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The Pressures of Education in Europe and the U.S.

This week in my AP Spanish class, we talked about the differences between universities in Spanish-speaking countries versus the ones in North America. For example, campus life in Spanish universities practically doesn’t exist, as opposed to universities in the U.S. When choosing colleges, one of the main focuses for many seniors in high school is the campus. Is it big or small? Is it safe? How’s the social life on campus? In Portugal and all of Europe, they have to focus on national exams and the exams that will admit them into the college they apply to. 

As a current senior in high school, I cannot compare the two, but I have gone to school in two different countries and I agree that it’s very different. I lived in Portugal from when I was five years old until I was eleven. The education I received from first to fourth grade was the basic stuff that every child learns, like the alphabet, basic math skills, some science, geography and Portuguese history. Fifth grade was a different story.

In the U.S, you graduate elementary school in fifth grade and move onto middle school. I actually graduated elementary school in fourth grade and since I lived in a small village, I had to move to a bigger school. This school was basically the Portuguese version of high school. Kids from surrounding villages all went to that school and it was huge, unlike the high school I go to now. Though there are students from neighboring towns, most of them come from the town where the high school resides. I have also noticed the differences in scheduling. In Portugal, the school began at 8:20 AM and it was a block schedule, so not only did I not have the same classes every day, some days I left school at five in the afternoon and other days I left at one in the afternoon. Here in the U.S, school starts at 7:35 AM and ends at 1:54 PM.

Extracurricular activities and sports within the school are practically nonexistent in Portugal. If you wanted to play a sport or be in a club, it would have to be through the township, not the school. I remember taking theater classes for two years and that was during the weekends. Some of my old friends play soccer or have music lessons outside of school. In the U.S, high schools have a wide variety of clubs and sports you can participate in to make sure you are a well-rounded individual by the time you reach college.

The U.S. education system focuses on how much you can manage in school, while in Portugal they focus on how much knowledge you retain.

College in Europe versus the U.S. is also very different. Though in Europe they are currently attempting to raise the price of tuition, it is still significantly lower than tuition in the U.S. There are cheaper options in furthering an education in the U.S., but even that requires a few thousand dollars. While students in the U.S. are concerned with their tuition, in Europe they are cramming for exams. In terms of studying and testing, Europe is on a whole other level. Unlike the U.S., European students don’t pick their own classes, they have to take what is required by their school because a much bigger majority of classes than that in the U.S. is mandatory.

Obviously, education is going to be different everywhere you go. Today, I was sitting down in one of my classes and making a mental checklist of every meeting, scholarship and financial aid application and all the homework I had to do and it hit me. Studying in Portugal, college wasn’t even a thought. It may also be the fact that I was very young and my grandparents wanted me to enjoy being a kid. In the U.S., I have seen parents talk about college to their young children even though they should be enjoying their childhood. One thing I do know is that the curriculum there is much more advanced than the one in North America. What I learned in fifth grade was taught to me again in seventh, eighth grade and then again sophomore year.

After comparing the two, I came to the conclusion that the United States education system focuses on how much you can manage in school, while in Portugal they focus on how much knowledge you have. I can’t say which one is better, as they both teach different skills. In terms of studying and testing, European students are under a lot of stress, while in terms of financial situation and preparing for the future, Americans are.

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