Over at Calpundit there’s an interesting discussion going on about the stresses that contemporary high school education places on students. In the comments Kevin expresses surprise (at least I think it’s surprise) that there are students who take two years of calculus in high school. I was rather surprised that this is surprising.

Where I went to school (in a fairly good suburban Catholic school in Melbourne) the median student did two maths courses with hefty calculus sections before graduation, and a sizable minority (about 15 to 20%) did four such courses. And I didn’t think this was particularly unusual. It certainly didn’t strike me as an outrageous amount for high school students to complete.

Because there’s next to no philosophy taught in high school in America (or Australia) I’ve never had to pay much attention to how much incoming college students have learned. So I’ve got no idea really how to compare American and Australian students. But my (quite possibly erroneous) impression is that the demands of American high schools are much less onerous than their Australian equivalents.

If you want some more specific info on what Australian high students are expected to know, here’s the final exams from the last three years given to final year high school students in Victoria. At my school 50% or more of graduating students would have taken the course ‘Maths Methods’, and another 15 to 20% the course called ‘Specialist Maths’. (Back in my day they had different names, but the syllabus doesn’t look to have changed dramatically.) Quickly flipping through the VCAA website it seems the numbers across the state for how many took those two courses are more like 40% and 15% respectively, and you can get some detailed reports on how they did here.