How does the U.S. education system measure up to China’s?

The United States education system is in a state of crisis. You don’t have to look far to see the U.S. sinking far below other education systems.

During the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment, the U.S. placed 36th in mathematics out of 65 participating countries.

Continuing with methods we know don’t work isn’t an option at this point; major education reform is a necessity. Yet before adopting any foreign education systems, we must analyze the socio-economic repercussions of those systems.

Shanghai, China, earned the highest score in mathematics during the 2012 PISA. It isn’t surprising China has such high scores, considering the social dynamic in China. Yet any success comes at a cost. Jiang Xueqin, deputy principal of Tsinghua University High School in Beijing, said in an opinion piece with CNN that China pays for its high test scores in social repercussions.

In Zhongxiang, 99 identical papers were turned in to one class, according to Malcolm Moore of The Telegraph. After this incident, a sharp crackdown from the Chinese school system informed students that during their next exam they would be strip-searched. The school found cell phones in examinees’ underwear and transmitters disguised as pencil erasers.

This raises questions as to whether Shanghai’s students are the best students in the world or simply self-righteous cheaters.

A riot ensued in Zhongxiang, and thousands of Chinese students and parents exploded in outrage. Smashing windows and cars in defiance, they chanted, “We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat.”

Their response was simple and understandable. It’s unfair to give special scrutiny to Zhongxiang when all of China cheats.

While Finland did not score as high, coming in at 12th, their goal is not to outperform other nations. While China fosters tension between students, the Finnish mentality holds that competition gets in the way of accomplishment.

Finnish students on average spend 3 hours and 45 minutes in class each day, according to C. M. Ruben with The Huffington Post. Conversely, the average California high school student spends 6 hours a day in class, according to Molly Ryan with the Education Commission of the States.

Another issue in China’s success is that the PISA isn’t the ultimate indictor of what it means to be successful. What is the value of one competitive student, when bridges, roads and spacecrafts are built in teams?

Finnish ideology is more suitable to the demands of real-world America. According to Leoni Haimson with The Huffington Post, students gather in small groups of 15-20, and all science classes cap out at 16 students.

In a world of seemingly endless struggle and competition, perhaps we’d all be happier if we built each other up, rather than ripping each other’s throats out in the petty pursuit of superiority.

-Jacob Waters