Comparing American students with those in China and India

Two million minutes is the estimated time that students spend in high school. It is also the title of a new documentary film that suggests American students squander too much of that time. While their peers in China and India study longer hours to sharpen their math and science skills, top students from one of the best high schools in the U.S. are playing video games and watching Grey’s Anatomy during a group study session, at least in clips seen in the documentary.

The film, produced by Memphis venture capitalist Robert Compton and promoted by the ED in ’08 political organization, is the latest attempt at igniting a national debate about the need to put more emphasis on math and science education if the United States is to remain competitive in a global economy. But supporters of the film acknowledge they face an uphill climb to make education a central issue in the presidential race.

Two Million Minutes: A Global Examination follows six students through their senior year of high school in the United States, India, and China. Brittany Brechbuhl is a 17-year-old who’s in the top 3 percent of her graduating class at Carmel High School in Indiana. She aspires to become a doctor but also wants to join a sorority and “party.” Neil Ahrendt, 18, is another talented Carmel student who is the senior class president and former quarterback of the football team. These American teenagers’ attitudes toward academics differ sharply from those of their peers in India and China, who seem more motivated and focused. Take, for example, 17-year-old Apoorva Uppala, who attends Saturday tutoring sessions to prepare for her university entrance exams. She wants to become an engineer, which she calls “the safest” profession in India. In Shanghai, Jin Ruizhang, 17, preps for international math tournaments. He is already the top math student at his school and hopes to get into a prestigious university offering an advanced math program.

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