Sunday, June 18, 2006

Educational snobbery

When I left the UK to do a Master's degree in the US, many of my friends and colleagues in the UK wondered why on earth I would want to do that. They knew that the British education system was so much better then the American one. I agreed with them to some extent, but I was still happy that I was going to have the chance to be a student for another couple of years and to live abroad.

When one of my students in a class I was teaching at the university told me that she had got 5 CSEs in the UK my (private) reaction was that she would never have gotten near a university in the UK. Another of my students attributed his success in the American system to the fact that he had gone to school until the age of 18 in Jamaica - a more 'British' style of education. Looking back on it now, that first student might not have gone to university if she had stayed in the UK, but she got plenty out of going on to further education in the US. Some people are simply not ready to study hard in high school. The second student would have done well no matter where he went to school.

I have met many extremely well-educated Americans - and not all of them went to highly competitive Ivy League schools! My husband is an engineer. He worked for a company that did business with a company in the UK. There was a problem with the manufacturing process of a product that he had designed. The company flew him to the UK for a couple of days to sort out the problem after the British engineers had tried and failed. While he was there he overheard the British engineers making snide comments about how terrible the American education system is. He asked them if their education was so much better, then why had they needed him to sort out their problem?

From what I understand, more people in the UK go to college than did when I got my undergraduate degree, so the system is becoming more American in some respects. It is still different though, and vive la différence, I say!

1 comment:

Mmm said...

Another very pointed post. I really, really dislike the BRitish snobbery of education here having experienced both through highschool in Uk and then Uni here and now gradeschool through my kids. The fact is both have pluses and minuses. In the UK you get to do 3 years on one subject for Uni but here you get 4-5 years but have a far broader based education, good if you do design, like i did ro can't make it in your field. Also the old school way of O and A levels as we took is really very unfair as it more reward memory than intelligence. I am appalled at my nieces lack of knowledge. They can't even tell me teh dates of WWII or WWI which were crucial in my school years. My cousin is appalled at her kids comprehensive schooling in Gloucestershire and now wishes she hadn't come back but stayed in US in that sense.

I think what happens is Brits compare private school english education to state/comprehensive school education here which isn't exactly fair. The fact is that both countries hire others form across the pond for various fields. One can't make such sweeping judgments of a country as vast as America!

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