Comparison of the culture of education in the United States with that of China and Mexico



The purpose of this paper is to compare the Cultural effect of education on the United States as compared to China and Mexico.  It gives a brief history of education and shows the various areas where there are differences between the United States’ and the two countries’ education system.

A Comparison of the Culture of Education in the United States with that of China and Mexico

Education is not a recent discovery or practice; learning began hundreds of thousands of years ago.  Children learned through self-directed play and exploration (Gray, 2008).  Education is, therefore, a culture that has developed over time.

Brief History

Learning began during the evolution of man when he was a hunter and gatherer.  Adults in those times allowed children to explore as they recognized it as a way of learning.  As children became older, they would accompany their parents when going hunting and gathering, as a way of learning the skill.  Later on, with the invention of agriculture, there was a need to adjust to the new way of living.  People now owned land, creating a difference in status between those who owned land and those who did not.  Those without land had to work for the landowners (Gray, 2008).  It is during this time that slavery began; landowners became wealthier with the help of the slaves.  Children had to help in taking care of their siblings while others worked for the landowners to be able to contribute to their big families.

Children learned how to be obedient and submit to the will of their masters.  They received this education then.  However, it failed, as children could not resist the urge to play and explore.  In the 19th century, England was the first to pass laws limiting child labor.  Germany developed the first schools and had laws that required children to attend school.  In the mid 17th century, Massachusetts became the first colony in the United States to mandate schooling (Gray, 2008).  Employers saw this as a way of creating better workers.  Children stopped working and attended school, although they still found it hard to adapt to learning.  They found the methods of learning such as repetition and memorization very tedious, just like toiling.  Educators had to come up with ways to inculcate learning culture into the children.  The introduction of punishments was one of the ways.  Nonetheless, play was allowed during breaks.  Methods of punishment during labor, such as regular beatings, were adopted in schools.  Public schooling gradually evolved in the 19th and 20th century, with more humane and fewer corporal methods of discipline.  Lessons were now more flexible and the curriculum expanded.  Play had been introduced as a way of making children enjoy lessons (Gray, 2008).  Although education is common in most parts of the world, the education structure and systems are different in most countries.

The United States versus China and Mexico

System of organization

United States system is 5-3-4.  Primary and secondary education takes twelve years to complete.  Elementary school begins at age six and runs for five years.  This is followed by secondary school, which is divided, into middle school and high school.  After completion of high school, students are awarded a certificate or diploma.  On the other hand, China’s education system is composed of three main levels, primary, secondary and post-secondary level.  Primary level comprises elementary education.  Secondary is divided into lower and upper level, the lower level being middle school and the upper level is high school.  The system is 6-3-3, whereby 1st to 6th grade belongs to the elementary school, 7th to 9th grade belong to the middle school and 10th to 12th grade belong to the high school.  Similar to China, most Mexican schools apply the 6-3-3 education system; that is, six years in primary school, three years in secondary school and the last three years in high school.  Those with the intention to attend college go to technical high schools while the others go to vocational schools.

Type of education

In the United States, high school students are required to take courses in English, Mathematics, Science and social science.  They are also required to take foreign language courses or physical education.  There is also the option of taking music, art and theatre courses.  In China, secondary school begins at age twelve to seventeen.  Students are not allowed to choose subjects or what they want to learn.  Standardized textbooks composed and published by the government are used instead.  Students are given exercises with standardized answers, unlike in the United States where there are no standard answers and, students are allowed to find answers themselves.  Furthermore, in the United States, research is an effective learning tool utilized right from elementary school (Wang, 2015).  Students are given exercises that require them to source answers from different books.  In China, individual research begins when one reaches college.  In Mexico, secondary education is divided into lower secondary (Secundaria) and upper secondary.  Secundaria is for children aged twelve to sixteen years.  At this level, the curriculum focuses on sharpening the students’ Spanish language (both oral and written) and mathematics.  An average of five hours is spent on language-related instruction and another five hours spent on mathematics per week (Mexico, n.d.).  Physics and Chemistry are taught in lower secondary to first graders while third graders are taught physics, chemistry, and biology as separate courses.  Foreign languages such as French and English are also taught.

Size of class

In America, the average number of students per class is twenty-seven, while in China the average number of students is forty-nine (Foster, 2016). This means that teachers in the United States can have a one on one interaction with the students, making learning more effective. However, this is not the case in China as this kind of interaction with the teacher is impossible due to the big numbers in classes. Students are therefore left with the task of learning most the content by themselves. In Mexico, the number of students per class is slightly lower than the United States and China. Each class accommodates twenty students (Rampell, 2009). The small number makes it easier for students to interact effectively with teachers during learning (Nelson et al., 2001).


In America, a student’s progress is determined by exams as well as a host of other factors such as co-curricular activities. In college applications, a student’s Grade Point Average( GPA) is one of the factors that come into play. The GPA represents a student’s accumulated grades. They consider co-curricular activities such as scholastic clubs, athletic teams, student government and philanthropic clubs. Participation in such activities is very important during application to college. Moreover, students take a Scholastic Aptitude Test ( SAT) in their final year in high school. The test focuses on critical reading, mathematics and writing skills (Fallows, 2015). There is a minimum score a student must achieve to receive admission to the university. An essay may also be required as part of the application process. In China, in order to join college or university, students are required to take a national standardized exam. The National Higher Education Entrance Examining; that is, Gaokao, is taken nationwide on 7th June each year. The exam tests literature, mathematics, and foreign language. Students are admitted to universities based on their choice of university, the threshold of admittance to the university, and their exam scores (Fang, 2016). In Mexico, students are also required to have a minimum GPA from high school.


In America, the time between classes is as short as possible and students have to move from one class to the next and, at the same time, still pick books from their lockers. Teachers are also expected to be in the hallways during these movements, as most cases of misbehavior such as fighting occur at this time. The level of discipline in American schools is therefore usually very low. In China, it is the complete opposite. Students here can work with minimum supervision. Respect for teachers is practiced by everyone in China. There is a high regard for teachers in China. For example, there is a popular phrase among the Chinese, that “He who is my teacher for a day is my father for a lifetime”(Wang, 2015). In Mexico, respect for elders is an age-old tradition (Faith,2008).  Discipline in Mexican schools is therefore very high compared to the discipline in the United States.

Element of creativity

In America, the students are more creative in comparison to China and Mexico.The American education system focuses on how the knowledge students receive can be used in real life situations; they focus more on the practical part rather than just learning theory. American teachers assess student’s creativity, leadership, and cooperation skills as well as teamwork.This is emphasized through the requirements they have put in place. Students are required to take part in co-curricular activities such as sports and innovative clubs. There are no standard answers to questions thus students are allowed and encouraged to research and criticize ideas and challenge concepts. In China, students are accustomed to learning through repetition and memorization. All students follow a standard curriculum developed by the government. The system focuses on knowledge accumulation and understanding of the knowledge systems and structures (Lin, 2014). In Mexico, the method of learning is almost similar to that of China. The Mexican curriculum emphasizes on reading, writing, and oral expression.

School duties

In American schools, students do not take part in duties such as cleaning, serving meals or even electing monitors. The students only participate in learning activities and extracurricular activities. Such duties are considered as a form of violation of child rights. In China, the case is totally different. Students in Chinese schools are allotted duties which are mainly performed after classes. These duties include cleaning of their classes, cleaning of the school compound, assisting teachers where necessary, and serving meals during lunch break. A representative or a monitor is usually selected, by the students or their teachers, to be in charge when the teachers are not around, and ensure that their colleagues are always on their best behavior. The class monitors also act as a bridge between the students, teachers and the school administration. These representatives can be identified from the rest through special bands, badges or uniforms with colors which are different from the others. In Mexico, the same system of assigning duties to students is employed. Students participate in activities such as cleaning of classroom windows, floors and corridors, watering of plants within the school compound, the collection of papers loitering the school, and so on. They also have student representatives who address their issues to the school administration.

Allocation of textbooks

The American government provides free education as well as free textbooks for its citizens until grade twelve. However, the students are not allowed to put any markings, highlights or write in the textbooks. They also have lockers in school where they can keep their books and do not have to carry them to and from school every day. In China, the students have to buy their own textbooks and carry them to school every day depending on the lessons on the timetable. In Mexico, students are also given textbooks, but only up to grade six, after which the parents have to pay for the textbooks.

In conclusion, while the United States has allocated funds for every student education and provides the necessary tools such as textbooks, it still has shortcomings in the methods of teaching and imparting of knowledge. While the system focuses on an education that encourages independence and self-reliance, it should also focus on instilling values such as responsibility, and respect for elders like the Chinese system. The looping system will also be helpful in promoting a more effective learning system. Teachers should be allowed at least one year or two with the students before changing the teachers. Mexico and China should also adopt an education system whereby learning is more practical rather than just repetition and memorization. They should also encourage creativity by providing a variety of reading and research material in their institutions. Students should not be limited to only using the standardized textbooks published and distributed by the government.

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