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Peculiarities of education abroad

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Juniors studying abroad in Denmark, Nicaragua and the U.K. contemplate on the education systems there.

Juniors studying abroad in Denmark, Nicaragua and the U.K. contemplate on the education systems there.

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  • 1. 10 PERSPECTIVES NICARAGUA’S POOR STRUGGLE TO ATTAIN EDUCATION G April 22, 2010 Mount Holyoke News BY MIKA KIE WEISSBUCH ‘11 thers who work and bring home money and children who the texts, contributing to the power the Catholic Church CONTRIBUTING WRITER run errands”—images foreign to the Nicaraguan children, exercises in the country. especially those who live in the countryside, start work in Though the new government spent more on education The dream of the parents here is that our children “ the fields at a young age and never expect Santa Claus to than during the 1980s, parents were also required to pay continue their education after the age of 15,” my host visit their homes. A Christian element was also added to a monthly fee and other expenses in a country where 80 mother in rural Ramón García, percent of the population lives on less than Nicaragua told me. She didn’t have two dollars per day. The principal of a public the opportunity to attend school but primary school in Managua, told me in an in- benefited from the adult literacy cam- terview that the intent was to decentralize paign after the 1979 revolution. education and undermine the power of the Alfebetización, or the literacy ministry of education. According to Yamileth campaign, was launched in the early Pérez, my advisor, health promoter, commu- 1980s by the Sandinistas, members of nity organizer and mother of four, during the a socialist party in Nicaragua. Uni- 16 years of conservative government, par- versity students paused their studies ents had to pay one dollar monthly per child, to travel to rural areas of the country, plus money for supplies, exams and food. For teaching literacy to adults. As a re- many parents, the costs were too steep, and sult, 400,000 adults learned to read their children were prevented from receiv- and write in 1990, according to Re- ing an education. vista Envío Magazine, and the liter- As soon as the Sandinistas assumed acy rate rose from 49 percent to 87 power in 2006, they developed a new literacy percent in five months, according to program to help poor families. But problems a 2005 UNESCO report. In 2009, still persist. La Prensa, a conservative news- nearly 30 years after the literacy cam- paper in Nicaragua, reported a shortage of paign, the US Department of State desks, a deficit claimed to affect 60,000 chil- puts the estimate at just 81 percent, dren, especially in rural areas. In the pri- which shows there is still much room mary school I visited, there is no playground, for improvement in Nicargua’s edu- only a few sad-looking swings, there is no cation system. air-conditioning in the sweltering class- In 1990, with the election of con- rooms and the principal uses her own in- servative Violeta Chamorro, neolib- come to help buy textbooks. The teachers eral policies were introduced and are paid a pittance of around $250 a month. social programs were privatized. But even in Managua, Nicaragua’s capi- More than 370 teachers and school tal, it is not uncommon to see children sell- principals, Envío reported, were fired ing fruits on the streets, washing windows or transferred. The guiding principle during red lights or simply begging. When I for this campaign was well articu- climbed the mountain of trash that is La lated by the education minister, So- Chureca, the municipal dump, children as fonías Cisneros: “We don’t want wise young as five or six were helping their par- teachers; we want loyal ones.” ents search for bottles and trash that they New textbooks replaced the old can sell, in the smoke, dust and sun. The ones, erasing the propaganda of the hope lies in new programs and grassroots revolution, along with history. The organizers that work to increase accessibil- new books, Envío observed, depicted ity of education and help parents who, “blue-eyed children, references to though not educated themselves, begin to Santa Claus and sentences about ‘rid- see education as an imperative for their chil- ing a bicycle to market.’” They also dren. told the stories of “mothers who cook, Denmark’s welfare system: First-hand accounts on wash and use sewing machines, fa- Visit www.TheMHNews.org for complete article. An example to follow education in the U.K. BY XIAOWEN WANG ’11 For a liberal arts college student, the contrast BY SCHUYLER MARQUEZ ’11 ing. Not only do Danish students attend uni- STAFF WRITER between a big university and a small, intimate col- STAFF WRITER versities for free, but they are also paid lege can be drastic. As a fellow student here in the while completing their studies. They may Danes and Americans often ask me why U.K. told me, “At Mount Holyoke, you are always taken care of with professors take up to six years to complete their de- I chose to study in Denmark. Covering an making sure that you are on the right track. Here, you are pretty much on your grees, and after graduation, Danish job cen- area half the size of Maine and with a popu- own.” ters assist them in career searches and lation of five million inhabitants, the coun- When I first started my classes at the University of Edinburgh, I was aston- support them financially for up to six years try represents a mere 0.008 percent of the ished by the number of students and professors. Although I was prepared to at- until they find jobs. This support system is world’s 6.7 billion people. Yet what attracted tend classes with hundreds of students, I didn’t expect to see the courses co-taught in stark contrast with the American one. me to Denmark was not its size, but the by six to ten professors. I often sit there and wonder how can the professors form Sure, the U.S. federal government provides state’s culture and unique welfare system. close relationships with their students. grants, but students still have to rely finan- Denmark has been ranked consistently At Mount Holyoke, my professors know me well and I regard many of them cially on either their parents, waitressing as one of the happiest countries in the world not only as my mentors, but also as close friends. Here, however, I often wonder if jobs or private donations. and, as a result of its large welfare state, the professors even know the names of their students. Of course, when students The idea is that it is in Denmark’s best boasts low unemployment rates, high edu- have questions, they can always go to the professors’ offices or email them, but interest for all its citizens to be well edu- cation standards and provides its population rarely will students visit professors as friends. A friend of mine joked, “My advi- cated. The Ministry of Education reports with many social benefits, including univer- sor is always busy—I only see him when we meet and discuss my thesis. I often that more than 80 percent of Danes complete sal health care. While mingling with Danes have to chase him!” In contrast, at Mount Holyoke, I often go to my advisers just a general upper secondary education. How- as an American, one might often find oneself to share about what is going on in my life. I remember that during my sophomore ever, they are working to improve the figure trying to defend the state of U.S. politics, year, when I was going through a tough period, I attended my adviser’s office hours to 95 percent. State support is prevalent in health care and education. While I have every week just to chat with her. Each time I came out of her office, I felt a lot more other aspects of life as well, including a one- found it difficult to defend a lot of American composed. year maternity leave, high pensions for re- ways, my overall experience with the Dan- Education in the U.K. is also more specialized. Chemistry students may spend tired persons and career advising when ish system has been nothing but positive. years doing nothing but chemistry. They dig deep into this field, but may not learn people unexpectedly become unemployed. Upon my arrival in Denmark, I was sent much about other subjects. I consider this both a benefit and a disadvantage. In The downside is that Danes pay high to the Kommune Office to get my “CPR my medicinal chemistry class, for example, the chemistry majors often struggle taxes. The average taxation rate is between Card,” my official Danish ID, library card with biology concepts. As my adviser here joked when he saw “History of Medi- 42 and 63 percent of one’s income, a level and health insurance card. The Kommune cine” on my course record, “Wow, a humanities class! What are humanities? I don’t that many Americans would find problem- office was newly renovated and I was understand a word about them! Well, but I am just a boring chemist.” On the con- atic. Yet despite the high taxes, recent sur- greeted by smiling faces. I took a number trary, the unique liberal arts education of Mount Holyoke offers students more veys show, Danish citizens remain content. and five minutes later, a lady was typing my perspectives and problem-solving methods to think about. Most American students They don’t mind being taxed because they name in the computer and asking me I met here seem to have more lab experiences and tend to approach questions from understand where their money is going and whether I preferred a male or female doctor. broader angles. like to know that they are contributing to This first experience with Danish efficiency, In this way, the U.K. education system resembles that of other countries like their society. Though no expert in econom- I soon found, was true for other aspects of France, Germany and China. Such systems offer a more focused and specialized ed- ics or politics, I think there is one thing the life here. ucation. Students specialize in a certain subject and often go into the workforce in U.S. can learn from the Danes—group soli- Another unique component of the Dan- that area. The U.S. system, and especially liberal arts education, on the other hand, darity. ish welfare system is higher education fund- focuses on nurturing well-rounded students.

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