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Note: This is Part 2 of an extended article. Click here for Part 1. When I started this article, I was looking to recount my eye-opener of an experience at my 5 year old daughter’s first parent-teacher meeting. It ended up meandering into topics far beyond my original intent. So I’m breaking the article into two for better palatability!

A Totally Off-the-Cuff Comparison of Indian and US Educational Systems

back-to-school-1416913-638x433As an expat from India, I’m inevitably going to do the half-baked comparison of both the Indian and American educational system. Clearly not a Malcolm Gladwell level of analysis and discussion but I definitely got an opinion like your average-everyday-harried-overworked parent.

The focus in the US seems to be critical thinking at an early age. Children are encouraged to dissect and deconstruct everything from language to Math and progression is rigorously tracked. I’m sure we do this at some level in India but definitely not in the measurable standards being implemented in the US. The system in the US also seems to provide a standardized and objective platform for the teacher to teach and measure progress. Most the material I received showed footnotes and references to studies done by experts in the education field. This very fact gives me more confidence in the way material is being taught in schools here.

Another aspect which caught my attention that levels the playing field is standardization. Whether it’s the US or India, there are good and bad teachers. But the differentiator here is that teachers here have a slightly more objective method to the madness which minimizes biases in teaching and grading. The system in India is a bit more skewed to the subjective side. God help if your teacher is in a bad mood or another teacher other than your favorite ends up correcting your paper. I’m sure the Indian reader knows what I’m talking about!

Another thing which is bothering me is whether we are doing anything actively to improve the education system in India. There seems to be a great deal of study, debate and research going into improving the science of education In the US. The nation maybe divided here on common-core, no child left behind and other standards, but at least they are having a debate about it and moving the ball forward. I readily admit I have not done any research into this aspect in India and been out of the school system for decades, but I’m in touch with many younger kith and kin coming out of the school and college systems. I feel not much has been done to change the system in India. We are stuck with an old, antiquated and rigid system which favors mass-producing students and graduates which was ideal for British times doing service-oriented jobs but not innovation or entrepreneurship. The changes that seems to happen once in a blue moon seems to be politically motivated and ill-conceived. Regarding career choice, you got to pick the route even before knowing the destination. For some reason you are expected to know what you want to do for the rest of your life at 16 and do course work related to that. Once you chose that path, there is no going back!

One of my biggest pet peeve in the Indian education system is this – memorization and regurgitation or ‘mugging’ as it’s known in India. The emphasis is mostly in reproducing what’s in a text book in varying degrees. I remember the system being more liberal in CBSE and I could reference material outside of prescribed school books. This took a complete nose-dive in the State Board system and two years of high-school in this system was a harrowing experience to say the least. You were encouraged to memorize and Xerox the contents of the books verbatim, word-for-word. A little deviation and you will be scraping the bottom of the barrel! This got much better at the University level though I understand that you will never get away from memorization, which is fundamental for any learning. But my point is this – if you encourage a child to ‘mug’ vs. improve critical thinking at a young age, how are you going to turn out when you are in college, career or life? To be fair, I have not seen how the system hold up in the US across the entire spectrum of schooling, but what I see and hear and my own experience doing a Masters in grad school here, the focus is heavily on application vs. theory and critical thinking. For those of you in IT, you might understand this – Why is solutioning almost always done here and implementation done in India?

When I started this article I just wanted to narrate my experience at my daughter’s parent-teacher meet. But it ended up as a quasi-ramble-and-rant session with copious amount of digital ink being sacrificed at the altar of education! I’m very much looking forward to seeing how the US educational system plays out as my daughter goes through school. I expect to learn as much as her, I suspect. Hopefully I will provide an update in a few years. Let’s keep rolling for now!

Part 1: Expect the Unexpected: Surviving My First Parent-Teacher Meeting

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