A lot of my students went on a school trip to England last week and as well as taking in the sights of York, Hull and Cambridge (strange choices of cities if you ask me) they spent a day in a school. Today, their first day back at school, they were only too delighted to tell me what a fantastic time they had in England. Which was wonderful to hear, many of these students are often very negative about my country and our language (mainly because they haven’t been to England so are basing all their opinions on negative stereotypes and also because they all find English harder to learn than Spanish so are never that thrilled to find themselves in English class.) But today they were all delights to teach as they arrived at class with new found motivation and drive to learn English and they were all only too happy to speak to me in English because I was asking them this week’s hot topic “how was the trip to Yorkshire?”
In my euro class (that is students who have science and maths taught in English) we looked at maths education in the UK and France and did a comparison. We looked at some GCSE past papers which I was hoping to be a reasonable challenge for them. These students were in premier (equivalent to year 12, so AS standard) so I excepted them to be able to do the questions aimed at year 11s, so children a year younger than them, without too much trouble, but I was sure there was going to be some challenge, partly with the vocabulary and partly with the style of the questions perhaps. But five minutes later they had concluded that maths is easy in the UK! This filled me with much amusement as while personally I was reasonably good at maths in year 11, I got 75% in this particular GCSE past paper they were looking at, but I would in no way consider the maths education in the UK to be easy!
One of them had also been in to a Food Technology lesson which they thought was a laughable subject. (They may have some reason – there’s some franglais for you!) But then it gave me an easy A* at GCSE so I’m not about to complain about it as a subject!
The thing that struck them the most was that we stop ‘general education’ at the age of 16, and even then it’s not that general because at GCSE level English, maths, science and often a language, IT and RE are compulsory but after that we will have 3-4 options of subjects like geography, a second language and technologies. Where as in France they continue ‘general education’ right up until the age of 18 (if of course they haven’t left school at 16), there are 3 strands of the baccalaureate so there is a little bit of variation in subjects, topics studied within subjects and how many hours of each subject but every student still does French, maths, science, languages, geography/history, and philosophy and compulsory sport even continues up to the age of 18! (My last PE lesson was in year 11 – so when I was 16!)
Me and my students couldn’t come to definitive conclusion whether the baccalaureate or A levels (the exams we do in the UK at the age of 18 in 3-4 subjects) are better. Some of them thought it was awesome that all I studied between the ages of 16 and 18 was French, Russian, philosophy and English (the science and maths haters in the class clearly!) Some seemed to think that as a result of A level English people will be stupid because they won’t know enough about maths, science and history (3 subjects that the French seem to, perhaps rightly, regard very highly).
All in all, today was a very good day of debate between our two education systems with my French students. As one of the girls walked out the classroom I heard her say to a friend “I spoke lots today”. Good, little girl! That was the point of my lesson!