let's go vikes!

I came here with the mindset that, without a doubt, the European education system outshone the American since that's what I had been told, and I never second guessed it. Though, now that I'm here, it's truly hard to judge which is better. It simply depends on what one feels that an individual should gain from his or her school career: purely just knowledge or knowledge, a well-rounded character, and memories? Should "fun" and friendships, both between the students and the students and their teachers, be incorporated in school or be left outside the classroom?

If your response to the latter question is yes, then the European system is for you. Students here go to school to go to class. They learn by taking notes, studying, and taking a test. There are no review games or group activities, chemistry labs or computer exercises. The teachers lecture, the students learn: or at least they're supposed to.

Nonetheless, although the essence of "fun" is absent from the European system, it does have positive aspects for the students:
Similar to college in the United States, students don't have the same classes every day: they have a certain number of hours of each course depending on their option, better explained as a "major". For example, I'm in an Economics path: therefore I have only 2 hours of Science a week, where as the students in the Science option have 4 hours of Biology, 4 hours of Physics, etc. Therefore, since I only have Science two times a week, it's not necessary for me to do my homework that night, making it a lot less stressful than in the United States where all the homework is crammed into one night since we have the same classes everyday. This also explains my observation that students here sleep a lot more than in the US.

Also, the European system stands favorable because the constant stress of college doesn't exist. Here, college is not expensive and open to everyone: a complete contrast than the system in the US. Students don't have to do extra-cirricular activities, volunteer, or "compete" with GPA's. They don't have to get straight A's, they just need to get above a 50% in each class so they don't have to redo the year. Nonetheless, repeating a school year here is unbelievably common and not looked down upon, and it seems as if almost every student does it at least once in his or her school career. Therefore, the environment is a lot more relaxed. Receiving a 5/20 on a Math test isn't that big of a deal, and there's really no privacy with test scores. The teachers just announces them to the class, and if not, everyone asks, "what did you get?". Also, students here seem to have a lot less responsibility: working an after school job isn't really that common (since they don't have to help pay for college) and it's no big deal if you don't participate in any extra-cirricular activities. The students live how they want to, without being driven by the ever-present thought of college.

Nonetheless, as for a parent's point of view, wouldn't they think it's better to have this thought of college motivating their child to succeed? In this way, the students earn their education, seeing it that it is expensive, unlike here where the students just have it handed to them without any sweat and tears. High school may be excessively stressful in the United States, but that's what builds character, isn't it?

In addition, everyone here has the mindset that school in the US is so much easier than in Europe, but I really don't agree. In this system, the courses in general may be more advanced and the students learn overall more information, but that's it. School is just school: simply for learning. But in the US, it's so much more than that. School is student council and the football team, mock trial and yearbook. School is AP classes and chemistry labs that you have to figure out for yourself. There are also no senior projects, school newspapers, or a morning newsteam, which represents the lack of connection with the community. Also, in the US, students have a lot more homework and long-term assignments such as Independent Reading. Though in my opinion, that makes the European system more favorable since "busy work" doesn't exist, which is just practical.
Therefore, all in all, students in the US may not gain as much "knowledge" in highschool as students in Europe, but they do gain character. Though isn't the more in-depth learning what college is for anyway?

Another major difference between school in Europe and America is technology. There are not TV's or computers in every room, and the computers in the lab we do have are probably dated from 1999. When I explain the idea of Smart Boards to the students here, they can't even imagine it. Technology is not incorporated in the class room at all, where as in the US it's necessary. I didn't realize how much of a privilege Class Roll was (a site which allows each student to view his or her grades) or teacher websites until I came here. Now, to even think of e-mailing one of my teachers is just unimaginable, which then brings me to my next point: there are no relationships between students and teachers at all in Belgian school.

Adults may view this positively, as teachers are meant to teach, not become best friends with the students. However, if a student bonds with a teacher, he therefore doesn't want to disappoint them by not doing well. In the US, I found that a lot of my motivation came from my teachers. Not only did they help me to learn, but they were my mentors and inspired me to go beyond expectations. Here, a teacher is just a teacher, like a college professor in the United States more or less.
Also, in my school, teachers don't have their own class rooms: therefore, there isn't a "homey" feeling or decorations on the walls (but there is grafitti), and if a student needs to talk to a teacher, he can't be sure as to where they are.

There's also no school mascot or school spirit here. I miss pep rallies and football games more than ever right now. MPATV is going to be my most watched channel when I return home, and I'm always going to read the Cymbal. I miss the senses of humor and varied methods of the teachers in the US. I miss the school library and my locker, or just the fact that everyone has a locker.
But more or less, I'm glad that I miss all of these things because now, when I return home, I'll be able to appreciate school and be grateful for the small aspects that most students typically overlook.

More or less, I'll be able to make the best of my senior year.

1 comments:

Anonymous October 25, 2010 at 11:27 PM  

i just wanted to let you know that your blog's verrrry interesting. it's cool seeing all the differences in culture/lifestyles. hope you continue keeping everyone posted :p

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I left the United States in August 2010 as a Rotary exchange student. I'll leave Belgium in July 2011 as Jordann.

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Braine-l'Alleud, Belgium
I follow the sun.