The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

February 2, 2014

Student Voice: Raising the grade of U.S. education

The Daily Item

— A few decades ago, the United States was consistently the leading nation in education. Other countries saw the U.S. as a role model, and America sat back comfortably in pride. Today, however, the rank of the U.S. in global education has plummeted significantly, dropping back in most categories to the upper teens and even into the twenties.

Whatever happened to this prestigious nation of academic excellence? Really, nothing did. That is the problem, though. It is not an issue of lack of skill by teachers or a decrease in willingness to learn, but rather the lack of a systematic change. While the United States remained idle with its standard, several other countries developed new and innovative systems to bypass the U.S. and grow tremendously in both educationally-trained and vocational sectors.

One of the first countries to take over number one from the U.S. was Finland. The educational system there has been the sole source of their success. According to the National Education Association, all students there, just like here, receive a full, typical education until the age of 16. At that time, however, students are given two options. First of all, they may further their “book knowledge” by continuing with two more years of secondary education, preparing them for a university. If not, they are forced to be trained for two years in a specific vocation, then are able to enter straight into the work force with that specialty.

As this method of education has thrived in Finland and other countries as well, so too is it time for the U.S. to step up its standard and implement a similar system. The best route for the U.S. to take in the future is for students to have two choices before ninth grade: enter high school, or enter a vocational school. In this system, high school should be treated as a true college preparatory school — where a student specializes in one subject while still attaining a broad education from other subjects.

Meanwhile, those who would have entered into the work force immediately following a typical high school education would instead have a thorough training in a specific skill; this would enable them to become more successful in life. Otherwise, they would feel out of the place in high school, where they would only waste school resources and retract attention from those who truly would use that specific education.

It is a fact that every student planning to work will eventually specialize in some field. Thus, in whatever field that will be, the U.S. educational system should provide a better way for all to learn a maximum in it. It is time for America to step out of its comfort zone, recognize its flaws in education, and adapt a system similar to more successful nations such as Finland. After all, if it remains where it is now, there is nowhere to go but further down.

Matthew Southerton,

Mifflinburg High School