Monday, 13 February 2012

Who are the thickies of Europe?

A big thanks to Tutkaj News for flagging up this story last week. (For those who don't know it, Andrzej's site is the best compendium of links to English-language stories about Poland and Poles in the UK on the web.)

The story, in Britain's socially- and economically left-leaning Guardian, points out that poor Poland produces more students at A-level (matura) than does the UK. The article is condescending in tone, its analysis superficial and ideologically-motivated.

Read this passage.
The UK has a smaller proportion of adults with A-levels or their equivalent than Poland or Bulgaria, an analysis by the European Union's official statistics agency shows.
Several former eastern bloc countries now have adult populations that are more highly educated than the UK's, the Eurostat data reveals. They include Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Bulgaria.
Oh golly-gosh. Those funny people with those funny unpronounceable names are actually cleverer than us? "And why is that?" ask the well-meaning Guardian readers. It is, so the newspaper asserts, "due to the rising cost of learning".
Hang on a second! Rising cost of learning? Then cut the cost! Pay teachers less! Don't invest in schools! Do something! Patently a heap of illogical drivel.
Look at the sixth word of the second quoted paragraph, 'now'. And then take a look at the very statistics linked to the article. They stretch back to 1999, and then the gulf between the UK and Poland was actually bigger than it is today. So this is not about now; it's a systemic problem that was actually worse under Tony Blair.
A quick canter over those stats for those who can't be bothered to do so themselves.
Total population (aged 25-64) having completed at least upper-secondary education. In 2010, this was 88.7% of Poles, and 76.1% of Brits. Europe's brain-boxes are the post-communist countries. Lithuania (92%), Czech Republic (91.9%), Slovakia (91%) and Estonia (89.2%) beat Poland. Generally, Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) has the highest proportion of young people in Europe leaving school at what in the UK is sixth-form level.

So who are Europe's thickies? In ascending order: Malta (29%), Portugal (31.9%), Spain (52.6%), Italy (55.2%) and Greece (62%) (Making any connections?)

Is the root cause of poor educational outcomes a lack of funding? No. At heart, I think it is that CEE societies place a far greater store on educating children than do either western Europeans or Mediterranean types. When I was a teenager, almost all my UK-born Polish peers went on from school into higher education, when that figure for the UK population as a whole was just 8%.

Our parents pressured us to do well at school in England just as Polish parents pressure their children to do well at school in Poland today.

But before Poland and the other CEE countries think about relaxing, remember than 100% of South Korean parents want their children to go to university...

Words which I remember my mother quoting to me as a child:

Chcesz być czymś w życiu, to się ucz
Abyś nie zginął w tłumie,
Nauka to potęgi klucz
W tym moc, co więcej umie.
Ignacy Baliński (1862 - 1951)
('If you want to be someone in life, then study
To avoid dying among the masses,
Education is power's key
In him the power, who knows more.')
This time last year:
Oldschool Photochallenge: Response No. 2

This time two years ago:
Oligocene water from Jeziorki


Anonymous said...

Jako dzieci w szkole też słyszeliśmy ten wierszyk. Dodawaliśmy jednak do niego 2 wersety:
"jak będziesz miał tych kluczy dużo,
to zostaniesz woźnym".

Anonymous said...

Just watch that the kids don't die of boredom in Polish schools. They may end up with a piece of paper stating that Johnny or Sarah is mighty clever but what are they measuring? Ability of kids to cheat in exams, ability to memorise large amounts of text (my kid was forced to memorise a page of a winnie the pooh book without being taught how to interpret the words), lack of ability to think outside the box due to lack of problem solving in the Polish sylabus, or how not to work in teams. I would rather be a British thickie with a Bachelors degree than some of the doctors and professors you meet in Warsaw who have no social or communication skills

Michael Dembinski said...

@Anonymous #2:

Yes - you've hit the weak side of the Polish education system. There's little attempt to explain or offer insight. And communication skills? I teach lawyers English. Polish law schools teach lawyers law - but not how to communicate it. I find at first I have to teach communication, only then English.

Having said that, Europe's thickies are the Mediterraneans, who are not taught basic economics at school...

Andrzej K said...

It was of course Margaret Thatcher as Tory education minister who raised the minimum school leaving age from 15 to 16 which the Grauniad of course will not acknowledge.

And of course a large number do actually leave at 16 (assuming they haven't already been playing truant) and so therefore do not even take A Levels (equivalent of matura).

But of course the newspaper which publishes drivel by left wing fellow travellers such as Polly Toynbe cannot possibly be expected to support reasoned argument.

And I am sure the Grauniad was the last paper to acknowledge Soviet guilt over Katyn (Michal will remember that awfull woman for the FCO who was denying Soviet guilt as late as 1993)

White Horse Pilgrim said...

Being "educated" and being "clever" are hardly the same thing. I've met some very intelligent peasants (in Eastern Europe) who could see through a stone wall given a little time. And plenty of university-educated people in Eastern and Western Europe who lacked common sense.

I'd like to think that one day 'educated' people from the former Soviet bloc will stop equating today's British 'left' with the malign forces that operated in their countries. However I know very well from a couple of decades experience that the Eastern European mentality quickly throws up a smokescreen of 'the West is stupid / lazy / corrupt / a former lackey of Moscow' in order to deflect the gaze from its own failings. And that the natural political home of the Eastern European is over to the right (except for a few 'foreigners', 'intellectuals' and Jews). Sometimes well over to the right.