Is western education falling behind?

Perhaps, by “western”, I should specify American/Canadian.

I know that, compared to at least Poland, the Canadian system is roughly 3 years behind by the time you hit grade 9.

I spent most of grade 6 and 7 in Poland. In that time I covered Newtonian physics in their entirety, algebra and trigonometry (grade 8s were doing pre-calculus courses), basic biology (roughly somewhere between end of high school and 100-level university courses) and basic inorganic chemistry. Not to mention much deeper focus on the humanities.

When I came back to Canada, in grade 8 they were JUST starting to do algebra, didn’t even tease calculus until grade 11, biology didn’t reach the same level until grade 10, history was behind until university, as was the comparable level of English studies.

How is the Polish system set up?

In Germany, for instance, there are a few different schooling paths, and if one were to take any one of them alone it would seem amazingly ahead of American schools. But, American schools are just so stupidly GENERAL that kids never really absorb anything fully.

Polish system has a generic school up until grade 8, whereupon students can choose to go to a series of different schools. There are trade schools of various kinds, a Lyceum (which prepares you for university) and some other types.

Just yes.

I suspect there is at least some age difference between the equivalent grades. I just can’t see more than the occasional standout 8th grader handling calculus. The accelerated track in most high schools here is regular calc in grade 11, multivariate in grade 12 – and most kids would wait until 12 to take calculus.

What happens is a lack of preparation. The total absence of mathematical education that occurs in the US between grades 5-9 is an excellent example. Any idiot can do calculus, I know because I’ve taught it to numerous “idiots”. It would be a thousand times easier were schools to take math seriously, for once. Dammit.

I still don’t buy it. I remember being in eigth grade, I was a stand-out math student by crappy american standards, and I don’t think I could have cut it. I mean, it would easy to learn the Power Rule or whatever, but it would be a mechanistic process – just learning figure out how to get the answer. They might be able to get derivative of 4x^6 or whatever the same way even a third grader can do long division, but they really wouldn’t be doing calculus. I think even the most basic limit proof by Riemann Sums of the fundamental theorum of Calculus would be a hell of a stretch for even top eighth graders.

We have two student teachers from Germany doing a term-long practicum at our school. They just laugh when I ask them about the difference in academic rigour between Germany and Australia.
They admit that our students are more confident and assertive in their ignorance though, if that’s a bonus.

Under Soviet rule, Russia had the highest literacy in the entire world at approximately 99%. Countries which were under “the Iron Curtain” had public education systems which were highly influenced by Marxist/Soviet thought on the topic. I expect that kids from Poland to Romania will be between five and ten years ahead of their American counterparts for at least a generation to come, while Russians will remain ahead, ounce for ounce, for perhaps twice as long. That is, until the enlightenment of post-modern mediocrity infects and poisons all of their systems as well.

The US, at least, is almost outright proud of it’s anti-intellectualism.

Just ask ask a computer repair person or auto mechanic how people will go out of their way to proudly show off how little they know about the things they own, as if it’s a good thing.

I don’t know if I buy that. Japan makes similar claims, but their definition of literacy is so limited as to be useless (IIRC, for Japan, the number includes everyone who can read at least one kanji–which equips a person to read at a lower than kindergarten level.

Also, I met a lot of Russians when I lived in Israel (in my army training, our unit was 85% Russian; about 1/4 of the people I worked with were Russian; my neighborhood had a lot of Russians), and they’re just not this force of highly educated scholars. Some are well-educated, of course, but many can barely handle basic math. I don’t know if I’d say they’re worse than Americans, but there’s no way they’re much better.


Anything beyond Algebra 1 frightens and confuses me.

Gav, while I’m inclined to agree that not everyone from the former eastern bloc takes school seriously, the opportunity to learn is there.

The Canadian system:

–In grade 2, we learn addition and subtraction.
–In grade 3, we spent all our time learning multiplication and adding fractions together.
–In grade 4, we learned division - long and basic.
–In grade 5, we continued with long division, working fractions and decimals in.
–In grade 6, which I spent half of in Canada, I cannot recall a single new lesson.

In the 18 months in Poland, I had to:

–Learn Newtonian physics almost entirely.
–Learn European history in a detail I didn’t see until University, and world history in detail I didn’t see until high school.
–Study the single greatest literary Polish work, “Pan Tadeusz”, by Adam Mickiewicz. This meant not only learning to read it, but learning to understand it and the context it was in.
–Go from long division to algebra and trigonometry.
–Learn chemistry.
–Learn basic human/mammal biology.
–Learn geography.

The things I knew in grade 6, most Polish kids learned halfway through grade 3. Division, multiplication, “science”, and language studies were on three years behind.

When I left Poland in grade 7, I spent the next 4 years not learning a single new mathematical or scientific concept. It wasn’t until the 2nd semester of grade 11 that I stepped beyond my knowledge, and that was only in math.

Now, I was always an exceptional student, and yes, I did eventually catch up in my Polish classes (though it was a traumatic and exhausting experience). And yes, there are students who left those classes knowing as little as Canadian kids do, but they all have at least a sense of world history, science and mathematics.

Furthermore, they don’t end up over-specialized. In University, westerners spend 4 years catching up - only in their field - to what Europeans know while simultaneously learning everything else. The education is far more focused, and yes, demanding, but it also leaves people hopelessly specialized.

A high school equivalent degree is still worth something in Europe, and it rounds out the person beyond his college studies. It also gives him a better idea of what he’ll want to actually study.

There are a lot of American kids on accelerated schedules for learning; it’s just not typical in all of our overburdened public schools. If the country was as small as Poland, I’m pretty sure it would easier to manage.

So where is this Polish juggernaut that has been enabled by their superior education system?

Mostly they’re still trying to eradicate Pollack jokes.

OK, it’s kind of ugly, but I don’t know that I’d call it a JOKE.

Guess I’m not up on my slur spelling. Is it Pollock?

Polack, you pillock.

See, the whole educational thing confuses me. According to all those test, American kids suck. Yet somehow, the US doesn’t seem to be in danger of being crushed by the Europeans/Japanese/Chinese/Koreans…

Richard Feynman, in one of his books, described a time where he went to Brazil. Apparently, all these kids were take University Physics classes and people in the US were freaking out. So he gets down there, and teaches a class.

What he found was that all the students could do was read & memorize, and this is all the teachers ‘taught’. A simple rewording of a question was enough to bring out the gaps in their ‘knowledge’.