Through Fund for Teachers and PEF Hill was able to navigate her way through three Asian countries, visiting several cities along the way. She observed how their education systems function in relation to the social, economic, and cultural differences that may offer unusual conditions to a U.S. student.
Hill earned her M.A in Exceptional Education from the University ofTennessee at Chattanooga in 2011 and after four years of teaching at Red Bank High School, Hill switched to the new STEM School Chattanooga. At STEM, Hill teaches algebra and geometry and this summer she represented the school as she explored Asia for almost two months with the intention of “finding ways to promote the usefulness of education to help students and families rise above their current situations.”
Writing in her blog before departing, Hill said, “1 can’t wait to meet teachers, parents, and students on the other side of the world and discover what seems to help them succeed and what they think they could do better.”
Through these interactions with teachers, parents, and students, Hill became conscious of the similarities and differences between the Asian students compared to students here in the United States. In Beijing high school students “were dressed in sharp, almost military type, uniforms with ties, even the girls,” says Hill. Despite the contrast in their outward appearance the students “were on their phones texting, watching videos, and listening to music”, as is characteristic of many American teens.The emphasis that the Chinese and Singaporeans have on success in the classroom, particularly in math, creates a dissimilarity compared to the American student. “Being good at math is something worth achieving (there) and brings notoriety among family, peers, and the larger society,” she says. “However the pressure this puts on students is immense. They often have no free time and their hobbies are limited. They rarely play sports,” says Hill.
Scoring high on tests, like the Gao Koa in China, can open the door to many opportunities for students. In Singapore Hill discovered that “school is subsidized by the government for all Singaporeans,” she says. “Even the poorest of families can send their students to excellent schools if they test well.” There is a
strong drive among parents to accentuate their priority to study. While U.S. students “seem to be a bit more well-rounded,” often playing at least one sport and having several other activities in addition to school as well.”
With the advantage of seeing both perspectives, Hill understands what is needed to improve education standards. “Ultimately what I am seeing is a need to combine our two methods where a depth of understanding, ability to compute and the ability to create are focused on and are able to merge into one comprehensive teaching paradigm,” she says.
Perhaps a more poignant difference Hill discovered was how opportunities seemed to be limited for the lower class. This was particularly true in India where the caste system causes a divide between those who can afford a decent education and those who are destined to remain in poverty, purely based
on their ancestry.
”The value of education here in India does not seem to have the same societal support as it does in China and Singapore, especially among those from generational poverty,” says Hill.
In this still developing country, survival is of paramount importance to the poverty stricken. Parents are forced to neglect the importance of an education for their child and instead value the ability of their children to work and earn money as soon as they are able and will begin taking them to work with them as early as possible.
The divide stretches further than class as there is clear favoritism towards the male family members. Hill explains, “If the family only has enough to send one child to school, it will almost always be the brother that goes to school. Therefore, the status of women continues to be discounted and overlooked.”
After teaching an English class to a group of impoverished children in the slums and meeting an American couple who are dedicating their time to finding parents who want to provide an education to their children, Hill has realized that the kids have a desire to learn and some parents see education as an escape from poverty.
“I don’t know what it will take to change a nation, but this is at least a place to start.”