Comenius Exchange – Steven Ollivier, history/geography and Breton teacher at le Likès High School in Quimper, is immersing himself in Almere, the Netherlands (and yet, it’s a polder!).
A breath of fresh-air...
A Breton teacher in an alien environment ???
Aware of the current developments and issues of globalisation, Le Likès High School has chosen to fully integrate an international dimension into its educational projects. It has established European Departments, whose successes have not been denied for over ten years. The teaching staff at Le Likès have been working towards the development of international trade by ensuring the diversification and optimisation of each project. Therefore, the school has also invested in the European Comenius project.
For two years, the implementation of this project has helped us to form a special relationship with a Dutch school in Almere. The alternating visits of the educational staff (teachers and management) to the respective institutions has been very rewarding for both countries. The quality of these meetings has also allowed us to initiate a student exchange. The Comenius project encourages an indepth sharing of teaching practices and European perceptions by the alternating of the two sets of teachers.
It is within this particular framework that I myself went to Almere to meet the students and teaching staff of Het Baken High School.
The stay was too short for me to truly appreciate the Dutch education system in all its fullness. Therefore, I will limit myself here to delivering you a less detailed study of the school in Holland from a series of impressions formed by my observations and by the conversations that I have been able to have with my Ducth counterparts.
It seems important first to emphasize the national context to which schools in the Netherlands subscribe. Economic power; Holland is a country with a low unemployment rate. It is a given when we know that the factors of stress at school are generated by the fear or the uncertainty of the future. Culturally, its political, economic and religious history make the Netherlands a nation tolerant and open to the world, at least, less autocentric than France! Thus, bilingualism is almost a foregone conclusion for the Dutch who all speak English easily. We are still a long way from this in France. Note here that all Anglo-Saxon films and series are broadcast in English with subtitles.
School in Holland seems more pragmatic. Careers advice is given earlier. It takes place after year six (11 to 12 years) rather than after year three (14 to 15 years) as in France. It allows them to make a choice between career paths, short courses after the Baccalaureat or university. It may seem early but there are many paths to choose between.
Considering that their students are very ’alive’ compared to French students, my Dutch colleagues were eagerly awaiting my thoughts. I actually noticed more noise but it never really appeared to be rowdiness or mayhem. There is more of a contract between the students and the teachers at Almere High School. The relationships are closer. The students can use the informal ’you’ with their teachers or call them by their first names (but it is not an obligation). In return, the students must be more autonomous and responsible for their schooling. Thus, a certain lack of effectiveness during the class was more a lack of concentration than a genuine desire to defy the authority of the teacher. From meeting the students I had the feeling that they were more spontaneous but more carefree. Without necessarily getting into stereotypical differences, the students in France seem to be more worried about their schooling. But this concern is not only limited to results. The weight of grades naturally tends to take up a great deal of importance in the French school system while in Holland, the system tends to reduce tests and evaluations and focus on self-diagnosis. We cannot fail to underline that we cannot seperate the legitimate anxieties of the students (and parents) concerning the academic achievement from the specific socio-economic environment of each country, as we have seen. Once more, I could sense how the issue of student assessment was at the heart of our practice whatever the country.
Recalling the pragmatism in Dutch schools, it is also reflected in their teaching practices. I attended a 4th year (13 to 14 years) history class. It was about the Industrial Revolution. No fundamental differences: the class is interactive and the teacher also lectures. However, the students have more exercises to do. They have a pre-printed notebook in which they work. They happen to also have another plain notebook but this is obviously just for draft work. The beautiful, colourful coursebooks of our own school children do not seem to exist here. Is the information in the books not enough? In this respect, the Dutch history books are less attractive than our own.
I also attended a music class where the practical element was very privileged. I am still struck by the amount of equipment available: several keyboards, about fifteen djembés, two full drum sets, several electric guitars and two pianos.
These four days of immersion in the eductaion system of Het Baken High School have been very rewarding. They have allowed me to discover different ways to teach or work. It remains difficult then to make these changes. However, this kind of experience gives us the opportunity to take stock ot our practices and to commonly reflect on a European education system. Ha petra ’ta? (and why not?) as they say in Breton.
Thank you to Isabelle, Janet, Henri and all the staff at Het Baken who welcomed me with such kindness.
Published on the : Tuesday 1 September 2009
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