It’s hard to believe we’ve eclipsed the half way point of our trip. Over a span of 7 months, we’ve visited 10 Countries, driven 12,000 miles, hiked over 150 miles, and swam in the Atlantic, Indian, Southern, and Pacific Oceans. We’ve seen some of the most scenic landscape this World has to offer. We’ve met a ton of amazing people, who have become a part of our lives, and shown us what life is like in their community and their Country.
Gosia and I have always shared a curiosity to learn about different cultures, wanting to understand what a day in the life may look like for a villager of France, a Swiss farmer, an Italian wine maker or Malaysian city-dweller. One of the things we’ve taken a keen awareness is Education and how these Countries choose to educate their children. With our son Leo ready to start Kindergarten next year, we wanted to learn what the education systems around the World look like. Here’s what we’ve learned about Education around the World.
In France, we were hosted by an English middle school teacher who kindly invited over for dinner. We chatted about the French education system and how she applies it to her kids. One of the first things that stood out to us is the fact that she creates her own lesson plans. There’s obviously guidelines set forth by the system, but she gets to determine how she wants to educate her class. In her case, it is lots of books, chosen by her for her classroom, with group discussion, monthly testing, and a final at the end of the semester. For example, she picks a book for the students to read. They take it home as part of their assignment and follow up with lively classroom discussion. Outside of reading, most of the work is completed in the classroom. She teaches 7th & 8th graders. One of the best stories she shared applies to her own son. At 12 years old, she sent him on a foreign exchange program to Canada to learn about French Canadian culture. Pretty cool experience for a 12 year old!!
Germany is where my nieces live. They are currently in 5th & 4th grade. During their elementary education, they never had homework. The after class work would always be completed during a mandatory study hall, in the presence of their teachers. The teachers offer the necessary assistance to help the students complete the required work. After school, from 3pm-5pm, the kids would enroll in extra curricular activities, such as music, gymnastics, karate, voice, sports or arts & crafts. These programs are sponsored by the school and normally would come with some type of performance at the end of each semester. Parents pick up their kids at 5, with no stress of worrying about what homework needs to be completed or running them off to another activity. This changes at the 5th grade level, where now, my oldest niece, who is enrolled in the USA equivalent of a gifted program, is learning Mandarin Chinese, English, and Spanish. English is conducted 5 days a week. During parent/teacher conferences, attendance is mandatory and 100% of the parents are present. Those conferences are also attended in the presence of the child where they not only discuss progress against lesson plans but social skills as well. In my niece’s case, they discussed how to be more confident in the classroom. The teachers also encourage to the parents no homework for the kids 2 hours prior to bedtime. The brain, like other muscles, needs rest and they believe kids need downtime or playtime at home too.
While we didn’t talk to an educator in Switzerland, we did have a picnic with a great group of families at one of Switzerland’s famous playgrounds. The Swiss incorporate health & wellness into their education. Recess & physical education are requirements at an early age, and Swiss kids utilize their natural landscape to learn basic outdoor skills (kids know how to build a fire at an early age), regardless of the elements. They don’t cancel school with the first snow fall or sub freezing temperatures, rather they use these elements to take the kids outside and play. Swiss schools are very disciplined, there’s no make up tests or tardiness, you are expected to be in school, except for cases of extreme sickness. The Swiss start field trips for kids at 2nd grade. Parents will drop their kids off on Monday morning, and pick them up Friday afternoon from a school designed field trip.
In Bali, we were hosted by another educator who taught at a private English speaking school in Kuta. The school is mostly expats. Bali has a growing expat population due to the quality of life and low cost of living, particularly from other Asian & European counties. Kids attend school 6 days a week instead of 5, private schools in Bali have much higher standards than their public counterparts, and due to the traffic issues on the island, school starts at 6:30am and ends at 1:30pm.
We are currently in Australia where I feel like the class room is conducted outside. Literally, everywhere we go, we have run into a class of students, both young & old. In Adelaide, October was “Try a different hike month”. We crossed paths with 3 different class rooms of elementary kids on our hike to Mt. Lofty. Along the Great Ocean Road, we ran into a 1st grade classroom who was on a field trip at Tower Hill reserve. It was there they were learning about Emus, Snakes, and bird life. At the Victoria Market in Melbourne, a group of high school students were on a scavenger hunt. They were in German class, looking for specific items at the market, listed in German. At the end, they would get a lesson from the butcher, or cheese maker on the dynamics of making cheese or the process of a perfect cut of beef.
We also ran into a kindergarten classroom at Kingslake National Park, outside of Melbourne. We had a lengthy talk with a passionate teacher. They take their kids to Kingslake once a week, regardless of the weather. Today, it was in the 50s and raining. The kids were having a blast. What stuck out to us though, was how 2 teachers watch over 20 students out in the wild? They set up triangle flags at 3 corners of the picnic grounds. Why 3 corners? The 4th is imaginary. While in school, the teachers set up these flags on the school grounds during recess time. They watch over the kids, teaching them to stay within the play area, while leaving one corner open. Once the teachers feel as though the kids understand the concept of staying within their boundaries, they take them to Kings Lake and set up the same concept. Halfway through their semester, the teacher told us no kid has broken away from the imaginary boundary. What a brilliant way to teach discipline!
While hanging out on a beach on the Gold Coast, there was a group of preschoolers with 2 teaches taking a nature walk along the preserve at the beach. When Leo saw this, he decided to join in. The teachers had no problem with him joining along. They brought with them stencils and paper to draw what they saw. Leo had a blast! While we’ve yet to learn about the dynamics of what occurs inside an Aussie classroom, it seems like their education happens outside of it and creatively rules the day.
My mother was an educator for 35 years, teaching Music to Elementary kids. She routinely put on some of the most spectacular Christmas & Spring musical programs. They would pack the gymnasium to watch 7-8 year olds put on magical performances. She taught her kids to be creative, use their imagination, and appreciate the wonders of Music. When she retired 5 years ago, the school did not hire a new music teacher but rather combine music with the arts. Today, those gyms where performances took place are used to test those same 7-8 year olds. My cousin is a High School English teacher whom is one of the best & brightest in her profession. She has a passion and energy for her kids like no other. She’s lost her ability to be creative in her classroom as all they do is prepare for tests, tests, and more standardized tests.
The purpose of this article is not to point out if one system is better than the other. It is to show you the different ways developed Countries educate their kids. Is a test the right way to demonstrate knowledge? Particularly for a 6, 7, 8, 9 or even 10 year old? Gosia and I recently read an article in The Palm Beach Post (link — Why Good Teachers Quit) asking why good teachers are leaving the profession? Are we giving too much power to the administrators and not letting our best & brightest teachers create their own lesson plans?
Some of the most engaged teams I’ve led in the business world were those that had a stake in their own performance. One that wasn’t dictated from the top down but rather a shared commitment to exceed performance objectives with a game plan designed by the employee and manager on how goals would be met. Allowing manager & employee to write the game plan, signed off by senior management is one of the most effective ways to employee success and the success of the overall organization. It builds trust and engagement within the organization.
The same philosophy holds true for teachers and students. Allowing teachers to design their classrooms around what is best for their students, with the support of administration is a proven way to educate our kids. Leading a high powered classroom with engaged teachers, motivated students, and supportive parents works. As you can see from around the World, teachers are given a bit of autonomy on what is best for their class. I’m sure it is signed off by the Principal or some administrator but they lead the engagement of their classroom, not a standardized test.
All kids learn and grow differently. I’ve had great teachers (and parents) who inspired & motivated me to be successful. I had teachers who let me fail and allowed me to learn from my mistakes. I also had teachers who went through the motions. I remember Biology class in the woods, blowing up things in Chemistry, reading “The Great Gatsby” in English, applying math class at the grocery store and of course running mischief in Woodshop. I don’t remember a single question on my SAT nor how I applied it to the real world. All classrooms are different. The most engaged kids are those that are allowed to be creative, that fall and get back up, and those teachers that have a stake in their well being.