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Schooling: Cultural Differences in Schooling Theory

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Instructor: Erin Long-Crowell
The value of education and access to it is different across cultures. In this lesson, we discuss some of the differences in schooling between lower-income and higher-income nations. We also discuss the education system and cultural values of several countries.

Cultural Differences in Education & Schooling

Think about the number of years that we, as Americans, spend in school. Young adults who have graduated high school have typically attended for at least twelve years, plus kindergarten and even preschool, for some. Going to college adds an average of 2-5 years, and graduate school involves an additional 2-6 years. Although this isn't news to anyone in our society today, our education system has changed as our culture has changed and our economy has developed. A century ago, only a small, elite group in the U.S. had the privilege of formal schooling. Most young people were taught important knowledge and skills by their families, instead.

Even today, in pre-industrial societies, children are educated through the course of daily activities. Girls watch women garden, cook, and care for children. Boys watch men farm, hunt, and make tools. Through these informal observations, children learn the skills they will need when they grow up.

Education and schooling vary widely between cultures due to both the culture's economy and cultural values. For example, the traditional gender roles I just described act as a huge barrier for girls in many countries. Education is seen by some as a waste of time for girls, who cannot contribute income to the family.

Schooling in Lower-Income Countries

In general, poorer countries tend to have much less schooling. For example, although their constitution requires that a public education be available for free, Haiti has been unable to fulfill this obligation due to poor economic conditions. The majority of schools in Haiti are under-equipped and/or do not have adequate facilities. There is also an extreme shortage of qualified teachers. As a result, Haiti has a literacy rate of about 45% as of two years ago.

In the poorest nations, few children attend school at all; as of 2007, only half of all children worldwide ever get to the secondary grades. Formal learning that is not directly connected to survival is available mainly to wealthy people who do not need to work. As a result, about one-third of the world's population cannot read or write.

Although India is considered a middle-income country, not even half of Indian children reached the secondary grades in the last decade. The Indian government emphasizes primary education and has banned child labor. However, many children continue to work in factories up to 60 hours per week, which greatly limits their chances for schooling.

Schooling in Higher-Income Countries

On the other hand, in the U.S. and in other higher-income countries, compulsory education laws, or laws requiring all children to attend school, were enacted following the Industrial Revolution and are now very significant to the culture. In the U.S., the specifics of the laws are up to each state, but the average age range is 6-16. The schooling requirements for children of this age can generally be satisfied through public schools, state-certified private schools, or an approved home school program.

Students who complete high school have the option to attend a variety of higher education institutions. According to U.S. News, America has the largest percentage - 21% - of the highest-ranked colleges and universities in the world. This is largely due to the importance of education in our society.

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