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Education for all

Five bloggers, five countries, one dialogue

Lacking unified standards in education

Maria's mother grading papers

I was having breakfast with my parents on Sunday. My mom is an English teacher, and she was grading papers. She asked me to take a look at some writing by her students.

“Do you think I’m being too demanding? This is for CAE [Cambridge English: Advanced] level,” she asked.

I pondered several things and exchanged ideas with her. It was during this conversation that I recalled how exactly I came to write in English as I do today.

When I found myself attending classes in Berlin, in an international college, writing philosophical essays of around 2,000 words, I realized I didn’t have a solid base of knowledge on how to write an essay. I had to learn how to structure complex ideas and elaborate thoughts by myself, through writing and feedback from faculty members. There’s a way in which, in Argentina, high standards in learning do not come from a joint effort, a socially sanctioned approach to providing good quality education. Instead, the standards come from individual initiative. It is by and large a common thing to hear people say: “I was lucky: in seventh grade, I had a wonderful language teacher,” or, “I didn’t have a hard time in math in college because for the last two years of high school my teacher was very demanding.”

In Argentina, when I was finishing high school, the system was 6-3-3: six years of primary school, three years of pre-high school, and three years of proper high school. In this last bit you had to choose an orientation, so it could be the case that your classmates and you had to part ways, and you found yourself in an entirely new group of people.

When preparing lessons, teachers set the standards by themselves

I remember doing grammar exercises during class. Some would take part and others would be at a complete loss. So the teacher would ask, “Who was your language teacher in pre-high school?” This is when you found out that some teachers stressed writing style, while others focused on grammar exercises, and, finally, some others made literature the priority. If you were lucky, you got a good basis in grammar and learned how to write properly and express yourself. This phenomenon that took place within the same school gets multiplied when you meet others your same age in college, who come from the provinces. Then the knowledge gap is wider than when you compare teenagers educated in Buenos Aires.

There is no single system that unifies educational standards. Even though teachers follow curricula, they may not emphasize one specific thing or another, and the rest is up to you. I sometimes get the feeling that either these topics in curricula are too general, or they are not properly evaluated at the end of the term. In any case, more often than not, you are left alone in making efforts to reach further.


May 15, 2012 | 6:03 pm