rolade's blog

Tailor-made curriculum to address students' insecurity and distress

Tuition, quality of education, choice of school/university and institutional policies (e.g. funding/resources, pedagogy – online & blended instruction) are some of the education issues often discussed in most European countries as the school year starts in September. The beginning of the school year can be exciting or worrying depending on where you live and your individual situation: In Greece, for example, some university students have dropped out of their studies due to lack of adequate finance. In Spain, families who never passed on used school bags and supplies to other siblings have done it this year. In Germany, however, parents enthusiastically file at the checkouts with trolleys filled with school paraphernalia and items to help their children have a good academic year.

Anywhere in the world, the education playing field is not level and students are not homogenous. About 2% of the student population are gifted and talented, about 5% of them are from high-income families; and there are bipolar, autistic, slightly impaired and emotionally fragile among them. With our globalised world, it’s fairly common to find more than one religion, culture and language in every classroom. With the divorce rate of 40-50% and advent of other kinds of family arrangement (single parents, same-sex couples, restructured families), children face different challenges at school. There are many happy families but there are also those whose routine includes: couples disputing on subjects that range from money to infidelity, children experiencing abuse and intolerance, etc. As well, due to the financial crises and current volatile economic condition, many parents have lost their jobs, others may have the same fate soon, while some have been forced to move to other places and transferred their children to a new school. These circumstances impact on the children’s behaviour and their capacity to learn and perform at school.

Multipurpose summer holiday: intensive courses, sporting competitions, family, friends, charity, networking

Séjours linguistiques (language trainings), intensive courses in subjects that range from mathematics to personal development and sporting activities (close to 1 million visitors to London during the Olympics Games of which about 300,000 from overseas + 5.5 million day trippers + 10,500 athletes and 7,500 officials) are some of this year’s summer holiday interests.

My acquaintance and her husband plan their annual summer holiday around chess tournaments. They visit beautiful towns in France and nearby European cities while their 15 year-old-son collects trophies. Gone are the days when the sole destination was the beach, mountain, touristic spots or entertainment park to relax and have fun. Consciously, or otherwise, we engage in a multipurpose holiday, e.g. our travel luggage includes a laptop, net/notebook, iPod, Nintendo, headsets and other electronic gadgets. Do we really need these gadgets when our main goal is to have a nice break from work, school or a routine activity (especially strenuous one)?

Here in France, friends (sometimes even strangers) constantly ask each other these questions “When are you going on holiday?” “Where will you spend your summer vacation?”-- which are not easy to answer when you’re going nowhere. As well, these are always followed by further questions and comments, such as “Are you working all summer?” as if you’ve been punished for being inefficient; “Your children will be bored for 2 months” as if they didn’t have parents, siblings, toys, nearby parks and local activities to keep them busy. Sometimes it’s not enough to mention a place; it has to be abroad – such as England, Spain and other top country destinations!

There are many worthwhile activities during the summer holiday period aside from consuming artificially high-priced accommodation, airline tickets and entertainment. One of my trainees has just left Luxembourg as a participant of a one-month car rally in Mongolia. He’s so delighted that his summer holiday has raised money for charities through sponsorships and donations. In last nights’ news there was a segment about students working for nursing homes as volunteers this summer.

Pleasure and not pressure at work

A paid employment is necessary – it’s an indispensable work as it provides an individual with an income, self identity and social status. Due to some societal changes and the financial crises, the pleasure of being in a paid employment has been replaced with pressure, stress and race for survival. The original idea connected with the Protestant work ethic of independence and saving has disappeared, and what’s left is hard work and competition. Most of us are busy earning money hence we have no or little time for leisure.

Unlike workaholics, we rely on periodic leisure (which is associated with holiday as the British call it; “vacation” American) to spice our employment. I rarely hear of employees raving about having the pleasure of working. It’s not only money that makes our work environment pleasurable. It may not be possible to get pleasure from all our daily tasks, however, we can see the glass half full in times of pressure when we have a good sense of humour and take time to relax. There’s also pleasure, instead of pressure, when we have a shared interest (e.g. sports, entertainment, arts) with our colleagues, update our work station (e.g. new photos on our desk and fosters on the wall), vary our office snacks and meals, dress up differently and change our lunch activities from time to time (e.g. picnic in the nearby park or trip to the swimming pool and a quick sandwich).

As I mentioned in my previous article, I didn’t have internet access for 10 days by choice. I leisurely explored the mountains and lakes in Scotland and played a typical tourist in England. The 12-day holiday with my family was fantastic though I really didn’t need it as a break from my paid employment. A staycation would have been leisurely productive and pleasurably relaxing. This is because I enjoy what I do for a living. We can only have fun with our job when we are passionate about it. Can we instil passion in our work? How can we handle pressure and obtain pleasure when we aren’t passionate about our employment?

Why do you work? Are you happy in your job?

Worthiness of employment (job) and work “Que gagne-t-on en travaillant?” was one of the philosophy questions in last Monday’s Baccalaureate (high school diploma) French exam.

When I was in Australia, I often heard people whinging about neighbours and acquaintances who received unemployment benefits from the government but were too lazy to work (known as dole bludgers). Some people enjoy working but dislike their job. Working is not synonymous with employment (job). Work is any activity involving the use of effort to achieve a goal, such as to repaint the house or to earn money. A work may not be a job but a job requires working.

Job, e.g. teaching or bus driving, is specific referring to a particular employment. Repainting your house during your free time is work but not your job (employment), which can give you satisfaction and joy. Work can sometimes be un-enjoyable also that’s why we often describe it as the opposite of play, e.g. cleaning toilets at home.

Back to the French philosophy question: what do you gain by working? by having a job? I hope that our French high school graduating students, after 4 hours of writing about this topic under the watchful eyes of Education Departmental staff and detectors, acquired a more positive attitude and behavior towards work and employment in the midst of a bleak economic reality. What happened to our ‘Right to Work’ philosophy, “Just Wage for Fair Work” ethics and socially-responsible business model?

Love gone wild! mad!

“Love Gone Wild” (Experiences, causes, dealing with domestic violence) -- visit my website BRolade Societal Blog - roladesocietalblog.com Victims and perpetrators are anywhere in the world from all cultural, social, economic and professional situations, ages and sexual orientations.

“Don’t ring me at home. We have been staying in a shelter since Tuesday,” she said to me with watery eyes a fortnight ago. For over 30 minutes, I listened to her non-stop revelation of violence that led her and their teenage daughter to the police station at 2AM. Love gone wild? mad? I wasn’t completely shocked as I never heard him speak nicely of /to her -- only criticisms that range from her lack of intelligence to her humble beginning in Eastern Europe (a pattern/signal that is often ignored).

In France, 6 women-victims of domestic violence die every month. In the UK, a woman is killed every 3 days in this way; and in Germany 3 women every four days (mondediplo.com seen 20 June 2012) whilst US statistics average 3 women every day.

Education and Exams: Hidden Costs and Real Gains

Tutoring, coaching, visit to the psychologist, stress, anxiousness, tiredness, library, revision and study are among the frequently used words we’ve been hearing from our European students and their parents. Grades 4 & 5 (CM 1 & 2) pupils in France took the compulsory national evaluation in French and Maths early this week. High school graduating candidates in many European countries, e.g. Luxembourg, have started their end of the year exams. Likewise, university students in most EU countries are currently inundated with tests, exams and deadlines for essays and assignments.

Last year in France, a father lost his job for aiding his son cheat in the final senior high school Baccalaureate (le Bac)* math exam. The former French Education Minister Luc Chatel wanted prison sentences for those who leaked Bac math exam questions when in fact it’s the education system and examination process that should be reformed. What will the newly elected socialist government do about this?

*Bac is equivalent to A Levels in the UK and High School Diploma in most countries. In France, subjects are graded up to 20: a score of 16 and above is Highest Honour (in French "mention trés bien"); 14 – 15.99 High Honour ("mention bien"); 12 – 13.99 Honour ("mention assez bien"); Below 10 is failure - students either retake the exam or reorient their career to non-academic fields.

Election, Political Debates, Chess and Sports(hu)manship

It has been a week since France has elected its President and much has been said about this and the impact of the new government’s socialist policies locally and in Europe. I’m not going to use my crystal ball to find out which election promises are likely to be kept and not; like many in France, I now wait and see!

Several countries are having elections this year and one of them is Egypt (May 23-24, 2012). Last Thursday, Egypt had its first presidential debate between candidates Amr Moussa and Abdel-Moneim Abul Fotouh. I missed the live TV coverage; based on media reports, they clashed and traded accusations about their group affiliation, role of religion and democratic reforms.

Whereas, I watched the nearly 3 hours of presidential debate between Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Hollande and was entertained by their discourse aimed at pitching votes. There were moments when I felt disappointed with their swinging of mud at each other. Three days later, however, their attitude and behaviour changed – no more insults and accusations. Both of them delivered their after-election speeches graciously, with courtesy and without negative, sarcastic remarks. The elected president is not anymore the critical ex-presidential candidate. Likewise, the outgoing president is a good sport inviting the incoming president to join him at the May 8 WW2 commemoration day. The 2 ex-rivals marched side by side laying wreaths appearing like they’ve always liked each other. What a pity that this spirit of sports(hu)manship was not evident before the election.

Morality, Ethics and Gender

“Are Women More Moral Than Men?” was the title of the Sun’s article last April 17. According to this write-up, the study of Prof. Roger Steare (Corporate Philosopher at Cass Business School in London) involving 60,000 volunteers demonstrates that women and the over 30s have a higher moral attitude. This is because women consider the feelings of others (thus, in many instances put their own needs last) while men are self-interested and have an individual approach in decision making.

Morality refers to the principles of right conduct (‘refer’ because it’s not objective) which is independent of the law, and instead are codes set by the society and accepted by individuals for their own behaviour. Some people have lost opportunities and employment due to their immoral or unethical decision or misjudgment of what the society considers right (good) and wrong (bad). In France, for instance, it is believed that if Mr. Dominique Strauss Khan didn’t face legal battles for allegations of sexual misconducts, he would be a strong candidate in this year’s presidential election.

Morality is associated with ethics because the latter is a form of moral philosophy – i.e. what you should do as a boss, friend, parent, child, teacher, citizen or professional person in a given situation. There are cases when what’s ethical is immoral, e.g. slavery in the ancient time and today’s so called ‘donations’ to gain business contracts.

Presidential Elections, National Issues and Global Concerns

In 2008, I received a letter from the Australian Government telling me to pay AUD$20 for not voting in the 2007 Federal election. I avoided paying it by responding in writing that I now reside in France. Australia is one of about 20 countries (including Belgium, Switzerland, Uruguay and Singapore) where voting is compulsory. The penalty for failing to vote ranges from fine to difficulty in obtaining a public service appointment.

Unlike Down Under, voting in France is voluntary, which is a real draw card in this year's presidential election. The primary election is on April 22 but many French citizens are still undecided to vote and who to vote. There are 10 candidates from political parties that vary from conservatism ('Droite' - Right), socialism ('Gauche' - Left) to communism and issue-based groups, such as environmentalists and anti-capitalists. It's certainly not the lack of diversity in policies and programmes that causes indecisiveness.

The major subjects of political debates are economy, employment, taxes, social welfare, homeland security, immigration, environment and education. There are significant, as well as only slight, differences in what each party promises to do if elected. For instance:

The Socialist Party (PS) of Mr. Hollande would like to employ 12,000 jobs per year in the education sector for 5 years; Impose penalty for companies that retrench workers but give dividends to shareholders; Create public bank of investments; Give right to vote to non-citizens who have been living in France for at least 5 years; Reduce nuclear power plants; Allow homosexual couples to adopt children.

Parenting, Family Entertainment and Children's Development

I’m afraid my article on French politics will be for next fortnight because something disconcerting caught my attention last week. March 17-19 was Spring Film Festival and a cinema ticket was only 3.50 Euros all over France (instead of E6.80 for under 12yo and E10.45 adults, respectively), which was a real bargain and an opportunity for families to go out and have fun.

Since I had already seen all OSCARised films, such as The Artist and Iron Lady, I opted for the French film ‘Les Infideles’ (The Players) that stars Jean Dujardin (2011 Best Actor). My film finished at 7:20pm (this was Tuesday) and I was amazed by the number of people, from preschoolers to seniors, queuing. Since rooms of good films got filled up quickly, late comers watched whatever they could because they didn’t want to miss out on this annual promotion.

While waiting to exit, a family of 5 got in and stood beside me discussing what movie to watch. The mother said, “On va regarder ‘Les Infideles’.” My heartbeat doubled and brain cells moved in different direction looking astonishingly at this family. I couldn’t help myself from telling them that it wasn’t for children. The mother asked me why and I had difficulty explaining, in the presence of 12yo and 10yo boys & 9 yo girl, that this film has explicit and highly detailed pictorial depiction of sex and marriage and ‘offensive’ reference to sexual behaviours. Adults may find the scenes of fooling around and sexual jokes amusing, especially the fornication and buttocks of JD, but it should be off-limits for minors. The family, most probably, didn’t watch the film because either they were dissuaded by my comments or refused entry.

Communication patterns and behaviours of French and English speakers

Last Saturday, I was finishing an article on French politics when I realized that we didn’t have enough food for the weekend, and because shops are closed on Sunday, I rushed to our local supermarket. I was thrilled because I filled the trolley in less than an hour, but at the checkout my excitement turned into an unpleasant experience. My first bankcard didn’t work and the second one flashed with “code faux”. After trying twice, the cashier informed me in a high-pitched voice that I keyed in the wrong numbers and I couldn’t use it anymore. Slightly embarrassed, I scraped all the cash I had including the Euros hidden in the secret compartment of my wallet intended for emergency use only. She remarked twice that I made a mistake and when I was exiting the premises she uttered in a loud voice, “Regardez, la carte de Monsieur fonctionne”. There was no need for her to let everyone know that unlike mine, the bankcard of the man behind me worked.

I went straight to my bank, which is just across the street, and tried the same code. It worked and there’s no explanation why it failed before. I went back to the shop and told the cashier that I was disappointed with her behaviour. She raised her voice even louder, which caught the attention of the security guard who came and inquired what was happening. As I was explaining, she insisted I entered the wrong code. I told her to calm down as it’s normal for people to press wrong buttons but it’s not acceptable to be rude at customers. She didn’t have a clue what I was talking about, so I repeated “It’s uncivilised to talk in that manner.” The security guard interrupted and said “Je ne crie pas” (I’m not screaming). It was obvious my statement wasn’t for him… The French…!

Cinema is a French invention while OSCAR is an American show

Four years ago, I visited the Lumière (‘light’ in English) Museum in Lyon, France, which is dedicated to the Lumière brothers == Auguste Marie Louis Nicolas (1862- 1954) and Louis Jean (1864 - 1948). While working for their father (Charles Antoine Lumière, 1840-1911) in his photographic business, they made some improvements to still-photography (especially the dry-plate process) that was a major step towards moving images. ‘The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat’ in 1895 was their earliest film and it’s because of them that today we enjoy movies, TV programs, documentaries and entertainment.

I remember standing vividly in front of the Lumières’ extraordinary inventions, including their first cameras, finding explanations as to why the French, though pioneering in the film industry, haven’t received international accolade (i.e. annual Academy Awards) and came out with two: language (English is more widely spoken and understood) and culture (generally, the Americans are more commercially-daring).

Therefore, in 2008 when Marion Cotillard won the Academy (popularly known as the OSCAR) Best Actress Award for her performance as Edith Piaf in ‘La Vie en Rose’ (Life in Rose) and recently Jean Dujardin for Best Actor and Michel Hazanavicius for Best Director Awards in ‘The Artist,’ I was certainly thrilled.

Madame, Mr, Firefighters and other titles

This week, the French Government has decided to stop using Mademoiselle in official documents because it's discriminatory. There's now no reference to matrimonial status and the choice is either Madame or Monsieur. In English-speaking countries, Mrs. is for married women, Ms. for single ladies or those whose civil status is unknown and Mr. for men. I must admit that when I write I've the tendency to use Ms. even when I know that she is married, so perhaps we should also bid farewell to Mrs.

Intergenerational gap — another diversity issue

My 60-year-old Aussie friend has been promising to communicate with me by email for 2 years. Her 20-year-old daughter left home after setting up her Gmail account and no one is around to help her in ‘this seemingly difficult endeavor’ (as she describes it). Last year, she managed to respond to my email twice during the weekend visit of her daughter. Whereas, another Aussie friend (who’s about ten years older than her) emails regularly and doesn’t miss an occasion to send me an electronic card (birthday, Christmas, Easter and Happy Australia Day).

Though the over 59yo men and women are quite diverse, generally, their knowledge is seemingly perceived as obsolete whilst youth is associated with progress and technological know-how. Old and young people have different interest, clothing taste and communication style at any one moment in time, which is described as intergenerational gap.

Generations are grouped by events (e.g. 9/11) and exceptional people (e.g. Steve Jobs) during each period: Baby boomers (1946 – 1964), General Xers (1965 – 1975), Generation Yers (1976 – 1980s), Millennials, Nexters and Me & I Generation (1980s – 1990s up to 2000), Generation Z (after 2000 – also known as Generation Multitasking/Skilling and WWW). The 2008 recession and current economic/financial crises have resulted to and continue to cause youth unemployment and poverty, which has significant consequences. One of these is that young people opt or are forced to live with their parents or relatives– a situation that can have positive impact on intergenerational gap.

Are young people disrespectful?

Today, at our local supermarket a youth was disappointed that his restpectfulness didn't yield a positive result. He thought the elderly didn’t sympathise with and understand him; "likewise, the latter expressed irritability that the former dared to ask to jump the queue. Was it intergenerational gap? There are differences between younger and older people due to rapid cultural and technological changes that affect values, behaviours and choice of communication style, food, music, clothes, etc.

Intergenerational gap impacts on personal, social and professional spheres: children – parents/grandparents, employee – employers/bosses, teachers/professors – students, service/good providers – clients/customers, etc. It can cause problems at home, misunderstanding at work, failure at school, etc. This gap is even wider when it involves immigrant and refugee families. For example, stereotypes of coloured-skin youth in a predominantly white neighborhood may lead to insecurity and fear among elderly, particularly when the media and entertainment subjectively condemn these young people for crime and deviance. Similarly, policing strategy that includes identifying young people at risk and their environments can have negative labelling effects. Older generation law enforcement officers may target loud young people – labelled as “nuisance” – hanging out in poor areas populated by immigrants.

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