is rapidly growing, so those figures will increase over time.
Critics worry that Americans aren't paying close enough attention to the rapid leveling of the playing field among students worldwide and the economic implications of the increased competition.
In China and India, all students in grades seven, eight and nine are required to take mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, geography, English literature and grammar, and world history. Once they reach the 10th grade, students are placed in a business, science or liberal arts track, based on their academic ability, where they continue to take advanced courses in science and math.
By contrast, in the United States, nearly 40 percent of high school students do not take any science class more challenging than general biology, and 55 percent do not take any math courses beyond two years of algebra and one year of geometry.
By grade 12, only 3 percent of African American students are proficient in math, 4 percent of Hispanics, 10 percent of Native Americans, 20 percent of white Americans, and 34 percent of Asian Americans. Yet 70 percent of American parents “think their child's high school is teaching the right amount of math and science,” [producer Robert] Compton said.
One of the most striking differences was the amount of time students spent studying or doing homework. The school year in China is one month longer than in the United States, and the school day is longer. Factoring in homework, tutoring and study time, Chinese students spend twice as much time studying as do Americans, according to Vivien Stewart, a specialist in international education.
Experts say 66 percent of college-bound high school students in the United States have no more than one hour of homework per evening and none on the weekends. The average U.S. student spends 900 hours in the classroom and 1,500 hours watching television each year.