Thursday, April 23, 2009

Falling Behind

Given my experience with J's kindergarten, I have frequently toyed with the idea of pulling her out of school (at least partially) by the fifth grade if not sooner. It seems the gains by way of social interaction and team-work (and play) are more than outweighed by the mediocre quality of instruction coupled with meaningless distractions and the lack of any real academic rigor.

The fun and games approach to education is great up to a point - specially with young children, as long as the kids are prepared to work harder later on. Somehow, that spirit is not fostered. The emphasis on fun proves too strong to wear off when it must to make way for a the more serious business of getting an education.

Reading Tom Friedman's article in NYT confirms what I have believed to be true about the average American public schools - based on my very limited exposure to and experience with the system. He cites a report by McKinsey :

Actually, our fourth-graders compare well on such global tests with, say, Singapore. But our high school kids really lag, which means that “the longer American children are in school, the worse they perform compared to their international peers,” said McKinsey.

There are millions of kids who are in modern suburban schools “who don’t realize how far behind they are,” said Matt Miller, one of the authors. “They are being prepared for $12-an-hour jobs — not $40 to $50 an hour.”

That is precisely what I fear too. By when J's generation enters the workforce, they will all need to compete for jobs globally. It would simply not work to be ranked "25th out of the 30 in math and 24th in science", if a child is hoping to make a living in a line of work that requires a strong foundation in those subjects.

There is always the chance that J becomes the underwater basket weaver par excellence and can pay the bills just with that skill. Should that not come to pass, she would need a dependable Plan B to fall back on. I really don't see that coming out of the standard issue public school education in this country.

Some parents of my acquaintance have rearranged their whole lives and careers around a high-quality school - they do exist but are more exception than norm. The familiar refrain is they would love to take the DIY route if they had the luxury of time - and if the family could survive on a smaller income. Unfortunately, these above par schools are usually in neighborhoods that are very expensive to live in. So, a reduced income is often not a viable option.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was born and brought up in India and have since attended two finest institution in USA. I do agree that hard skills matter but soft skills matter a lot more at least for top jobs. The experience in school cannot be replicated at home and most universities require community involvement as part of admission. I personally think supplementing school education is always a better solution.