Education – From Communism To Free Enterprise

I have claimed for many years that there’s no better way to succeed in learning or teaching a foreign language, than to visit foreign countries and live abroad for a while. The best way to learn, is to live in a country where the language in question is the native one. And now, I have a reason to believe my certainty.

As a university student in Slovakia, with my major in English, I sometimes had a hard time understanding what was going on during the lectures. Therefore, I had to study even more to catch up with the rest of the class. I also envied those of my classmates who had an opportunity to study in England, the USA or Canada. They really didn’t have to show any special effort in passing the exams.

After completing three years of my university degree, I got a chance to experience the school system in the United States and to finish my studies here. Now I am experiencing the great school system in Canada through my studies at AU. In making the move from Slovakia to North America, I felt like I was chosen and called to bring some innovation into my life. I didn’t leave because of a lack of interest in studying in Slovakia – rather I found it interesting just being a part of something new.

Back at home the interest in education is evident, but the future of graduates is not always great. Many of them are not appreciated enough. The nation can see the reflection of this fact mainly in salaries.

Education is very important for students in Slovakia. Parents, especially, urge their children to study hard, and to go for a degree, so they’ll have a better future. It’s not always the greatest choice.

Despite some uncomfortable conditions and many obstacles, the number of applicants for college/university entrance constantly rises but it’s several times higher than the number of openings. In Slovakia, having a degree is still a lifebuoy.

There are about 20 colleges and universities in Slovakia. It’s not enough, especially when the number of high-school graduates is large and students are eager to continue in their studies. One of the reasons for such an interest in higher learning was free education, which everybody had been enjoying for years. One of the advantages of free education is that it allows everybody to study, whether they are rich or poor. Paying for education will definitely complicate the situation. It’s clear that many colleges and universities will lose talented students just because they won’t be able to pay.

I was born in former Czechoslovakia and growing up in its very eastern part felt many times like having a temporary residence in a different country. Many people abroad considered Czechoslovakia as one of the states in Russia, which was just misleading.

The Soviet Union had been the greatest in every way. During eight years of my elementary school attendance, we were all forced into learning a Russian language, marching with Russian flags on May 1st, learning the Soviet anthem and doing things that really seemed to me like nonsense. Despite all that, Czechoslovaks were surviving, though our drunken minds hadn’t woken up in years. There was no need for that. People had steady jobs, employees and employers were both happy, and education and medical assistance were served for free for many years. The goal of the Communists was to keep it all forever. It would have been nice, but people asked for change. The main reason was to replace what was almost a dictatorship with democracy.

The Velvet revolution in November, 1989 was the first step Czechoslovaks took to explore a brighter future. Over 10 years, the existence of two separate, independent countries – Slovak and Czech Republic – has changed and improved relations with surrounding countries.

In the beginning, right after the revolution, many people, mostly older ones, were grateful to young people who had resisted communist leaders and had changed the regime in Czechoslovakia by strikes and protesting. After the communist regime was over, the style of living got a new face. Suddenly, we were free to do once forbidden things. Doctors, teachers and other prominent individuals went to church without a fear of losing their jobs and positions. On the other hand, western culture exploded too quickly and it has had a strong impact on everybody.

Morality and ethics have fled. Movies and videos contain a lot of violence and sex, and it all stares children in the face. Nobody is ashamed of anything. Every year brings something new. The year, especially, there has been the breaking old social structures and replacing them by new rules, such as paying for medical assistance and education for full time students. Those duties now evoke discontent and disagreement in people.

A few months ago, Slovaks again applied their voting rights. This time they voted to express their opinion about a membership in the European Union. The election was successful, but people still don’t understand the fact, that being a part of such a group means to play according to their rules and to adapt to new circumstances.

And this is a time when not only old people, but mainly younger ones, would welcome the old communist times, when food was cheap, jobs were steady and people happy.

As a student in Europe and America I have experienced two different styles of life and study. In Europe, I became a full-time student with a combination of two majors. Many times I tired of going to school every day, traveling by bus or car 45 minutes from my home. I had to travel everyday, because I was not qualified for living on campus. The reason? The place of my residency was too close to campus. There were other students who lived tens and hundreds of miles from the place. In this case, the room availability depends on numbers. And numbers here, means miles or money.

For college/university students in Slovakia the school year is divided into Fall and Spring semester, there are no summer sessions, and many times the exams last till July and reappear in the end of August. The official duration of college attendance in Slovakia is four to five years and mostly all of the students finish their studies during that time. Students cannot choose courses for a particular semester. There is always a schedule of required courses and those are the only ones to choose. Credits have not been completely introduced in our school system, yet.

This partly backward aspect of our school system is not what concerns me the most. What I really don’t like is the atmosphere in classes and some teachers’ attitudes. Students are required to show complete respect. It’s almost inadmissible to talk to a teacher without using proper words and of course, his or her title. Teachers are showing their power in many ways. They repeatedly fail students after five years of studying.

Obviously, some students lose their interest as well as their patience. And they end up, for example, in America where in this matter, just being in school teaches them.

I believe a student’s soul goes through the same stages wherever it is. It just depends on conditions offered to an individual, how fast they perceive, and how experienced the school system is.

Hopefully, The Slovak republic is on its way to succeed and can find a teacher in greater nations.

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