Theory Vs Practical: The education system in India versus the USA

“I want to be an actress when I am older “, said 10-year-old Kiara H. “ I am a dramatic person”.

“She does not like math or science much”, her dad told me.

“I would always urge her to practice math problems, but those are too boring for her”.

Her siblings are  not interested in science or math either. She adds that her brother, Andy, loves to play video games and is an expert in rigging up gaming equipment; however, that passion does not translate into an interest in science. He recently earned a spot in a study program in France and is excited to learn the language in its country of origin. Their youngest sister, Di, is a talented gymnast and wants to study history.

In my class at CSU Northridge, there are more English majors than Math majors and more Music majors than Science Majors. The United States has their share of top-notch universities and they are still world leaders in the fields of science, technology, and medicine.

How come their school and college students have such little interest in math or science?

Dr. Norman Herr, a Professor at Cal State University at Northridge, has a theory.

He says that every year, many freshmen declare a science or math major. They are optimistic about a career in a STEM(Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) field. However, when they first get their grades at college, they are disheartened. They change fields, sometimes to a field like Psychology. Professor Herr thinks the whole problem is due to the students’ weak foundation in High School math and science. In subjects like Physics, Chemistry, and Math, you cannot build anything upon a weak foundation and students whose basics are not strong enough, they fall further and further behind and ultimately end up switching majors.


Dr. Norman Herr, Professor, CSUN

In comparison, all Indian children seem to be born to take on the challenges of science and math as careers.  Whether it is twelve-year-old Arun, fifteen-year-old Mousumi or ten-year-old Arka from India; all of them want to be doctors or engineers when they grow up. You are simply not good enough if you prefer a stream otherwise. In a world full of engineers and doctors, all Indian students strive to be the best of their lot by excelling in all subjects ‘science’.

In my years of being a student in India, and then transitioning to being a student in the United States, via a career as an engineer, I have learnt a couple of interesting things. The education systems of these two  countries differ fundamentally and  produce very different learning outcomes for their students.

Inherent Competitiveness

Life for the average American student is fairly more laid back. They are in competition with themselves and strive to be the best version that they can be. Life choices and resources are more abundant in the States, allowing the average student to take a more relaxed approach to learning.

An Indian student, in comparison, starts competing against peers, from very early in life. It almost always comes down to competing against thousands of potential students for a single spot in a prestigious institute, like the Indian Institute of Technology. For the large Indian middle class, the choice is to either make the cut or endure a life of very limited opportunities.

The Private School Advantage


In the United States, most parents choose to send their kids to a public school. The public school system is solidly set up in all states, providing free for all, k-12 education and is under the governance of local school districts that draw their funding from the local, state and federal governments. There are private schools, but they are significantly less in number. They are free to choose their own curriculum. Only rich parents can afford to choose the prohibitively expensive private education. Some choose a specific school or home-school their kids for religious reasons.

The Indian middle class rarely place their faith in government funded schools.

There is a system of public education in place, but the schools are rarely functional and in good hands. The majority of middle-class kids attend private schools that have the English language as the medium of instruction. They are expensive (less so than private education in the States), but parents put the education of their children before everything else. Taking a vacation or buying something expensive takes a back seat to being able to afford a good education for the kids .

About Meenakshi Ganguly

A mom, teacher, student, engineer, explorer or culinary arts, obsessive reader and infrequent a word an eccentric!



Meenakshi Ganguly

A mom, teacher, student, engineer, explorer or culinary arts, obsessive reader and infrequent a word an eccentric!

2 thoughts on “Theory Vs Practical: The education system in India versus the USA

  • November 27, 2016 at 8:54 am

    Hello dear meenakshi
    Its a very intresting read and well put up with the realities of today ‘ education system. We r ourselves looking for admission in mainstream school for our daughter and so confused with a plethora of them in the market. They all are now affiliated to International boards and boasts that its a healthy mix of CBSE or and IB curriculam with lot of emphasis in practice learning and feild trips. Srudents will be allowed to choose a single board after say grade 5 and pursue that till the end. Things are slowly changing but its effect will be visible in next decade or so.

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