Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Back to Education

Back to the subject of education. A few months ago I wrote: I am not shocked or surprised by Hungarian students' inability to think for themselves. Afterall this was a Soviet country only a few years ago. I am surprised, though maybe not really, by the educational system itself. Very few changes have been made, except that they study English rather than Russian. I was asked to speak to a 13-14th grade technical school communication class on the difference between verbal and non-verbal communication in Hungary and the USA. One of my points was that Hungarians do not make eye contact with strangers. They are afraid. They still live within a shell. Safety in anonymity. Also they will not tackle controversial topics to discuss. Again, keep your ideas to yourself. They do, however, use sarcasm to express their opinion rather than state it.

Students still sit in straight rows. Only a blackboard graces the room. Chairs, desks and a blackboard. That's it folks!!!!! Not even an overhead projector in the school. The library is smaller than our bedroom and is only open a few hours a day. Even then, many books are locked up. Teachers do not have classrooms. They must carry their supplies from classroom to classroom with them. Everything is out of a textbook and a workbook. The teacher always sits at her desk and lectures from her chair and then assigns work in their workbook. End of class. How exciting!! I am reminded of my days in school in the 1950's.

Best Practices do not exist in Hungary. It's not even an idea on the horizon. Business as usual. English is taught with workbooks. NO speaking that is not scripted. Our goal is to speak extemporaniously. We have had to create the wheel all over again. Our TEFL course and our CETP workshop were NO help whatsoever. We do not teach grammar. Our job is to get the kids to TALK. The regular English teachers in the school do not do this. Workbook, workbook. They have lots of words but cannot put them into free speech. Kids who have had 7 years of English cannot speak in a sentence that is not scripted. We are outlining how to teach conversational English - goals, objectives, steps in the process. As I say,, we are inventing the wheel all over again. Even on the internet everything is grammar based. Hm, maybe we should sell this when we are done!

Individualized teaching?????!!!!! They look at me like I am crazy. I have been told it is the student's responsibility to learn, not the teacher's responsibility to teach. If they do not understand it is their problem and not the teacher's.

I realize our school is not top quality. It catches the dregs that cannot get into the better schools. I do not mean to insult my students. They are great kids. But you apply to high school here. Our students were turned down at the good schools.

There are no clubs or sports in this educational system. I do not consider that this is necessarily a bad thing. No electives as we know them. Many students take the train for half an hour each way to get to school here. There is no lunch time provided. Just class after class during the 8 period day. They are supposed to run to the canteen and buy a sandwich and eat it on the way to the next class. They do serve a hot lunch which we try to get each day if we have an empty hour. IF THE KIDS EAT THIS THEY HAVE 10 MINUTES TO DO SO. Always a bowl of soup and something. (Cabbage is in season - so guess what has been on the menu lately!)

This has been my experience here. No discussions on philosophy of education, goals, etc. Just workbooks and lectures. Mind boggling.

Today’s addition to this diatribe. It is now a month later and we are still struggling to get the kids to talk. Today we started using the topic of movies, hoping it would spark interest and fun for the kids to talk about. Some interest yes, but to ask them to get up out of their seats and talk to each other in English and do a movie survey – nope!! Unless they speak one on one with us or to us in front of the class, we do not get English. They revert to Hungarian. We have created pages of goals and ways to get to those goals with the kids. We have theory and stats to back up all of our work. It’s just that nobody’s told the kids that this is what they need to do! We have tried to create a comfortable, non-threatening classroom atmosphere for them to work in. But, if it isn’t scripted, they don’t try. (There are a few exceptions, of course, but we are talking about the majority of the kids here.)

It is at least a help to know that the EU has put educational reform on the list of necessary items Hungary must complete before they get full membership. Looking online I find countries working together on teaching concepts for English as a Second Language. Hungary is not one of these countries.

We have tried simulations and this has been the biggest success for us. But to lay the foundation for new topics we must do vocabulary work and get them to practice this vocabulary. Pair work only works if scripted. If we walk away, back to Hungarian!

We are determined and will win this battle! We are here to teach conversation. We must get them to converse, not just parrot phrases and sentences given them.

1 comment:

SunnyHeirReborn3 said...

You paint a bleak picture - but I am sure that you cannot generalise so sweepingly (hum thats prolly a truism isnt it) - {makes a note to try a produce better English in leaving comments to an English teacher} about Hungarian schools... my wife went to school in Hungary - and although I dont always listen as closely as I should - I am sure there are (were) a range of different schools - so that some certainly used to have an emphasis on language/academic excellent, others had an emphasis on more practical skills - were more technical schools etc...
Anyway my point - for what it is worth - surely u are talking about the school you are currently teaching in?

Regardless - many thanks for the blog - have enjoyed reading...

and the kayaking photo looks (awesome - usa speak) fantastic.. I love kayaking - but have no real white water experiences..