Sunday, April 17, 2011

What Would the Tiger Mom Say About U.S Undergraduate Time Allocation?

On page 4 of the The Education Life Section of the 4/17/2011 New York Times, there is a pie chart showing how full time college students age 15 to 49 spend an average weekday.  Out of 24 hours each day;  Activity #1: Sleep at 8.3 hours, #2 Leisure and sports (3.6 hours), #3 educational activities (3.3 hours),  #4 working and related activities (3 hours), traveling (1.5 hours), eating and drinking (1 hour), grooming (.8 hours), other (2.5 hours).

As an educator, I'm interested in whether my students study.   Let's look at the 3.3 hours devoted to educational activities.   This adds up to 16.5 hours per week.  If a student takes 4 courses per semester and if each class meets 3 hours a week (ignoring the possibility of a lab or a Teaching assistant review session), then this leaves 4.5 hours a week when a student is not in the class room but is engaging in educational activities. If this is the upper bound on studying, then the average student is studying roughly 52 minutes a weekday.  What would the Tiger Mom say to that?

If learning begets learning and skill begets skill, is the U.S staying "mentally" fit and ready for global competition or are we enjoying too much leisure?  This is the classic "consumption vs. investment" tradeoff that economists always discuss.

Are people in the U.S and Europe growing "intellectually fat and lazy"?  This New Yorker piece by Evan Osnos offers some insights. He joins a Chinese middle class tour that travels to Europe as a group.  The point of the article is to show the people of New York City (and other nerds who subscribe to this elitist magazine)  how Chinese "regular Joes"  view "us".   The tourists make their first trip ever to Europe and they like the shopping. They don't like our food and they are amazed by the amount of leisure time that we appear to take for granted.

To quote the article;

"Li urged us to soak our feet in hot water before bed, to fight jet lag, and to eat extra fruit, which might balance the European infusion of bread and cheese into our diets. Since it was the New Year’s holiday, there would be many other Chinese visitors, and we must be vigilant not to board the wrong bus at rest stops. He introduced our driver, Petr PĂ­cha, a phlegmatic former trucker and hockey player from the Czech Republic, who waved wearily to us from the well of the driver’s seat. (“For six or seven years, I drove Japanese tourists all the time,” he told me later. “Now it’s all Chinese.”) Li had something else to say about the schedule: “In China, we think of bus drivers as superhumans who can work twenty-four hours straight, no matter how late we want them to drive. But in Europe, unless there’s weather or traffic, they’re only allowed to drive for twelve hours!”

He explained that every driver carries a card that must be inserted into a slot in the dashboard; too many hours and the driver could be punished. “We might think you could just make a fake card or manipulate the records—no big deal,” Li said. “But, if you get caught, the fine starts at eighty-eight hundred euros, and they take away your license! That’s the way Europe is. On the surface, it appears to rely on everyone’s self-discipline, but behind it all there are strict laws.”"

Read more


Benjamin Robinson said...

I'm an economics major at the University of Pittsburgh...I looked at those numbers and I think that those students are probably over-reporting how many hours of sleep a day they get. In my humble opinion, most undergraduates get only 6-8 hours of sleep per day, some even go 5 or 4! Its madness I tell you, madness. I blame computers, procrastination, and a lack of parental figures to tell us what's good for us. At home, a parent would say: "You need to do your homework, now!" or "You're going to bed in half and hour, young man!". That is one of the double edged swords of being at college, you're responsible for yourself.

This article might also be amusing:

Sincerely, Ben

Mathmatics, Economics and Environment said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

The "investment" component is really the important part here. Interaction with other people (building a network) is what will likely lead to more job opportunities than a single course, especially if they can self-teach any of the content or learn on the job.

Jessie said...

I will not say lazy alone. I think you will find out that the students are just doing what they have been taught in primary and secondary school. With the focus on feelings trying to insure the students graduate the schools have been required to lower the standards for grades. In the 1950s to get a 'A' grade a student had to score >95% and if the scored <70% they failed. Now both grades are considerable lower. In states where the students have to pass achievement test about 4 time before they graduate the 12th grade the schools teach how to pass the test. Even with the effort to get more graduates which I don't think they have they have less EDUCATED students than ever. Nor are the schools teaching critical thinking. They instead teach what to think.
Until the schools are allow and required to education and not graduations the US will continue loose ground in the world education race.