What do schools actually teach? We asked in 15 countries.

by Sasha Alyson

We conducted a Twitter poll in 15 countries. Here are the results:

We started by targetting only youth (ages 13 to 24), and recorded those results. Then we added adults and more youth, aiming to get at least 1500 responses per country, with youth (who have the most recent experience) being about half the sample.

In 14 of 15 countries, North and South, poorer and richer, a majority answered that what schools mostly do is prepare children to “Pass the test.” In Japan, the only exception, that also got the most votes, but it was under 50%.

In 13 countries, there was no significant difference between youth and mixed-ages. In Egypt, youth were slightly more likely to believe schools focus on other things, not just passing the test, but the difference was too small to be sure this was statistically significant.

In India, there was a clear difference: Youth were more optimistic that schools focus on other things, not just passing the test. Several also mentioned that schools had improved in recent years.

Below are results, followed by a sampling of comments from each country, when we got them.

Countries: Australia, Brazil, Egypt, Germany, India, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Thailand, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States, Zimbabwe

Australia

• They teach how to be a government slave.

• Kids in Australia just don’t read enough at primary school and that surely affects them in so many ways at high school

• I’m currently in yr 11 in Aus and in the most humble way possible, my English is phenomenal and I’ve hardly touched a book since I was really young so I doubt literacy is the main issue in the education system.

• Marxist ideology and ‘woke’ leftist group-think isn’t in your survey?

• Not really a schools job to teach people skills, thats learnt from parents/family etc.. Pass the test is vague, only leaves two options, given reading and writing skills have dropped significantly in Australia over the years… There’s really only one answer for Aus.

• ‘Pass the test’ is not vague. It succinctly sums up exactly what it means.

Brazil

• Definitely pass the test

• Nowadays, in public schools, teachers don’t really teach anything. In the past, I think it was to pass the test.

Egypt

Above: Early results when only youth (age 13-24) were voting
Final results, with mixed ages

• They do be treating us like a computer that you can save anything on at any time.

• They only teach us how to pass the final Exam, There are a lot of students even in universities can’t read well

• Only passing the test! It’s like killing the creation of the student

• The students are literally taught how to answer a question and to memorise everything. Plus the exam questions are also designed to test just that if they remember. As for understanding it isnt always necessary depending the subject

Germany

• It was “solve problems” in 1980s when I went to school. But became “pass the test.”

• I voted learning and writing. I see most people say “pass the test”. That is what I feel German university is like. Bulk learning, taking the test, forgetting.

• Schools give a broad range of basic knowledge. Be it history, grammar, religion… not so much creativity.

• Pass the test, plus lots of indoctrination.

• There is this saying “Nicht fürs Leben, für die Schule lernen wir!”. I forgot almost everything I once learned in school because I never needed it later on.

• Our education system strongly favours people who just learn information by heart over people who try to understand and make sense of a complex problem. It’s all about passing tests, nothing else.

• As a German I have to say pass the test. U dont have to understand the things u learn, u just have to remember them as fast as possible. There is no chance for people that need more time to understand things or people that are bad at maths but great at biology, thats why it sucks

• Agreed, it’s pass the test. Teachers oftentimes seem afraid of questions because actually discussing things takes time and you’ve got to finish everything on the curriculum because test!

• I’m German and went to German schools for 12 years. It’s to pass the test. No question about it. Hardly anything you learn here benefits you in any way or form. It’s a whole bunch of mostly irrelevant factual knowledge. Actually useful skills however, are hardly taught at all.

India

Above: Early results when only youth (age 13-24) were voting
Final results, with mixed ages

• Things are steadily moving better sir. We have scrapped tests from our school curriculum from K to 7, for instance. Learning from our roots, the Gurukula way of (holistic) learning- deveopment of skills, faculties of mind, emotional quotient, M(us)A(rt)D(an) & stamina building.

• I am an Indian and I won’t lie. All the parents and teachers are stuck up on teaching their students and children to pass the test and not learning about practical skills. It’s all about passing the test so you can get a good job with a good pay.

• So u come with new tailor made.. foreigners have destroyed our reach Vedic heritage and gurukul education system. We will bounce back we was world guru and will retain the glory. By burning destroying and restrictions has not killed our wisdom. Science will stuck if we don’t move

• Schools in India want parrots, not inquisitive humans.

• The goal here is to score 90%+ concept doesn’t matter they will make you remember the whole book. That’s why many people with good ranks lack practical skills here.

• In my school, they teach how to score more than 93% in board exams.

• At the moment, it’s really hard to choose any one of the options….from past 6 years the education system has been changing for good!… It’s not only theory but also now it focuses on understanding of concepts and skills but also the educators are introducing higher lever subjects right from lower grades for creating a strong base and build up a thoughtful way to choose the student’s career path in future!

• Learn to ask questions, this is most important for India else we are just producing slaves who just know to follow a command.

• Most schools don’t let the students choose their favourite subject to study. All parents want their children to take either Science stream or Commerce stream, following the bandwagon thst their children will get a good job with a good pay after they finished their B Sc or B Com.

• Schools must let the students choose their subject according to their interest! Some love history while some love science. After 10 years no one remember what they taught in sci classes except the people who chose it as their specialization. I’m one example.

• If you had put “Pass the test” as number 1 option, we could have saved time not having to read the other options.

• I have studied in India and US and I can tell you in India it is mainly about passing the test

Japan

• teaching in japan rn and there is a never ending parade of tests and all of my students keep setting their goals to “get good points on the next test”

• They teach kids to conform.

Kenya

• This will be a land slide.

• In light of the fact that the education system in Kenya is currently in a transition, from the 8-4-4 system to CBC curriculum, your findings may not reveal the true picture. Most voters are likely to be beneficiaries of 8-4-4 system with little or no knowledge of the other.

• This question is unfair… Kenya has old system and new system (CBC)… So which of the two is your poll based on ? [Answer: The intent was for people to say what is happening now. I’m frm the U.S., every administration introduces a new education program with a catchy name. The only thing that changes is that the next administration uses a different catchy name.]

• None of the above.. I don’t even know what I was being taught because it’s useless to me now at this moment.

• You need to be specific because now we have 2 education systems running concurrently. 8-4-4 system and CBC-Competency Based Curriculum. Both have very different outcomes and also have completely different modes of teaching. So please rephrase your question bearing that in mind.

• What has the new system added… Its fruits are yet to be felt or seen.

Mexico

• I think you should be aware that there is a big difference between private and public schools in Mexico, which can affect responses greatly.

• Just learn stuff as how it is “written” and pass tests without thinking. I am Mexican, and they never cared about teaching you to question everything or to analyze stuff, neither how to solve problems. What is important for the system, is that you follow orders without asking.

• I’m Mexican and in almost every school they teach you how to pass the test ‘cause “results matter” there are few schools in which you can learn how to think by yourself and how to solve problems.Public schools tend to teach just to pass the exam, while private schools not so much

• In Mexico, Education Authorities don’t give a damn if students learn or not. In public and private schools, no student fails. That is the directive. They only care about good statistics, not good results. In a lot of cases, teachers are not qualified for the job.

• I’m from Mexico and it depends: Private schools are more into a “building relationships (meet the right people)”. Public schools it’s for sure “Pass the test” cause they are over-crowded.

• And now beside ‘pass the test’, children are receiving comunism propaganda in their public schools. From bad to worst the basic education in my country, Mexico…

• I am talking about public schools… Privates are way different and usually you find ones that teach you well the skills.

• And not even to pass the test. This stupid Mexican government leaded by the crazy AMLO, changed the way our children are evaluated in basic school. Public education bureau stated children will pass to the next level even though they don’t have enough knowledge or enough skills.

• Our educational system was in ruins but now is virtually non existent. We’ve gone from bad to worse in less than 2 years and all signs indicate that it will be even worse 2 years from now.

Nigeria

• The teachers/lecturers in Nigeria don’t actually care if the pupils/students understand what they’re being taught, they just want them to pass the test/exam by any means necessary and that includes cheating without getting caught.

• The school system in Nigeria has changed , we don’t have teachers who teach to develop skills rather to ensure they pass and move over to the next class, private school are worse because of money fail or pass they move over, Christian religions schools are the best so far.

• The British really left this country in Shambles. We blame everything on Satan. We need to go back to the days when Africans didn’t believe in the Devil, prior to Foreign invasion of our mother land . This is calling a spade, a spade. #ColonizersFault

• Again teachers are so poorly treated and so poorly paid. And effect of this is that most people who naturally have a passion for teaching would rather not be teachers and those who just seek employment take up teaching as a last resort.

• As school curriculum does not train people to become leaders in their field, it trains them to look for who will employ them. Parents don’t encourage their children to follow their passion no they are encouraged to follow where parents think the money is.

• Our leaders are selfish and the only way to force them to do the right things is to amend the constitution and make it compulsory for their children to use our public schools. Same should go for a healthcare. Anyone not willing should resign from office.

• They’re no longer teaching you to pass the test.. A child gets promoted to the next class even if he/she performed woefully in tests and exams. This practice is more common in private schools where the parents have paid huge school fees. It’s about the money now..nothing else.

• It’s about passing the exam in the teachers exact words.

• If you really care about the zoo called Nigeria, you talk about the nations with different common value systems being forced to be in one country. Nigeria as a country cannot achieve anything meaningful to the world, let your next topic be about Biafra freedom. Biafra is the way!

• Pass the test to my understanding means, you even have the skills of memorization, comprehension and application. It’s an advanced level of learning. Reading and writing are the basic skills we are first introduced to…and learning never grows beyound that for most people.

• Education here in most schools is like politics… You do anything to win… (Pass)

• The teachers don’t even understand why they have to teach English or mathematics . Eni Mo way , lo mo iwe.. And it’s evident in our society ,the way we handle issues . Wuru wuru to the answer . Just get the money and frustrate the one who is paying.

• In Nigerian schools today passing exams and acquiring certificates has become far more important than acquiring the education itself. The emphasis by employers on certificates is the primary reason for this and the government is not helping matters either.

• Most of our schools are poorly equipped to train our children. I know of a school where the students needed a microscope for practicals and didn’t have even one, instead they were taught “this is what you would see if you looked into a microscope”.

Philippines

• A lot of people really lack reading comprehension too.

• The focus in the Philippines is rote memorization. There seems to be a lack of critical thinking and deduction skills.

• Education during my time is different from education now. Then, we were taught of the concept first, then we think critically, last is you remember (here is where memorization takes over)…Today it’s the opposite cycle. Students care more about passing than actually learning.

• Wow so many for pass the test, I would like to know where these people are from as down in the south it is very people oriented.

• If you can sit, you can pass. Period.

• Pass the test! Parrot out answers to questions. This is why I don’t do typical interviews when I hire, as they come in the ready scripted answers to the questions they expect. I chat with them. If they can converse off script, they get hired.

South Africa

• Sooooooooo sad

[No other comments]

• Thailand

[Thailand has a large ex-pat population, and most Thais do not know English, so many of these comments appear to come from foreigners who live there. This does not invalidate them – some of these people work as teachers – but it does mean they have a different perspective than Thai citizens.]

• To brainwash us and suppress our rights and freedom of expression!

• Thai school don’t teach how to live or solve problem bu most teachers busy to do assessment documents.

• I studied about reading and writing to pass the test! I didn’t like to answer a question or even asked a question if I didn’t understand with teachers! When I studied aboard, I had to push myself to raise my hand in class otherwise I wouldn’t get the extra participation score!

• I asked two Thais moments ago: Reading, writing, religion, history–especially the royal family.

• Thai schools will test your ability to accurately repeat what’s written and punish whoever thinks outside of the box.

• Follow authority and learn the national anthem

• Yes! Yes! Yes! I agree. It’s so sad That they never asked us that do you understand? . They just keeps to command homework and taking tests us. Society pressure us into been us what he hoped. So tired

• To obey

• Thai schools don’t test how much we understand, they test us how much we can remember.

• Thai schools don’t teach the kids to pass the test, they cook the book in case the kids fail.

United Kingdom

• How do I vote none of the above

• If this is about primary schools then it would be the second option. If it’s high school they don’t really teach you what you need to know for the future as I’ve not been told what my rights are how to make a cv nothing to properly prepare for adult life.

United States

• The liberals want American children to know people in order to get ahead. That’s not the way it works if you don’t know what you’re doing you can’t do anything correctly. “ if all else fails read the directions first!”

• Pass the test sadly. Although I had some great teachers here and there that taught those other things.

• American schools teach you how to pass a test and that is ALL

Zimbabwe

• I think the educational system has been evolving, in stages and around technological, economical and political developments. 1.Post-Colonial, era the major population had no grasp of the 3 Rs, hence the focus to teach those…. 2. The country’s economical collapse and loss of the Bread Basket title: an era that saw the Educational System making an effort to develop practical skills through Agricultural, schools and schemes i.e. 3. The country’s technological advancement are archaic in comparison, and the new curriculum is an effort to teach problem solving skills…. Passing will always be a thread that runs through all of them, important or not.

• Pass the final exam no doubt. Have been there and i know it. They want a great record for their school thus leak papers.

• But @ my College they teach us how to solve problems

• This is a essay question, to respond to it thru a vote is to do us Zimbabweans a major injustice, to just say pass the test without elaborating is an insult to our hard working poorly paid teachers.

• It has strongly been learning to pass the tests. This is how it is in many African countries, in Nigeria it is mostly to read and write or speak queens English. A norm in African society. We hardly care about skills development especially at grassroots learning.


Limitations of the poll

This is not a scientific, random sampling of the population of each country. It represents the impressions of people who use Twitter, and chose to answer a poll about education.

Even taking that into account, however, the results are striking. Overall, most people in diverse countries believe their schools focus on “teaching for the test” and they’re not happy about it.

Poll details

You cannot send a normal tweet to only selected countries. But if you pay for a “promotion” (and the cost isn’t high) you can choose countries, and much else. For this poll, I wrote 15 versions of the basically same tweet, and directed each to just one country. I also selected age ranges, as explained above. I did not use any other criteria.

These results should not be used to compare school systems in different countries. These reflect what people see in their country currently compared with their idea of what schools should teach, or of the recent past. For example, the U.K.and Nigeria don’t look too different in these scores, but here’s what one man wrote to us:

In Nigeria I learned how to read to pass, in UK, I learned critical analysis, understanding the subject matter, developing people skills and of course, solving the problem.

My hunch is that the systems are quite different in the UK and Nigeria, but the trend in both countries is toward “passing the test,” and many are concerned about that.

Responses from India, alone, showed some cause for optimism, so we followed up by asking Indians if they felt their schools were getting better, and if so, why. Unfortunately, the comments we received did not support that optimism. Here they are: Comments from India.

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