Very Recently, India was described to me as a land of contrasts. On my visit there in January, I found that to be true about many aspects of the country. For example, one could see a camel cart driving down a super high-way in one lane and a modern lorry driving down the next lane over. The difference between housing and infrastructure in the cities and that of the rural areas is staggering. However, India is not the only land of contrasts. In some respects, the US is also a land of contrasts.
According to the latest census, 30% of the population has at least a bachelor’s degree. An examination of major fields shows that, taken together, engineering and science are the most common areas for bachelor’s degrees, representing 34.9% of the total.
It seems that college enrollment began increasing in the mid-ninties with women beginning to catch up with men. Today among those with bachelor degrees in engineering and science, in the 25-39 age group, 45.9% are women. Remember, it takes four years to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
What is all of this business about “No Child Left Behind”? How long has that been an educational goal for the US? Why is the media so full of the poor scores of high school students? What is it about the US that its children and youth perform so relatively poorly, but adults are able to study for and achieve degrees that the pundits say are necessary for economic growth in this country?
There are many reasons for this contrast. One reason that our children, in general, perform below expectation is that we allow them to think of public schooling as a “divine right” for which they are entitled to without putting forth any effort on their part. Fortunately, in this country, once a person graduates with a high-school diploma or a GED, he/she can enter any community college, or, in some cases, any private college he/she chooses. That person can take any basic skill course or courses for as long as he/she wants before taking courses for credit. This may seem counter productive. Perhaps it is. Nevertheless, contrasted with many countries around the world where a person’s career path is determined by how well he/she did at 13, this system seems to be working.
Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, families (the first social unit) will insist and expect that its youngest members consider going to school a privilege and a responsibility.