State Schools Vs Private Schools

Here in Shetland, we have a surprisingly egalitarian society.  Though extremely wealthy and extremely poor people do exist, it’s never something which is displayed at the forefront of social interactions.  During high school I never even considered the wealth of my peers’ families.  I was both shocked and incredulous to discover that, in some state schools, kids can even be bullied for coming from ‘the estates’.  We do, of course, have some areas which develop a reputation for being dodgy, but this is never a prime consideration in creating social relationships.

And, quite significantly, we have no private schools.  Every child who grows up in Shetland to adulthood, as I have, will only ever have the option to experience state schools.  We use a junior-high model*, in which schools are dotted around rural areas, gradually becoming more centralised as you progress up the ladder.  There are dozens of primary schools, seven or so high schools, and two schools which offer Highers and Advanced Highers for 5th and 6th years.  Fortunately, I believe these state schools to be among the best in the country**.  We always had access to teachers, who were generally excellent; the schools were wealthy enough to provide us with all resources we needed; and everyone could expect to leave school with decent qualifications.  I have been fortunate enough to see state education at its best.

And yet, still it pales in comparison to what I hear about private schools: one-to-one tuition; studies in Latin, Greek, most sciences imaginable; after-school clubs; exceedingly high performance rates?  I’m sure private schools like to claim they have the best students, and that it’s purely coincidence that these academically ‘gifted’ young people also happen to have wealthy families.  The concept of receiving a better education if you’re ‘willing’ to pay for it is completely alien to me and, frankly, abhorrent.  I don’t wish at all to glorify private education, but they really do seem to get results.  Not just during school, but afterwards; the impression I have – perhaps wrongly – is that private schools are determined to successful alumni in all fields, and that they often achieve this.  Therefore, having a wealthier and more privileged background very probably means you yourself will lead a wealthy and privileged life.  This strikes me as utterly unfair.

But I don’t intend to lament the supposedly superior quality of private schools.   I regret nothing about my state education.  I’m confident there are infinitely more benefits from sending a child to a state school than private.  It exposes them to a variety of views and backgrounds in the natural diversity you find in all state schools.  State schools probably give students a much healthier view of themselves; that they’re neither privileged nor handicapped, but have the exact same opportunities and potentials as their peers, and any results they achieve are solely through their own effort.  Teachers will be there because they genuinely care about education and teaching, rather than simply seeking a well-paid, comfortable career.

I do recognise that many state schools across the country are of a lower standard than the education I received, which makes me very sad.  A year or so ago, a teacher told me about a school in a rough area of Aberdeen she used to work at which was clearly failing its pupils.  It’s an imperative necessity to improve the quality of such schools, to provide a free, high-standard of education for all.  We mustn’t let wealth and privilege determine the quality of a child’s education.  If I ever have children of my own, you can be quite certain that I’ll proudly enrol them into a state school.

*The council currently seeks to close many of these high schools, much to the outrage of many in these rural communities.

**They’re also among the few schools in the country to not have school uniforms.  It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that allowing more freedom of expression produces better results all round.

World Languages

So I’ve decided to start learning French again.  From the ages of 10 – 15 I was taught the basics of the language in school, and actually somehow managed to get a Grade 1 in Standard Grade French (roughly the equivalent of an ‘A’ GCSE – I think).  I decided to drop the subject when choosing my Highers, because I always found it an uphill struggle and, frankly, wanted as good grades as possible to place me in better stead for university.  I think I regret that decision, now.

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My main reasons are, again, pragmatic.  If I desire to be a journalist, and if I desire to actually find stories about interesting things around the world (rather than: “Local Cake Festival attracts 200 People! 13% increase!!”), then at least being able to speak the basics of a second language will be absolutely essential.  I figured that, with English, French is the language I’d be most likely to encounter around the world.  For fun, I rushed together the map to the left of languages you’d be guaranteed to find around the world.  There’s a European bias, because, for me, these are more realistic to be learned.  I think the combination of English, French and Spanish would be the best choices, as they would open up virtually all of the Americas (I believe Portuguese and Spanish have some mutually intelligibility), Western Europe, Africa, India and Oceania.  Although, of course, armed with these languages you would be very likely to find a speaker of at least one wherever you go.

Because I have a basic understanding of French already, learning it now is easier than it would be from scratch.  My main methods for learning is the highly useful http://www.duolingo.com as well as the news websites, http://www.lemonde.fr and http://www.bbc.co.uk/afrique .  I’m aware that these methods won’t do much to help my speaking of French, which is something I could probably only improve my being in a French-speaking country.

Hopefully this will go well, and not end up abandoned after a few weeks!

My Varied Week

Warning: this post goes into detail about the ups and downs of my past week.  May involve mild feelings.  If you’re of the irritating belief that we should all be living ice people with stiff lips then you may find this vaguely offensive, though there’s nothing too obscene.

One word: Prelims.  If you know what this means I expect you to be recoiling in horror right now and if you don’t, well, you are envied by many.  Basically, preliminary examinations which act as a kind of practice run before the final exams.  They do count for getting into courses which start before you get results for the final exams, and can also be used in appeals, but I’m in the fortunate position of relying on neither since I already have the grades I need.

So, why was it so Hellish?  Simply, all four of my exams were scheduled between four days of one another.  I am, of course, grateful that I have the opportunity to sit any exams – but did it have to be so stressful?  I’ve spent most of the last month either doing research for my history dissertation (“How great an effect did the pressures of foreign countries have on Apartheid policies between 1960 and 1984?”) and NABs (other horrific ‘unit passes’, which you need to pass in order to sit the final exam).  So basically, I had no time to revise for the exams.

Then I caught a cold.  And snow swept across the island.  It’s as if the world has been conspiring to make me perform as badly as possible in the Prelims!  It’s fair to say this past week wasn’t an enjoyable experience – particularly the three hour Advanced Higher history exam… I still shudder at the thought.  But, somehow, I managed to get to all four of my exams and actually seemed to do alright.  Not had any of the results yet – not that they’re very important at this stage – but I performed as well as I could have hoped.

The most varied day of all was Wednesday, the Hellish history exam.  I genuinely felt in a state of mild shock afterwards, consumed by numbness, unable to get my head out of Apartheid South Africa (not the nicest of places).  A couple of people described me as ‘shell-shocked’, amusingly.  I guess the length of the exam, the longest I’ve ever sat, took it out of me.  I hear exams at university typically last three hours… *another shudder*.  Interestingly, St. Andrews chose that day to let me know they’d offered me an unconditional place to study English.

I HAVE A PLACE AT ST. ANDREWS!!  How did that happen?  That’s so amazing!  I’m so lucky!

And I’m probably going to turn it down.  Hah.  I’m not sure yet, and wouldn’t like to say anything for sure.  I guess, having grown up on a remote island, I’d prefer to live somewhere well connected like a city.  And St. Andrews, for all its prestige, has a very negative reputation of royalty and privilege – neither of which I’m a great fan of!  I’ll have to visit, of course.  It’s exciting to tell people I’ve been offered a place, anyway.  Someone told me I would be ‘mad’ to turn it down.  Am I?

So yeah, that was my dramatic week.  How was yours?