In a survey that challenges widely held stereotypes, U.S. students rate their schools higher and take more business, computer and economics classes than Japanese youngsters do.
The Junior Achievement-Gallup International Youth Survey of 750 American and 790 Japanese junior and senior high school students released Friday found:- 56 percent of U.S. students say they have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in public schools, compared with 44 percent of Japanese.
- More U.S. students than Japanese students claim they are "very interested" in studying math, arts and music, science and business. Japanese interest exceeds that of Americans only in social studies and history - 36 percent to 33 percent - and foreign language study - 43 percent to 31 percent; - Nine out of 10 American students think their high schools do a good job teaching math and English, while only 70 percent of Japanese felt their schools teach math well and 68 percent believe schools teach Japanese well.
- U.S. students are three times more likely to complete business or economics courses than Japanese students are: 54 percent of U.S. students say they've taken such courses and 29 percent say they plan to. Among Japanese, 18 percent say they've taken such classes and 20 percent say they plan to.
- 41 percent of American youngsters polled have studied computer science and 23 percent say they plan to, while 12 percent of Japanese have studied computers and 23 percent say they plan to.
"Working with computers does not play much of a role in the Japanese school," said Merry White, a sociologist at Boston University who has studied Japanese education. She said Japanese teachers see computers as robbing them of classroom time. She added that Japanese youngsters generally learn computer literacy at home.
- On the other hand, just 8 percent of U.S. students say they've taken calculus, compared with 27 percent of Japanese youngsters.
The poll, conducted by telephone last February, drew from a nationally representative sample of youngsters from both countries. It aimed to measure student attitudes toward money, schools, businesses and other institutions. The margin of sampling error ranged from plus or minus two to four percentage points, depending on the number of respondents.
The survey shows U.S. students surprisingly optimistic about their schools and themselves compared with their Japanese counterparts. The findings thus apparently place American students' perceptions squarely at odds with the many critiques leveled at U.S. public education during the past decade.
But one critic said the survey may indicate that American students are more deluded about their schools.