Last week I was in Belgium in the beautiful city of Leuven for the SIETAR Congress.
SIETAR stands for the Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research and their biennial congress is a very friendly affair. Of course a Congress is always very diverse, forgive the pun, and in addition diversity was one of the main themes of the Congress this year so todays show is also very diverse.
If you are listening to this from our website then you will see a beautiful image of the gothic town hall of Leuven. This is where we had the opening reception to the Congress and this is also where we heard the mayor of Leuven, Mohamed Ridouani, give a very inspirational talk about what you can do at local level to make people feel valued and included. Unfortunately I did not ask him to be on the podcast but we do have an interesting variety of people for you in the next 25 minutes or so.
I’m sitting here in Denmark after having attended the annual IATEFL conference in Liverpool in the UK. There are always people from all over the world at this conference, which is one of the biggest gatherings of teachers of English as a foreign language in the world and this year was no exception.
One really nice surprise for me was to meet up with We’am Hamdan who I had recently worked with virtually. I love working online but it’s always nice to meet people face to face and We’am had travelled a long way from Palestine to be in Liverpool where she was leading a session for the IATEFL Global Issues special interest group. We’am was talking about a really interesting and universal topic so we have decided to devote this whole show to it.
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.
I’ll stop right there because it’s our attitude to school which is going to be the main topic of of the show today. And if you want to know the rest then you’ll have to revisit ‘As you like it’.
In the last show we explored some of the many cultural aspects of learning apparent in one educational institution and in this show we’re going to stick with the idea of learning culture but this time on a world wide basis.
I mentioned the 2 Million Minutes project very briefly in the show on China and the Olympics but I was so intrigued by the project that I got in touch with Bob Compton, the man behind the project, so that I could find out more.
absolutely educated: What do you want to be when you grow up? According to Bob Compton the answer you give to this question when you are six or seven years old says a great deal about how successful your country is going to be economically in the future. Be honest now! What would your answer have been at that age?
Bob Compton is worried about the economic consequences of the American education system but sees the problem as arising from different cultural attitudes to learning and teachers. He decided to raise awareness about the competition from India and China by making a film following the lives of 6 high school students from the 3 different countries. The project is called 2 million minutes and I asked Bob to tell us more….
absolutely rotary: Bob kept asking me about how things were in Europe generally and Denmark in particular but having never experienced anything other than the European education system it was difficult for me to say. When I heard that one of my colleagues was hosting an American student, Brittany Alcorn, through the Rotary Youth Exchange programme I jumped at the chance for a chat with her. It seems that the Danish situation is probably closer to the American model than the Indian and Chinese models.
absolutely concerned: Back with Bob Compton I asked him to explain the title of the project and then wanted to know more about some of the main observations made in the film. He picked out the differing parental aspirations as a key difference.
absolutely musical: Ah but, say the objectors, it’s not healthy to study all the time, what about creativity? A running theme through the project seems to be the musical prowess of the Chinese on all sorts of instruments. Even the translator could play something on the accordion!
absolutely prepared: So having seen the situation in India and China did this have any effect on Bob Compton’s family at an individual level? I asked him in particular about his daughters’ education and discovered that the family had made radical changes.
‘In America you have tutors when your children are failing but in India and China you have tutors when your children are doing well so that they can do even better.”
‘In India your college application is your name and your test score. Nothing else!’
I was interested in this project for what it told me about cultural differences in the attitude to education but there have also been some very strong negative reactions to this project because it tends to view education in purely utilitarian terms. Where do you stand on this? Let us know here on the blog. What is the learning culture in your country? Is it closer to the Indian and Chinese models or closer to the American model? You will find lots more information about the 2 Million minutes project at their website where you can even take an Indian maths test and you will find many film snippets about the back story behind the project on their dedicated channel at YouTube.
By the way, I would like to do a show exploring some of the new social networking language learning websites which have sprung up in the last year or so. So if you have any experience as a user of sites such as Live Mocha,Palabea, Mango Languages or Babbel then get in touch because I would like to know if they really work.