Sunday, 1 March 2009

Diplomas, certificates, exams, what are they for?

Today I planned only to enjoy the first beautiful weather (that’s I hope the first spell of pre-spring) but decided to share with some someone else’s and my reflection on education system in Poland. To make it short, I’ll just paste the excerpts of the correspondence between my former (unfortunately) English teacher and me. Just to give food for thought…

I tend to disagree, though...You see, I became more of a business/ lifestyle 'coach/trainer', because I can see that in this way people not only improve their language skills, but actually get something useful out of it./that's what my company does.
I stopped developing as an English instructor, because I do not believe in traditional methods nor do I believe in the exams...they do not teach real English, they teach how to follow a pattern to pass an exam. It reflects some degree of language mastery, but it should be by no means a final benchmark. (…) Certificate is useful so get it, but go beyond it, Bartek.

Any conclusions?

Maybe let's skip the topic of the exams - we already see it eye to eye. but it makes me think about the quality of Polish education system as a whole. Language schools are mostly geared at making profits, they're almost always good at teaching on lower levels but when the student approaches the level let's say between FCE and CAE the quality gets poor - maybe that's the shortage of properly prepared teachers (including natives), maybe something else. The English they teach is often impractical, has nothing to do with the everyday life. And so the most popular exams do...
Things look bad also in state education system. Children are taught loads of useless things (my showcase example is Krebs' cycle I had to learn by heart in high school, now I remember it consisted of four phases...), the curricula are lacking subject which would teach basis useful activities. In American school children have classes like "home economics" (i.e. how to sew in the button, which clothes should be washed in which temperature etc.), "shop" (DIY course). I miss a few things in Polish primary education. Firstly, school should provide pupils with the basic knowledge of economics - you may say I'm biased because I study economics but it would really help us as citizens - our economic awareness leaves a lot to be desired, if people knew and understood few basic rules by which economy is driven, they wouldn't be such good conditions for populism to grow. And the next thing to include in a curriculum is the basic law framework - as we live under legal regulations it's imperative that we know them.

My conclusions:
1) Instead of Krebs’ cycle let’s teach students how to fill in the tax statement correctly (take it as an example and stretch over the whole system)
2) The language schools are poised only to prepare you for the exams – that’s what people expect from them. They want to get their CPE which certifies alleged proficiency. Ill-gotten CPE which confirms what my teacher wrote – they’ve learnt to follow the patterns. I guess I’m advanced English user, but I’m still making mistakes, have narrower vocabulary resource, but I’m still far cry from the aforementioned proficiency or as others say mastery. Sad but true?


Michael Dembinski said...

Bartek - excellent points. I've decided that both of my children should study in British, American, Australian, Canadian universities - rather than in Poland. My take on it is this; Polish schools teach the basics rather well, indeed better than British schools. Facts are drummed in to receptive minds, literacy and numeracy are at a higher level. But when it comes to universities - Polish ones teach their students just like schools teach pupils. Mr Important Professor just reads pages and pages from his book. No analysis, no discourse, no one-to-one tuition, no small seminars. No idea to think for one's self. As a result Polish universities come out poorly in global rankings, and the brightest and best Polish academics pursue their careers abroad.

I've heard it said that Poland's universities are a last bastion of PRL thinking. Professors grimly hanging on to their privileges and defending the pre-1990 status quo. They will all have to retire before any progress is made.


Bartek Usniacki said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Dembinski said...

My wife and I took the trouble to speak to one another in Polish when our daughter was born. Strange and unnatural, an effort, but we did it. As a result, our daughter spoke no English until she started kindergarten, aged 3. When we moved to Warsaw, for the first three years, the children went to the British School here; we continued speaking Polish at home. Then, when we settled in Poland for good, buying land, building a house, we moved the children to a Polish school and switched to speaking English at home. So, our children speak accentless English and perfect Polish - that's the recipe!

Your comments on Polish universities square with everything I've heard or read. More reason for our children to study abroad.