Sunday, September 12, 2010

Two Million Minutes

As a parent who was educated in India and is now raising a child in America, the subject of Robert Compton's 2 Million Minutes is something I can relate to effortlessly. It is well documented how American kids are falling behind when compared to their peers elsewhere in the world. Compton brings those statistics to life, takes viewers into the lives of six above-average high school students from America, China and India.

The film depicts how kids from India and China spend the entirety of their high school years (two million minutes) preparing for the entrance exams to get into one of the premier institutes of learning. They have no life outside that and a decision about career is locked in at seventeen. What is more, that decision is most often made for them by their parents.

In both India and China students grow up in society that emphasizes academic success almost to the exclusion of anything else in a young person's life. Xiaoyuan, the Chinese girl in the movie, studies music but making a career out of it would be considered inconceivable. The boy from India, Rohit kicks a ball around when he is able to - in lieu of being coached professionally for football as his peer in America might be.

The American kids are a lot more self-assured - they have a full life outside the classroom and books. The social emphasis on academic success is almost absent. To that end, a community's spending on sports frequently exceeds that on education; parents don't expect kids to give everything they have into scholastic achievement. On the positive side, they are not required to know who they will be for the rest of their lives at seventeen. Trying several different things before they find their true calling is completely acceptable.

While Compton's exploration of what ails the American education system maybe a little one dimensional, he is certainly not off base. It is generally true that American kids (when compared to their peers around the world) don't work hard enough, they are not challenged enough and they are not nearly as ambitious. The expert commentators in the movie tackle the reasons why.The lack of cultural expectation in America for kids to excel academically is possibly the biggest contributor and that is not emphasized enough. The kids in India and China are a product of their enviornment, take them out of it and they would be no different from their American counterparts.

I am a product of the Indian education system and have an appreciation of where it has helped and how it has hurt me. I am now learning about the American system even if by proxy through my daughter. Two Million Minutes is aimed at shaking Americans out of their complacence about their assured preeminence  in a globalized world.

It is definitely a very timely wake-up call but to take away an all gloom and doom message for American kids is probably unwise. The ideal system of education would be somewhere between the Indian/Chinese and the American ones. It would emphasize academic rigor along with social skills, creativity, team work while nurturing emotional intelligence and an entrepreneurial spirit. With that combination, any kid would be set up for success in the world of the future.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I need to get off this blog. It is so hard. I have a chapter of my dissertation to turn in by next friday, and I just can't stop reading.
I can relate to so much.....
Asha