We grew up struggling to demystify the differences between British and American English. Which of us didn't grapple with the spelling of program/programme, color/colour, demeanor/demeanour, organization/organisation, etc? Or the more complex use of words like Pupil instead of Student, Sweater instead of Sweatshirt, Pants instead of Trousers, etc?
It's more interesting to know that even as adults, a lot of persons still genuinely don't know the difference. But that's a topic for another day. In this article, we're much more concerned about how the British curriculum and that of the Americans differ, by extension, how their education systems are different.
Why these two systems of education? Well, according to The Times, in its ranking of world universities, American and British universities occupy the first 200 slots. This is not surprising given their sophisticated research facilities and education models as opposed to what is obtainable in other parts of the world.
The catch here is so that parents who're considering what form of international school to enroll their wards can be better informed as to what to expect. So, here we go:
1. Beginning with their Primary and Secondary education, the British system emphasizes the use of phonics to teach/decode new words; play methods are employed to achieve this. Simply put, such things/plays as nursery rhymes and association of concepts to words are more utilized here. Remember how "MR NIGER D" was used to teach you the characteristics of living things? Can you remember the full meaning of each word there? Cudgel your brain a little on that.
On the other hand, the American system favours a somewhat strict language approach to learning words. That is, it recommends a thorough learning of the vocabulary of a language in order to understand the words. This doesn't mean it always uses this approach without variation though.
2. In the UK, the curriculum is more narrow in terms of specialization. Students basically focus on a particular field of endeavour from the beginning of their higher studies till the end; allowing them to be thoroughly bred in that field and specialize there. Let's use our local situation to exemplify this:
If you apply for Medicine and Surgery here, you'd be required to take courses on almost all branches of medicine before graduating as a medical student. You'll do some form of Biochemistry, Microbiology, Pharmacy, etc., this describes the American system with its broad content to promote generalist studies.
But the British system of collegiate education allows you apply for one of those courses under Medicine and Surgery and focus on it solely, or at least 80%, during your school days. They believe it makes more sense to have an all-rounder knowledge of one thing at a time than "half-baked" knowledge of all things.
To summarize this, the American system emphasizes on breadth while the British focuses on depth.
3. When it comes to being bookish, the British system takes the lead compared to the American. By "being bookish", I don't mean having more intelligence. Rather, this means that the American system allows far more room for other non academic activities than the British does. American schools have very active social clubs (recognized by the law) where students can express their skills and even get sponsorship/scholarshop for while they school. This clubs range from sports to cultural, to music and drama, etc.
This doesn't mean that the Brits don't have any of these, rather, it is much more pronounced in the US. In fact, it can even be argued that the American system demands more reading than the British because of the generalist studies but remember that this is compared in the light of extra curricular activities - the Americans have far more.
4. Equally important is the duration of schooling. In the UK, due to their specialised focus on education, the time you spend in the university is lesser than that spent in the US because, there, you study more broadly.
Thus, here are the durations for respective programmes:
BA: 4 years
MA: 2 years
PhD: 5-7 years
BA: 3 years
MA: 1 year
PhD: 3 years
5. We really can't talk about this issue without addressing the very bone of it all - cost. You may easily think that education standard in the UK will be costlier than in US due to the fact that the currency used there (pounds) is higher than the dollar. Guess what! You're right! Although, comparatively for someone living in the UK, this is not the case. A few reasons account for this.
First, the British government regulates the cost of schooling for its citizens and members of the EU which currently doesn't exceed 10,000 pounds for each year. As an international student, you'll obviously pay more. Second, let's say you're thinking of schooling in Europe as a Nigerian. You'll need to calculate the cost in terms of how much your Naira becomes after it's converted into pounds. Do the maths!
In the US, cost of education is generally higher because the government has very little control over that. Factors such as public or private schools determine cost; it's very usual for private schools to be more expensive. Thus, one can pay as much as 30, 000 to 50, 000 dollars per year in a private university and about 3000 dollars in public universities (two-year course).
Conclusively, remember to take all these factors into consideration before making a decision. Look at the cost, evaluate whether you want breadth or depth, and weigh the time you'll like to spend in school.
I definitely can't cover all the differences here. Feel free to add any other differences you know in the comment section.
-Imoh Udoh Iniekpo
Communication Executive @ Edusko Africa