Saturday, March 24, 2007

Are you smarter than a fifth grader?

Now I'm in the US, my evenings are spent in front of TV like most Americans. I try to limit my interest to couple of re-re-...-re-runs of Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond. Occasionally I channel surf during commercial breaks. In one such surfing I bumped into a game-show / quiz program - Are you smarter than a fifth grader?

My initial reaction was, it is another program for stereo-typing. One participant was an African American woman who thought US is in the Eastern Hemisphere. Another was a blond who didn't know how to get the radius from diameter. As there was no defined political correctness or incorrectness about jokes on blonds, there were jokes on blond dumbness. The anchor person didn't get such a freedom with the African American woman.

The aim of participant selection looked as if, it is make fun of them. May be that's what guarantees viewership!

On to more serious thoughts. I compared the questions with the curriculum I'm familiar with - that of CBSE in India. I ignored the localized History/Geography questions. Coming to Math, I think Indian kids do not do Algebra so early in their schools. From my school days to my son's, I see arithmetics getting maximum coverage in India's schools - rightly so. I think it is sensible and practical to do arithmetics in early classes. In India, I haven't seen a grocery store boy who are usually school drop-outs, using calculators!

My uncle who is a teacher for about 40 years, compared the academics in India and US. "In India, everyone is normalized to the average. The brighter student doesn't get much extra information to move up faster. Dull students get support from the system with annual exams that can be met with enough cramming. The American system allows for the brighter students to learn more, faster. It helps them become entrepreneurs, scientists naturally. The dull students just drop off to flipping burgers."

On comparing the affirmative actions in respective countries and its effectiveness, I think the Indian system is better in a way that it helped a lot of under privileged students to land in decent jobs and raise to the level of middle class. In the process, India lost some bright students to US and European countries in the brain drain. There was also slower growth in terms of quality of life, infrastructure and wealth. But, I think that's ok. I'm sure a generation of under privileged have come out of the shell and are doing better. That gives an assurance that Indian system is working.

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