3rd Year Week 6 MT04
Topic: British Educational Rush to the Far East
Translate the first six paragraphs into Chinese.
Schools of Europe pose hard truths on tough life
Having placed my two daughters at the French International School in Hong Kong a couple of years ago, I read with interest the account of a UK parent whose children studied at schools in Italy. Condemning the poor quality of British schools, she concluded that the standards of Italian education were far higher.
My rationale was partly related to language learning. While the trend in France and other countries in Europe has shifted to learning two foreign languages, the UK has been drifting towards a zero policy - with calls to make foreign language learning optional.
However, I had another reason for looking to mainland Europe. While French schools are grounded strongly in European traditions, British schools fell under the influence of the egalitarian educational policies of the US in the last half century to the point in exams where "it is possible to get four fifths of the questions wrong and still pass," wrote Chris Woodhead, former Chief Inspector of Schools.
What of Italian education? Italian teachers, the UK parent wrote in the Sunday Telegraph, "never attempt to make lessons interesting: information is laid before students and they either take advantage of it or not".
It sounds a paradox, but I grasped her point since I personally experienced the way British teachers can go all out to make lessons interesting - and yet turn a blind eye to end goals like passing exams.
The Italian system is effective, the parent wrote, because of a "stick-and-carrot system...a learn it or do it again edict. Every child in Italy is tested at the end of every academic year in every subject. Failure to reach a 60 per cent pass in a majority of subjects means the failing student must stay down ignominiously."
The lesson is that attitude plays an all-important role in education and tough attitudes work. Socialist minded teachers in the UK did much to bring about the current malaise. To the point that, "British children seem to believe that the responsibility for making them a success in their lives lies firmly with their teachers or the government" leaving children unprepared for a "hostile, competitive, unfair world", the parent wrote.
Francois Fillon, France's minister of education, echoed these views recently. "I have heard a loud outcry in favour of a return to authority," he said in an interview. "Life is hard. The educational system must prepare youth for this challenge. Examinations, inspections, are moments of truth."
The European Report on the Equality of School Education shows schools in Central and Eastern Europe - including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia and Slovakia - at the top of the league. In maths, children from these countries outperformed Western Europe. In the science test results for thirteen-year-olds, Romania and the Czech Republic stood out, although so did the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium.
I have got to know a few Czech expatriates and have been extremely impressed by their educational backgrounds, springing from a culture that acknowledges one basic truth - "life is hard". Priorities in education are very different across Europe. In the European Report, Finland came first on reading literacy with Sweden and France shining in second place. I know from my girls' education at the French school that literacy is a very strong priority and the emphasis is far greater at an early level than in comparable schools in Britain or America.
What about dropout rates? The percentage of the population of 18-to-24-year-olds who achieved a lower secondary level of education or less in 1997 saw the highest rates in Western Europe and the lowest in Eastern Europe. Portugal (40.7 per cent), Britain (31.4 per cent), Italy (30.2 per cent), Spain (30 per cent). While the lowest rate was 6.8 per cent in the Czech Republic, the Central and Eastern European countries as a whole did better than Western Europe.
On the percentage of young people, aged 22, who successfully completed at least secondary education in 1997, the lowest rankings were Italy, Portugal and Britain. Countries with a completion rate of over 70 per cent: the Czech Republic.
Many educators place great stress on computers and the Internet. The survey results, however, show that schools in Central and East Europe were far less equipped than their Western counterparts in terms of numbers of computers. What does this prove when their results are so good?
While the European Report does not shed much light on Italian education, the British parent stressed that Italian schools did a sterling job in preparing children for the world of work. In March 2003, the Italian parliament approved a reform of the schools system that provides a specific work-training path for non-academic students between the ages of 15 and 18. "Trade unions are largely opposed to the reform, while employers are in favour," noted European Industrial Relations Observatory online.
(HK Edition 09/27/2004 page13)