President Barack Obama said in March this year (2009) that he would like to increase the length of a school day and a school year to help the American kids compete in the world. Last year too, he had mentioned in his speech that the American children need to compete with the Indian and Chinese kids. The Education secretary, Arne Duncan, echoed his views – “You’re competing for jobs with kids from India and China. I think schools should be open six, seven days a week; 11, 12 months a year.”
Are Obama and Duncan right in thinking that the American children need to be more competitive? In a word, yes. Definitely. But what about them believing that increasing the length of a school day and year would lead to the children studying more and being competitive? Again, in a word, doomed. This proposal, I think, is based on the assumption that the more time you spend at school, the more you study (or spend on academic activities). But is it necessarily true? No, it is not. While it’s true that the result of an activity is a function of the time spent on that activity, including studying, it’s a misconception that children would study more if they stay at school longer.
In the past, studies have been conducted with children in advanced countries across the world and it has been found that Singapore children score the highest on standardized tests though they spend lesser time in school than American children. India and China were not included in those studies so data is not available for Indian and Chinese students.
What increases competitiveness is competition. And the fear of competition, failure, and not getting where you want to be. The American children have always had it easy. All physical amenities from the day they are born. There is nothing to aim higher for. If you already have a house and a car, other things are pretty much way cheap. If you have a stable job, you can easily keep paying installments on the car and the mortgage payments on the house. There is a small fraction of very talented people who start up companies, help grow businesses, and in the process create lots of jobs, which are available to the rest of the population. When the children know that they are going to have everything easily, there is nothing to go after, and hence, there is no will or necessity to be competitive.