For the past year, I am in training to become a teacher, a school teacher.
I remember very well the first time I stood in front of a class. The teachers, who hardly spoke English gave me their books and literally threw me in front of 10 Nepali kids. Most of them had different ages but all being very curious about the touch of my blond wavy hear and my big bright blue eyes.
There, I stood a little stunned and eventually just went along. That is where my story as a teacher begun.
From the foothills of the Himalayas, I went to an international school in one of the top world’s Maharaja states rich in culture and colour, Rajasthan. There, I was exposed to arts in many forms. Music, dance and art was a part of their general education. Children as young as 6 years old had French classes, much earlier than we have in Belgium. In fact, not only do they have French, all of their classes are taught in English except for Hindi their mother tong and Sanskrit.
So from the age of 6 these children learn in 4 different languages, at home they speak Hindi or their Rajasthan dialect. However, to my greatest disappointment only half of the University lectors in the same city were able to communicate in English. English was in fact well understood even better written than mine but verbal communication was poor just because unspoken or unpracticed.
From here onward, I traveled South, here too I learned that languages where highly valued as well as education. Actually, in India the school facilities may not all be well equipped with tables and chairs but surprisingly technology remains on top. Just like almost every Indian, as poor as they can be, have a smartphone so do the teachers’ have electronic Smart Boards and students computer access.
Not only that, I had wished to come to school here. All the students start their school day with a daily routine being drilled from day one. As one group (the entire school participates) they perform a 30 minute exercise and a morning prayer dedicated to good practice and education so not religious. Overall these kids are disciplined and daily trained to focus and concentrate on their studies. Not only from school but also from their parents. Studies and education take priority.
One day, in between two worlds, I was sitting in a library in Australia where I saw one mother with her 3 children. This mom didn’t have a computer so every day after school she took her kids aged 6, 7 and 9 to the library to do their online homework. Paper based homework is already outdated in Australia since 2014. Usually Australia comes behind to the rest of the world but today I am doubtful that Belgium might be.
Our country centered in the heart of Europe, filled with many different cultures and languages, with plenty of tax money to spend doesn’t seem to see the issues our 21st century education is facing. Already there is a shortage on teachers and more are about to quit if the needs aren't heard.
I was shocked, when last month, I stood for the first time in a Flemish school. Here in Belgium were our country has 3 national languages being Dutch, French and German, from my memory I was educated in only one language, Dutch, up my 4 year in elementary school. From what I feel this is still the same case today.
Some other language facts, while a large amount of our population since the European Union is being multilingual our classes are still taught in Dutch while English remains undervalued. My students of which approximately 96% of which mother tongue is French, Arabic or another African dialect spoke some Dutch and very little English. Arabic was in fact the most spoken language in my school and wasn't even taught!
Belgium has a large amount of citizens with Islamic background but still there is no Arabic language taught in our schools? Than how can we interlace our cultures and unify if their language to us is not understood? If there is no common communication and no cultural exchange? Why not take an example of International schools where most of the subjects are taught in English a global spoken language and all other languages as a subject of choice?
Language is only a small part of my findings over the past month but I was happy to hear about the launch of CLIL (Content Learning Integrates Languages) in our education. This should have been in since the start of the European commission.
I have noticed many other issues in our educational system. Students receive special support when they misbehave but where is the care for our well-being of our teachers? They don’t receive any psychological care after violently mistreated or verbally abused by their students. No instead more homework and extra “detention” assignments to create endless reports are given to them, to which parents respond with a complaint.
Our children don’t know what discipline means, have free unstructured lives probably because their parents are too busy organising their own or perhaps they are busy trying to find a peace of mind in this highly demanding world. Whatever it is something is seriously missing when it comes to parenting because from what I’ve noticed, it are the children who are empowering their parents.
Than there is a Smart School App for teachers to complete their student’s diary, but there are still no Smart Boards? Where is the time "we" students had to manage our own diary? I am sorry to say but let them at least complete their own agenda, as we had to do. Teach them how to manage, because all of this technology is too much for them to handle, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, Snapshot and whatever other social media they are hooked on they don’t find their way to the Smart School App. Unless of course they received a note for bad behaviour or scores than doesn’t please their parents.
Lets’ not even go into further detail about the school facilities. While I studied interior architecture in 2003, I was taught that a restaurant should have minimum 1 toilet for 10 people. Here in the school in Brussels were I was teaching there were 3 toilets to share with more than 100 girls. We as teachers were due to this fact obligated to grant toilet permission. Because of this, half of our class time is interrupted for out off class toilet passes which is very annoying when you’re trying to teach and students abuse this excuse to escape because they know you can’t decline them.
Furthermore, students had to share a table with three, some classes didn’t have enough chairs. And talking about "personal" space, your own intimate comfort zone, your safe space, there was none. Students and teachers were literally sitting or standing glued onto or next to each other like matches in a matchbox.
Dear minister of education it is about time you go and sit undercover in a classroom, spend some time in the teacher rooms to listen and see what our schools need.
So we can move forward to a 21st education, learning through sharing, experiencing and working together in this multi-social cultural environment where students should be able to choose the language in which they like to be taught in. Each school should have their own learning zone, a library and computer room accessible for homework, research and self-study. A quiet room, where one can come to themselves when it’s too much … and a PLAY ground, yes a PLAY ground so they can experience and learn how to be social KIDS instead of swiping their mobiles screens.
As a footnote, there should be some sort of global equanimity in our education so our degrees are correspondingly worldly accepted for global employment opportunities. Our students should have worldwide equal rights not just those of wealthy parents but also those talented intelligent children who live in tiny villages up high in mountains or far in the jungle, as well as devoted students that are being disadvantaged because they grew up in “a third world country”, should be given that chance to go to a university . Above all education should be free and accessible to all.
“Squeeze the sweetness out of your students, until they love you.” ~ Mata
Image artwork copyright by Mata (Brigitte Gouwy) at Ayushi Yoga