Are we just passing courses?

Europeans say that Americans (and by that they mean the whole continent of America) are less intelligent than Europeans are. They deduce this from the fact that Americans don’t have as much difficulty studying as Europeans do. American students are considered less active in the schooling process; their participation in studies Europeans perceive as partying, driving cars, and eating in MacDonald’s (which is so unfair to Americans; they eat at Wendy’s, too!).

But, let’s move to what I intended to talk about. Among the many things that North Americans know little about, is Slovakia. Slovaks think Americans don’t know about Slovakia because they are not educated enough. But I think Americans don’t know about Slovakia, because they aren’t interested. I ask my Slovak friends repeatedly what they know about the smallest state in the USA or any small province in Canada. They don’t know anything about these places. They also have trouble remembering time zones and are a bit confused about the weather in America.

I would say that there are less intelligent and more intelligent people all over the world; it doesn’t matter what nationalities we are. What is interesting is that people who don’t have a chance to try living in different parts of the world would consider themselves different, maybe better than others are. Many Slovaks do think that their high schools and universities are “equipped” with a better content of books, instructions and lectures than American schools are. Slovaks would say that Americans don’t study enough, that their courses are simple and that they don’t pay adequate attention to facts that are important for students in other countries.

Since the Slovak Republic is located in the heart of Europe, Slovaks feel every nation in Europe and all over the world should know about us, the Slovaks. Moreover, they feel that whoever who does not know about us is probably not clever enough. Slovakia is a small country that hosted this year’s summit of President Bush and President Putin. The Slovak government made the meeting of these two Presidents a great celebration. American flags were all over the capital and thousands of police officers spent hours figuring out what was going on. Believe me; it looked like Mr. Bush’s presidential campaign or worse. Despite the gala, Slovaks are in shock because American media introduced Slovakia as a part of Former Soviet Union or former Jugoslavia.

I would say that it is mostly because of the misconceptions like this one that Slovaks consider Americans uneducated. A while ago, some of my Slovak friends had a chance to visit America and tried to take some courses at local colleges and universities. Based on their experience, they felt that studying in America is much easier than studying at home. I actually can compare the difficulty, because I have tried both systems. The first that makes the Slovak university system more challenging is that students need to pass an entrance exam while they are still in high school. They’re preparing for final exams before graduation and studying to be accepted to universities they choose.

However, passing that exam does not guarantee a student’s acceptance. Almost ten years ago, when I was sweating during the entrance exams, 3000 other students were sweating along with me but the number university seats open for the next year was a mere 300. Even though a student passes the exam, some other criteria are considered before they are admitted. For some, a

student’s aunt or uncle, or neighbor may help in the admitting process or provide a key to a new car for a helper who is willing to provide a student with exam questions. Though students all over the world are familiar with entrance exams, Slovaks still think that the exams in Slovakia are the hardest ones. I believe, however, that most students are accepted based on their knowledge, not on their parents’ bank accounts.

However, for those talented and smart individuals who are accepted, studies are no fun. It is hard work. Slovaks need to know a lot to pass a course and teachers expect them to score high. Mostly there are competitions among students. I dislike one particular thing about some Slovak teachers: they want their students to simply chase those books that are sometimes unavailable in local libraries and students need to travel to other towns, or call their friends in other universities and look for the books. One seminar work can destroy the relationship between a student and a teacher. There are many strict rules that are introduced to students from the very beginning.

On the other hand, I think being a Slovak abroad makes my studies in America hard because I learn new facts in foreign language; because of this, every success makes me extremely happy. However, if the American grading policy were to resemble the one in the Slovak republic, I would need to concentrate even more and work harder, too.

Passing grades of 50 or 60% in Americans schools are not comprehensible to Slovak students. In Slovakia, college and university students need 75% to pass their courses. I believe a passing grade of 70% is rare, so it is very hard to pass courses in Slovak universities. Many students are not able to do so. They end their studies, or even worse things happen, such as the firing of students from their last exams in the last year of their studies.

I think giving students an option in what is important to them, rather than drilling in insignificant statistics or issues, is laudable. A fifty percent passing grade gives students opportunities to decide what they need to improve more; they have time for concentration on topics they like, rather than being forced into reading and studying books they simply deny because of their contents, (or they don’t learn about small unimportant countries located far away).

On the other hand, the pressure on students in countries where passing grades on assignments and exams are higher than in America wouldn’t do American students any harm. Students who excel at higher standards know the word “toughness.” I think foreign students who come to America are pleasantly surprised about the grading system. Still, as I have mentioned, studying in a foreign country is as hard as needing a passing grade of 80%, but I am happy to have an opportunity to choose among many courses. I did not have that chance in Slovakia.

I hope the Slovak school system will soon change its façade and will make itself more approachable for students of any age and any social status. It is all about money, because when students pay for their education, they are more appreciative, and better respected by their instructors (In Slovakia, a former communist country, university education is free.)

In America it may cost a lot, but that feeling you have is priceless. Believe me, I can compare now.

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