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Student Perspective: We Are Not the Same

By Justin Connors '21
Student Perspective: We Are Not the Same

NB: The names and countries of origin referenced here have been changed to protect student privacy.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko


If you look around a classroom long enough, certain people are likely to pop out at you. If you were ever one of my classmates, you might see a six-foot-tall Finnish boy with straw-like blond hair and a brilliant white smile or a four-foot-eleven-inch Chinese girl with dimples and long brown hair that she wears in a ponytail. To any passerby, these are two very different people. They look nothing alike and it would be fair to assume that they have a very different background.

Unfortunately, to educational systems worldwide, these students are the same. They are treated no different even when they hardly share a thing in common. While almost everyone can agree that no student should be treated differently by a teacher, I feel that this should only apply when dealing with negative interactions. Some students desperately need to be treated differently by their teachers. In fact, some even need to be taught differently if they are going to succeed at school.

In the ever-diversifying world that we live in, classrooms are becoming filled with more and more foreign students. With more foreign students come new friendships and learning opportunities but also some difficulties, mainly for those new students.

As you know, no two school systems are the same. This is something that seems obvious but is hardly taken into account by most schools, especially the ones that I have attended.

I’m currently a senior at the Walworth Barbour American International School in Israel and as this is my ninth school, I have seen my fair share of students who have faced challenges adjusting to the American system. As it happens, all nine of the schools that I have attended have followed the American system, regardless of what country the school was in. This means that I have seen students from all over the globe try and sometimes fail to adjust to the American way of learning—often with no help.

Two of those students that stick out to me are some of my best friends. When attending school in Mozambique, I befriended Ling, a Chinese girl from Hubei Provence, and Armo, a Finnish boy from the suburbs of Helsinki. Now, these two come from very different backgrounds, especially when it comes to education. Finnish students receive only around three hours per week of homework (Chepkemoi). Along with that, they don’t even take standardized tests, which were eliminated in 1982 (What). They are also taught many different learning skills such as team-work, adaptability, and problem-solving. Due in part to Finnish culture, students are even on a first-name basis with their teachers and are encouraged to challenge them in healthy, good-natured debates.

In contrast to Finnish students, Chinese students spend nearly 14 hours per week on just homework (Chepkemoi). This intense workload is geared towards preparing students for the Gaokao, the extremely difficult national exam that almost all Chinese students take at the end of their high school years (Ma). Due to the importance of doing well on this exam, rote memorization is the foundation of Chinese education, with learning skills such as teamwork and creativity are left by the wayside. Lastly, and as a result of Chinese culture, authority is not to be challenged (Says). Students are meant to listen and not to speak. Class participation is frowned upon, as it is seen as challenging the knowledge of one’s teacher.

Now that you have a glimpse into the pedagogy of these two nations, I feel it is important to explain the difficulties that my friends faced. Ling, who was used to endless quizzes and seemingly never-ending amounts of homework, had no problem with the academic side of things. In fact, she often told me that she didn’t feel challenged at all. If you didn’t know her personally though, you would never have guessed. Ling never spoke in class, even when we all knew that she had the answer long before us. She sat patiently at her desk waiting for someone else to answer. Often our teacher would become frustrated by Ling’s lack of participation, but no amount of frustration would make her lips move. When it came to group work as well, Ling was silent. She told me once that she didn’t know how to work in a group. “In China,” she said, “I do my work, and you do yours.”

Arno, on the other hand, had a very different issue. He excelled at all manner of projects and was a sought-after partner. He was also an avid class participant and would constantly but respectfully debate our teachers in and out of class. Alas, he struggled academically. Having grown up in Finland, he was used to short, break-filled school days with hardly any homework assignments and even fewer tests. He was not at all prepared for the American system, which in parallel to the Chinese system utilizes frequent examination and large amounts of homework to ensure that students retain information. He was always behind on assignments and usually scored pretty low on exams. It’s not that he wasn’t intelligent—he was always one of the smartest students—he just wasn’t programmed to spit out information like us other students.

Having read all of this, I hope that you’re starting to understand that something needs to be changed, or at least revisited when it comes to certain aspects of education. We, as students and teachers, need to find a way to make sure that everyone is still getting a quality education, even if they are no longer attending school in their home country.

Currently, I’m working on my Senior Research Project, which is attempting to do just that. After many hours of research, I’ve come to the conclusion that in order to make sure that every student is getting the education that they deserve, teachers must have access to information regarding their educational backgrounds. If a teacher doesn’t know how a student is used to learning, then how can they be expected to help them adjust to a new and often completely different pedagogy? Obviously, teachers cannot be expected to change their teaching methods to suit the needs of a single student, but they can’t also sit by and watch them suffer. Giving teachers this information can hopefully allow them to make small changes to ensure that, no matter where you are from and no matter where you live, your education will not be harmed.



Chepkemoi, Joyce. “Countries Who Spend the Most Time Doing Homework.” WorldAtlas, WorldAtlas, 4 July 2017,

Ma, Alexandra. “The Gaokao Is China's Notoriously Tough Entrance Exam, Which Can Also Get You into Western Universities - Check out Its Punishing Questions.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 5 June 2019,

Says, Amy, et al. “Most Difficult Problems for Chinese Students in American Universities.” zhang4921s Blog,


“What We Can Learn from Finland's Successful School Reform.” Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, 10 Dec. 2019,

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03/19/2021 - Vince M.
I enjoyed the read and commend Justin for his overall awareness and his consideration for his classmates. My initial thought after reading this was that of balance. I don't want to use the word extreme but with two opposite approaches to education and the outcomes described, it would seem meeting somewhere in the middle would be the logical approach. I understand there are different cultural expectations as to what constitutes the "best" approach or the wait for it...."more rigorous" approach, but meeting somewhere in the middle would have certainly benefited Ling and Arno.

Justin correctly pointed out that shifting methods to serve one student might not be optimal. I can speak from experience, that he is also right when he insinuates that teachers don't always have adequate background information on their students. A few notes in a file or database do not give us anything close to complete picture of a student's past or how they have learned in the past.

Having said that, we adapt. Teachers must adapt and students must adapt as well. We also learn from adapting to new routines and new methods. We learn about ourselves and we learn the positives and negatives of a particular methodology if we are even aware of it.

Josh has made a solid case for more balance and more digging into our students educational backgrounds to better kelp them learn and help them challenge themselves in ways that maybe they have been taught aren't important.