Frank has been an educator for over 10 years. He has a doctorate degree in education with a concentration in curriculum and instruction.
Jessica describes her classroom as a melting pot of cultures. She works with limited English proficient (LEP) students in a major city, where her school population is a mix of Mexican-American, Korean-American, and Anglo-American cultures. She understands that differences found among the U.S. educational system and those of other countries and cultures impact learning approaches and performance. These differences also affect human development, learning, and language acquisition, as we'll explore next.
United States Educational System
Before going to college, American students attend primary and secondary schools for 12-13 years. They typically begin their educational journey at the age of five or six in elementary school, which they attend until the fifth or sixth grade. Students then attend middle school for two or three years. Finally, students complete four years of high school.
The educational system in the United States includes public institutions, funded by the federal and state and local governments, charter schools, private schools, and home schooling options. Public schools have mandated curricula and requirements such as state testing; funding is dependent on property taxes.
Private schools have more freedom to determine curriculum and hire staff, but funding comes from private sources. Parents who prefer to provide a state-recognized curriculum can homeschool their children.
Most students in public and private schools learn English while others are enrolled in various models of bilingual education.
South Korean Educational System
South Korean students receive a government-enforced national curriculum in primary and secondary schools. Elementary school runs for six years and is compulsory, or mandatory, beginning at age six. Middle school students attend for three years, the equivalent of grades 7-9 in the United States. Students can then choose between a 3-year high school (ages 16-18), or a 2-year vocational high school (ages 17-18).
Societal Value on Education
Schools are state owned or privately run. South Korean culture places an emphasis on learning and going to college. Students start learning English and Korean in elementary school. Parents often send their kids to a for-profit hagwon (pronounced hag-wan), or an after school program, to continue their studies, which can include learning English.
South Korean citizens value education and parents pass this attitude onto their children. The South Korean government distributes resources more equally than the United States government, and nearly all students receive a similar quality education. For example, parents who cannot afford private, after hours schools receive government help to do so. Education in South Korean is rigorous; students perform well on standardized tests, often outperforming those in other countries.
Mexican Educational System
In Mexico, schools are organized into preschool, elementary, junior high, and high school levels. Compulsory education begins in preschool and ends with the ninth grade, and students are required to wear uniforms. Mexico provides students with free textbooks based on a national curriculum used to promote uniform standards and content across the country. Students primarily learn Spanish, though some learn English as well.
Preschool but no High School Options
Students attend preschool from the ages of 3-5. The final year of preschool is equivalent to kindergarten in the United States. Elementary school includes grades 1-6; junior high school includes grades 7-9. High school is not mandatory and found mostly in urban areas, which makes it challenging and expensive for students who live in the countryside to attend school past the ninth grade.
Private schools also exist in Mexico for those whose families can afford them. Parents are not as involved as those in South Korea. However, they do have great trust and respect for teachers as experts. Like the United States, Mexico also has junior colleges and universities.
Learning, Performance, & Development
Differences in American, Mexican, and South American cultures affect human, language, and learning development. About 93% of students in South Korea graduate on time, while in the United States, 25% of all students fail to graduate. Both countries emphasize standardized testing, but South Korea starts preparing students early. In Mexico, testing is not emphasized, and only 45% of students finish high school, due to the lack of available schools in rural areas.
Culture & Language Relationship
An understanding of language is essential to learning. Cultural overtones are embedded in a language and are sometimes difficult to decipher. When learning a second language, ones own native culture may affect the ability to learn that language and understand its cultural nuances. This is why idioms are difficult for students who are English language learners to understand.
Cultures with high expectations for achievement, self-determination, and will power help students acquire a more robust sense of self-encouragement. This helps students set high language performance goals. High parental involvement can positively affect human, language, and learning development, while mediocre or poor involvement on the part of parents will not serve students well in these areas.
Much debate about which educational systems lead to better results will likely continue. However, reducing an imbalance of resources will produce better academic results.
Because Jessica understands her demographic, she has the tools to help her limited English proficient (LEP) students. She uses her students' cultural backgrounds to help them learn about one another and even calls her after school tutoring program a hagwon, which many students attend in South Korea. Both South Korea and Mexico have a national curriculum. Mexico's compulsory education program begins at the preschool level and ends in ninth grade; students do not have to attend high school, institutions typically found in urban, but not rural, areas.
Countries like South Korea that value education and encourage parental involvement often produce high-achieving students. South Korean students perform well on standardized tests, especially in comparison to those in other countries.
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