In the 4 years it takes to complete High School, there are a little over 2 Million Minutes (This is the total time.. i.e. sleeping, eating, commuting, school, etc.) The movie is focused on how this time is spent, and compares U.S. students with those in China and India. Below are my thoughts on the movie, as well as some key facts that really stood out.
General theme # 1 : The U.S. education model is outdated
The U.S. education system has gone through many changes, but still follows the model that was set in place after WWII. Economist Richard Freeman is interviewed, and he makes a strong argument showing that the United States did not have to rebuild like war-torn Europe and Japan. It also didn’t go through the radical social change like communist China. This time in history has been used to show how America came out on top economically after WWII, and it also makes sense that this theory would apply directly into our current education model. This model reflects a time when the United States was still very much an industrial country and a degree wasn’t necessary in order to live a middle class lifestyle. Times have changed due to advances like the internet. All countries are now on a level playing field, and factory jobs are being replaced with information workers such as engineers, scientists, etc. The following statements were made in the movie, and it gives an example of how the general population currently views our education structure.
“Nearly 40 percent of US High school students do not take any science class more challenging than general biology.” @ 10:45 into the movie
“55 Percent of students do not take any math courses beyond two years of algebra and one year of geometry.” @ 10:45 into the movie.
Does that mean students do not see the value in taking more math and science classes? Shortly after, the following quote made it clear how American culture views math and science
“The percentage of parents who think their childs high school is teaching the right amount of math and science : 70%” @ 10:58 into the movie
Whenever watching documentaries like this, I always love how the following statistic gets in.
“American students score highly in one area relative to their international peers: self confidence” @ 11:30 into the movie.
An interview with Robert Reich made an interesting point. Just because parents went through the education system years ago does not make them experts on how it should be done now. Personally, when I have discussions with people, most people relate their experience on how they were taught as a kid. While I feel experience is great, it does not add value when the game (the game being the global economy) has changed. With the global economy continually turning forward, we as a nation need to analyze how prepared our population is. Does past success guarantee the same success in the future?
General theme # 2: How culture affects education
Following the students in India, it was pretty clear that science, math, and engineering were a way out of poverty. The parents were very concerned for their children’s well-being, but they knew that unless they entered into these fields, the chances of their children living comfortably would be diminished. In China, the one child policy has made a direct impact on how some parents treat their children. During one of the interviews, the parents said this:
“The one child policy is another reason we invest so much in her education” @ 17:09
The movie followed 6 students, a boy and girl from each country. The Chinese and Indian students were very decisive in High School as to what they would be doing for a career while the American students were confident, but not as direct in their goals. College in the USA still allows for students to explore and discover what they would like to do. This is great, but put into context of the culture and hardships other countries face, it makes sense that students in China and India can not afford the time to explore. “Exploring” for them may mean they lose out on various opportunities.
In addition, the Indian and Chinese students show many more hours being used just for studying, while the American counter parts are doing things like working part-time jobs and sports. All students have 2 million minutes, but how they are spent between the countries is very different.
“The average US student spends about 900 hours in the classroom and 1,500 hours in front of the TV each year.” @ 33:51
What would a documentary be without the TV reference? The documentary was made in 2006-2007, and it would be interesting to see how many of those minutes have been consumed by video games alone.
“66% of college-bound high school seniors have no more than one hour of homework per night and none on the weekends.” @ 33:58
Wow, these are college bound students! Unfortunately, I personally fall into that 66% because I knew how to get away without doing homework. It would be very interesting (and disheartening) to see what the percentage is for all American students. So, what about the Chinese? How are they spending their time?
“Chinese school year at the senior level is a full month longer than a US school year.” @ 29:18
“110 million students in China are studying English. 50,000 American students are studying Chinese” @ 38:20
Not to mention, the movie points out the many hours the Chinese students put in to studying. Second chances don’t really happen after High School and due to this, many Chinese students are competing for top seats in Universities. Watching the video made me think about how America is still riding its success after WWII. A co-worker was joking with me that America was the “Great Brain Drain”, but his statement made sense. Due to America’s economic success, we have been able to lure people from other countries in to ours fill highly skilled positions.
“Nearly 60% of engineering PhD degrees awarded annually in the U.S. are earned by foreign nationals.” @ 40:50
It takes decades to develop a scientist or engineer while it probably will only take a couple of years to lure a savvy scientist away. As a culture, we are able to see that math and science is important, but we don’t see it as clearly as someone in China or India would. Yes, as a culture we value education, but Americans see it as being integrated with other ideas like getting work experience through a job, socializing, and life experience in general. Parents and children in India and China may not see other experiences as important as education since the risks of failing may have life long consequences. If nothing is done, many have predicted that America will lose its competitive edge.
Below are some clips from the movie: