21. 2. 2006
Will Czech grads be prepared to compete?
But a new study published by the British Council warns that, paradoxically, the global dominance of English is now threatening the international standing of English-speaking countries.
Published in Czech Business Week on 20th February, 2006 HERE
There are currently almost 2 billion English speakers throughout the world. English is now taught in many countries not as a foreign language, but as a "basic universal skill." Speakers of English in emerging economies, particularly in Asia, usually speak at least one other major language fluently. Those who speak English alone can no longer compete; Chinese, Arabic, Spanish and South Asian languages are now the languages in demand to keep pace with the emerging economic tigers.
Education systems around the world are under pressure to adapt to quickly changing economic needs. Some of the reforms are controversial. The British government, wishing to create a knowledge-based economy, wants to see 50 percent of the country's young people receiving higher education by 2010. But the influx of new students is creating problems -- standards are dropping and courses are "dumbing down." British companies recently warned that many graduates haven't been taught how to work in a team and communicate ideas, and have poor spelling, grammar and math skills.
System in crisis
My own experience teaching students at a British university is mixed. British university students are generally able to handle ideas independently much better than their Czech counterparts; however, some students have an appalling grasp of English. Czech university students, by contrast, mostly learn facts by rote and repeat them, but most are literate.
Czech Education Minister Petra Buzková and Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Jiří Havel are currently behind a commendable initiative to substantially increase young people's access to higher education. However, politicians must be aware that the reforms will bring difficulties, and should learn something from other countries' experiences in laying out their education strategies.
At the moment, the Czech educational system seems to be in crisis. Students complain that education in secondary schools often amounts to little more than the mechanical memorization of facts. Under financial pressure, Czech universities have been forced to take on many more students than they can handle, and students complain that no one takes proper interest in them.
In a recent discussion on Britské listy's Web site, students debated whether it's acceptable to lift essays from the Internet and turn them in as their own work. Remarkably, plagiarism doesn't seem to bother some Czech students.
"Why shouldn't I cheat, when it's so easy?" one student wrote. "Why shouldn't I use Google instead of my brain, since our professors don't care and don't read the essays anyway?"
"It's great that we can buy essays on the Internet," wrote another. "I'm only interested in getting my degree -- it doesn't matter how I get there."
Some of the young Czech debaters were remarkably uninterested in the notion of university education as a means to open one's mind. But the young generation in the Czech Republic will be exposed to the same international economic pressures as young people everywhere. Will attitudes like these equip them for the challenges ahead?