Thursday, September 8, 2011

K-12 Education in Russia and the United States - A Comparative View

K-12 education (primary to secondary education) in Russia is different from that of the United States in structure as well in many other aspects. In fact, the whole educational systems of both are distinctly dissimilar. But before we delve into a detailed discussion of their structural differences, it would be interesting to show some recent statistics related to education in both countries.
Russia is known for having a long tradition of providing high quality education to all its citizens. Its educational system has consistently produced an almost 100% literacy rate in most recent years.  Based on UNESCO statistics for 2009 for example, Russia ranked #13 in the world together with two other countries namely Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan with a literacy rate of 99.5%. This is higher than those of most European countries even that of the United States.  In this same survey, the United States scored a flat literacy rate of 99 % and is ranked #20 together with 25 other countries.
Another revealing statistic came from an international study of Math and Science achievement levels among 8th graders (the International Math and Science Study done by the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study or TIMSS in 2007) worldwide. (TIMMS was developed by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement or IEA).

In this study Russia’s 8th graders ranked #9 globally. Comparatively, American 8th graders ranked lower at #11. The 1995 statistics were even worst for the American 8th graders. In that year (1995), the Russian students ranked 14 while the American students were way below at # 40. Although there was a marked improvement by American students from 1995 to 2007, their poor performance never-the-less left them out of the top 10 and continued to raise concern among American educators especially so since the United States spends 5.7% of its GDP on education compared to only 3.8% by Russia.

American students fared even worst than their Russian counterparts in reading achievement. In the International Student Achievement in Reading study conducted in 2006 by the IEA Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) among students with 4 years of formal education (Grade 4), Russian students topped the study while their American counterparts ranked way below at #18.  This is dismally lower than the results achieved by grade 4 students from Hong Kong (#2) and Singapore (#3) who shared the top three positions with Russia (#1).

Amazingly, the structure of the educational system of both Russia and the United States are essentially the same. Both were patterned after the educational system in Germany although each one has made some modifications through the years.

Compulsory education in Russia is for 11 years and starts at the age of 6 up to 17 years old and consists of Primary, Basic Secondary, and Upper Secondary. Primary school is for 4 years from Grade 1 to Grade 4. This is followed by 5-year Basic Secondary School (Grades 5 – 9). From Basic Secondary, the student takes the 2 year Upper Secondary school Grades 10 – 11).

Compulsory education in the United States spans 12 years (longer than Russia by 1 year) starting at the age of 5 to 18 years old. Elementary School is for 6 years and starts at Kindergarten to Grade 5. This is followed by 3 years of Middle School from Grade 6 to Grade 8. After which, the students spend 4 years in High School from Grade 9 to Grade 12. Elementary and Middle School comprise the primary education and High School represents the Secondary level.

With very little difference in the educational system of both countries, one can only wonder why
Russians students are faring better than American students in Math, Science, and Reading standardized global achievement tests.