I lived 11 years of my life in Istanbul, a city in Turkey, Europe. The education system in Istanbul is basically the same as every other country in the world, but the difference between the education system of America and everywhere else is noticeably huge. Many immigrants’ children, as well as international students and exchange students, always go through a transition stage to understand how things work out when they first come to United States. It’s like coming to an alien planet without knowing anything about the planet at all.
Let me start off by explaining the difference in class divisions between America and basically every other country in the world. Let’s talk about our school, Shaker High School, for example. There are about 500 students in each graduating class. Do you have the opportunity to make strong connections with everyone in your classes knowing that you only spend fortyfive minutes with them every day? Absolutely not. We rotate around all the time. We have different people in our math class, our English class, our science class, etc. You get the point. In Istanbul, we used to have classes split into letters so there would be about 10 classes in total for each graduating class. And it would split into, 12A, 12B, 12C, 12D… and so on. We had class with the same thirty people every single day, the whole year. The idea might sound weird and strange if you’re not used to it, but it actually made you love school even more. Your class became your family because you literally got to spend a whole year with these people making strong connections and creating unforgettable memories. We never had to rotate around school or worry about how fast we needed to run to our next class. If you were in class 12A, all your classes– including English, math, science, and foreign language– would be in the same room. Of course, we had to be in a different classroom for science lab and gym, but it was still with the same people. It was the teachers who rotated in school. It is better to have 80 adults rotate around the school then to have 2000 teenagers do it. It is simply much less chaotic.
We also had a block schedule. So, we had each subject every other day. It worked like this; if I have math on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, I don’t have math on Tuesdays and Fridays. It was a set schedule you had to memorize once at the beginning of the year and never worry about again. So we didn’t have to keep track of if whether or not it was an A, B, C, or D day. We had class for forty minutes and then had a ten minute break after each class where we could go to the bathroom, go down to the cafeteria, go out to the courtyard and hang out with friends, see teachers, and relax. If we had eight classes a day, we had seven ten-minute breaks in between. It makes midmorning sound like a loser, I know. Where did the teachers go during these ten minute breaks? To the teacher’s room, where they got to have conversations with their peers, too.
The next difference is subjects. We have a pretty messed up system when it comes to learning. I know two people, from Canada and Jordan, who have come here as students in high school and said the same thing that I just told you. Let me explain the situation with science classes. We take biology freshman year, and then if you’re advanced you move on to chemistry and then to physics and then an AP subject. If not, you take earth science, chemistry and physics. That’s the way it works in New York State, as well as many other states in the United States. What does that mean? It means, you won’t remember a single thing from biology, or earth science, or chemistry by the time you get to twelfth grade. In other countries, they take each science every year. So you take biology, physics and chemistry every single year in high school. I know what you’re thinking: “I can’t deal with one science class, how am I supposed to deal with three?” If only you knew how much better it is. Let’s say that there is a certain amount of knowledge that you need to learn in Biology by the time you graduate high school. What other countries do is they divide that to four years of education so you learn Biology every year. But, you learn the same amount of information in four years there as you do in one year in ninth grade here (more or less if you’re in an advanced school, you’ll end up learning more). It keeps getting harder every year, but before you learn new things, you learn the same thing as you did the year before. This helps the foundation stick with you.
If you weren’t able to keep up with what I’m saying, let me put it in a simple image. Let’s think about everything we learn in one year of science class and imagine Biology, and Physics, and Chemistry as ABCD. In America, you learn ABCD of Biology in ninth grade. And then you learn ABCD of Chemistry in tenth grade… then you get to twelth grade, and you remember absolutely nothing about the ABCD you learned in Biology or Chemistry. But in other countries, it works differently. In ninth grade, you learn A in biology, chemistry, and physics. In tenth grade, you learn AB of these courses. In eleventh grade, you learn ABC of these courses. In twelfth grade, you learn ABCD of all these subjects. So you repeat the same thing every year but you keep learning more. But how does this benefit us? Well when you graduate from High School, you actually remember what you learned in Biology. When you get to twelfth grade, and start learning about Physics, it doesn’t hit you like “BAM!” the way it does to every Shaker High School student. Thus, if you had taken the course every year and learned the material gradually, it would have been a smoother transition.
Last but not least is the topic of high schools in general. In many European countries, going to high school means actually applying to high school the way you would apply to college. You don’t just go to the high school of the town you live in. If you want to study mathematics, you apply to a mathematics high school. If you want to be a teacher, you apply to a teaching studies high school. These high schools give you the basic foundation that every high school student needs to have, along with extra knowledge in the field that you plan to go to college for. Most of the time, you can make the decision of your future career in high school, rather than waiting for half way through college. And if you want to stick with what you do, it prepares you even more for your future career.
So, these are a few, nonetheless big, differences between the education systems of America and Istanbul, which is similar to those of other countries in the world. Now you know more about how education works in other countries. It feels good to know something more about the world, doesn’t it?