U.S. teens rank 35th in math and 29th in science worldwide. Is this solely because our education system is broken? Or are there fundamental differences in mindset between young people in America and those elsewhere that explain this?
It has become clear that spending money on education—e.g. the over $2B that the Gates Foundation has invested in American schools—will not fix the problem. Our mission here was to shed light on cultural differences that may be at the root of this.
We conducted interviews—using the interrotron—with 12-to-16-year-olds in Sydney, Helsinki, Shanghai and two American Cities—Los Angeles and Minneapolis, as well as a small number of parents and teachers in those cities (the four countries highlighted at left).
Here’s what we found:
• Kids in other countries care more about academic success and less about everything else.
• Kids in the U.S. care more about sports and social life than those in other countries, by a huge margin.
• In other countries, there is less social stigma associated with high academic performance and, specifically, interest in math and science—i.e. it’s cool to be smart.
Meet Okko, a typical boy from Helsinki.
Here's a 3-minute look at what we found across all four countries.