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Asian vs. Western Education

by on 02/07/2013 24016

It is generally believed that the western education system is more creative and forward-thinking in comparison to the Asian education system, which is more reserved and conservative. But contrary to this common belief, according to the recent reports, East Asian countries appear at the top in world education rankings.

Even the international test trends show that the Western school children are lagging behind their peers in countries such as Singapore and Japan. In fact Shanghai grabbed headlines in 2009 when a 15-year-old scored first in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Another surprising fact is that, other Asian countries aren’t far behind in it with South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan ranking among the top in the list.

Even the results of Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) indicates that the students from the US, UK and Australia continue to perform disappointingly in comparison to their peers in South Korea, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong and Japan.

So what makes the difference?

Actually it’s all about the different perspectives related to these two education systems and their approach towards teaching.

Teacher vs. student centered learning

All those with Asian education background will agree that our education system maintains a strict educational paradigm. Our learning and teaching process stresses more on the inputs from teachers. The students are supposed to listen to their teachers without any kind of interaction. Generally study materials are provided by the teachers and students are not involved in any kind of group discussions.

On the other hand, western education system is student-centered. It encourages students to actively participate and get involved in group discussions. This approach keeps the students involved in learning process.

Memorizing vs. understanding the concepts

The Asian education approach is based on memorization and exam-oriented learning. Students are mostly expected to memorize the text book based facts in order to get best scores rather than to understand and analyze it.

In comparison to it, the western approach is much more relaxed and not taken so intensely.  The students are expected to spend time and understand the topics properly. They are required to do their own research and encouraged to share their personal views rather than just sticking with what is written in their text books.

Strengths and weaknesses

Contrary to the common misconception, both Asian as well as western education systems have their own strengths and weaknesses.

We appreciate the western education approach for its ability to make learning more effective by constant interaction and communication. The western education system gives more importance to the individuality and the diversity in learning. It also emphasizes on creativity over conventionality and does not stress on memorization and drill learning.

However the survey statistics also indicates its negative aspects. Its standardized testing scores lag far behind Asian countries. Their science and math levels are also considered to be far below the average Asian scale. In fact the American students lag behind 31 countries in math and 16 countries in reading proficiency.

On the other hand, the Asian education system, to a great extent, believes in the philosophy that talents cannot be developed unless the basic solid foundation is built first. We believe that the students without the basic foundation in their elementary and secondary school education, may not have the ability to utilize their creativity in math and science related subjects when they pursue higher education. The students are expected to maintain a strict schedule for studying, maintaining grades and even required to attend tuitions after school. It definitely puts a lot of pressure on the students.


But above all, we have to understand the pros as well as the cons of both the education systems. Today many Asian countries are trying to find ways to incorporate creative, enjoyable and less stressful ways of educating children. The mindsets among Asians are changing and now they are ready to imbibe the western philosophies to reduce the burden of academics.

On the other hand, according to western education experts, western educational system needs to be reassessed and reshaped in a number of ways.

Perhaps we need to reevaluate what is missing in the Asian approach which the western education system seems to be excelling and vice versa. We should not expect our children to learn the way we, our parents and grandparents were taught.

It is the time for us to update the way we educate our children. Our approach towards education should be more engaging, exciting, stress free and it needs to accommodate every kind of learner. In this era of globalization we need to imbibe the best of both Asian and Western education systems.