Sometimes I have to ask my kids if they are working to learn or learning to work? Work is inevitable, but the approach to the work makes all the difference. There is also no doubt that the kids are all hard working individuals, but I wonder if they are only capable of working within very narrowly defined parameters, beyond which they will unionize and go on strike.
While they don't walk out of class with their feet, from their blank stares we can tell that any problem we set for them is assumed to be pre-solved and they'll hang back and wait for an answer to appear rather than try tackle it on their own. If an activity does not seem directly related to The Exam, it's beyond their job scope, no thanks, pass. "Can I write an essay instead?" ... followed by protests of their lack of creativity, can't do this, can't do that...
When we do focus on exam-related material, they work a lot more diligently; but they're tired, bored and go with the attitude of doing the job just to get it out of the in-tray and move to the next item on the daily checklist. To them, that's a good, honest day's work.
There doesn't seem to be any spark of learning excitement, no sense of adventure or exploration, no willingness to be creative. So here we are at a dilemma: the kids resent school because it's no fun for them, it's regimented and narrowly-focused, and enforces conformity; but try to offer a different kind of learning experience and they worry they won't pass (or ace) the exams -- their raison d'etre for being in school.
I don't think this situation is confined to any particular school system, however. I daresay this is the case regardless of where the school is located on the global map. It's clearly the case in Asia, developing nations are grateful for any kind of education they can get, and since the US is currently focused on getting its grades up, they're pretty much facing the same problem on their education frontlines.
Perhaps it's time to acknowledge that formal schooling has its limitations. We train kids to be cubicle workers, and maybe I should come to terms with that. It's not too bad, being in the rank-and-file. The job may be robotic and routine, but it puts food on the table. That's all anyone can really ask for in life. Anything more is just cherries and whipped cream, which some will undoubtedly get once they leave school and forge a life of their own. But that's not my job.