Vivien Stewart: 'Reason to Be Worried' on US Education

Asia Society Senior Adviser for Education Vivien Stewart appeared on NPR's All Things Considered Wednesday, the day after President Obama's State of the Union address, for a segment on American and Chinese schools in which she argued that the US "has reason to be worried."

In light of President Obama's assertion that India and China "started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science," host Michele Norris asked Stewart if the US should be concerned about what Indian and Chinese education mean for those countries' competitiveness.

"I think we all have good reason to be worried," Stewart responded. "In terms of the educational expansion in China and India that [the President] spoke of, don't forget that in the 1960s, China had no education. During the Cultural Revolution, schools were closed. But from the 1970s on, they've had a massive expansion of basic education. Nine years of basic education are now universal throughout China.

"By the year 2012, 12 years of education will be universal. That means that within, say, five to seven years, China will be graduating a higher proportion of students from high school than we do."

Stewart went on to describe specific differences between Chinese and American education and to elaborate on the kinds of cultural norms needed to raise both expectations and performance in schooling.  

"Those kinds of norms can be created. They're an asset to build on. But they're also a norm that exists in many parts of the United States. But we have not really—not really pressed on it," Stewart commented, adding that if American students "spent as much time studying as they did playing video games, we'd easily be at the level of the highest performing countries in the world."

Listen to Vivien Stewart's complete remarks on All Things Considered

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Jeff Tompkins is New York Content Manager at Asia Society.