Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Back to the blackboard?

Following on from my most recent education post of two days ago, I'd like to look a primary and secondary education.

My assessment of Polish vs. English schools can be summed up in the following stereotypical generalisations.

Polish schools - you are taught to memorise, not understand. Exams are about answering factual questions, not writing essays or discussing the subjects with teachers. Rote learning is the order of the day, every day; very few teachers inspire or bring insight into their subjects. Learning is neither fun nor does it open up new perspectives.

English schools (the school system is different in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) - the kids are encouraged to, like, do their own thing, man, so if, like, a kid thinks three times three is eleven, well, they're being creative, man, and I'm, like, not going be the heavy fascist and tell them they're wrong, man.

If a child is curious, intelligent, quick on the uptake, it will do better in the English system (and I dare say the American system is similar). But if a child is less bright, just having bare facts drummed into its head gives it a better chance in life than being taught Plasticine, xylophone and Venn diagrams.

At the end of the day, Polish schools scored better on the OECD's latest PISA ranking in reading and maths than did UK schools, although UK schools did better on science.

So rote-learning has its place - getting the basics right - never mind why seven times eight is 56 - it just is, OK? And this is how you spell szczodrobliwość. No alternatives permitted.

The only trouble is - this model is then carried on into Polish universities, where Pan Ważny Profesor reads aloud from the textbook he wrote back in 1970, chapter by chapter, to bored students who have to memorise his increasingly-questionable teachings. The result - Polish universities are way down the global rankings, where US and UK institutions dominate when it comes to pure and applied research.

It seems that uravnilovka - the Soviet levelling-down of society - has hurt Polish innovation. Which is not to say that Poles can't be innovative - they can - but generally in foreign universities and for foreign corporations.

But can the Polish tertiary education system be reformed without a reform of the primary and secondary systems?

This time two years ago:
Greed, fear, fight-and-flight - and the weather

This time three years ago:
Where the new motorways will meet

This time four years ago:
Crocuses blooming in London


Sigismundo said...

Excellent post on a crucially important subject, which is discussed far far too little in Poland.

My own rather generalised and stereotypical view is that Polish schools destroy individuality, imagination and creativity while British schools try to encourage these qualities but find themselves unable to keep discipline as a result.

Michael Dembinski said...

Ziggy - right on, man! My very views.

whitehorsepilgrim said...

Interesting thought, that: it may explain why England seems split into bright and high-achieving versus low and nil achieving, with the result that we need rote-taught Poles to do so much vocational work that requires basic education and a desire to work but not a degree and experience. I guess that in England we help each to develop his or her talent - sadly some principally have talent for mediocrity and living off welfare.

I don't know if it's the same now, but in the past I recall Polish, Hungarian, etc children reading a wide range of literature in school, which we simply didn't do in England.

Dyspozytor said...

An interesting post, but there is another dimension to what takes place in the classroom - the cultural background and aspirations of the people being taught.

Poland is trying to 'catch up' the West after 50 'lost' years and education (however flawed the system) is seen by students to be the escalator that will take them to the next level. So though the education system is starved of funds, and many teachers are mediocre, there is a greater degree of motivation to get the grade than in the UK.

And Britain, where is it going? Post imperial decline; post industrial decline; post financial services decline...

No wonder that whether student, teacher, or administrator, all seem to have lost their way.