Perhaps you recall the alarming ads from a few years ago about the millions of Chinese and Indian students who weren getting better educations from their system’s schools and wildly out-performing American students. The threat, of course, is that these Asians were about to eat the collective lunches of American students, and that we evil, lazy, stupid, unionized American teachers were to blame.
Lloyd Lofthouse has a column about how lousy the Chinese and Indian school systems are, in fact. I recommend reading it, but, unfortunately, he didn’t cite any of his sources, so I decided to dig around a bit to try to verify his figures.
So far, so good, and let me share a few things I discovered:
Take a glance at this table that I copied and pasted from a survey of Indian education by some group called CLSA. Notice that by the high school level (grades 9-12), only thirty-two percent of the children in India are still in school.
That means that 68% of the children in India have dropped out of school by the time they reach high school.
And according to Hindu Business Online, not probably a hotbed of wild-eyed Marxists, the typical Indian child only spends about 5.1 years in school. Five years!
And while it is true that China has done an amazing job of opening up opportunities for its youth and reducing the illiteracy rates from about 80% to about 5% (mostly the aged), and while it is true that many Chinese students study very hard and do very well on tests, this should be taken with some grains of salt. According to James Fallows in the Atlantic,
“it is certainly arguable the Chinese educational system and culture leads the world in training students how to take tests. But it is not clear whether this type of training prepares students for much else other than taking tests. Certainly I have seen much evidence for this proposition in the Chinese graduate students that I have worked with. My favorite examples were the Chinese students with perfect TOEFL scores who could neither read nor write English in any meaningful way.”
[TOEFL used to mean Test of English as a Foreign Language]
I have not yet been able to nail down figures for what percentage of Chinese students actually make it to middle school or to high school or to college. But from what I see so far, you can rest assured that these numbers are much, much less than 100%!!
Apparently it doesn’t matter to that nearly every other nation has close to 100% union membership among its teachers, notably Finland — another nation whose students appear to be eating our lunch, too, according to the same international tests. It also doesn’t matter that in the USA, states where teacher union membership is high tend to have higher test scores than states where union membership is low.