Study Abroad, although sometimes us exchange students forget, is just that: “studying”. Here in Singapore and specifically at NUS, academics are no joke. NUS is one of the top universities in the world and is comparable to an American Ivy League school. These students had the highest grades and highest test scores from their secondary schools to gain admission. Speaking with locals, and specifically discussing education in my Sociology class, I’ve seen the nature of this academic environment.
In primary and secondary school, students study long hours for standardized tests, especially those that separate students early on into different “streams”. These streams stratify students based on ability in a particular subject. The students take different classes and often are treated differently. My classmates also noted a very strong emphasis on math and science fields. They are encouraged to go into these fields regardless of if they enjoy it. Everyone seemed to agree that the academic system put a huge pressure on them and is not uncommon for families to hire private tutors to help their children get ahead. The intensity continues into University where students graduate together based on grades (The A’s graduate together, the B’s together, etc.). The bottom-line is that these results-driven academics take priority over everything else.
Currently, the U.S. is working on reforming our K-12 education system because we are falling behind Asian countries such as Singapore. We are introducing more standardized curricula and testing. There are merits to the Singapore system, as it does produce high test scores; however it is held in place by the culture which makes it unfeasible to adopt directly.
In the U.S. the goal is not always to get the highest marks, but rather to be well-rounded, to learn not how to spend excessive hours studying but how to balance studying with various other roles and responsibilities. While these results cannot be directly measured, I believe it is the advantage of the American education system of education. After all, a job will require balancing and delegating time rather than focusing on one subject.
As a disclaimer, this does not reflect the view of all the students here. It is merely my perspective on two different academic systems. In the end, the subject material back home and here are similar with differences marked by study habits and the rigor of grading.
Wish me luck during the finals that are quickly approaching!