4 Big Differences in American and Asian Education Norms

RealClear Staff


It is very interesting to see different norms and cultures while traveling in a new country. Previously I wrote about 5 surprising culture shocks I've encountered in America. Below are 4 of the biggest differences I've also experienced in the classroom while studying abroad.

Class Participation

In America, every student is encouraged to openly discuss the material with classmates and the teacher, as participation is an important element of the American education system. On the other hand, courses in most Asian education systems are heavily lecture-based, meaning that teachers unilaterally transfer information to students. While the teacher is talking, students are taking meticulous notes, trying to write as much down as they can.

There are some teachers in Asia who try to stir up discussions among students, but most do not put much emphasis on participation. Even if the teacher asks a question, students shy away from answering them as they are embarrassed of speaking in front of their classmates or afraid of getting the answer wrong.

Relationship between Teacher and Students

In America where there is less social hierarchy than Asia, the relationship between students and teachers is more casual and friendly. American students talk to teachers more freely and teachers respect students’ opinion. On the other hand, there is a clear hierarchy between teachers and students in Asia. Students should always show respect to teachers and avoid disagreeing with them as much as possible.

While it is normal for American students to have casual conversations with their teachers on their day or the weather, it is almost unimaginable for Asian students. Due to the hierarchical and formal relationship, the thought of talking to teachers about matters outside school makes Asian students cringe.

Grading System

In America, if a student gets a particular score, they receive a grade for that score range. For example, if students with scores higher than 93 get an A, all student who score at least that 93 on an exam will receive A equally.

A different type of grading system is adopted in many Asian countries, called the relative-grading system. Relative-grading does not have a set score which defines the grade like in the American grading system. Rather, it divides students’ scores into percentages and allots different grades to a designated percentage of the students. For example, students whose grades are in the top 35 percent of the class can receive an A. The next 40 percent receives a B, and so on. Such a grading system puts students in a competitive environment where every student is trying to get a better scores than their classmates.

The Role of Private Academy

Most American students rely on their regular school education for their study. Outside of school, they do assigned homework to deepen their understanding of class material and occasionally get help from a parent or tutor. On the other hand, numerous Asian students enroll in private academies after school, where there are teachers who teach the same material taught at school. These private academies also distribute additional homework for students. Numerous private academies are intensive. They open intensive courses during vacation and also make students stay at the academy until 11 PM.

This phenomenon is becoming a big problem in some countries. For example, the degree of reliance on private academies is unprecedented in South Korea. Most students believe school teachers are less competent compared to teachers from a private academy. Consequently, they focus more on studying at private academies than their normal school. Some students even take a nap at school because they were up so late doing homework for the private academies. Students do not worry about missing out on school lectures as they have a chance to listen to similar lectures later at their private academies. 

What do you think?

Let us know whether you have experienced differences between education systems while studying abroad. Which do you prefer?



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