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Let's Talk About... Education in Britain

In 1996 The British Council ran a competition for secondary school students, asking them to put into words and images their views of Britain. Here are some extracts from a selection of the entries on the theme of 'Education'. Read them with your teacher, using the discussion questions to guide you.
 

Agnieszka Klausa from Wrocław writes:

'. . . of course, every Englishman has completed a thorough education, either at Oxford or at Cambridge. Although higher studies in Britain have to be paid for, a large percentage of society are graduates from various universities, which is a sign of common prosperity. Some people seem even more than just well-off if they can afford to send their children to such snobbish schools as Eton, for example.

But, let us be tactful and not speak about money. Instead, I must write that the British are also said to love any kind of uniforms, which are obligatory for adults at work as well as for students at school.'

Let's talk...
What do you know about higher education in Britain? What's special about Oxford and Cambridge? Is it true that everyone goes to Oxford or Cambridge? Do you know the names of any other British universities? Is it true, do you think, that you have to be rich to go to university in Britain? In other words, is a university education an indication of how wealthy you are?

  • Talk to your friends and family. Do they know anyone from Britain? Did that person study at a university?
  • Find someone British if you can. Ask them, 'Is it essential in Britain today to have a university education ? What are the benefits? What are the disadvantages?'
  • In which areas of work do British adults wear uniforms? Do people in the same jobs in Poland also wear uniforms? In your opinion, who likes uniforms best - British people or Polish people?
Monica Spławska from Wrocław writes:

'I think that England is a country of knowledge. The Americans use the phrase 'brain drain' for a country that attracts students from all over the world and it really suits Great Britain. Yet, everybody in Poland has heard, for example, about Oxford University or Cambridge University, and everybody is conscious of their high level of education. And, when you ask a Pole about the best playwright in the world, he will always say Shakespeare - and it will be true. '

Let's talk. . .
'Brain drain' is the expression we often use to describe the loss of highly-qualified people from one country to another - when, for example, young people are educated or trained in one country, but they move to another country where pay and opportunities are better. Many British 'brains' went to the USA in the 70s and 80s, and Britain lost a great deal of expertise as a result. Has anything similar happened in Poland? Discuss with your teacher whether or not Poland has ever experienced a 'brain drain'. Who left Poland for better opportunities elsewhere? What was their area of skill or expertise? What skills are most needed in Poland today? As far as you know from watching TV and reading the newspapers, which skills are most needed in Britain today?

You will have heard of Shakespeare, but can you think of the names of any other great British playwrights and their work? How would you explain to a British person who the most famous Polish playwrights are?
 

Maria Buczkowska from Szczecin writes:

. . What about other areas of British Society? Children and teenagers, for instance, always wear uniforms at school. Each school has its own uniform, therefore, if it is necessary, you will be able to recognise a pupil's school easily.'

Let's talk. . .
Not all schools have a school uniform. Some schools do; some schools don't. If you had a choice, would you like to wear a school uniform? What would be the advantage, if any?

If you know any British people, or people from your town who were educated in Britain, ask them if they had a school uniform and if they can describe it.
 

Bartłomiej Listwan from Koszalin writes:

'I admire the British sense of seeing the importance of every detail. It has resulted in many interesting and effective solutions, for example in the educational system. The British way of dealing with many problems also amazes me. For example, a situation when a school is closed because of only one pupil, who was accused of 'behaving in a threatening manner', or when a school hires a 'tutor to give individual, separate instruction to a pupil', cannot happen in Poland. I think that British people have a special kind of awareness of what is going on in society and, because of this, they treat every aspect of their problems very seriously without neglecting any details.'

Let's talk...
Do you agree that the situations Bartłomiej describes could not happen in Poland? How do Polish teachers keep discipline in their classrooms? Are they good at keeping their pupils in order? Which country, in your experience, has the worst or the best reputation for discipline at school? What advice would you give to a new teacher who wanted to keep order in his or her classroom? Can you write them a list of Do's and Don't's?
 

Małgorzata Bernas from Gliwice writes:

'Education? Well, better than in Poland, of course. British teenagers simply like school. It is wonderful ! All because of interesting lessons and kind teachers. The teachers use their imagination. . . Every secondary school has got about 30 computers. Everyone who is 16 years old should know how to use a computer. The computers have been used there since about 1970.'

Let's talk. . .
Well, remember that the 'grass is always greener on the other side'. Which of your lessons are interesting and which of your teachers are kind? What makes a lesson interesting and what does Małgorzata mean by a 'kind' teacher?

What about equipment? What equipment does your school have? What equipment would you like it to have? What can you do to help improve the standards in your school? Or perhaps you think it is the responsibility of your headmaster or headmistress?

What makes the education in one country better than the education in another country? Does it depend on the system of education, on the teachers, or perhaps on the students and their parents?


Finally another point of view. Winnie from England writes about her experience of going to primary school in Poland after attending primary school in the Czech Republic.

'When I first arrived in Poland, I expected school to maintain rigid discipline, five-minute breaks and a longer one in the middle, quiet during the lessons and breaks, as well as locked school gates after 8 o' clock, which was the time when everybody should be present. But the thing that surprised me most was that the pupils had no respect for their fellows or the teachers. The school gates were kept open, the breaks were ten minutes long with a fifteen-minute one in the middle of the school day. The breaks were wild. Sometimes you didn't have to come at 8 o'clock. Also, the toilets were dirty.

On the good side, there was a shop and a school doctor, both of which had not been available in my previous school. The dentist was nice. Computers were also available. As well as that, clubs had been formed. The "Świetlica" took charge of young children.

My conclusion is that my Polish school can be a bit of a rough-house, but on the whole it is a very pleasant place.'
 

Winnie


Let's talk. . .
Do you think Winnie has given an accurate picture of Polish primary schools? Is her school typical? Which of her comments do you agree with and which do you disagree with? Is there anything that you would like her to know about Polish schools? Does anything surprise you about her positive and her negative comments? In what ways is her Polish school better than her previous school? What advice would you give to Winnie to help her enjoy the time she spends at her Polish school?

Write to us! Just click on the 'Mail' link at the top of the page. If something important has come up in your discussions about this theme of British - and Polish - education, write to us about it. We'd like to hear your views.


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