School’s Back in Session: Who Hits the Books the Hardest?

If you have ever been a student, then you have definitely complained about how much work is assigned and how unbearably tiring school is. Personally, I have studied in both a local (Chinese) and an international school and studied in the United States for extended summer school, meeting students from all over the world. It became apparent complaining about the workload of a student is a universal phenomenon for those enrolled in any educational system.

Now that school is back in session it’s not just homework, but extracurricular activities students take part in. With this in mind, who has the most work when it comes to comparing international and local students or is it the same amount of work with a different approach?

With students from different backgrounds, there is always some form of debate about who has a more stressful schedule relating to school. Each would state that they have more on their plate than the other and argue that their educational system is much more intense. This disagreement never seems to be resolved, because one side always fails to understand the other. Only their personal experiences matter to them.

It is difficult to measure the amount of work each student has accurately due to the expansive differences in schools and curriculums. This month’s edition of HERE! compares each school system in hopes of reaching a common understanding
between the two.

The Student’s View
Frequently, when students from local schools meet students from international schools, the debate of who has the most work is often one-sided. The local students inevitably have the biased idea that the international students do not have to study nearly as hard. They also think that all the students do is post on social media. They tend to believe that the international students have a lot of money and time, because they often see them with friends, out of school and even traveling long-distances, seemingly with ease. The academic competition among local students in the pursuit of higher education is comparatively tougher. According to a paper published by World Education Services (WES), an estimated “13,000 regular high schools in China admitted nearly 8 million new students on top of 24 million existing enrollments.”

WES said that this is about 56.2 percent of the upper secondary (school) population. Local students base part of their academic future and success on what high school they are accepted into.

The stereotype that the local students have of the international students is that their schoolwork is practically non-existent, they do not study at all and spend their time doing non-academic activities.

International students are more active on social media, but this can be attributed to the fact that the majority of local students are not allowed to have their phones while they reside at school five and a half days out of the week.

“The stereotype that the local students have of the international students is that their schoolwork is practically
non-existent.”

International students are encouraged to participate in collaborative, and often times, individualistic out-of-school activities, whenever they get the opportunity. This teaches them to step away from the standard academic mindset and think out of the box, while they learn to approach situations from different angles. Generally, international students learn by embracing what life has to offer outside as well as inside the classroom.

The work international students do daily follows design theory and inquiry methodology, according to Kelly Kramer, director of ISD. “It is learning at a much deeper level with a focus on creative and flexible thinking versus rote memorization of discrete facts,” Kramer said.

The Time Difference
International students have fewer school hours than local students. One striking difference that’s always brought up when people are discussing the two education systems is local high schools have an average of 10 hours of school a day—it can even exceed 12 hours. However, international schools strictly have only 8-hour days. In the traditional Chinese school, students must wake up at 6 am and go to class at 7 am and then study all the way to 9 pm. Of course, there is time to eat lunch, usually 2 hours, with students taking that time to rest. There are also breaks between classes. They are also given time for dinner. For the sake of convenience with this schedule, students at local schools live on campus during the week. In contrast with the hours of a traditional Chinese school, students have only 7 hours in international schools (not including lunchtime). Each day, they wake up at around 7 am to sit down and enjoy their breakfast then arrive at school at 8 am for the first class. Throughout the day students
have breaks in between classes and a one-hour-long lunch break. That is when they can utilize their time to be productive and complete unfinished works. At 3 pm school ends and they head home. Although, on special occasions, some can stay after school for clubs and other activities that are offered to students who are genuinely interested in and sign up for voluntarily.

However, this is not to say that local students do not have the opportunity to participate in school clubs or activities they are interested in. The clubs are built into their schedule throughout the week.

“I had to wake up at 6 am and go to class at 7 am and then study all the way to 9 pm.”

International students’ school hours are shorter than that of Chinese students, while this remains true, I realize that this understanding does not apply to the hours of self-study time.

The Survey
At both international and local schools, many students are academically inclined and wish to pursue a more formal route of higher education. Due to the adaptability and freedom that is provided in international schools, students are supported to pursue their respective goals in life, but their workload is comparable with that of the students at local schools.

Of course, you may wonder, with the large difference in school hours, how could an international student possibly have as much work as a Chinese student? Believe it or not, it is very possible. The fact is, for an international student, their concern is not limited to schoolwork alone. There is a multitude of things that interweave to make their academic life so much more complicated. This includes standardized testing (SAT, TOEFL, IELTS, etc.), additional academic courses to show further dedication (AP, IB, A-Levels, honors, summer school classes, etc.) and, last but not least, holding true for all students, extracurricular activities to show individuality and a consistent interest outside of academics. The sum of hours that are needed to fulfill all these aspects exceeds the hours of studying that any local student must complete.

To see if my suspicion is supported by evidence, I conducted a survey among a mixture of high school students. Their backgrounds vary significantly across different systems with those who currently study in local high schools and are preparing for the ultimate examination, Gaokao, students who study in international schools in China and students who currently study in the U.S. There are many variations on specific academic curriculums studied by those at both international schools and U.S. high schools. There is the regular American AP, the more internationally applicable yet torturing IB and the infamous English A-Levels. Seventy students in total filled out the survey, and from the results interesting trends and connections were observed.

“For an academically driven international student, their concern is not limited to schoolwork alone.”

The distinct discrepancy between the actual school hours of the Chinese and the international education systems is still true. On average, local students spend, at a minimum, three more hours in school than international or U.S. students. What’s interesting is the time that’s spent after school by both students is almost like an inverse relationship with the school hours. That is the less time a student spends taking classes in school, the more time he or she would spend outside of school using their own time to study. Especially for students who are studying AP or IB, they spend the most time outside of school on college preparation and related tasks. More than 30 percent of AP or IB students spend an estimated 6 hours a day studying outside of school. On the contrary, only about 15 percent of Chinese school students spend that much time outside of school studying. This again can be attributed to the extensive amount of time in school local students spend and decide to use their personal time to take a break.
Most AP or IB students must account for personal study time outside of school because they must do a lot of extra work that is not monitored by their teachers. This takes a lot of self-control from the students. In this sense, the students themselves act as their own supervisors, planning out their college preparation schedules, and following them strictly to fulfill their college application goals. Personally, I would say that these students–myself included–are much more stressed than local students, who allegedly “study more.” For us, a lot of weight is put upon our ability to self-regulate and self-motivate, which is an extremely hard thing to do, even for many disciplined adults.

The Debate Is Over
The research combined with my personal experience on the subject, I am confident in saying the debate of which student has a greater workload is over. Both sides are true—to some extent. There are various education systems and each student is different in how they learn. This makes it much more than a simple claim of “I have more work to do than you.” There are so many outside influences that need to be accounted for when talking about a student’s workload.

“We are all just students who are trying to better ourselves and get satisfaction from our education.”

Both local and international students need to recognize the intricacies that are behind their claims and acknowledge the hardships of the opposing side. At the end of the day we are all just students who are trying to better ourselves and get satisfaction from our education. We are just people who are striving to make the most out of our limited time as students and use what we learn to, hopefully, make the world a better place. We shouldn’t be antagonizing each other, and this philosophy applies to many other situations as well. I encourage readers (especially students) to think about the claims and judgments made or the stereotypes that you have unknowingly reinforced, in your past experiences. Think about it, you don’t know that student.

The next time you want to start a rant over how much work you have, think twice.

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