US documentary extols superiority of Indian education system

By Maitreyee Boruah, IANS,

Bangalore : Even as a large number of Indians spend millions of rupees every year to pursue higher education in the United States, India’s school education has inspired a documentary by an American businessman who believes it is superior to that of his country.

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“The film clearly indicates that Indian and Chinese education systems are better than American. In the highly competitive 21st century, India and China are providing better education to their children than the US,” contends Robert A. Compton, a venture capitalist, who is executive producer of the documentary.

Titled “Two Million Minutes”, the 187-minute documentary was screened in Bangalore recently, the first screening in India. The documentary has been screened over 50 times in the US, including at Harvard Law School, in the last one year and has received a mixed reaction.

The documentary features six high school students – two each from India, China and the US – talking about the kind of education systems available in their countries.

“Regardless of nationality, as soon as a student completes the eighth grade, they have approximately four years or two million minutes to prepare for college and ultimately a career. Thus, high school is a crucial period in shaping the life of a student,” Compton told the media at the screening here.

The film examines through these students the kind of education they are getting in their respective countries and how it will further shape the economy of their country in the 21st century, he added.

“The film which we have been screening in the US has generated a public debate across America. The film clearly shows that higher education system in India and China is well ahead of the US in preparing highly competitive and skilled people, compared to the US,” Compton said.

Bangalore was chosen for the India launch of the DVD as the documentary features two students from the city – Rohit Sridharan and Apoorva Uppala from St. Paul’s English School.

The two American students are Neil Ahrendt and Brittany Brechbuhl from Carmel High School, Indianapolis, and the Chinese students are Jin Ruizhang and Hu Xiaoyuan from the Shanghai Nanyang Model High School, Shanghai.

The documentary chronicles their daily lives, with the students giving an account of how they prioritise their time, what they learn and how well prepared they are to take advantage of the opportunities ahead.

“Whereas in India and China, the students are fully focussed on their academics and get little time to pursue their other dreams, in America the students get a chance to take it easy, when it comes to competition,” said Compton.

The film says that India and China have made dramatic leaps in educating their middle classes, each comparable in size to the entire US population. Compared to the US, China now produces eight times more scientists and engineers, while India puts out up to three times as many as the US.

“Meanwhile, the US needs to be worried about a few facts – like less than 40 percent of US students take a science course more rigorous than general biology, and a mere 18 percent take advanced classes in physics, chemistry or biology,” said Compton, adding that in India and China, the focus is more on science and mathematics, which is a good sign in today’s competitive world.

He also said that China was giving due importance to entrepreneurship education in the curriculum, thus revolutionising its entire economy.

“India and the US need to learn from China and its education system, especially on entrepreneurship education.”

Asked if an account of the daily life of three high school boys and three girls was enough to judge the three education systems, Compton said these students were selected on the basis of performance in both academics and extra-curricular activities.

He said he decided to make the documentary after being impressed by the kind of education at school level during a visit to India in 2005.

“I was amazed by the Indian education system and the progress it has made in recent times. When compared with the US education system, our research found that the Indian education system is ahead. That gave me an idea of coming up with a film,” Compton said.