Whenever I think about education and my future as a teacher, I cannot help but compare my school experiences in the United States to my experiences in Ukraine. I think that really helps me think about schooling in a more multi-faceted way. There are definitely many pros and cons when it comes to both approaches, and I definitely do not have a definite answer for what is better or worse, or what is the right or wrong way to teach kids. I am just trying to put forth the differences and maybe even analyze them in some way.
One of the biggest differences between schools in Ukraine and America is that in Ukraine there is no ranking, and all classrooms are heterogeneous classrooms. However, I do not think thats the case because Ukrainian school administrators are so progressive and have consciously decided that all kids learn better in combined classrooms. Its simply due to the fact that the population in Ukraine is much less diverse than that of the United States. There is virtually no immigrant population. The recent Soviet Union probably also played its part with putting everyone more or less on the same level. Class divisions are a little less distinguished when it comes to culture and the way people behave. Heterogeneous classrooms are much more difficult to accomplish in a country like the United States.
There are many differences between an American and Ukrainian education that are difficult to pinpoint, but the effects are evident. I am not saying this at all out of pride, but when it comes to grade school, America is missing something. There are kids in fourth grade that still do not know how to read. Kids in high school cant do simple algebra. This is virtually unheard of in Ukraine. I attended a Ukrainian school for first, second, and a little bit of third grade, and by that point, everyone in the class could read and write with ease. By the time I left Ukraine I was very good at multiplication and division. When I came to school in New Hampshire, they did not even test me, and they offered to bump me up two grades. My parents thought that would be too much, so they opted for just putting me one grade up. Some of the Russian kids in my class were moved up in a similar fashion. And honestly, I was not challenged at all. Its kind of funny, but I felt very insulted when I was in fifth grade, and the teacher made us to all these little activities and crafts. I thought it was so useless, and I felt like the teacher was treating us like babies. I really blew up when the teacher made us color in a math activity. I thought it was the most useless thing, because it wasn't art, and I did not see what was the point of coloring in math. So I refused to do the activity, and the teacher had to bring me out of the classroom and have a serious talk with me. Its kind of funny, but what is not funny is that the same algebra that I did in 7th grade in America, kids in Ukraine do in 5th grade. While in my American fifth grade we were still doing long division and coloring useless little papers. I have to admit, I was in ESL at the time, but when halfway through the year they moved me into a regular classroom the story was pretty much the same. The only different thing I remember learning in the regular fifth grade classroom was a little bone anatomy. I would also like to point out that I did not go to a great school in Ukraine. Actually, most kids in my school were poorer than the average Ukrainian.
I am not sure what makes this difference. But I think attitude, expectations, and "seriousness" have much to do with it. School is a very serious thing in Ukraine. On the contrary, kids in America are "babied" a little bit. Expectations are certainly lower. In Ukraine, alot less was tolerated. Two mistakes in your math homework meant a letter grade off. I know that sounds harsh, but it worked. And I really do not think anyone suffered psychological damage because of it. I do agree though that kids in Ukraine hate school more than American kids do. I am not going to lie about that. And I also wish there was a little bit more analysis when it comes to history and literature in Ukrainian classrooms. Ukraine has to make some of its own improvements too. But I think Ukraine's problems are much easier to fix. Simply introduce a few different aspects to the curriculum and you are done. I think fixing the American school system is much harder. I am not sure why, but its just a whole different story.