Discussions about the future of the United States' education system often are colored by fears that students from China and India are outperforming their American peers and soon will swoop in and take their jobs. In a speech last January in which he trumpeted the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math education, President Obama praised the way China and India are "educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science." He then said that America needed to "out-educate" our competitors to the east.
According to a new study from the Pew Research Center, significant portions of the population in China, India, and Pakistan believe their children are being pushed too hard in school. In China, where suicide is the leading cause of death among young people, a full 68 percent of people say adults put too much pressure on children to do well in school.
Contrast that figure with the U.S., where only 11 percent of adults believe children are under too much pressure, while 64 percent say they're not pressured enough.
Making STEM education programs more rigorous isn't necessarily a bad idea, and good students don't have to be miserable. But it's important to note the downside to what's going on in the schools we're heralding as the models for STEM education. In 2004, while South India's tech industry boomed, that region had the highest youth suicide rate in the world. "In this modern age, children are not brought up peacefully," Dr. Mathew Kurien, a psychologist in Bangalore, told the Rediff news service. "They are under pressure to deliver at school; they are under pressure to appear for competitive examinations. After they reach puberty, no one in the family gives them any advice about the meaning of life."
It's an important reminder that the situation in competing countries is rarely as perfect as it seems. We all want American kids to succeed on a global scale, but keeping them healthy and happy is important, too.